Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Road to Pangpang

Okay, so I am not the best at keeping up with the Blog. For those of you who are anxiously checking it each day...I apologize!

It's not that I don't have much to say. It's that I have too much to say and the nature of what I experience day in, day out, is sometimes too much to put into words for public viewing. Some of it can't be written down as the PC sensors may be reading.

But here goes. I road my bike the other day down the road that leads to the beach, where there is a small nipa hut resort for touristas who come six months out of the year to see the whalesharks or butanding here. Beyond the gate of Woodland Beach Resort, the road continues and is sometimes so muddy that it becomes impassable and you must take a boat to get to the communities that lie beyond. Last Sunday, my beach bike was a perfect match for the muddy road (it is only paved in patches) and I followed it, not knowing exactly where it would go.

Up over a hill. Okay, I had to walk the bike a bit! And then a cut through a mountain, around a curve and down a steep hill. I had the sense that it's not a place foreign tourists venture to often, if ever. At the base of the hill, I came upon Pangpang. The tiny barangay of nipa huts on the beach and fishing boats moored just off shore. Coconut trees dotting the shoreline. Men looking up from their drinking circle to stare. Children shouting "Americana, Americana!" and following along on foot or bikes as I passed through the village. A man grinning at the scene from his Sari-Sari store, where he sells candy, cigarettes and 30s of San Miguel beer and bottles of bourbon. A cool breeze blowing at my face and the tiny little waves lapping on the shore.

I felt a bit like Dorothy landing in Oz. Pangpang is not that far away, but it might as well be. No stores or tricycles or Jeepneys. Just little huts and simple people, passing the time of day on a Sunday afternoon. I stopped to talk to a woman and a group of children after one of the kids proudly asked in English, "What's your name?" I'm not sure they even know what they are asking half the time, but it's one of the sentences some kids here seem to know. That, and "Where are you going?" The woman didn't speak English and I used my limited Tagalog, but we ended up having a conversation somehow. She wanted to know if I was a tourist and explained that many tourists didn't come to visit Pangpang. When I explained I was not and that I lived in a nearby barangay, she wanted to know more. We spoke for about 20 minutes and laughed and the kids listened and giggled. And I rode off, back home, down the road to Pangpang.

There are moments, days like that, when I feel this is all worth it. To stumble across a charming fishing village in a foreign land and come out of it having made a new friend. It's the simple life here, on the off the beaten paths, where I find the most solace, the places where I feel most at home. It's the little things too that make me laugh when I'm feeling homesick -- like watching two men pull a goat behind a motorcycle. Slowly, of course. Our the thought that I am regularly eating squid, eyeballs and all. Or when the house helper, Edna, starts belting out "Nobody's Perfect" by Madonna in very imperfect English.

Okay, back to reality. I am working a lot at school these days and juggling about as many things as I used to try to juggle in my old life. So much for the laid back Peace Corps, right? I am busy and preparing to leave for two weeks of training in Manila later this week. We had a clean-up day at school today to try to get rid of some of the garbage. The kids have a bad habit here of throwing trash everywhere but in a garbage can. Much of my other work is planning for future workshops and projects. I have a girls' leadership camp when I return from training and some journalism workshops to conduct in the Schools' Division Office in Sorsogon, about an hour and a half away. I am also trying to make time to get the library project up and running. I was pleasantly surprised to receive two big boxes of books and books on tapes from my old editor at Scholastic, Inc. Thank you Elizabeth!! The trick now is to find places to put the books. We need to get shelves built, etc., and will have to fundraise locally to make that happen. I will write more on the library project once our local committee meets and has a plan. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Nasaan Si Julia?

Sorry folks. I've been on the road again. This time, no volcanoes. Just a trip via jet plane to the big city of Manila. I have been selected to be a warden for my Peace Corps Batch 264. Basically, it means I am in charge of safety and security for my area should there be any need to, well, evacuate. You know, just in case there is a big typhoon or a political coup. Both of which are entirely possible!

In any case, it got me to Manila for a training session and a couple of days roaming the filthy streets of the city. Also got my cell phone swiped from my backpack. A typical day in Manila!

It was great to be back in a city. I miss New York sooooooo much! And while Manila is no New York City, the smells and sounds reminded me a bit of home. Like the rest of the Philippines, Manila is a city of great potential but lacking in so much. On one hand, I got a glimpse of how the rich live in Makati City, a wealthy section of town. We visited the complex of mega luxury malls there -- stores which I can no longer afford! And all the expensive restaurants and wine bars. I stared through the windows in envy. Again, I can no longer afford such luxuries! Then just blocks away, there are shanty towns again. This country is like that, stark contrasts everywhere you turn around.

I am back in Donsol again and trying to put my head down and get to work. Though I realize that is a very American way of thinking. It's tough to get things done here and sometimes you have to give in to just doing nothing. But I push a little bit each day -- to organize a workshop, the girls' camp I'm pulling together and chipping away at my long-term pet project -- the library.

Speaking of which, I will be organizing some sort of library program in which all of you and your friends can get involved. Looking for a tax break? Or just want to do some good? Find a place to put your extra pocket change? Stay tuned. Mom and I will organize a way for you to help build up the high school library. I want to develop the program slowly -- It doesn't do us any good to receive books and then have nowhere to put them, right???

I am working with our librarian, Ms. Linell Jacinto, to figure out what to do. We will form a committee on our end and probably one there at home to work together on book drives, donations for a new library, etc. Our dream is to renovate a historic building on campus into a new library! This is big dream. But it doesn't hurt to try.

This weekend, I spent some time speaking with the folks who may become my new neighbors. I am thinking of building a nipa hut -- or actually completing a nipa hut a local family had started and can't finish because of lack of funds. They are a very sweet family. The "Ate" is head of the local fisherman's association; she sells fish in the palengke. "Kuya" is a fireman in the nearby town of Pilar. They have six kids, three in college. The neighborhood is mostly all nipa huts and there are lot of kids around, chickens, cats, dogs, and a few carabao. As we were snacking on merienda, a few evening shrimpers walked by with these huge nets reaching to the treetops. And Ate says if she will teach me how to "dance" for muscles in the sand at the beach at four in the morning. (You apparently just dance a bit in the sand and uncover lots of muscles. Yummy!)

Anyway, they are good people and I hope they will become my new neighbors. We talked about plans for the nipa...they teased me that I will need a really big C.R. because they know how Americans love their bathrooms. The hut will be simple, living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom -- about the size of my studio back home and made with bamboo and nipa leaves on the roof. Total cost of new home: $500. No running water but we do plan to string electricity in there somewhere. I will have to haul water to the house. Just awaiting approval now from the cross your fingers.