Isang Taon Na? (One Year Already?)
I'd really like to say that I am one of those volunteers who just loves the Philippines. I don't. There are things I love, things I hate, but mostly I think that it isn't really possible to totally adjust to life here. It is just too different and it's too much pressure to be different (white) in a culture that is not diverse. It's funny, but next week I will speaking to the new batch of volunteers (Yes, I am a veteran now) about adjustment issues.
As I've been planning what to say to them, I have been thinking about all the things you are forced to give up. Independence. Privacy. Personal space. Anonymity. Toilet paper in public C.R.'s (bathrooms), etc. You get used to the little things. You learn to carry sanitizer, toilet paper and other bathroom essentials. But it's the big things that cause you the most anguish. The things that Filipinos least value -- independence, privacy, personal space and anonymity -- are the fundamentals of American values. We couldn't be any different in this regard. Baliktad, as we say here. Or inside-out, topsy-turvy. Of course, there are Filipinos who value these things, too. But culturally speaking, these are generally not at the top of their list.
I have also been thinking lately about how it feels to be different. One of the things I don't like here is how much I get hassled just because of the color of my skin. How often a taxi or tricycle driver will try to cheat me just because they see my skin color and automatically think I can afford to pay more. The more I settle in here and try to make the Philippines my temporary home, the more it grates on me. The Philippines is not a diverse country. It's just not. And in brown skin countries, whiteness is always equated to richness. I understand it, but it's not always easy to be the recipient of this mentality. I have a new strategy. Instead of acknowleging people who treat me this way, I ignore them altogether. Maybe they will get the point?
Okay, enough commentary. It has been a long time since my last blog, mainly, because I went on vacation. Vietnam and Cambodia! Both countries were awesome. Vietnam was so much different than I expected. It's progressive, the people are nice and the food and shopping is hard to beat. Catherine, my friend from home, and I went to Saigon, traveled up the Mekong Delta with a odd tour guide named John Wayne, and later went to Hanoi. We saw awesome 11th century Buddhist and Hindu temples (Angkor Wat, etc.) in Siem Reap Cambodia. Cambodia is not really all that progressive yet, but it's countryside is beautiful and the temples were stunning. Highly recommend the pilgrimmage.
Now I am back to reality again and back to work. This month, I will be participating in a teachers' training program in Cebu. We'll be working with teachers from Mindanao, one of the poorest areas of the Philippines and off limits for us because of the terrorist organizations based there. Many of the teachers are Muslim and have very little training for their jobs. Mary Owen and I will be doing some journalism trainings. After that, I've organized an ambitious two-day reading seminar at my school to train teachers in reading strategies, skills, etc. We're expecting 130 teachers! Two other volunteers will join me in facilitating.
We are just waiting on the funds now for our Marine Ecology center, which will be built near the beach in town. I'm excited to start that and know it will keep me really busy for the next few months.
The library project continues to move (dihan, dihan -- slowly). The school has cleared out a room for a teacher resource center and other small renovations are being done to the library space. Many thanks to all of you who have contributed to the project. The kids will definitely appreciate your efforts. It's the kids, afterall, that keep me going here. They're amazing and I only want that they have a fair chance at a future.
That's about it for now.
Until next time....