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!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Boat Safety!

Today was the first time that I have gotten the chance to get outside of our "orientation bubble". We were able to go to the mall on our own and get a taste of Filipino life. But I will touch on that in another post. Today I will recap our adventure in boat safety!

We first were transported via bus to the beach (about 30 min away) for our boat safety lessons! We went in groups of 5 or 6 (however many could fit on the boats) and practiced jumping into the water and using our life vest in case of emergency. So the reason for having to do boat safety is pretty obvious, I mean we are on an island country. But for other reasons as well - the main type of boat used is called a banka or pump boat, which is a basically a small home-made outrigger canoe made out of bamboo. These boats can be powered by an engine, sail or man power (paddles). These boats are by nature do not have the best balance and they can tip over quite easily. There have been incidents in the past with Peace Corps Volunteers being in such a boat and therefore now we have boat safety.

So my story begins here.
My group was the last to go out. There were six of us on the boat. The Filipino boat captain ordered us around about where to sit so we would balance the boat right. We went out into the water and practiced jumping in and inflating our life vest, we also went over what to do if someone tried to grab onto you or if you need to tow another. Then we had to be able to climb back into the boat by ourselves. After we all climbed back into the boat, our instructor (a current PCV) who was still in the water asked us if we could
get his sandals from the bottom of the boat so he could climb in.

Now the boat is very narrow (as seen above) and we all had on our inflated life vest around our necks, so it was not an easy task to look below us to find his sandals. As we were all trying to look at the bottom of the boat, we began to loose balance and started to tilt back. We all tried to hang on and lean forward so as to flip the boat back (although two people fell off, you know who you are C and J!). Although we were successful is leaning enough to get the boat back on the water, water had already began to flow into the canoe part of the boat and we were sinking. Fast! We all jumped ship and tried to save the boat, but alas we were too late. The poor boat captains life possessions as well as various pieces of the boat began to float away. We all scrambled to collect his things and the boat pieces and helped him tow it to shore. So although the purpose of the boat safety was to make sure we would know what to do if a boat capsized or sank, our group was the only one to actually have hands on practice in such a scenario!

On a side note, I felt really bad for the boat captain because the boat sinking ruined his motor. However I was assured that Peace Corps would reimburse him for the loss.

More about our mall trip into the city later!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Get use to it, Part 1

So I wanted to share some of the cultural differences that I have to get use to and am thinking this is probably going to be a series as I am introduced to new customs. So here is part 1:

That's right, rice is served with every meal... even breakfast. Surprisingly I am not sick of eating rice... yet.

2. NO TP?
The preferred Filipino method is to use a ladle and water bucket to rinse yourself off afterwards. I have yet to use this however since I am at a resort for orientation and they do have toilet paper, however you cannot flush it. Instead it gets thrown in the waste bucket (which gets emptied often).

Everywhere you go you are called sir or mamm. Married couples are simply "sirmamm". As in "thank you-sirmamm" and "Good Morning-mamm"

The food is quite good, especially the fish, and they love to feed you. We are served large buffets for meals and snacks throughout the day.... I am probably going to gain 50 pounds.

Apparently the Philippines is known for having the best mangoes. I have never been a huge fan of the fruit, but they put it in many things, juice and desserts and I have to say it is really delicious!

more to come later!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Posh Corps

So I finally made it to the Philippines!!! I am still trying to get over the jet lag but my body still thinks I am on the east coast and is getting use to being 12 hours ahead! So far Initial Orientation (IO) is not what I expected. I guess because we are such a large training group (there are 144 of us) the only place that we could all fit for IO was a resort just outside of Manila. It is a really nice resort complete with real toilets and toilet paper, maid service, water park, and spa. It is quite comfortable but totally not what I expected at all. I don't really feel that I am in the Philippines right now. The temperature and flora make it feel like a blend of Charleston and Costa Rica, I am surrounded by my fellow American Peace Corps trainees constantly, and the Filipinos that I do interact with are all from the higher class and speak English. I guess this is the point of IO - to slowly acclimate us to the Philippines and the Filipino culture, but I can't wait to really see the Philippines and begin the uncomfortable yet rewarding process of acclimating to a new culture and language.

We did have a really cool show put on by Bahay Tuluyan, a non-profit organization working with abused, neglected and street children. It was a really great show put on by kids that have successfully made it through the program but made me glad I am Environment and not Youth Development volunteer. (If I forgot to mention, there are three sectors: Children Youth and Family, English Education, and Environment - Coastal Resource Management.)

I can't wait to start hearing more about my sector (Environment) and Thursday I will find out what region I will be training in and what language I will be learning! Can't wait!!!

For now I will continue to make friends among my fellow Peace Corps trainees, as we are told over and over again that it is our colleagues that will be our life line of support as we face the many obstacles ahead of us.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Musings from Japan

So I obviously haven't had much internet access before now or it has been expensive and I was hoping to have been able to make some posts before this but thankfully airport internet in Japan is free :)

It is currently 7:00 AM on the east coast, and 8:00 PM here in Japan. We are waiting for our plane to refuel and get cleaned before we board again for the Philippines. I really hoped to have some sushi for my breakfast / dinner here in Japan but we don't have enough time and there isn't much open in the terminal right now. Interesting note, I used the restroom here and it was a new experience... no seat, just a toilet opening on the floor and some handles to hold on to, at least there was toilet paper! My limited interaction with the people here has been very friendly. We had to go through security again and one of the security officers was nice enough to go around and collect our water bottles and empty them before we went through the check.

A brief recap...
Staging in Detroit was good. I have met a lot of people and made some good friends already. It is really great to be around all these people when what we all have in common is that something made us decide to actually apply and stick with the application process of peace corps. I feel so privileged to be part of such a dynamic and elite group!

Staging consisted of a lot of bonding exercises of us talking about the challenges that we are going to be facing. It is a touch of reality to think about the road we have ahead of us, filled with amazing times but also difficult times. It is comforting to know that we are all going through it together and making connections with each other now so we can go to each other in the future during those difficult times.

After staging we got some time to go out on the town if we wanted. A group of us decided to go to Ann Arbor for dinner and drinks. It was a really great time for us to continue to get to know each other.

Our flight to the Philippines was scheduled to depart at 3:30 PM, unfortunately it was delayed due to mechanical problems, which was kind of scary but we made it to Japan! Which took 12 hours by the way! I really don't want to get back on the plane but we have another 6 hours of travel ahead of us to get to the Philippines. It was weird on the plane since we were kind of following the sun. At one point we had to close all of the windows and they turned off the lights to sort of simulate a "night time". Then we got to Japan and it was night time again. I was hoping to be able to see some of Japan from the plane but it was already dark when we arrived. Perhaps I will be able to see it in two years on my return trip!

Well I am feeling really out of it right now and am all screwed up timewise already. I apologize if this post is a little random or weird, I don't think my brain is fully functioning right now!

I will try to post later once I have recovered from the time change and will also try to post some pics!

Leaving for Japan for Manila soon!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I heart giant duffel bags

First I would like to say THANK YOU THANK YOU to all of my friends and family for all the well wishes as I prepare for this journey. My DNR friends were awesome and took me out to lunch on my last day which was really nice. I am so lucky to have been able to work with such a great group of people!

Also my Chuck-town friends gave me a GREAT farewell party weekend, complete with pinata, a surprise guest (yeah Katie!), and concert! I already miss you all SO much! STAY IN TOUCH!

Now I am back home in the good ole NA, hanging with the family. It is really weird to think that I won't see them for 2 years. I did get skype on my computer though and even did a practice run video chatting with my Aunt in VA. So add me to your contacts if you have Skype, although I will be 12 hours ahead (so I will be living in your tomorrow hehe). 

So I am pretty sure that I must be the LAST person in my training batch to pack because I finally got everything packed today... leave it to me to wait two days before I leave!

Here is all of my stuff (note: my backpack is already filled with a tent, snorkeling gear, drybag and camping gear):

And here is it all packed away in my GIGANTIC duffel that I bought today:

That is what two years packed away looks like for me! And I even have room to spare!

So Thursday I will be leaving for Detroit from Augusta, connecting in ATL. I will stay in Detroit for roughly 24 hours to complete my staging, which from what I gather is just a lot of paperwork and preparing to leave the country. Then we all will travel together Friday morning to Manila, Philippines, which is an 18 HOUR flight! I haven't been on that many flights in my life and I don't think any of them have been longer than 2 maybe 3 hours, so this will be interesting. At least I will have a plane full of fellow PC volunteers to get to know!

I am not sure what my internet access will be like through all of this but I will try to update when I can!

Wish me luck!!!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Are we ever ready?

Wow. I can not believe time has gone by so fast.

I have moved out of my apartment and been crashing with friends, found the kitty a new home, and  packed my life away into storage. These things should make me feel more ready right? Then why do I feel like I need more time? I have come to the realization that there is no "ready" for the type of life transition that I am about to embark on. This is a very hard truth for me to face since I have always been a goal setter and organized planner. I like planning out for things and feeling ready for what I set out to accomplish. But this isn't like moving across the state to college or for a job. This is so much bigger and I am beginning to realize that a person can never really "be ready" for this type of change.

This all may sound kinda like a bummer, but really I am totally stoked to start my Peace Corps adventure in the Philippines! I look forward to meeting my fellow volunteers and immersing myself into another culture and way of life. I just will very much miss my friends and life here, even though I know this is the right choice for me. I am just enjoying my last days in the US, spending time with those I care about and will miss, and vow to keep in touch.

Philippines here I come, ready. or not.