Friday, February 24, 2006

Marunong Ka Ba Sumayaw?

Last night I went to the prom. It's been a long time in the waiting, since I didn't attend my senior prom in high school. But at the age of 39 (yes!), I got dolled up in a black dress and heels and rode a tricycle to the ball.

Filipinos apparently take their proms seriously. Last night, there was four hours of prepared dances and promenades of class beauties -- and that was before the real dance actually begun! Samba, Pantomina, Waltz, Cha Cha. You name it, these kids knew how to do it. Of course, they lost about two weeks of school practicing for the thing, but, eh, you only have one prom, right? Hmmm.

Anyway, I forgot my camera. I would have liked you all to see the image of me dressed up and riding a tricycle over a bumpy dirt road to get to the town basketball court for the dance. Not your Madison Avenue affair, mind you. Just when I was feeling guilty for spending about 600 pesos ($12)on my semi-formal dress, I learned that some of the girls are spending 3,000-plus pesos to buy or rent a formal gown for the night. That is more than many families in my town earn in a month! That is 75 percent of the tuition for one semester at Bicol University!

But as I've quickly learned, appearances are important in the Philippines. And families will sacrifice a great deal just to put on a good party. Though I am trying to understand the logic of it all, I secretly wish sometimes that there would be this much expense and excitement devoted to, for instance, a reading program. Sigh.

Books, Books, Books

In other news, we are continuing to work on the school library. Many of you have asked whether I am still collecting. We definitely are. Please continue to contribute if you can. Dictionaries and simple reference books with pictures would be great. We can also use teacher resource materials -- guides for the teachers on all subjects. Plus, audiovisual materials -- learning CDs/DVDs -- are also needed. Again, please send to Linda Campbell, 4213 Whitacre Road, Fairfax, VA. 22302.

The librarian and I will spend some of the summer months -- April and May -- reorganizing the library, acquiring new shelves and equipment and getting things ready for the new school year in June. Thank you again to all of you have already contributed. I see the kids reading the books every day and I know they appreciate them and are learning a great deal. Maraming salamat sa inyong lahat!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Buhay sa Donsol

It gets harder and harder sometimes to express in words the things I experience here. Kind of silly for a writer, eh? But life becomes somewhat normal once you live in a place for a while. Even if you are living in a hut. Without running water. And your evenings are spent hauling your water by da bucket, gutting your fish and picking the bok-bok bugs out of your bed!

But I will attempt to update and share a bit of the not so mundane. I feel like a proud momma today. I have mentioned that I have a secondary project outside of the school. I am working with an environmental group and the Donsol Mayor and some other folks to build a Marine Ecology Learning Center called Bahay Kalikasan (or Nature House) at the beach in my barangay (village). Yesterday, we finished the proposal...18 pages in submit to Peace Corps for review and release of funding. We have a donor -- Salamat po, Bob Waters, with the Thomas P. Waters Foundation! -- and 25 percent of the project will be paid for by the local community. Ito ay maliking proyekto, talaga! (It's really a very big project!)

In short, if realized, we will conduct seminars on environmental science for children, solid waste management seminars for adults and we will create livelihood programs for the local fishermen who live in my neighborhood. The hope is that we can bring a whole community awareness to the pressing environmental problems here in Donsol. And there are many! You can start with the families dumping trash into the mangrove swamp behind my hut. The center will act as a community center for people to work for the preservation and protection of the local environment.

But yesterday was the first big accomplishment for the Filipinos involved. They met and finished a proposal to receive the funding through the Peace Corps Partnership Fund. For one reason or another, things don't always get accomplished here. Deadlines are missed, the money disappears, politics get in the way. And the process of meeting deadlines, making decisions and writing proposals is new to many folks here. But they did it and I am very proud of them. Now, we await panel review from Peace be continued.

In other news here, our reading program at the school -- Read First -- a program for remedial readers in the First Year of high school was finally approved by the principal. We've been discussing it since last August. Like I said, things don't always happen on time here...if at all! We will do a training for the teachers in May and implement the program in June. More than 70 percent of the students at school can't read English or are well below grade level in English. You might not think this is unusual because it's not their first language...but Filipinos are required to learn English and study it beginning in the First Grade. Plus, their math and science courses are taught in English! Kind of hard to learn math and science if you don't know English....

The Punta English Club (in my neighborhood) is alive and kicking thanks to Jerrold "Tong" Lopez, a 16-year-old high school dropout who is helping me teach the younger children English. He is very smart and very excited about the club. As president, he has started the kids on a number of projects, including writing Valentine's letters this week in English. Very cute! We meet on Sundays and Tong was elected the group's president. I am hoping Tong will go back to school in June. He is sooooo smart.

On the homefront, I'm enjoying my nightly "usap-usap" (chats) with Ate Basing even though it means sometimes I am not alone. They are all still worried about me being alone in my own house so nobody dares leave me until I am ready for bed. Sometimes it gets exhausting, but it's definitely helping my Tagalog! We talk and she helps me with new words and I help her with some English, so works out just fine. Although, I must admit that sometimes I really don't understand everything she says...sigh! I have a sometimes pet, Pretty Boy, a cat, who comes around every now and then to sleep in my bed and eat my leftover fish. He doesn't however like the rats in my house.

I have made a few home improvements. Queer Eye guys, watch out! Painted my "dirty kitchen" a bright apple green! It was so, well, dirty, and dark. I have ordered some furniture made of bamboo to be delivered in March. And the house will actually be connected to water next week. The hauling is cute but my back is aching....

Other exciting news in the neighborhood is that fiesta is next month. Everyone is getting their pigs big and fat and they will kill them all on the same day. I don't think I'll be around for the squealings! But every barangay has a big fiesta once a year for their patron saint. Ours is St. Joseph. Don't ask why. But basically, it's a big party for a few days. Everyone eats meat and drinks gin. I will offer vegeterian food and see if I get any visitors. Probably not. There are singing and dance contests, and a Miss Gay competition. Yes, Miss Gay!

Oh, so recently, I went to my first cockfight. I was avoiding it but figured I should go eventually since is such a huge part of Filipino culture or at least the male side of things, for the most part. It was as dreadful as I expected with blood and guts spewing everywhere, a bunch of sweaty screaming men and a dead or half-dead rooster in the end. Lots of money changing hands though. Wonder where they get the pesos for the betting when most here have trouble just putting food on the table.

The other thing that is changing in Donsol is that a lot of white people keep showing up in town. It's the strangest thing when you are not used to seeing white people and then you see them walking down the street. I have begun pointing and staring just like my Filipino friends. Tourist season has begun in Donsol. People are coming into town to see the whale sharks, of course. I met an Australian guy teaching English in Taiwan and a Canadian girl. Today, I met a couple of Swedes. This could get fun. I am expecting 15 Peace Corps volunteers to visit one weekend in March. My neighbors might be overwhelmed. I mean, there's me...then, there's 15 of me!