Monday, July 25, 2005

Julia and the Volcano

So while trying to save the world, I'm also trying to save my sanity.
One way to do this? Climb the Philippines' most active volcano!

I joined five other Peace Corps volunteers -- all girls! -- this past weekend for a hike up the "perfect cone" of Mount Mayon, one of the most beautiful volcanoes in the world. It sits just about an hour from Donsol in the province of Albay and I marvel at it every time I ride the Filcab or Jeepney into the big city of Legaspi.

I got a chance to see it up close in personal this weekend as we climbed up halfway, camped out and continued nearly to the top. It's a steep and rocky climb and steamy at the top. No worries though. The last eruption was five years ago...but it's still smoldering in there, nonetheless.

We were led by guides, climbed up a sheer face of volcanic rock and through jungle paths. We braved downpours and even a flash flood. But we pulled through it with only a few scratches and a little soreness a couple of days later.

Here's a couple of links to photos (you have to sign in to view them on Kodak Gallery) and a few of my own:

View Dede's photos

View Lisa's photos

It's a long way up from here!

Me, soaked on the rocks at Mount Mayon

Another gorgeous view

After a downpour, the trail got a little flooded

Me, taking a rest on the second day

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

She's Been Swallowed By a Giant Whaleshark!

Okay, just kidding. But I just saw that it's been almost two weeks since my last blog. I have a number of excuses. First, I live at the end of a long road to nowhere, uh, well, Donsol, Sorsogon, and Internet is more than an hour's ride on a "Air Con" (Yeah, right!) van with 12 of my new Filipino neighbors. Two, I escaped to a remote island called Catanduanes last weekend and was again far from the Web. Three, well, I'll think of it in a bit.

Hello everyone! Sorry for the lapse in writing. It's hard to believe that I have almost been at site nearly five weeks. While the days sometimes move like molasses, the weeks seems to fly by. That's what they say about Peace Corps experience: It's over before you know it.

I get busier and busier as things crop up at school and ideas are coming to me by the dozens. The real challenge is to figure out how to get things done on "Filipino time" (whenever it happens, it happens time) and within the system. The struggle is to throw out most of how you function as an American and begin to think like a Filipino. You don't deal with people directly. You whisper your idea to someone who might plant a seed in the right person's head. You don't expect that people will show up on time to meetings. They won't. You don't worry about the outcome. Bahala Na. It eventually happens, one way or the other.

As I mentioned, I traveled to Catanduanes last weekend to participate in a Peace Corps-sponsored girls' empowerment camp called GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). It was really cool. We spent two days with about 40 girls, ages 12 to 16, and did a number of activities that encourage them to speak their minds and be leaders in their community. The camp was conceived by a PCV in Africa a few years back and now is being conducted in some form or another all over the world. Really inspiring to see these young girls really blossom. (Filipino students are often very shy and the camp seems to really break them out of their shell). I assisted with sessions and conducted my own yoga class for the girls. You should have heard them "Ommmmmmm!" Needless to say, I am now planning on one in Donsol -- hopefully to happen in late August, early September.

At school, I will conduct a workshop July 15 on activities teachers can use to get their students speaking up in class. I am planning and developing other programs to address a number of English skills the kids are struggling with -- comprehension, vocabulary, etc. In two higher level English classes, I am reading a novel to the students called The Secret, written by a Filipino writer for high school-aged kids. Because I have only one book, I am using it as a "listening" exercise and giving them vocabulary words and worksheets to test their comprehension. But they seem to understand a good deal and to be enjoying the story, so I'll just see how it goes.

I am also beginning long range plans for a library project (I will be soliciting help with this later on), in addition to planning that GLOW camp.

More later. Will try to post more pictures, soon.

Ingat kayo.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Settling In...Or Something Like It

One of the things I set out to do in joining the Peace Corps was to turn my world upside down. Just to see what it looked like from another vantage point. I'm certainly standing on my head here in the Philippines.

Not much looks like it used to anymore and sometimes it can be confusing just to navigate your way through a culture that is so different from our own. There are many things about the Filipino culture I find charming: The closeknit families, their friendly nature, a fondness for eating good food and their love of a good joke. Or "joke, joke, joke lang!" (only joking!) as my new host mom is fond of saying. I sometimes don't know when my new friends are being serious or just trying to see how I will react.

For instance, I attended a town meeting the other day on nutrition. The health coordinator introduced me to the others and than announced that I'm single and pointed to the town doctor and said. "He's single, too!" Wink, wink. A harmless joking had by all? Well, not exactly! I've since found out there is a plot to marry me off to Dr. Owen!

There are times when I think I might not ever understand this culture, too. One of the most tiring things -- nakakapagod! -- is the questioning. Everything I do is cause for interrogation. Why are you eating that? Why are you cooking that way? What are you doing? Where are you going? Whose going with you? When will you return? One of my co-teachers explained the other day that this is simply the Filipino way of showing interest and making conversation. But, egads, it can get to you!

And because of the language barrier, I feel I'm only catching on to about 25 percent of what is happening around me. I thought the other day that it must be a lot like how it feels for someone who is deaf. I catch a few words, phrases here and there, but for the most part, I just smile and nod. Sometimes it's not worth saying you just don't understand.

I'm an oddity here too, of course. So I'm shown off in meetings or parties or gatherings. My jaw hurts from smiling and saying hello to people who greet me even though I have no idea who they are. I'm waiting for the day my celebrity-status wanes a bit.

I am making baby steps at school. I'm still observing classes and trying different activities to see what works and what doesn't. In the English Club I started with some of the more advanced students, we're putting on a program July 4 after the school flag ceremony. They learned and will sing the Star-Spangled Banner. (Okay, so I know this is a bit American-centric of me!) But the day is also Fil-Am Friendship Day here and a way to do a little cultural sharing. Only I didn't realize how difficult it is to hit those high notes...what was Francis Scott Key thinking anyway???

I'm also in the midst of planning a series of workshops -- activities teachers can use in their classrooms to improve English skills in reading, listening, writing, speaking, etc. These will be weekly teacher-enrichment sessions for English teachers only right now. Later, I'll be doing workshops for all teachers to improve their own English skills.

I'll soon be helping the kids work on the next edition of the school newspaper which comes out in October. Right now, the journalism students are decorating a bulletin board in the office near my desk where they will post news, student literary works, etc. Next weekend, I am traveling to a remote island -- Catanduanes, known as typhoon alley! -- to attend a Peace Corps run program called GLOW camp -- Girls Leading Our World, an empowerment camp for teen girls. It will give me a chance to see another part of the Philippines and get a little training on how to put on one of these camps in Donsol.

Okay, I'm putting myself to sleep with all these things. Just wanted to give some of you an idea of what I'm working on out here in the boondocks.

Ingat para sa lahat.