Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Life Or Something Like It

As I am busying myself carving out a life here in the Philippines, I sometimes think of the little things I experience every day that are difficult to pour out in a blog or emails.

Little details, like riding in a Jeepney with 24 other people and several hundred pounds of long silver fish that look like eels, water sloshing out of the buckets. Sitting around chikka-chikka-ing (gossiping) with the soon-to-be neighbors when one (Ate Buehl) volunteers to show me how to weave nipa leaves into pieces that will be used for the roofs of huts. (Many hours of weaving will help her earn just over a dollar for the day). Like meeting the Lopez family...and their eight kids...and realizing after the fact that they live in a hut half the size of mine. Or taking pictures of the workers on my hut with my digital cam and have them ham it up and then get excited to see if they look guwapo (handsome) enough in the instant pics...or stopping work on the hut so that we can mag-meryenda or "take your snacks." Never underestimate the resolve of a Filipino to eat at the appointed snack times! In this case, 3 p.m.

Life here doesn't resemble at all my life back home. But in some ways it is becoming a life all it's own. Soon I will be independent, living in my own hut, in Barangay Dancalan, a community close to the beach. Most of the people there make living by fishing or selling fish. Some, like Ate Buehl, eek out a living by doing small crafts or selling prepared food in makeshift turo-turos. (Turo-turo's are like Filipino fastfood cafeterias where you point -- turo -- at the food you want!)

The hut is coming along. Okay, I promise pictures soon...I expect to move in on Nov. 5. It took a lot longer than they said to build the house but then I should have added a couple of weeks anyway for "Filipino time." Can't wait to settle in and get to know the new neighbors...already, they are curious and come by to stare at the very large hut that is being constructed in my honor. It seems a bit funny now that I will live in a big hut alone when the Lopez family crowds into their small, dilapidated hut down the road...


Thanks again to all of you who right away have started to contribute to my Book and a Buck Drive. We are getting books and money in the mail. Please tell your friends, your family about the drive. Thank you again for your help!

I'm signing off for now...Ingatz.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Book and a Buck!

First, thanks to all of you who have already shown interest in our BOOK AND A BUCK DRIVE! I know you will all help me make it a big success, and that in the process, we'll enrich the lives of a lot of kids in Donsol.

The kids here don't get much in the way of literature. The teachers are used to teaching grammar, not reading, and there really isn't much in the way of resources, even if the teachers wanted to teach about things like poetry and all those great books we read as kids. It's hard to imagine a life without those things, without Shakespeare, for example. ("Knowing I lov’d my books, he furnish’d me
From mine own library with volumes that I prize above my dukedom" -- The Tempest) Or how can a kid go through life without reading The Diary of Anne Frank? These are the things we take for granted.

I sometimes wonder whether introducing kids to great literature is worth it. But then I think of the doors it opens for them...a chance to see a place, a sense of hope and a sense of belonging to something bigger out there.

There is a bigger world outside of Donsol, right? Sometimes I forget. World news is hard to get here. The paper comes a day late, and well, the little international news on television is in Tagalog and too fast right now for me to catch the full meaning. I am vowing to pull out that emergency world radio I got for Christmas and listen to the BBC every now and then.

I saw some of the kids in the library the other day looking at a recently donated world map and pointing out a place in China. The old map was literally unreadable! And now, presto, they can see the world in front of them. This is so important in my world here, where I have had many adults ask me if England is on the same continent as the United States. (Sorry, Tony B!) It is really amazing to be living in such a sheltered place...at the end of a road, literally. It really turns your sense of self baligtad (upside-down, inside-out)!

In other news...for those of you keeping up with my hut construction, things are moving along rather mabilis (quickly). I should be able to move in by the end of the month. In the Chinese tradition, we will place coins -- American and Filipino -- in the doorways for good luck!

Signing off for now.

Ingat kayo.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Camp G.L.O.W.

On Oct. 1 and 2, we held a mini-G.L.O.W. camp at Donsol's high school. G.L.O.W. stands for Girls Leading Our World. The camp was started by a couple of Peace Corps volunteers in Romania in 1995 and has since been repeated thousands of times in countries around the world.

I didn't re-invent the wheel here, but this was my first big project at the high school. It took weeks of organizing, begging for funding and a lot of help from my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and co-teachers. The camp helps young girls to gain confidence and to understand what it means to be a girl and to be a leader in our world today. There is some great material that we teach in two-hour sessions over the two days that includes information about leadership, self-esteem and body image, the environment, girls' health and community development. Plus, the girls just get to have fun!

We had 67 girls attend from my high school and from schools in the outer barangays. Some girls took a boat to come to the camp! Enjoy the pictures below:

The girls are performing an environmental song they wrote for a session on saving their environment.

For an exercise in teamwork, the girls must work together to keep a bucket of water in the air with their feet -- and take off and put back on their shoes in the process!

These girls are participating in the Trust Walk, teaching them how to be both a leader and a follower.

These girls are defining what leadership means to them.

For a session on body image, the girls draw two pictures: How they think others see them and how they see themselves. Some interesting results!

Another teamwork exercise. In the "human knot," the girls work together to try to untangle themselves.

The girls decide together how to use three boards to cross an imaginary river of alligators.


Okay, this is the point in my stay here where I will ask for your help, specifically, your money!

From now until Christmas, I will be conducting a BOOK AND A BUCK DRIVE for my high school. Here's how it works. You send an age-appropriate book and one single dollar (for mailing costs) to one of the two addresses below. Simple, eh? You get a tax write-off and a kid across the world gets to read a book!

WHAT'S AN APPROPRIATE BOOK? Our students are ages 12 to 16 and many of them have difficulty reading books in English. Please donate books that are appropriate for American kids, ages 10 to 15. We would like literature, art and music books, philosophy, science, biography, fiction, non-fiction. Books with a multi-cultural perspective are great! (I.E. Not just an American perspective)

I only ask that each of you send one book. If you want to send more, we will take them! My partners in the book drive (Linda Campbell and Catherine Quayle) will then forward all books to the Philippines. I recently acquired some donated books from Scholastic, Inc. (Thanks to my former editor, Elizabeth Ward) and the kids are checking them out and loving them. But we need so much more.

At school, we will work on a program to raise funds to renovate the library -- it has a leaky roof and faulty wiring -- and a plan to build new shelves to house the books. All you have to do is send the books. This will make a true partnership.

So in this upcoming holiday season of thanksgiving, please open your wallets and hearts and give to our library! Maraming salamat sa inyo lahat!

Donsol students check out China on the new world maps (donated by Linda and Ron Campbell).

Check out the new reading corner I set up with the help of the librarian and a few newly donated books. Think we can fill these shelves up and then some?

Okay, so these kids look happy! But wouldn't they be much happier if they had more books to read?

A view of the existing library. Behind the camera view, there are some shelves of books but the librarian was too embarrassed to show them -- they are old and the shelves are falling apart.

Donsol girls studying in the library.

This picture shows you two things. That, A, there is a librarian who cares about having a library and is trying her best to make it effective; and B, the library is in desperate need of help -- look at the leaky roof!

My Bahay (house)!

Well, it looks like my new hut is looking, well, very much like a hut! It has a frame and partial walls and part of the C.R. (bathroom) completed already, in one week. I am visiting the place almost daily to check on the progress and it looks like the guys are hard at work and doing a good job. Magaling magtrabaho!

The hut will be much bigger than I thought -- pretty spacious as huts go. I hope it won't be too embarrassing to live in the house by myself in neighborhood where whole, large families live in the same sized huts. But I think I will find it comfortable for me and while I have made a lot of sacrifices, it will be comforting to have my own private space.

The walls are made partially of cement and then bamboo. Kuya Jun, my new "host father," says that he is making the bamboo walls in a diamond pattern. Sounds nice. I decided to leave the inside of the house open -- a la New York studio-style, even though I think they thought I was crazy for not wanting walls around my bedroom. The interior will be perhaps a little bigger than my studio in New York and have space for a "bedroom," living area and eat-in kitchen, plus CR. There will be no running water, except if you count the garden hose I will run from Kuya's house to mine. I will tap into his electricity to have lights and outlets. I was a little disturbed to find out that garbage disposal is a pile in a marshy palm area a short distance from the house. But maybe that's a neighborhood project I can work on...Proper disposal of garbage is not a big thing here. They don't understand, really, the long-term effects on the environment by simply throwing garbage in a big pile and letting it float into the nearby riveR. Hmmm. I do have a septic tank. Though not sure how environmentally sound that is either.

Construction should be finished about the last week of October. Yeehaw! Here are some pics I took yesterday to give you an idea of my new bahay....

Kuya Jun, right, is supervising one of the workers who is finishing a cement wall inside my hut.

A worker is cleaning off a strip of bamboo. It's pretty labor intensify. You have to cut the bamboo and then strip it clean of splinters, etc. No machines!

A view of the front entrance of my new hut. About 3 1/2 feet of cement and then bamboo for the rest of the walls.

Another view of the front of the hut. Ate Basing is inside, helping with the construction.

My street! Many streets don't really have names here and even if they did, no one would use them. It's all about barangays (villages)! Which barangay do you live in? This is the view on my street, walking out of my little neighborhood.

Some kids in my neighborhood who followed me down the street the other day. Cute na?