Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It's a Text World Out There...

Some of you might not know this, but the Philippines is the texting capital of the world! Here, people don't use their cell phones so much to make calls. They text. Not only is it the standard of communication in leisure and business...but it is the chief mode of communication for romance here. They're called "text mates."

During training, me and my fellow PCVs sent texts to each other to keep in touch, share experiences or commiserate. This may be too much in-country humor for you state-siders, but here's a sampling that we presented at our swearing-in, with one of our PCVs, Josh, playing guitar as background music!

There was a frog in my shoe dis umaga (morning)!

Chika-chika: Tink I have a mild crush on one of da actors on Darna (a local superhero TV show)!

My host sister and her husband just brought out a stingray tail, used for fighting off the Aswang, a half-man, half-bird creature.

How much does a fishhead count toward your Recommended Daily Allowance?

Will you eat my dogs if I kill them?

Oh no! de caribaw (a large moose-looking creature) is loose and I'm the only one dito (here). Wat 2 do?

Ever try BBQ'd chicken blood B4? Masarap (delicious)!

Ugh. Just had an ant doing rounds in my ear. Ayaw ko! (I don't like it!)

Hahaha. The only thing I regret about 2day is not hoping on that carabaw.

Aaah! Bed bugs in my bed. Lots. I'm seriously going insane.

Oh My God. Not sure I've ever seen dis many bugs. Saan (where)? Sa aking kama! (In my bed!) No jokin. It's like sum one skejuld a bug convention without telling me.

Chances of death or dismemberment? 43.7 percent.

Can I just tell u how much I stink right now? I haven't done laundry since before we left and I'm just wearing the same dirty clothes over n over! Gross!

Roger dat vector niner. This chicken is about 15 minutes from flying the coop. What's ur destination?

Got the tears out of the way. I have no idea what I'm doing.

The house is dirty. The TV is on loud. Mother, dad away a work. No food.

Will watch kneeling carabao at church 2nite.

Would you believe they are doing circumcisions on 7 to 10 year olds?

I have no blood left in me: The mosquitoes have taken it all.

A series of texts:

Volunteer: Myles, a kid puked on the jeepney on the way home.

Trainer: What! That's twice today.

Volunteer: I know, it's crazy. It's a bad sign.

Trainer: What kind of sign could it be?

Volunteer: Maybe I'm next to yak on a jeepney.

Trainer: You'll not do that with us around.

Volunteer: If I do I'll stick my head out the window.

Trainer: Ur whole thing will fly in our faces.

Volunteer: Then you better bring an umbrella.

Trainer: And a raincoat...And do it silently so no one will notice you.

Volunteer: Oh yeah, I'm sure no one will notice a vomiting white girl on a Jeepney.

End series

I better get credit for naming your new straing of illness -- Jengue fever. (After Dengue fever acquired by volunteer Jen Austin) Are you still alive? Text once for yes, twice for no.

Even though my standard of living is lower, I don't think my standard of life is.

Have a great time. Things went well here. I will head to my site 2moro. Here's to the next phase in our journey. Let me know when it's official for you.

It's official!

For Your Viewing Pleasure...

It's been a long time since I've posted any pictures so I wanted to give you a sampling of some I've taken recently. I will post more as soon as I can!

New friends: Jean, Sam and Ma'am Del (left to right) pose for a quick pic before dinner of Laing, rice and more rice! Jean and Ma'am Del are my co-teachers and housemates in Donsol

Two of my students at school -- oops! Forgot their names

One of my host family stray cats. We've got 12!

Another view of Mount Mayan volcano. Continues to amaze me!

Me and Ate Julie during a party for local teenagers back in Bucal

Me and little Colleen, my former host family's granddaughter

Here's me shucking a coconut!

From left to right, my training cluster at swearing-in, Kelly O'Brien (Pittsburgh), me, Kehl Mandt, (Arlington, Va.), Myles Liquigan, our teacher, and Mary Owen (Detroit).

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Move Over, Julia Roberts!

It seems that I am now a celebrity. I have arrived and Donsol has rolled out its red carpet. Everywhere I go I am greeted by name, by people I've never seen before. Word has spread quickly that I am the new American in town, the new teacher sa Donsol High School. And they call me "Julia Roberts." I have been compared to Dianna Torres, a former Filipina Miss Universe and actress in the Philippines. Everyone tells me how "maganda" (beautiful) I am. A girl could get used to this! They like my white skin and tell me to use an umbrella in the sun so I don't get too dark. The children greet me on the street, one after another, and in groups, with 'Good Morning, Ma'am.'

I have moved from my anonymous life in New York to a place where everybody will know my name. Such has been life for me in my first week in Donsol, world famous for our whale sharks.

I have started school and I've have realized that there is much to do. The school grounds and buildings are crumbling but there may be nothing I can do about this. On the inside, there are few books and supplies. The teachers must pay for supplies out of their own pockets. There are few teacher guides and materials so they must make it up as they go along. There are no visual aids, no CD-ROMs, no maps, no nothing. This is basic education with people power. What a challenge to step into. Still, the children are very bright and many in the third and fourth year classes speak English well. English is their third language, after Bicol and Tagalog. They are eager to learn and to speak to me and to learn about life in America. Most of them dream of getting a visa to move to the states someday and many of them already have relatives living in our country.

While I am supposed to spend the first three months observing and assessing the situation, I have found that sitting around just won't do. There are not even enough teachers to teach the students so I have already stepped in to teach some English classes. It forces you to be creative right away and I recently divised a couple of games to get the students speaking and using vocabulary words. Most of the kids have learned by repeating and reciting so one of my goals is to move them to a more interactive type of learning - group tasks, speaking activities, etc. I will be helping the teachers develop these kinds of teaching methods by doing workshops for them and demonstrating techniques in the classroom. You might ask me what makes me qualified to do this? I ask myself that every day. But the needs do become apparent when you sit in a Filipino classroom. The students are obedient and will tell you they understand even when they do not. Many of their answers are yes and no and many students lack the ability to think critically -- a skill that is so stressed back home.

It's difficult to know where to begin. There are endless possibilities and sometimes I get overwhelmed by what I could do and knowing that I have my limitations. I also want to improve the physical materials at school. These kids need books and more books. Most of them never read a book outside of a textbook -- and any of the textbooks they might have are mostly outdated. During a quick run through the textbooks and reference books in the school's tiny library, I could not find a book printed after 1978! Also, there are 10 computers at school for 2,000 students -- donated just last year. They are kept in a windowless, non-airconditioned room and are sure not to last long.

So, you can see I have much to do. Now I've got to get to work. I have to run to catch the last bus back to town -- my Internet access is an hour's ride away. Ingat kayo para sa lahat!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

A New Beginning, Bicolana-Style

It's official. I'm sworn in and officially now living at site in Donsol. I suppose there is no turning back now. How strange to take the beautiful winding road to Donsol and know that this will be my home for the next two years. As we drove the hour from Legaspi city to Donsol, I wondered how many of you will someday see what I see. The perfect, but simple huts along the roadside. The men sleeping on benches under the shade of bahay kubos. Naked toddlers bathing in buckets. Huge carabao sticking their massive heads out into the road, inches from the car. The large puno (trees) that hang over the road, making an archway for a good portion of the trip. The white, crumbling crypts of an old cememetery just before you enter Donsol. And finally a welcome sign for Barangay Awaii -- which I just noticed yesterday is awfully close to "Hawaii." Coincidence? :)

I spent at night at home with my new host family, the Ysogs. Kuya Rene is a seaman who works for Disney cruise lines and is home with an arm injury. Ate Susan runs the household and is mother to three children, Pauline, a nursing student at a university in Legaspi, and Lloyd, a 10-year-old who is very shy around me. Ate Susan also has two "helpers" at home who do the cooking and cleaning. They are a very nice and laidback family and the accommodations are very nice!

I managed to escape Donsol for my second night and travel to nearby Sorsogon City, where Dede Sandler, a volunteer from New York who has been here for two years already and has a nipa hut on the beach! Dede and two other volunteers -- all of whom will leave the Philippines in September -- and I spent the afternoon at a beach, wading to a small island, snorkeling and floating in the pretty bluegreen water. Dede's got the life in her sweet little hut! Can't wait to build mine. We took our "showers" under the pump of a nearby neighbor. (She has no water). The owner of a little sari-sari store down the street made us "international drinks" for happy hour. It was a nice break after the grueling training and good to know that at least for now there are fellow Americans within an hour to two hours away.

Today, Monday, is a holiday. So no school today. Tomorrow, I will officially start at the school and be introduced to students and teachers. I'm not sure what to expect other than this week will be a lot of meeting and greeting.

To all who have been reading my blogs, I have to tell you that I will not have as much access to email as I have in the past. I hope to make it to email once a week but the trip is an hour away and I may not always make it to the city. If you don't hear from me in a while, please know that I think about you all every day.

Wish me luck in my new home.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Saying Goodbyes

This week I said Goodbye to my host family, the Alcasids. Though I have only lived with them for two months, I have become attached. It wasn't easy to adjust, I'll admit that. My surroundings were like none I had ever experienced. The culture was entirely different and most of the time I couldn't understand a word they said. But sometimes, when it comes right down it, people are just people. They made me feel welcomed in their own way and included me as a member of the family.

Jason, my host brother, is an ambitious young kid on his way to college to study nursing. I got to know his friends and recently helped host a teen dance with his youth group in the street in front of our house. As customary in the Philippines, the kids slow danced and the adults hit the drinking circle. I shared Matador (brandy) shots with Tatay (dad), the youth group adviser and Mary and Kehl (my fellow cluster mates). Like I've mentioned before, drinking is serious business. Shots and water chasers. Ugh. But it was a fun bonding experience with Tatay and I think it made him feel at home.

Nanay is a sweetheart and she gets after me to learn my Tagalog, gently correcting what I say and always speaking to me in the language, whether I understand or not. I appreciate this about her. Plus, her cooking is so masirap! I will miss that.

My sister, Aubrey, and her husband, Michael, are newly married and expecting their first baby in September. They've asked me to be a "sponsor" or Godparent at the baptism in December or January. (Filipinos love to have American Ninangs --Godmothers). So now I will be the proud (God) mother of three -- Mitchell, Nikita and the baby, which they are thinking of naming Julia if it is a girl!

I will also miss Colleen and Dazzel, Nanay and Tatay's grandchildren. Last week, I helped do Colleen's makeup for a little formal pageant she was in for the Santa Cruzan festival -- a fancy parade through the neighborhood after a Mass. (I will post pictures soon -- lost my USB cord). As I was packing the other day, Dazzel -- we call him Put-put -- stared at me with a somber face the whole time. Saan ka pupunta? Bakit? (Where are you going? Why?) He was so darn sweet I wanted to cry. And it was difficult to explain to him -- with my limited Tagalog -- why I had to leave.

On my last day, nanay and tatay went all out to prepare a special meal of my favorite foods -- grilled Tilapia and calabasa (squash). They surprised me with the elaborate lunch after class that day. They also gave me a small gift -- some hair pretties and a case for my cell phone -- and apologized that they couldn't spend much on it. Very sweet.

Later this week, I will also say goodbye to the Americans I've gotten to know in recent weeks. Though I will see some of them again, I will be essentially on my own once I move to site on Saturday. Our swearing-in ceremony is Thursday night in Manila and I will be official then. And while I am ready to move on now and get to work, it will be an adjustment to be out there on my own.