Saan Na Siya? (Where is She Already?)
Yes, I am still here. By the Grace of God, sometimes, it seems, but I am still here. Quite a bit has happened since I last left you with the image of me in a little black dress, but nothing of great import, only that I shook hands with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the President of the Philippines. (Picture to come soon). GMA, as she is known in these parts, came to my site recently to see, what else, the whalesharks! I was part of the VIP group that gathered to greet her at the beach. All I can tell you is that she is short. Other than that, didn't have a great sense of her. But she was nice enough to me.
Time seems to go by quickly now, which is a good thing. In a week, I will have been in the Philippines for one year! Wow. It's hard to believe a year has passed. While the days pass quickly, the time does not. Getting things done continues to be a challenge, but slowly, if not surely, things do happen.
Our library project is continuing though we have been in a lull recently while we wait for shipments of books and funds to build bookshelves and renovate part of the flooring (so the kids don't fall through to the ground floor!) We will be cleaning, painting and reorganizing the library this summer to get ready for the start of the school year in June. (Our summer months are April and May).
The environmental project, a marine ecology learning center, is also coming along in planning stages and seems for now that everyone is working together to make it happen.
In the meantime, I am busy planning summer seminars. We will do a two-day seminar at my school for a 100 teachers in May called Read First. Me and three other PCVs will be teaching reading strategies to teachers and giving them information on how to teach remedial readers. Also, in May, Mary Owen and I will be giving a journalism seminar in Cebu as part of a program called Tudlo Mindanao. This is Peace Corps' program to help teachers in Mindanao, (off limits for travel because of the terrorist activity there), by bringing them to us in Cebu. I'm definitely looking forward to that because it's a chance to help some of the country's most needy teachers. Some of them have very little education themselves and come from some of the most impoverished areas of the country.
And recently, I attend a seminar (I know! Lots of sems!) in Tagaytay on HIV/AIDS education. This one was really great, and I brought a rural health nurse from Donsol to attend the seminar with me. Julie Hernandez, the nurse, is very cool and works hard and wants to do a lot to help people in Donsol. Last week, we did an HIV/AIDS seminar for some of the graduating seniors. We are also planning to reach out to some of the transient sex workers who come during tourist season to give them some information about HIV. While in the Tagaytay, I met a really cool woman who is on the National HIV/AIDS Council and who is going to help me fund a camp for gay teens. Another PCV and I drafted a proposal for a leadership and self-esteem camp for the gay teens here and are now just looking for funding...
Life at home in the hut is good. I finally got some furniture, made out of, what else? Bamboo. It's not the most comfortable, but better than nothing at all! The kids still swarm my house and recently were excited to meet other Peace Corps volunteers who came to visit. I had several different volunteers recently and it was good for them to see that Americans come in all shapes, sizes and colors. I got a lot of questions, like, "that one, there, is she a real American?" Well, yes, as a matter of fact, we're all real Americans!
Oh, and how could I forget this. Just last week, my barangay of Dancalan celebrated its fiesta. Every village and town in the Philippines picks a patron saint and then celebrates that saint once a year by having an all-day eating and drinking fest that starts at breakfast and can go til dawn. Our saint is Joseph, but I don't think that is really the point of the fiesta any more. It's more about the pig. My "family" spent the last nine months or so fattening him up for the killing. A guy -- the hired "killer" -- comes around the neighborhood to kill the pigs. He sticks a sharp knife in the juggler and the other men hold the pig down as he struggles, then slowly dies. Okay, a bit macabre, I know.
Last Saturday, I hid in the CR (bathroom) during the killing, though I could hear it pretty clearly. The pig squeals painfully loud. But for curiousity's sake, I did come out to watch the cleaning. (Pictures to come). It was sad. I happen to think pigs are cute, even if they are dirty. Plus, I'd been feeding the damn thing with my leftovers for months so I felt a bit culpable. I made him fat, too.
About four men cleaned -- by pouring hot water over the dead pig to take off his hair -- gutted and cut up the poor beast for the next day's feast. The good thing about all this is that not a part is spared. All of that pig, down to his little piggly toes, was cooked and eaten the next day. The men even wash the pig intestines inside and out with soap and water to prepare them for cooking.
The idea of fiesta is that you make a bunch of food and people go house to house eating. The men drink Ginebra gin and Imperador brandy and sing videoke all day, and the women, sorry to say, stay in the kitchen, cooking and serving for the men. Women don't join much in the drinking circles in my little neighborhood.
I made vegetarian food -- lumpia, mongo bean balls, fruit salad and a rice dish -- and it's safe to say, I had very few visitors! I had two PCVs, Dan and Cindy, come to visit and hang with my family so that was just fine. The three of us celebrated fiesta early that morning by taking a swim with the whale sharks. I swam a ways with some really big ones this time! Gorgeous sila, talaga.
So after all of that, I am taking a vacation. Ang best friend ko, si Catherine, and I will be taking a trip to Vietnam on April 5. I am very excited to see her -- it's been a year! -- and to see another Asian country. My apologies for being remiss on the blog. I'll try to keep up as I go along here.
Hello to all back home. Miss and love you guys!