Friday, December 24, 2010


Our office Christmas Party was Thursday, ending the work week before Christmas. Everyone was supposed to bring a food contribution. It has been hard to get in the Christmas mood here, being away from family and it being so warm (it feels almost unnatural to be sweating in December) so I decided what I needed to help me feel the season was to do some holiday baking. My language teacher, Bebet, has an oven and she agreed to let me do my baking there. I decided to make sugar cookies and magic bars.

When I arrived to Bebet’s house there was another visitor already there. Her name is Waning and she is a manogluy-a, a type of local healer. There are many types of local healers, referred to as kwak-doctors (seriously that is what they are called). This particular healer uses ginger and so is therefore called a manogluy-a, “manog” meaning “one who gives a service or aid” and “luy-a” which means ginger.

Waning was there to attend to Bebet’s daughter, Sam, who has been sick with fever for some time. Modern medicine was not doing much so Bebet said she called on Waning as a last sort of effort. There were a variety of leaves wrapped on Sam’s head using a bandana, and Waning was rubbing a piece of ginger all over her and talking fast.

I told Bebet I have always wanted to meet a native healer. She asked me if there was any ailment that I would like to have Waning look at while she was there. I have a past of back problems, stemming from mild scoliosis and, what I have been told, a “bulging disc”, whatever that means. Doctors tell me I just need physical therapy. But here I was in the presence of a native healer in the Philippines; why not get a second opinion?

So Waning asked me to take the piece of ginger and hold it in my hand. After doing so, she took the ginger from me and began to rub it all over me, just as I had seen her do to Sam. Then she took the ginger and whispered to it for a while. I could not understand what she was saying, and Bebet told me she was speaking Kinaria, which is a another dialect of Hiligaynon.

Then Waning told me (through Bebet’s interpretation) that my back aches were due to “bad air being trapped” in my muscles. I asked her what causes this and she told me that it is due to imbalance, or as we know it, stress. She said I didn’t need another healer, that what I needed was meditation and a good back massage. Then she proceeded to massage my back and rub menthol oil on it. When she was through, my back felt much better!

After my great massage from the manogluy-a, it was time to get baking! Heart, Bebet’s other daughter, was my assistant baker. She was so interested in learning how to bake and had a real knack for it so I let her take over a lot of the mixing and adding and just helped her to follow the recipes. She found some cookie cutters in the back of the cupboard and we made heart and star-shaped Christmas cookies. Then we dyed red and green frosting. Heart really enjoyed decorating the cookies for Christmas. We also made magic bars, with a few substitutions since some of the ingredients were hard to find, including using Guimaras grown cashew nuts instead of peanuts, still very delicious!  

It was fun to share the tradition of holiday baking and to learn about some of the native local healers here in the Philippines. Now my back feels great and my holiday treats were a hit at the office Christmas party!

That's all for now. I wish everyone Happy Holidays and  a Happy New Year!

Malipayon nga Paskwa!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pawikan Release!

As I have mentioned before, there is a Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center in one of the coastal barangays of Jordan. Since I have been here, there have been eight turtles being kept there, only two of which were actually in need of rehabilitation. So I have been talking a lot with my counterpart, Bebot, about having a sea turtle (pawikan) release. And of course he added that we should make an event out of it. So this past Tuesday we had our “Sea Turtle Tagging and Release into the Wild” event.

Originally we only had three tags so we tagged three turtles in preparation. However through a fellow PCV, I was able to make a contact at SEAFDEC, which is a fisheries research center. There is a SEAFDEC facility in Iloilo and in Nueva Volencia, Guimaras. My new friend at SEAFDEC not only was planning on coming to our sea turtles release event, but she was also going to bring a turtle to release and additional tags. So we were able to tag two more turtles for release!

I had invited the other PCVs on the island to come and most of them were able to attend. It was a busy morning, boating people from the turtle rehab center to the beach where the release was going to happen and tagging the two additional turtles. The turnout was really great! In addition to my fellow PCVs, co-workers from my office, and my new SEAFDEC friend, also in attendance were the Governor of Guimaras, Jordan Mayor, a group of local residents and fishermen, and an American ex-pat living on the island. There was also media present and we ended up on two local news channels later that evening! One showed a clip of me and the governor releasing turtles on the beach.

Bebot had also convinced me that I should MC the event. So in addition to introducing all of our guest and speakers, I also gave a short speech about the turtles being endangered and how great it was that Jordan was helping in the tagging and releasing of this animal… all in Ilonggo! Luckily I had practiced that morning with my tita (aunt) and timbong (house help). They made sure to correct me so that when I was talking about the day’s activities, I said ‘an activity like this’ instead of ‘an activity monkey this’. Both words are spelled “amo” but pronounced with different emphasis. I am SO glad I didn’t say monkey!
The morning finished on schedule even though we started an hour late, and we were able to release 6 tagged sea turtles to the sea!
Getting ready to tag the turtles.

Now turtle gets a little "piercing" for her tag.

We were able to release 6 sea turtles: 2 green, 2 hawksbill, and 2 olive ridley.

The Governor of Guimaras releasing a turtle.

Me acting as MC for the event with media near by.

I think she is ready for the sea!

Also this week I was able to take part in cashew planting. Cashew (“kasoy”) is a major crop on Guimaras, along with Mangos, and the organization ”Kasoy for Life” planned a kasoy planting and wanted the agricultural office to help out. Although it is not really coastal resource management, since I work in the agricultural office, I thought it would be fun to help out. After about 17 of us piled into the office truck, we made our way to an inland barangay and went on a short hike through the forest with cashew seeds in our pockets. Using pre-measured bamboo sticks, we planted over 100 cashew seeds each 6 meters apart. My supervisor told me I should come back to the Philippines in 3 years to see the grown trees!
So this week was very productive for me! I helped in releasing 6 sea turtles and planting over 100 cashew trees. All in week’s work!
Getting our cashew seeds ready.

Planting kasoy!
Halong everyone!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

So You Think You Can Dance

As seems typical of the average PCVer, I have not posted much since I got to site.... 

Things are good though, the host family is nice and allows me to be independent. I have a language tutor, Sheila, who used to work for PC in the past, there is another PCVer who works in my office. We have become good friends, talking about our adjustment at site and supporting each other through it all. Things at the office are slow but that is to be expected considering I am still new here and it is now December and into the holiday season. So far I have met the Mayor, Vice-Mayor, SB/ Council members, the Governor and many FARMC (Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Council) members from my town and coastal barangays. I even have set the dates in January when I will be having community meetings with each coastal barangay. So I am well on my way at site, but I am also getting used to the much slower pace of the workday.

Most of my time spent in the office is socializing with my co-workers and the various people who stop by, we also eat a lot and have numerous snack times throughout the day. After lunch, we have an hour of rest time or we play cards, and we take turns checking our facebook on the one computer in the office with internet. Amidst all this work is done though. The Filipino culture is much more focused on the community and spending time with each other, strengthening community bonds. This is especially important for me since I am a foreigner and I am working with the community at a grass roots level.

A couple times a week I have field days which involves me meeting people in the community, visiting and assessing experimental fish ponds, and going to the marine sanctuary on the coast of Jordan. Last week I was able to ride around with the Bantay Dagat (type of local coast guard) and fully see and appreciate the beautiful coast of Jordan, Guimaras. It is truely breath-taking! The coast is lined in rocky cliffs alternatig with coves of white sand beaches. The water is a clear blue-green and you can see the lattice of coral reef below. Also along the coast are small rocky islands covered in thick jungle. Looking up along the trees of these islands you can see fruit bats and monkeys. This really is an island paradise!

Today I went to tag some of the sea turtles that are at the rehabilitation center in Lawi, a coastal barangay. This is in preparation for the release we will have next week!

I am also often invited to many fiestas and events. I take it as opportunities to be involved with the community I live in and be seen as part of the community. This week was the Fiesta of Bulan Bulan. Bulan Bulan is a sitio within my Barangay (sitios are smaller village-like areas within a Barangay). Many of them hold yearly festivals that usually correspond to the saint’s day for which the Sitio was named.

I still had to work during the day but was told I could leave for the lunch time fiesta and evening Disco Dirby. So at lunch time I left for the Bulan Bulan and had lunch at a community member’s house. It was typical Filipino fiesta food: rice, baked fish, pig lechon (roast), and spaghetti! We ate and moved from house to house meeting all the relatives. However that evening was the main event, the Disco Dirby, for which I was asked to be a judge for. Oh boy.

It turned out to be really fun. I got there early with Sheila, who was also going to be a judge. When we arrived they were finishing up the crowning of the new Mrs. Bulan Bulan (kind of like prom queen). The girls were all dressed in gowns and the newly crowned winner had a sparkling crown atop her head. As is customary, a member of the community was giving a speech about how wonderful the new Mrs. Bulan Bulan was, complimenting each of her features. This guy was a little long winded and as he was comparing her nose to some kind of pointed object (it was in Ilonggo so I lost some in translation) a little girl in a white dress walked out in the middle of the arena and in front of the stage. At first everyone just ignored her and kept the program going. Until she made her move. She proceeded to lift her dress, pull down her panties, and squat. Yes she was attempting to relieve herself right in the middle of Mrs. Bulan Bulan’s crowning. Among the audience’s laughing and gasping, the mother finally came to claim her child. Sheila just whispered to me, ‘well she is just a young girl, she is used to relieving herself whenever she needs to.’

Yes, in the Pines, small children squat alongside of the road and men of all ages stand to relieve themselves pretty much wherever they are. I probably see at least three men standing along side the road or water every day, with their backs to me and a stream between their legs. It is a sight you just have to get used to.
But back to the fiesta and dance contest.

It was really fun. There were three dance teams made up of all guys. They had matching dance costumes on and did real dance moves and lifts, and even had little skits in between. I felt as though I was on Randy Jackson’s “So you think you can dance” show. In the end we awarded our winner their cash prize. I will add it was a tough job being a judge. It was hard to grade and judge the teams when they all had worked hard on their routines and all were very entertaining. But there was one group above the others that really moved like a dance group in sync with each other and were simply the most entertaining, so they came out the winners. I wish I had pictures or video to share but my camera is still broken so its left to your imagination.

I hope to attend more fiestas like this one and am sure I will. However maybe next time I will remain in the audience and not at the judge’s table.

Halong from the Pines!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pas Pas Pacquiao!

So now I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! Woohoo! This past week was spent in Bacolod City again, for our counterpart’s conference followed by the swearing-in ceremony on Friday. It was tough to leave our host families in Banate but I promised to visit soon and will definitely keep in touch! The conference was pretty good and the hotel was great, with delicious food, comfy beds and aircon. With all of the amenities I almost forgot I am in the PC.  It was really good to see our friends from other training sites again too and catch up with them. My counterpart is pretty cool, he likes to cut up and have fun but he has a lot of good experience doing CRM so hopefully together we can get a lot done in the next two years.

Pretty much the entire week, we spent the evening time hanging out and having fun with each other, celebrating the end of training. And Thursday was Elliott’s Birthday so we celebrated his birth in true Grupo Grabe fashion!

Of course these evenings were always followed by an early start the next morning for conference session  but we managed. We had a lot of sessions split up into our sectors. The CRM sessions were really great, giving us information about the marine ecology here and various funding options we will have at our disposal. Joyce, the current CRM sector manager, announced that she is leaving PC and moving on to other things. We were all really sad to hear this, although I already knew from talking to current PCVs, it was still upsetting when she sat down to tell us the news. She was emotional as well. PC will have a hard time finding someone to replace her. She is so passionate and dedicated to CRM and PC and making sure that our two years here are spent well. She worked especially hard for us to make sure we were matched up with the best sites possible and has high hopes for our group. She will be sorely missed.

The swearing-in ceremony was fantastic! It took place at the historic provincial capital building, which was decorated in red, white and blue for us! We were greeted by sounds of drums and instruments playing native music. The special guest who actually swore us in was the US Ambassador to the Philippines. It was pretty neat to have him there and his speech was inspiring, telling us that we were the actually ambassadors to the Philippines and the great impact we will have on American-Filipino relations.

Batch 269 with the US Ambassador to the Philippines. We made it!!!

That night more celebrating ensued by going out on the town. I also decided it was high time that I ate balut! For those who are not familiar with this cultural delicacy, balut is a fertilized duck egg which has been boiled after a few weeks of incubation. So the duck is partially formed and the yolk is very big. For a PCVer, it is sort of like a rite of passage to eat. So what better way to celebrate swearing-in as a PCV in the Philippines than to partake of balut! I will say it was not that bad but the key to eating it all (and I did eat it all) is not to look at it while you are eating it. Namit!

Saturday was time to leave Bacolod. My friends and I decided to spend one last night together in Iloilo, before heading to our different sites. Our PC Filipino friend, B, who has all the best connections, hooked us up with great and cheap accommodations. Instead of staying at a pension house (hostel), we stayed on a family compound in the city. They have extra houses that they rent out so we rented one for the night, complete with aircon! We got their number and definitely plan to stay there during our future reunions in Iloilo. It is really great that the city is so close to all of us. It will be a great place to get together and catch up with each other.

A big reason we wanted to stay together one more night was also to watch the fight Sunday morning. World Boxing Champion hailing from the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao, was challenged by Mexican Boxer Antonio Margarito. This was kinda a big deal. It was a terrific fight and even more amazing to watch it among Filipinos in the Philippines! We went to a hotel that was showing it and the place was packed with people! Filipinos are known for being very hospitable and friendly, but during my three months here so far, I have also come to know that Filipinos are also very proud to be Filipinos. This pride seemed to culminate around Manny Pacquiao. Every time he threw a punch people cheered. And when he was hit, there were screams of panic. However there was much more cheering than panicking. Pacquiao is a small man and he is very fast! I’m not really into boxing, but I could not take my eyes off of the fight. It was so exciting! And of course, Manny defended his title successfully!

After the fight it was finally time for us to part ways. It was tough to say good-bye but we know we will see each other soon enough. Now I am at my host family’s house in Guimaras am starting work as a PCV! The next few months will be challenging for me, but I am anxious to start.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What part of the duck is this?

Since our community project is completed, we were finally able to relax this weekend and get ready for Halloween in the Pines! Traditions in the Philippines are becoming more and more Americanized, but Halloween is for the most part celebrated as All Souls Day on November 1. Filipinos visit the cemetery with candles and flowers in remembrance of loved ones that have died.

We decided that we wanted our own Halloween party so Dan's host mom was gracious enough to let us party at her house. There was also going to be a Halloween party at our favorite Banate establishment, Kites, on Nov. 1 so we were going to need costumes of course! Friday afternoon Sam, Laura and I went into town to see what we could find in the way of costumes. Now Banate is a small town after all so there really isn't that much, especially since most Filipinos here don't dress in costume for Halloween anyway. But we found a gown rental store and thought we would check it out. 

Oh dresses dresses galore! Now the three of us aren't exactly what you would call 'girly girls', I mean we are coastal resource management, but we don't really have much opportunity at all to dress up here and the mere sight of these dresses got our estrogen flowing! The dresses were a little expensive to rent (at least on PC salary) but we decided there was no harm in trying them on. As we were trying on various gowns, we came across three dresses that were all styled the same with flowers, butterflies and sequence (ok that sounds really lame but I promise they were pretty). We had to try them on! And they fit each of us perfectly, which is really weird considering our larger stature when compared to that of the average Filipina. So of course we rented them for Saturday's party, going as.. a garden. (I know.) 

And of course we could not wear these gowns without also getting our hair and make-up done. So Sam called up her Filipino friend who works at a salon in town and he jumped at the chance to do our hair and make-up saying he had never done make-up on a white face before. He wanted us to meet him at Sam's house at 3pm to get ready. The party was a 8pm. Yeah it took that long. But the end result was really great. The guys all stopped by and we inturn put make-up on them since they were going as the Spice Girls, haha. Once we were all done-up we made our way to Dan's house and party party!

The Spice Girls: (left to right) Scary Spice, Sporty Spice, Posh Spice, Baby Spice, and Ginger Spice. Don't ask!
We are a garden!
The following day (after recovering from the previous days activities) we went to play soccer. Instead of going to Borotoc Nueva like usual to play, we went to a PC staff’s hometown of Pototan. It is a very nice town with clean streets and mowed lawn – the first I have seen in the Pines! There were even signs around warning people the fine for littering. The FINE for LITTERING!  This is a crazy thought to me here since everyday in Banate I watch as people casually throw their plastic trash in the streets. The mind set of these two nearby towns, Banate and Pototan, differ so much and the result is just as dramatic. However Pototan gave me hope that if behavior change can happen there then it will be able to happen other places as well. Do I hear a side project calling my name? Perhaps Jordan is ready for an anti-littering campaign as well J

But I digress. Soccer at Pototan was great! The field was green and mowed and … Muddy! All of the rain the past few days had left the field utterly soaked! But we definitely weren’t going to let that stop us! It was a muddy good time and Bobbit's friend who lived down the road let us go to his house to hose off afterwards.

After the game we decided to check out the pizzeria that we noticed on the way into town. Pizza has kind of become our go-to for comfort food. That being said there are two types of pizza here: American style and Filipino style. This was definitely Filipino style. One of the options was hotdog and sausage and the supreme pizza included pepperoni, ham, hotdog and sardines. I decided to stay simple and ordered a pepperoni and cheese pizza. The sauce was very sweet and the cheese gooey but tasted good to me! Afterwards we made our way back to good ole Banate.

The next day was Nov. 1, All Saints Day and day of the Halloween Party at Kites! The whole town was in celebration mode. Shops were closed, people were spending the day at the cemetery, Kites was decorating  for the party, and there was a giant wall of speakers in the middle of the road. That's right, as I was making my way into town I had to go around the giant wall of speakers while trying not to go deaf from the BASS BASS BASS BASS. Apparently there was going to be a street dance party that evening competing with Kites party, oh and they decided to go ahead and start blaring music around 7am. That the Pines for you!

When evening time came around we all got together to get ready for the party. The girls came over to my house. Laura and Lindsay dressed like gypsies while Sam and I decided to go 80's (thanks mom for that wide-necked shirt :). A side ponytail, some impromptu leg warmers made from a cut up sock, and some purple eyeshadow and I was ready! We went to Tyler's house to dinner, because as usual we were invited over to feast.

Tyler's host mom had prepared for us pancit (noodles), rice (of course), pork and duck. Now I haven't tried duck yet but had tried goose and wasn't really a fan of it. But the others kept telling me that I had to try the duck because it was so good. So I told them to pass me the bowl and I picked out a piece. I usually like to know what part of the animal I am eating but couldn't really tell so I just went with it. There wasn't much meat on it but it tasted pretty good. As I was chowing down on the duck a form slowly took place. It was then that I realized exactly what part of the duck I was chewing on. I turned to Laura and asked "what exactly does that look like to you?" She busted out laughing as she realized what I already knew. It was the head. Yes I was gnawing on the skull and neck of a duck head. Needless to say I put it down and was done.

I tend to avoid animal heads in this country, there is just something about eating an animal head that weirds me out. So whenever I eat chicken or fish, I always avoid the head. It usually works out because the head happens to be someone's favorite. Too bad this time it was left for me. 
I don't think I will be trying duck again for awhile.

After my interesting dinner, we made our way through the rain to Kites. It was already rocking when we got there! Shortly after we arrived, Jane (our friendly server) asked us in true Filipino fashion, what song would we like to perform to. Being Americans we are invited to many events. And most of the time we are asked to stand up and say a speech or perform a dance or song without any preparation. This is pretty scary to the typical American but our time so far in the Philippines has given us many opportunities to become better at improvisation. So I guess we shouldn't have been surprised at the request.

We quickly made the decision that we should dance to.. Thriller. Duh. As they started the music, we made our way to the center of the dance floor, walking as zombies, and then taking a few moves from MJ's music video we managed to last the whole song and our audience LOVED it! They wanted us to do another, but we were able to persuade them otherwise and danced the night away with our Banate friends.

Of course the night was not over since on our way back home we had to pass the giant wall of speakers. In front of which there was a huge gathering of people dancing in the street and in the rain. Why fight it, right? So we danced our way through.

It was an exhausting but fun weekend and now we are busy preparing for our language interview taking place Thursday morning. 

Only one more week in Banate!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Baby Mangroves!

So our community project is well under way and going great! Tuesday we got the local kids together and after giving a short talk about why mangroves are important, we went together to the local mangrove nursery ground and picked up trash. There was so much plastic and other household trash everywheree in the mangroves, but the kids went full speed ahead to pick up everything. After only 45 min all of our trashbags were full and heavy and it started to rain so we called tapos na (all done). They were all so into picking up the trash that we had to tell them several times that we were done! And they all pitched in to carry the bags to the street to be picked up. The mangroves looked great and ready for the next days's activities: planting!

It has been a rainy couple of days but thankfully the rain held out for our planting day Wednesday! The kids again congregated and we showed them an educational powerpoint and video about the importance of mangroves and how to plant and take care of them... all in Ilonggo of course. They were very excited to start planting!

First we had to carry all of the mangroves to the beach. We had a line of kids and adults carrying mangrove seedlings two at a time to the beach and then back for more. Once we got all of the mangrove seedlings there the real fun began! The adults lined up all of the seedlings and spaced them out and they began digging holes with the two shovels they had. We trainees looked around at each other, then at the two shovels, then to the seedlings lined up in a row, and it didn't take us long to decide what to do. We found a plant and started digging in the mud with our hands. About 10 seconds later every kid on the beach was also digging holes in the muddy substrate and planting mangrove seedlings. In about 30 minutes we had planted over 200 mangrove seedlings in nice rows. It was a beautiful sight!

Tomorrow we are having a celebratory fiesta with all of the kids and adults that helped out with both the mangrove clean-up and planting. Our theme is 'Happy Birthday Mangroves', complete with fried limpias, homemade pizza, and of course, cake! We are putting together a slideshow of pictures from the clean-up and planting and are hoping to instill a sense of pride and ownership of the mangroves so that after we are gone they will continue to be protected and monitored. All-in-all our community project has been a huge success and lots of fun in the process! I look forward to having similar projects once I get to my site.

For now we are enjoying the slightly cooler climate of the rainy season, finishing up our CEP (Coastal Environmental Profile) for the town of Banate, and studying our Ilonggo in preparation for our Language Proficiency Interview (LPI) next week! Wish us luck! Only one more week till counterparts conference and swearing-in!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Enjoy these pics because my camera broke

Typhoon Megi has finally left the Philippines! Thankfully for all of us in the Visayas, the typhoon stayed north of us, however we did feel the affects of Megi's hard rain and wind. But today the sun is out and the heat is on its way back!

Also thankfully Megi did not interfere with our weekend in San Joaquin either! We traveled a few hours around the southern end of Panay Island for our coral reef destination. San Joaquin, where one of our PCVs will be staying for the next two years, already has three MPAs (marine protected areas) established. So we visited each one to practice coral reef assessments. It was amazing! Each MPA was better than the next, with expanding coral reef and many colorful fish!

Traveling south!

All of us and our local counterparts outside of a MPA guard house.

A giant clam L and I found at our 2nd MPA. SO cool!
We did two assessments Friday and one Saturday before heading back to Banate. But no one was ready to return yet! San Joaquin is a very beautiful and large town. They have many Barangays, including 18 that are coastal. They also have a lot of funding, which is where the PCV who is stationed there comes him. He will be able to work with the municipality to make sure funds are allocated and used in a way that is beneficial to managing the MPAs and increasing community awareness about why it is important to protect these areas. So far there is a lot of community support for these marine sanctuaries due to environmental education efforts. I hope to be able to use San Joaquin as an example when I go to my site as I attempt to raise awareness about marine conservation and protection as well as the management of an MPA. 

This week we are finishing up our technical training and getting ready for our environmental project taking place next week (for my cluster it is mangrove training and planting). For our language training we are continuing to learn about local customs, practices and beliefs. 

I have been living with my host family here in Banate for about 2 months now and have really become a part of their family. This has really helped me in getting to know the culture and language and becoming a part of the Filipino community. I never thought I would be so comfortable eating with my hands and taking bucket showers, but the local way of life has really become my way of life now too. I really love and appreciate the closeness of the family too, especially my host family. My parents are very close to their children, helping them with their homework and playing with them. Most of the men in my community seem to be a little detached from their families, usually spending time with other men in town, drinking and playing cards. However my host dad reminds me more of my dad in the states, he is more of a family man. He is always helping his wife cook items to sell in the market, working on household projects for other family members living in the compound, and making toys for the kids. I guess family life in the Philippines can be just as dynamic as it is in America. I will truly miss my family here in Banate though. I wish I could take them with me to Guimaras. 

For now, my days as a PCT are quickly coming to an end and soon I will be sworn in as an official PCV!


Monday, October 11, 2010

Grupo Terrible/Great

Another week and weekend come and gone in the Philippines! I really can't believe it is October already and my two month mark is coming up fast!

This past week was focused on Environmental Education and coming up with our community project to take place here in our training site of Banate. For the Environmental Education bit, the two CRM clusters split up into pairs to teach hour long sessions on either Solid Waste Management or Marine Ecosystems. There were four sessions this past saturday and there will be two more on the 23rd. Elizabeth and I lucked out and we are teaching on the 23rd so we have a bit more time to prepare for our lesson. We will be teaching Marine Ecosystems to grade 6-7 youth.... oh boy!

We also presented our bio-assessment (mangrove, coral reef and seagrass surveys) findings to the community this week and discussed with them what type of project they would like us to do for them. This was a little more difficult that I expected. We constantly have to deal with the perception that because we are American we have money and access to so much funding. We had to stress to them over and over that we only have a small amount for the project and that the main purpose of PC is not to fund projects (because we have no money really) but to lend our skills and expertise. I have a feeling that I will be explaining this concept a lot over the next two years!

After A LOT of talking to the community, it was decided that our community project will focus on mangrove planting and training. We will have a week of activities including awareness and education about mangroves, training people how to plant and maintain mangrove forest, and have a clean up and planting day as well. I really hope everything goes well, especially since the Barangay Captain elections will be right before our project begins!

Only four weeks left at our training site, before we leave for our counterparts conference, swearing in as official PC Volunteers, and then off to our sites for the next two years! And we are all really lucky that we really won't be that far from one another, which makes it much easier for collaborating on projects together and just generally supporting each other! Just to give you an idea, below is a map of Panay Island (where I have been training) with all of the sites where PCVs will be... and this is just one island of many in the Visayas where PCVs are/will be.

The future PCVs of Panay Island!

None of us can believe how fast time is going by! We are enjoying our time left here and are already planning holiday get-togethers. I am definitely excited about going to site and start getting things done, but I sure am going to miss Grupo Grabe! We have so much fun together :)

Playing soccer with some locals, including ex-national players.
Just one of our weekly routines :)
J, S and E having fun at Supervisor's Conference.

E, L, S and T hanging out in Bacolod.

The guys of Grupo Grabe decided to start a trend of mohawks, and the trend has already spread to our TCF. Next Banate, Panay Island, the Philippines, and then the world!
Getting ready to run in the Milo Marathon (the 5K part that is)!

Grupo Grabe - I love these guys!!!
That's all for now!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Site Debriefing

So I had my site visit this past weekend and as excited as I was before about my site being on Guimaras, I am even more excited now!

We left Thursday morning for the ferry from Bacolod back to Iloilo (and by we I mean me and my Supervisor, and Rob and Jensen and their supervisors). Our CRM Guimaras group had bought tickets for the 9:50 ferry, but when we got to the wharf at 8:20, the 8:00 ferry hadn't left yet. So we quickly exchanged our tickets and made a fast run to the ferry, getting upgraded to first class (not sure how that happened actually).

When we arrived in Iloilo, Rob and his supervisor went their separate way, since his town in Guimaras has their own wharf. Jensen and I continued on with our supervisors to the Jordan wharf and boarded the pump boat for a 20 min ride across the sea to the island paradise of Guimaras.

Guimaras, as I mentioned before, is known for the sweetest mangoes. Mangoes from Guimaras have been served to President Obama in the White House and in Buckingham Palace. And the people of Guimaras take their mangeos very seriously! They don't allow any mangoes to be brought from outside onto the island so as to not "contaminate" the sweet Guimaras mangoes.

Once we arrived to Guimaras, Jensen and I parted ways and I went with my supervisor to the municipal hall, where the Office of Agriculture (my office) is. I met all of the people who work there, who were all very welcoming and friendly! My counterpart seems very motivated and knowledgeable about fisheries; he has also worked with PC volunteers before so I look forward to working with him. I also was able to meet the Mayor and Vice-Mayor and some of the SB (town council) members. I am very fortunate that our vice-mayor is very proactive and my supervisor and the mayor are on very good terms. This will all be important when I go to them to get projects approved and funded. My supervisor already talked to the mayor about getting me my own transportation to take me around to the different coastal barangays (barangays are basically neighborhoods or parts of town) and it sounds like I can count on my own transportation starting in Jan!

That brings me to the next part of my tale, getting to my host family house, it is no short trip. First I have to ride on a jeepney for roughly 10-15 minutes depending on how many stops it makes, then take a tricycle (motorcycle attached to a side car) for another 10 min up the mountain. I definitely foresee the travel from home to work as a potential pain, both for times sake and money. PC is giving me money to buy a bike once I get to site but it would be one rough bike ride back up the mountain! Because there is really no main road through the island, it can take awhile to get even short distances as the roads wind around the mountains. This could make getting around the different barangays a little time consuming!

My host family is really nice though and they have a really nice house. My host mom works at the LGU as the treasurer, and my host dad works the farm. They have a hog farm in the back, along with dogs, chickens, pet parrots and a goat. They have two kids, ages 8 and 5, who warmed up to me pretty quickly, especially after I let them play games on my computer.

I get my own bathroom complete with shower. The family also has a fridge, oven, two TVs and a room with AirCon. They also have their own videoke game, which we played all Saturday evening! On Saturday they took me to a famous monastery in town where they grow mangoes (one of many places on the island). They  told me about the Mango Festival every April. There is a mango eating contest and all you can eat mangoes for 50 pesos (roughly $1). Last year's champion ate 12 Kilos.... maybe I can be a contender ;)

All in all my site visit was great! There will definitely be a lot of down time (including the hour "rest time" from noon to 1 in my office, where the lights turn off and everyone takes a nap). But there will be other PCVs near me and there is so much of the island to explore. It is so beautiful and far less trashy than Banate. Needless to say I think I am really going to enjoy it there!

Well now I am back in Banate to finish my training for another month and a half. We will be working on our community project here, and I will enjoy hanging out with Grupo Grabe (as we call our training group) before we all go our separate ways to site in November.

Halong for now!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mango Heaven

This past week has been a very busy one! We did our socio-economic training in our community, which involved doing interviews with community members and holding a focus group community meeting. My host mom was good enough to go with me and Jensen when we went to do our interviews which ended up being a HUGE help so she could translate for us. We had our questions written in Ilonggo but sometimes she needed to rephrase the question for people to understand and she was great to translate their responses for us since we are still learning the language.

The Community Meeting was a huge success too! So many people showed up and they were very excited to participate. We had them draw a community map, identifying resources in their Barangay, make a list of needs, and give us their daily and yearly schedules. All of this information will be vital as we plan a project and continue to seek their involvement! 

Saturday my cluster plus a few from the other CRM training cluster went to the nearby town of Baratoc Nueva to play soccer on an actual soccer field. This has become a weekly event for us! Our PC driver, Bobbit has a lot of friends who play soccer so we usually meet up with them to play. Most of the time the Filipinos beat us pretty badly but in our defense some of them are ex-national players... no lie!

Sunday some of us traveled early in the AM to IloIlo City, about an hour away. to run in the annual Milo Marathon. The actual marathon is held in Manila, but in Iloilo there is a half marathon, 10k, 5k and 3k, so we all ran in the 5k race. Even though I was feeling a bit under the weather I mustered up some strength and ran. It turned out to be a really great race and a lot people came out for it. The starting line was packed but everyone took off as they sounded the buzzer! They had water stations along the way and also handed out plastic string necklaces at every kilometer. There were quite a lot of PC volunteers and trainees running in the race and many many Filipinos! We all had fun and already plan to re-unite every year in Iloilo for the race :)

So this week we are all in Bacolod, a city in the next island over, for our highly anticipated Supervisor's Conference. We are staying at a really nice hotel with showers, flushing toilets, AirCon and really really really good food! It is almost like a vacation for us.... except we are still training.

Yesterday we found out our permanent sites and met our supervisors. Ever since the first week of training we all heard about the CRM site of Guimaras, home to the best mangos in the world and lots of coastal resources. Since we heard there were two CRM volunteers going there we sadly assumed it would be the married couple. But surprise, there are actually going to be three CRM volunteers there and..... Drumroll please.... I will be one of them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Guimaras is a small island south of the large island of Panay that I am training at. I will have two site mates, an education and youth development volunteer. Two of my CRM friends are also going to be on the island in neighboring towns about 20 min on either side of my town too! We are really excited to be so close to each other and to the city since we are only a 20 minute boat ride to Iloilo City, where there is a mall and theater!

All three of our supervisors get along too and are already talking about our three towns working on projects together! When it comes to coastal resources management the more towns and provinces you have working together, the more effective the management is so we are really fortunate that our municipalities get along!

My town in Guimaras is the capital and also home to coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass and a Sea Turtle Conservation Center! These will be the things I will be working on for the next two years! I will be going to my site for a visit later this week so I am really excited to meet the host family I will be staying with there and the office people I will be working with! Then back to Banate to complete my training for another two months!

More to come later!
Halong :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Finding Nemo

To continue with our training on how to perform bio-physical assessments, we did coral reef assessments this weekend. I was so excited to finally go to Hibutkan, the MPA (marine protected area) offshore from Banate!

We started by performing a manta tow, which is being dragged by the boat while assessing the coral reef below.

Manta tow!
Next we laid our quadrants for counting fish diversity.

Laying down our quadrants!

Then came the hard part, identifying fish!

Time to identify fish!
Of course we had help from our local friends!

Our boat captain and assistant fish identifier!
I got to see so many fish, mainly Damsel fish but Nemo also made an appearance! My favorite was the giant clam! It was so beautiful but sadly my camera died before I could get a pic. Hopefully I will see another one next time I go out!

That's all for now! One more week till I found out where my permanent site will be!


Monday, September 13, 2010


My "number one fan", as my host dad calls him, is always hanging around my family's compound. He is 11 years old and his name is Chris.

Chris aka President of my fan club.

Chris loves to ride his bike up and down the street in front of my house, hoping to see me (sounds a little creepy but really it's kinda cute). One day I asked my host siblings, Crystal and Jon-Jon, if they like to ride bicycles. That is when I learned that not only did they not know how to ride a bike, but neither did my host parents or cousins, Darielle and Dax. So I decided that I needed to teach them how!

Now I can't really remember not knowing how to ride a bike, so I wasn't sure how this was going to go. But I knew the most important thing was to have a bike to practice on! Like I mentioned before my host family does not own any bikes. Bikes here are a major mode of transportation, along with the trike (powered by motocycle), there is the sideseat, which is powered by a very skinny and in-shape guy who rides a bicycle attached to a side car. Therefore unless your bike is your job, they are kind of seen as a luxury, and one which my host parents have decided they can do without. So where was I going to find a bike...... Chris!

Chris was very reluctant to share his bike with us, but he is my number one fan after all, so I worked my charm and got him to hand over his wheels! 

Me and my host mom teaching Dax how to ride!

It didn't take long for this learning session to turn into a neighborhood activity! My host mom, Lisa, came out and helped me push and pull the kids on the bike, teaching them to peddle and balance on the bike. 

My host mom and sister, Lisa and Crystal.

This gave me a chance to take a break and sip on some young coconut juice thanks to my Tita Nina. Very healthy to drink on a hot day!

Yummy yummy butong juice!
The kids are still learning but I remind them to practice every day!
My Tita Kisang's dog, Timay, kept laying in the way! She was about to be run over a couple of times!

Timay, move out of the way!

Here is a close up so you can see just how cute Timay is! and She is set to have puppies in a few short months!


Timay is my constant companion when I seek rest on Tita Kisang's porch. Her house is the farthest away from the street (but still on my family's compound). It is a really nice house and the porch has the best breeze so I usually spend the hot afternoons there trying to stay cool. Timay always joins me and sometimes Neil or one of my other cousins will play cards with me. Tita is also always trying to feed me no matter how much I tell her "Busog gid ako!" ("I am so full!"). 

Timay 'keeping guard' of the porch.

A really awesome view and cool breeze can always be found at Tita's porch.
Along with lots of smiles and food!

This is my favorite spot to hang out with my family or have some alone time reading my book. I am very lucky to have relatives with land as appeasing as this. And Tita tells me they will be harvesting the rice soon, so I will be sure to take lots of pictures when that happens!

Well there is definitely an ugly storm rolling in so that is all for now!


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mangroves and Seagrass Field Day!

Finally a couple of days in the field! We have so far been having our technical lessons in the classroom, learning about working with Local Government Units and the history of Coastal Resources Management in the Philippines. Yesterday and today we finally got a chance to go out in the field and get some hands on experience!

Our vessels!

Yesterday was a practice run of assessing mangroves. We went to a nearby Barangay and trekked out to the sea, only to find mangroves covered in plastic trash. It was definitely a harsh reality and a look into a lot of the work that we all have ahead of us. We really wanted to start picking up the trash but that was not why we were there and will have to wait for another time. Time to learn how to assess mangrove growth!

Today was much better in the sense that our mangroves and seagrass beds were not completely covered in trash. We were able to lay out quadrants, record the species present, and the growth of the sea grass and mangroves.

Seagrass was first, time to get wet!

First we had some seagrass assessing to do!

Next it was mangrove time! Elliott is laying out our quadrants to measure!

We had some help from the locals in identifying different mangrove

Wrapping things up as the tide comes in.

Then it was time to trek back to the boat. Our banka awaits!

It was a really fun day. The weather ended up being great, cloudy and not too hot! I hope all field days are this pretty!

Lastly another count down begins: 16 days until my Supervisor's Conference, where I will meet my supervisor and, more importantly, find out my SITE!!!


Monday, September 6, 2010

Take 2

Ok so I am trying this again... here is the clip I promised before! Her name is Cherry and she asked if she could sing for me. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Every Filipino has music in their heart

Something you can find in every Filipino Barangay is.... a videoke bar! Filipinos LOVE to sing.

We took our first weekend trip away from Banate today, finally free from classes! Our goal was to find clear water to snorkel in, and although we didn't end up finding clear water per-say, we did find some local hospitality! The children at the beach had never seen Americans before, except for on t.v. So we made friends very fast once we got there. There was also a family picnic going on and once they realized we didn't bring any food, they made it their priority to feed us... home-made mango ice cream, chips and cold coca-colas! I love these people!

But back to the singing, Filipinos LOVE to sing. Walking down the street some will actually sing at you! Kite's, our normal hang-out spot, is also a popular videoke bar. And what do Filipinos like to sing? Anything and everything from love ballads, Celine Dion, to Akon, and L'il Kim. It doesn't matter if your good or bad or really bad, they are always up for a song!

I was going to leave you with a song from one of my new friends from the beach, Cherry, but I'm having trouble loading the video, so look for it later!

(Also many thanks to Tyler M. for letting me use his awesome picture as my new blog header.)


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Get use to it, Part 2

Everywhere we go, people know our names and shout "Good Morning", "Hello!", "Where are you going!" Children flock to the street so they can see you and shout Hello! You feel sort of famous... it makes me wonder if the novelty of us being here is going to wear off ever.

In America we have certain foods reserved for breakfast: cereal, oatmeal, pancakes, etc. In the Philippines there is no such thing. It is perfectly normal for my  breakfast to consist of rice (what meal is complete without it), fish and fried chicken. Some other foods that frequent my table are various soups made with either fish, chicken or vegetables. Dessert is usually fruit, and the mangoes are delicious! Other foods that I eat often include shrimp, crabs, squid, eggplant, and cucumbers.

Like I mentioned before, we also snack throughout the day. My snacks usually include some type of fruit I have never heard of, and various sweet treats. And when I say sweet, I mean SWEET. Filipinos love their sugar and like to put lots of it in everything!

This deliciousness is a banana turon and is basically banana
coated in sugar. Yeah its pretty much amazing.

We are pretty close to the equator here so we have 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark. Also taking into account how hellish the heat is at midday, the town in up and running around 4 am and pretty much quiet around 8. My friends and I closed the local bar the other night at around 9pm.... yep.

My host brother, Jan-Jan, was running around with a little matchbox and kept poking at what was inside. I asked him what he was keeping in there. Imagine my surprise when he takes out a giant spider that starts to crawl all over him. It is a very popular game with the kids, especially the boys, to catch or even buy spiders and then fight them. No lie! (I guess I should also mention that the spiders are not dangerous. No Black Widows here!)

Jan-Jan with his spiders. I love the fact that he happened to also be
wearing a spider-man shirt when I took this picture. 
They take sticks and place a spider at each end, then let them have at it! Winner gets to eat the loser.

This is probably the hardest thing to get use to here. Stray dogs and cats litter the street. And there is definitely no such thing as a fat animal here. The dogs and cats are all skin and bones. Cock fights and dog fights are a common occurrence. At the resort bar that we hang out at there is the saddest little monkey chained up with a broken foot. His chain doesn't even allow him to reach the shade so he is stuck in the sun during the heat of the day. This is a very harsh reality for me to understand here. I have to come to the realization that these are cultural differences. Cock fights, illegal in the US and cruel-seeming to me, are a part of the culture here.

So cute! 

On a lighter note, my host family and relatives actually do have pet dogs that are purebreds. They are well taken care of and treated nicely.

Ok since that last one was a bit of a downer, I will leave you with smiles!

Filipino kids are the absolute cutest!
(My host brother is up front in the orange.)


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

You don't know heat

I was born and raised in South Carolina so I know heat and humidity.... or at least I thought I did.

The heat here is unbeleivable. There basically is no such thing as AC here except in some schools and municipal buildings. I wake up in the morning, take a bucket bath and then put baby powder all over my body. I go to school (which is right down the road at my language teacher's house). We have numerous fans going on during class. Then I go home for lunch and sometimes take another bucket bath follwed by more baby powder. Then there is afternoon lessons and "studying" followed by dinner and another bucket shower before bed.

(Just for the record "bucket showers" sound primitive but they are SO refreshing!)

Life here is dictated by the heat. During the heat of the day, my house becomes an oven. We walk around looking for a shaded area with the best breeze. I spend alot of this time on my tita's porch trying to stay cool, eating mangoes and talking chika-chika (gossip) with the relatives.

I dare anyone to try to compare their heat with mine.

Oh and for the record, yes we have a beach but if you saw the beach you would understand why we don't go swimminig in it. We will be going to another beach away from our barangay for all of our technical water training.

OK so the kids do go swimming in the water but I'm not sure
I want to risk it here when there is trash all over the beach.

This country is truely a beautiful land with oceans, rice fields and mountains, but the heat is one not to be reckoned with.

Please for the love of all that is good, Bring on the RAIN!

Monday, August 30, 2010

May Bag-o Nga Familya

Friday we arrived in Iloilo City which is on the Visayan Island of Panay. We then took a 1 1/2 coaster ride (which is really a big van) to Banate, where we met our host families. There to greet me was my host mother, Lisa, and her 9 year old son, Jan-Jan. Lisa welled with tears as I approached her and welcomed me in an embrace!
Me with my host mom and brother.

I love my new host family! I am very fortunate to have a large host family who all live together in separate houses on the same compound. My host dad, Jon, is the son of the the Barangay (town) Captain, which is an elected position. They are a very well respected family and I feel quite safe with them. I also have a 10 year old host sister. Everyone is so nice and friendly! I have a good size room with a bed that actually fits me (yeah!), a dresser and table. They also let me have one of the two fans that are in the household, which makes me feel very spoiled and grateful! They also decorated my room with yellow curtains and yellow paper on the walls.

I have many titas (aunts) who all also have houses on the compound. They have very nice houses which I visit often and sometimes have lunch at too. The compound also has many animals roaming about. There are hens, roosters (which love to wake me up at 4 AM), turkeys, geese and dogs. The dogs include what I call the "clean up dogs" which you don't pet because they are gross, but they clean up all of the leftovers from meals. Then there are the actual pet dogs, which are full breeds. One of my titas also has love birds, some kind of talking birds, and what they call a "wild cat" but I have never seen an animal like it before. It kind if looks like a cross between a possum and a ferret.

My "relatives" are always looking after me, asking me how I slept, if I feel safe, and how do I like the Philippines. I feel very fortunate to be staying with such great people who make sure that I am acclimating to the heat and culture, as well as teaching me the local language!

Meeting your host family can be somewhat of a very stressful endeavor since you are also being dropped  off into a new town and culture. Thankfully I also have a awesome cluster (training group at my site). There are six of us and we all get along well and are each other's support system as we go through our training. I know there will be many many stories to tell and I will make sure to share some with you all!

Kita-ay kita sunod!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Drum Roll Please!

Tomorrow I head to the Visayas! I will be staying on the island Province of Iloilo. I am one of two Environment cluster sites in the area and have already begun to learn my new language - Hiligaynon!

I am very excited to see what my town is like as well as meet my new host family, where I will be staying for the next three months for Pre-Service Training or PST. 
Filipinos working in the rice fields.

As a mentioned in my previous post, we had an excursion to the mall yesterday evening (it was not a PC sanctioned event, we just really wanted a taste of the Filipino City). It was very eye opening to see the level of poverty that so many live in. There are huge areas of "houses" which are poorly made out of bamboo and whatever trash one can find. They all hover over the water as if they could collapse at any moment. Many of these people probably once lived in more rural areas where they did not have much money but were able to grow enough food to support themselves. Many decide to move to the cities for a chance to work and earn a living. However these cities are so overpopulated that there are not enough jobs and people end up living in very unhealthy living conditions without enough money to feed themselves or relocate back to the country. Seeing the way so many live makes me truly thankful for what I have, and being born in America with so many opportunities. 
Shantis - they look about to fall into the water!

On a lighter note, the trip to the mall was really a blast! A small group of us traveled together, by getting a ride on a jeepney, which is a very popular mode of public transportation. They are small buses colorfully decorated. PC trainees and volunteers are not allowed to drive and for good reason! There are virtually no traffic rules, except drive on the right side of the road. Even at the major intersections it's every man for himself! I almost have to close my eyes as we barrel around motorcycles, cars, buses and pedestrians. 
As I was riding on a Jeepney, I shot a pic of one in passing.

The mall was very nice and new, opposite everything else in the city. It was very similar to American malls having many floors, and stores like Ace Hardware and Gap. There are also department stores and a supermarket. I bought a few staple things (toilet paper, shampoo and peanut butter) in the supermarket and we had dinner at Pizza Hut... yeah that's right, we ate at Pizza Hut in a Filipino mall :)

There was also shrimp flavor and crab!
They also had some very interesting pringle flavors in the supermarket, including shrimp, crab and blueberry hazelnut. I may have to work up to that one...

I also needed to get a pair of nice sandals, since flip flops here are seen as a little too informal. I had to go to one of the department stores to find my size in the "plus size" section (can't wait to have to buy a pair of pants in this country, I'll probably have to shop in the maternity section to find my size!). There were 300 pesos, roughly $6. The sales women were SO friendly and nice and enjoyed practicing their English with me. 

Our travel back was a night ride on an even smaller jeepney. No matter the size though, more and more people just piled in! All-in-all it was a very enjoyable and interesting excursion and I look forward to many more like it!

Well I have a very early flight to Iloilo tomorrow. Time to meet the host family!

Sige, halong!