Friday, May 26, 2006

Makinig Kayo Na (Listen to Me!)

Americans are closet singers. We sing in the shower. We sing in our cars. Maybe you whistle a jingle while walking the dog. But how many of us belt out a tune on the city bus? The subway? Uh, huh.

Well, in the Philippines, singing is done everywhere and every event gives you an excuse to sing. It's not unusual to ride a jeepney, cheek to cheek, and have the 20 passengers break out into song in unison to whatever is on the radio at the moment. Last year, when a popular singer, Nina, had a hit "Love Moves (in Mysterious Ways)," there wasn't a mouth on the jeepney that was silent. Including mine!

I confess that in my heart I love the schmaltz of it all. It feels good to belt out a tune in public, even if you are sometimes offkey. The beauty of it all is that no one here cares if you can't sing ... as long as you sing.

This week, I joined two other Peace Corps volunteers for a night out of videoke. Videoke is karaoke sung to cheesy videos in the background. (We've been in Cebu all week training teachers from Mindanao in a program called Tudlo Mindanao. The program brings teachers from Mindanao to Cebu because it is too dangerous for Americans to travel to Mindanao.)

The hotel staff recommended a really nice (expensive) videoke place, which we rejected, in typical Peace Corps fashion, for a little hole in the wall across the street.

It was a place without a name. In fact we initially weren't sure if it was actually a bar or someone's home. The owners of the establishment -- the kind of place where you would not be at all surprised if a rat ran across your toes -- were thrilled to have us. I suspect they don't get too many foreign girls in the joint.

Erin McNeff set the tone with a rendition of Madonna's Crazy for You. Then all eyes were on us. I've taken a liking to singing videoke, mostly because I'm a closet singer, too, and miss my nights in the hot shower at home, belting out my tunes. But here in the Philippines, it's been a great way to practice Tagalog.

I have a couple of current Tagalog favorites I sing, which as you can imagine, thrills the locals. Each time you sing, the machine judges you and gives you a score up to 100 at the end. Jen Austin and I sang a duet of one of my favorite videoke songs -- Pagdating ng Panahon -- and scored 100. Who says I can't sing?

Pagdating ng panahon (At the right time)
Baka ikaw rin at ako (Maybe you and I again)
Baka tibok ng puso ko'y (Maybe the beat of my heart)
Maging tibok ng puso mo (Will be the beat of your heart)

Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats. ~Voltaire

Monday, May 08, 2006

Isang Taon Na? (One Year Already?)

In just a few weeks, I will have just one year left to go here on assignment in the Philippines. Hard to believe that I have been here more than a year already. Time has moved quickly overall. And the veterans say the second year flies.

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....