Friday, December 9, 2011

New Heights

Let me preface this by saying that although I am an Environmentalist and I love being outdoors, the longest hike or camping trip I have been on is a couple nights and not too difficult of a hike (mostly in the coastal Carolinas). But I have always wanted to go on what I deem a “real hiking trip” - up a mountain and far from roads or cars or any other chances of escape. So when another volunteer suggested we go on a week-long vacation after MST (Mid Service Training) and hike Mt. Amuyao in the Mountain Province of Northern Luzon, I decided it was my time.

But let me back up for a second….
It is a PC Philippines tradition to celebrate Thanksgiving in the mountain village of Sagada. It takes a 12 hour bus ride to get to from Manila, so not every volunteer makes it there. Last year I was too new at site and it was just too far to travel. But this year I decided I needed to take part in the tradition and experience the cold weather of Northern Luzon. The other reason for making the long trip is a chance to see the famous rice terraces, considered a staple stop for tourist visiting the Philippines. The most popular place to go to see these rice terraces is Banaue, Ifugao. Most people take a short day hike around Batad to see the terraces…. but we (five of us volunteers) decided to go off the beaten track.

Our journey began with a 10 hour night bus to Banaue to meet up with our guides. Then we took a jeepney ride to Mayoyao, only 44 km away but the winding and unpaved mountain roads made the trip a 5 hour ride. It sounds grueling but the view along the way is spectacular! By far the best jeepney ride I have had! We had a fantastic view of the mountains and rice terraces. The rice terraces of Mayoyao are said to be over 2000 years old!
Rice Terraces of Banaue

We spent the night at the Barangay Captain’s house before setting out the next day.  Part of the experience of hiking in the Philippines is the Filipino hospitality. When we got into town, our guides (who speak the local dialect) asked around for a place for us to stay. It never took long for them to find a family that was more than happy to have us spend the night, offering up the best they had.

The Barangay Captain and his family where we stayed our first night.

Staying with a local family is another way to get to know the people and culture. My batch of PCVs is mostly in the Visayas (the middle part of the Philippines made up of all the smaller islands). Since these islands of the Visayas are smaller, most of the towns are coastal or have pretty easy access to the coastline. Therefore fishing is a major part of the culture. In the past year we have gotten to know this culture pretty well and often make the mistake of generalizing the Philippine culture as the culture we are familiar with. But our trek through the mountains gave us all a glimpse of a completely difference Filipino culture.

One of our guides preparing the chicken for dinner.

The mountain villages are so isolated that they have their own culture. And instead of fish being the main source of food and income, rice is the cash crop. Every mountain village has its own beautiful array of rice terraces up and down the mountain side. And the people there not only speak a different language, but they have an entirely different way of life, from the way they build their houses, to the way they prepare their food.

Our hike from Mayoyao took us 6 hours through the mountains, following around the mountain sides and to the town of Pat-yay, where we stayed the night with another generous Filipino family. We even bought one of their chickens to slaughter and eat for dinner (our guide did the food preparation part while us volunteers watched). This small town is home to barely 100 people and has no electricity. The only way in and out is the hike that we traveled to get there.  The bathroom was a log on the edge of a wall (so you squat with your behind over the log and do your business… and try not to look on the other side because it’s not pretty).

Hiking along the terraces.

Taking a short rest..

 The next day we hiked 7 hours up to the summit of Mt. Amuyao, 2702m (over 8,000 ft). The trail is not used often so it was a challenge, along with the cold weather, off-and-on rain, and wet ground. But we made it before sunset and the clouds cleared just in time for us to take pictures of our accomplishment. The view was breathtaking! Mountains as far as the eye could see, a truly amazing scene.

The trail had a lot of fallen logs to go under... not my favorite part.

We made it to the top!

Awesome view!

There is a radio tower at the top that is manned by two guards. There is also an old building with a bathroom, kitchen and two rooms, complete with fireplace. And since the weather was cold and getting colder as the night set, we made a fire and dried our socks and shoes for the next days hike down. (It was refreshing but also kinda strange to be so cold in the Philippines.)

Our "home" on top of the mountain..

And the stockings were hung by the... no wait, wrong story..

Our decent the next day took around 4 hours to get to the town of Burlig. The way down the mountain towards Burlig is the most common trek to the mountain top and as we hiked down we were passed by workers carrying supplies up. It was mind boggling to see these older men carrying jugs of water and gasoline up and down the mountain! I was going slow and shaky down the wet and slippery steps but they went up and down so quickly, making it look so easy!

My legs were tired and my feet hurt but I made it back down the mountain. It was an amazing hike and I will definitely remember it forever!

Made it to the town of Burlig.

Once we finally made it down, we thanked our guides who then accompanied us to Sagada for our PC Thanksgiving Day. There were around 25 volunteers there, which really made it a nice celebration. Here are a few photos from our PC Philippines Thanksgiving.

The chicken being prepared for Thanksgiving dinner.

The turkey waiting his turn....

The Sagada bags - hand made bags that have become a trademark of the mountain town.

Local women weave the fabric for the Sagada bags. 

Cutting the Thanksgiving birds.

Lots of yummy Thanksgiving foods made by PCVs.

I had an amazing trip to the mountains of Luzon and would recommend any traveler to the Philippines to visit the Mountain Provinces and see another part of the Filipino culture. It was a challenging trip but worth every moment!

Happy Holidays everyone!

p.s. Thanks to I.A. for sharing his pictures with me. We both ended up having lots of pictures of each other but none of ourselves since we were usually in front of or behind one another on the trail. So thanks for swapping pics with me :)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The PCV Experience - Celebrating 1 yr of service

Well November has flown by and December is almost here! Nov 15th marked my batch’s 1 year anniversary at site. Instead of just listing some of my recent activities, I thought a better way to mark my one year of service is to share more about the "real PCV experience".

 Peace Corps Philippines Batch 269 started out with 145 Trainees and, now at the one year mark, we stand at 117 Volunteers. Some went home before swearing in, some went home due to medical or family issues, some went home for breaking policy (i.e. riding a single motorcycle) and a few decided PC just wasn’t for them. Being a PCV is not an easy life. There are constant ‘ups’ and ‘downs’, and statistically the year mark is one huge ‘down’. But PC Philippines knows this and so scheduled our Mid Service Training (MST – govt agencies love acronyms).  

MST consist of two days of medical (we have a physical and dental check-up in Manila) followed by three days of PC training sessions. These sessions include some skills training that we can take back to site, but more importantly, it’s a chance for us to look back over our first year of service and take the time to think about our original reasons for joining the PC. Why did we originally sign up? What did we expect to get from our service? How do we feel we have changed in the past year? What do we expect to get out of our last year and how do we accomplish this?

Really MST is PC’s way of helping us get through the ‘low’ that most of us are experiencing. At past conferences and trainings many of us spend time talking about how things are going at site and getting to know how others are doing too. This time very little conversation revolved around projects at site. It was a chance for us to just be around our fellow volunteers and “just be Americans”.

We know coming into the PC that it will be both a challenging and rewarding experience. I remember thinking before I came to the Philippines and wondering about what my time would be like here and what challenges I would face. There really is no preparing for what lies ahead; you just have to go into it knowing there will be rough times. When I write my blog posts I always try to highlight the positive in an effort to share my experience and good times with you, my readers (although few of you – hi mom!). But in reality it is a roller coaster of emotions. There are so many highs and lows. But it’s the highs of course that get us through the lows. Getting used to the cultural differences here is, to me, the hardest challenge. The slow pace of work and passive attitude often frustrates me and makes me wonder ‘what can I really accomplish here?’ We all try to fit in so badly, to make friends and be thought of as part of the community. And although I have made friends here and do feel a sense of community, my own culture continues to separate me from those around me (not to mention my fair physical characteristics and giantness compared to their darker features and petite statures). 

We all go through these times of depression, feeling that we aren’t getting anything done, feeling isolated and alone even when surrounded by people, and of course that homesick feeling. But we also get through these times, either by texting another volunteer to vent, locking ourselves in our room to read a book, or even sometimes forcing ourselves to go out and be social.

So, there are times of frustration, sadness and depression, but I think that is a necessary part of living and working abroad. We are separated from our family and friends and everything that seems normal to us. And all of us come here with dreams of ‘making a difference’. But the real difference that is made is in the relationships we have with the people. I can hope that the MPA I will help to establish will still be here 10 or 20 years from now, but what’s for sure is the people I have met and worked with, the relationships I have made and the impact that I have had on others and they on me. I am sure my co-workers will always remember me and tell stories about the Americana that lived here for two years. I hear stories all the time about past volunteers (and the last one at my site was in the 70’s).

So as my batch 269 of PC Philippines celebrate our one year of service, we reflect on our experience thus far, the positives and the negatives. This MST was a great chance to not only reflect, but to also remind ourselves the reasons we joined the PC, and to know that although sometimes we may feel alone, there really are 116 other people who know exactly how we feel.

We have one year down and one more to go. I know that the road ahead is full of challenges and rough times, but it’s the hard times that we learn the most from and allow us to enjoy the good times that much better. Being a PCV is definitely not for everyone, but this experience has helped me to realize all the rewards that go along with the hardships. To know another people, another culture, and another way of life is a remarkable experience that will always stay with me and make me a better person. As they say, “it’s the toughest job you will ever love."

Happy Anniversary 269! One year at site! woohoo!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Paint a mural!

Been pretty busy again this past month, so here is an update of all my going-ons!

This year the Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th Anniversary so provinces all over the Philippines have been holding events. We just had our Guimaras PC 50th Anniversary event. We joined forces with the RRCY which is a local center for children in conflict with the law. Boys come to live at the center after having too many run-ins with the law as an effort for rehabilitation. There were also some kids from local highschools who attended the event too. We (the six of us volunteers on Guimaras) gave a series of lectures on what PC is, and what it is to be a volunteer. We also talked to the kids about solid waste management and had a beach clean up followed by a mangrove planting. It was really fun!
Talking to the kids about PC and being a volunteer.
Planting mangroves with the kids and community members
Next was my CRM (coastal resource management) Planning workshop. Representatives from all of the coastal barangays in my municipality came and we discussed what CRM is and coastal zoning. The participants were broken up into groups and given maps of the coast so they could mark where the different coastal zones should go. Participation was great and the workshop was a great success! The information we gathered at the workshop will be used in creating the new CRM plan for the municipality of Jordan.
The groups marking coastal zones on their barangay maps

After the workshop I went off for a long weekend trip to Dumaguete, Negros. It was a long 5 hour bus ride (after an hour ferry ride) but I was able to visit a new province and all of the volunteers there. The are two other CRM volunteers in the region so we decided to go diving at the Apo Island Reserve, which is right by Dumaguete. The Apo Island Reserve was the second MPA (marine protected area) created in the Philippines and was established in the 70's or 80's.
So many fish and corals!
walo-walo or sea snake, very poisonous!
under the sea!
After my trip to Dumaguete, I made the long trip back to Panay Island and then to the rural province of Antique. The volunteer in the municipality of Culasi had planned an Environmental Camp for all of the high schools and needed assistance in facilitating it. Myself and two other volunteers from Bohol were there to help out with the camp. We taught kids ages 14-16 on various subjects such as population growth, plants, climate change, solid waste management, fisheries and map making. We also worked with the kids to create and paint a mural for their school.
Presenting to the kids
Playing games with the kids - trees, loggers, mudslides! (a different take on rock, paper, scissors)
Painting the mural at the 1st school
Mural at the second school. The words are in tagolog and say "we protect our resources" and "plant a tree".
Mural at the third school. Yeah for the environment!

I am back at site again but have my Mid Service Training (MST) in Manila in two weeks.
Thats all for now!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Happy Fiesta!

(As a reminder, this is the grant for establishing a second marine protected area-MPA in my municipality.) I am also working on creating a CRM (coastal resource management) plan for the municipality. This has been a task that has been hard to get started on but with the help of another PCV on Guimaras (shout out to you Jensen!) and from my friends at the provincial capital I have been able to really make progress. We are having an upcoming CRM workshop to include community members and other stakeholders in getting their input in the plan and having them participate in assigning the coastal zones for the municipality.

For a non-work update, I joined a volleyball team, which has been a lot of fun! Guimaras has its “goodwill games” every few months and this past month started volleyball season. There is no municipal team this time around so the Governor’s office invited me to play for them. Our team is called Gov’s Crashers and we’re not too bad (not the worst and not the best haha). We meet several times a week to practice and then have games on the weekend. My teammates have become some of my good friends and we have loads of fun playing volleyball and hanging out!

And as mentioned in previous posts, I moved houses. The owner of my last place has decided to make some renovations, so I decided this was as good a time as any for a change of scenery and move into town. It was great living in the rural community, very beautiful and peaceful. But the provincial capital of San Miguel is closer to work (although still a 20 min jeepney ride away) and offers all the convenience of living in town. I moved to a boarding house and it has the local market and many eateries all within walking distance! I also have so many more opportunities to ride my bike around too!

Recently was the Barangay Festival of San Miguel. Barangay Festivals for each barangay occur on the date of that particular barangay’s patron saint day. During a barangay festival, the streets are lined with flags and there is lots of loud music and dance competitions. But the real highlight is the food! It seems as though everyone is having fiesta at their house! The tradition is to go around and visit friends living in that barangay, eating at each of their houses, for at each house is a Filipino spread of food like no other! This year I was invited by about 5 or 6 people to come to their house for fiesta. My first thought was there was no way I could make it to all the houses, but indeed I made it to FIVE houses, eating at all but one (I manage to stay away from the buffet table). Of course my Filipina friends tell me the strategy is to eat small amounts at each house, but this is made to be nearly impossible when everyone is constantly bringing more food items to you and telling you to “eat, eat!” Needless to say I was beyond stuffed by the end of the day and vowed not to have another bite of food for a week! But that is the price to pay for fiesta!

At one of my co-worker's house for fiesta

Filipino favorites! Chicken estufado, pancit canton, pasayan, puto, chop suey and carne!
So Happy Fiesta everyone! (There is another one in a couple weeks so I should start fasting now….)
and Happy eating J

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rainy Season in the Pines

I knew before coming to the Philippines that there were only two basic seasons here: wet and dry. However I did not understand that this is not an even divide. Over half the year is considered rainy while the "summer" months are usually considered to be March, April and May, with June starting the rainy season again. For the past month or so we have been under virtually constant cloud cover and stop and go rain everyday. Especially for the past two weeks we have had one storm after another roll over the Philippines. As soon as one passes through or dissipates, another is on its way.

Sometimes I do wake up to the sun shining and it starts to get hot again. There seems to be not a cloud in the sky and I think to myself maybe its over. Wrong. It is at that point when you start to make outside plans like going to the beach, going on a bike ride, or doing work on the boat that it will suddenly begin to darken and pour!

Most storm systems that come through come from the east and hit the eastern Visayas and Luzon (northern Philippines). And I mean they get dumped on! My friends in these regions have to walk around in knee high waters (usually mixed with oil and other pollutants - yuck!) and even evacuate to higher ground at times. PC is pretty good about keeping us informed though. We all get text messages updating us on the status of any storm approaching the 'Pines and what areas need to prepare for the worst of it. We also have to check in with them after any typhoons. (So to friends and family out there - no worries :).

I never thought I would want the Philippine heat but really I just miss the sun on my face (oh and doing laundry would be a heck of a lot easier too).

Work update: I am in the process of submitting a grant for my municipality to establish a Marine Protected Area. The grant monies will include enough to build a guardhouse and purchase assessment materials. I am really excited about the reserve and training the locals on how to perform coastal surveys. I hope this will be a way to instill a sense of community participation in the management of their resources.

Also I recently went to Barotoc Nueva, a small town in Iloilo province, along with 4 other CRM volunteers. There is a fisheries college there, where all of our Filipino counterparts went to school. We gave a lecture on Coastal Resource Management to the fisheries and tourism students. We were very well received and it was really fun talking with the students. During the question/answer period after the lecture, our first questions was from a student asking us how he can help us with our projects. It was really great to see so many students interested in sustainable management of the environment.

Halong everyone and stay dry!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lost and Found

I don’t really see my host family that often since I have moved out. I thought I might see them often since I live in the same barangay as them, but I am at the other end of the neighborhood and between my schedule and theirs just haven’t seen them that much.

But the other day I received a text from my host mom, Helen, telling me that my host cousin, Casey, just passed her Accounting Boards and there would be a fiesta celebration in her honor. Helen invited me and any friends I had around to come over for lunch. So my friends and I walked to her place prepared for some good Filipino food. As we walked, my dog, Turtle, followed us.
Turtle as a little puppy

A grown Turtle dog thinking she can sleep on my chair... little does she know.

Turtle has gotten much bigger since I first got her. She has also calmed down much more and is such a sweet dog. She follows me everywhere and plays with the local kids. They all know her by name and feed her and play with her in the street. Sheila (my landlord and neighbor) even told me the other day that Turtle has become like the Barangay mascot, everyone knows her. Although Turtle is a native dog (I found her behind my office as a small puppy) she does not act like the typical local azcal, which means “street dog”. The other dogs wander around, usually they are emaciated and have lots of scrapes and missing hair patches from disease and being in dog fights. But since I raised Turtle, she is very much domesticated. She doesn’t bite and she is friendly and loyal.

So as the friendly and loyal dog that she is, Turtle followed me and my friends to Casey’s house for the fiesta lunch. However, Turtle had never been in this part of the Barangay before. I lost track of her and (after eating way too much) I couldn’t find her as I turned to go. But I assumed she would find her way home later.
Well it got later and later and no turtle. Then it got dark and was her usually dinner time (which she never misses) but still no Turtle. So I texted Sheila to see if she had seen her, and then armed with my flashlight, I went looking for her. I had barely started my walk when Jasmine, Sheila’s cousin, saw me and asked me the usually Filipino greeting, “Diin ka makadto?” (which means “where you going?”). I told her I thought Turtle was lost and had she seen her. Jasmine talked among her companions quickly in Ilonggo and then replied that no one had seen her. Then Jasmine offered to come with me.

I was surprised she wanted to come with me and very thankful for the extra help. In the Philippines, it is not normal for a female to be walking around alone at night, or any time of the day for that matter. I have noticed that it is almost always this way, but it’s not due to safety in numbers, rather, it is due to their social nature. It is normal to see girls with other girls and guys with other guys all the time. You don’t often see someone walking around alone. I suppose they often think I am weird going around everywhere with no kasama (companion). When I am at the office and mention that I might be going into the city later, someone immediately asks me ‘who will be your companion?’ Filipinos are much less independent in nature and more social, and they always look after each other. So, as a resident of that community, and as a friend of Jasmine, she accompanied me to find my missing puppy.

After walking towards Casey’s house and calling Turtle’s name, who should happened upon us but a cute little black dog who was so excited to see me! So the happy ending to the story is that Turtle came back with me and had her doggie supper. And, thanks to Jasmine, I had an evening of feeling that I (and Turtle) are really part of the community.

Halong everyone!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Back to my Banate roots

I have been at site for 7 months now, which means it has been 7 months since I have been back to my training site, Banate, or seen my host family there. I have kept in touch with them via texting though and have wanted to make a trip there to see them. I was hoping to visit at the same time that Gay would be there. She is the mother of my host cousins and works in Saudi Arabia. During the short time she was in Banate we became close and continue to keep in touch with email and texting. She had originally told me she would return to the Philippines in June or July but now is saying she won’t have a chance to come home until September. So when Rob said he was going to Banate for their Festival, I decided it was as good a time as any to go visit my training site and host family.

It was so great to see them all again! Going back to that family compound felt strangely like going home, which is a weird thought, to “go home” in a foreign country. I got to see all of my Titas (aunts) and host parents, Lisa and Jon, and all the kids, Dax(11), Darielle(12), JonJon(10) and Crystal(12). Even the house help of my tita was excited to see me! All throughout dinner they asked me questions about my life and work in Guimaras. I brought them sweet Guimaras mangos which they devoured! And it was great to see all of the other community members and kids who remembered us, shouting our names and wanting “high fives”.

On Saturday Elliott and I decided to take our host siblings for a day out. We wanted to take them to the festival so they could ride the ferris wheel but unfortunately when we got there they were already dismantling it to take to the next town for another festival. So instead we took the kids to the park. They enjoyed it so much! At first I was worried they would be disappointed for not riding the ferris wheel, but then I realized that going to the park was just as special for them. Their daily lives usually consist of being with their family all of the time, so besides going to school and sometimes the market, they spend most of their time in their own barangay at home. So going to the park was a special occasion for them.
Taking the kids for a day out!

Getting some breeze by the ocean.

Playing with the kids at the park.

My host siblings! They are such great and well-behaved kids! Love them!

We bought them cold cokes and snacks and played with them on the playground. They were laughing and smiling the whole time! At one point I whispered to Elliott, “why didn’t we do this more often when we were here?” but he just shrugged and replied, “we didn’t know”. It was true. Training (which seems like forever ago) was a bonding time for me and my training-mates. It is when we first got to know each other and become the good friends we all are now. And time spent with our host families was getting acclimated to the culture, language and food. We were constantly learning and adjusting during that time. It was so much to adjust to that when we did have down time, we spent it in the presence of each other, just wanting to be around fellow Americans and talking about the cultural differences we were all getting used to. It was important then for us to be with each other because we were going through the hardest part of the adjustment together and needed to support each other. Now that we are better adjusted and more familiar with the culture, language and food, we can really just appreciate our host families and spend time with them.

I had a great weekend in Banate and told them I would be back again many more times (especially for the upcoming birth, as Lisa is 6 months pregnant!) It truly felt like a weekend of homecoming to me and my friends and I am so grateful to have that here during my service. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Travel Tips for the Philippines

So I am really excited about my parents and youngest brother coming to visit me soon! When I found out that I was going to be serving in the Philippines, my parents gave me an option: they would pay for me to come home during service OR they would come and visit me. I told them that I 100% wanted them to come visit me. I am so stoked about my family being able to experience the culture and what my life is like here. So in that spirit, this post is for anyone who is planning on taking a trip, now or in the future, to the Philippines.

Travel tips for the Philippines:

1.   Be wary when asking for directions. 
Filipinos love to talk to foreigners and want to be of assistance to you. However this means that they hate saying “no” to you. And when asking for directions, this can be a problem. Even if they do not know where your particular destination is, your new Filipino friend will most likely just point to a distance and say “just there”. This is because he does not want to tell you “I don’t know” because then he feels he is not being helpful to his new foreign friend. So my advice when asking for directions is: Ask many people before heading “just there” or refer to a map or tourist center. Otherwise you may never make it to your destination.  
2. I hope you like meat and rice…
Because that is all your eating. This is a caution to vegetarians/picky eaters. I have my own dietary preferences (I don’t eat pork or beef) and know that it can be tricky sometimes when sitting down to eat. The most popular “veggie” meal that you would likely be served is chop suey. However those vegetables were probably cooked in pork juice… Oh and stay away from soup # 5.  (But I do recommend trying the cultural favorite - Balut. It’s really not so bad.)
Yummy fish on a stick, caught fresh from the sea!

3.    There is always room for one more….. or ten.
Public transportation is the main mode of getting from here to there. Most people do not own cars and therefore depend on the jeepneys and tricycles to get them where they need to go. And when every additional body on the jeepney means another bayad (payment), the drivers will squeeze as many as they can. And living on a Philippine salary, I understand why. If I get home late at night and there is one more jeepney left and its full, I will still squeeze my way on and ride with half a butt cheek on the seat inbetween two strangers rather than pay more than 100 times the fare to take a tricycle. 
Me and my closest friends take a trike ride... tho not sure who that is riding on top...

4.    That’s not a kid crying… well actually it is.
If you travel via jeepney, be prepared to share it with farm animals. Often times I find myself startled by a moving bag at my feet, usually with chickens inside. The most startling to me is when I hear what sounds like a crying child on top of the jeepney. And it is a kid, just not the human kind. Often goats are also placed in bags and transported on top of the jeepney, crying occasionally when the jeep has a rough stop.

5.    Don’t be fazed by the baby on the bike.
Especially in rural areas, motorcycles are the main mode of transportation. I have seen up to five people riding behind the driver, with a small child sitting in front of the driver as they zoom past. One time I witnessed a woman with a child under each arm as she rode back of a motorcycle. It seems horrifying to us at times, but when you live rurally and roads are not paved, the motorcycle can be your only option for transportation. 

6.    Didn’t we just eat?
As I have mentioned in previous post, the culture is surrounded by food. Besides the three meals a day, there are at least two snack times, sometimes more. My supervisor is fond of saying “let’s eat again” as everyone in my office gathers in the front of the office to share bread, noodles, fruit or other snack foods along with a cup of three-in-one (the popular instant coffee drank in the Philippines, combining the coffee, sugar, and cream). Although this part of the culture makes me wary of my waist line, I enjoy sitting around, chatting and eating with my co-workers. And when I complain about gaining weight, my friend Mariz reminds me, “don’t worry about your figure, only worry that your belly is full”. That is the Filipino way, lots of food and friends around.

7.    A musical people
Filipinos love music. One of the favorite past times in the Philippines is to hang out with friends at a videoke bar. And it doesn’t matter how bad you sound, you just have to sing! And at every fiesta there is a wall of speakers blaring such tunes as Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga and Journey (is that an odd combination?). A family may live in a small and simple nipa hut but rest assured they have a stereo and speaker system and will start the music when the sun comes up.
Videoke time!

8.   Why is she touching me?
Because friends and family grow up so close with each other (often times three generations or more will live in one house) people are used to being close physically. This physical closeness is how people show affection. So instead of hugs and kisses, a friend might sit really close to you and lay her hand on your leg. This does follow strict gender lines though. There is not much affection shown between couples in public, but I will often see guys walking down the street with their arms around each other or two girls holding hands in the mall. Although it was a little weird at first when my co-worker held my hand as we walked around the office, I have gotten more used to it and appreciate it as a sign of closeness with my Filipina friends.

9.    Hey Joe!
This is a common name you will be called (especially if you are white). It is a leftover of the American military presence in the Philippines. But don’t get offended, just smile and wave, and maybe introduce yourself. Many of my Filipino friends like calling me “Kana” which is short for Amerikana. I kinda of like it and maybe you will too.

10. But most of all know that you are safe here.
When traveling to a developing country (I don’t like the term “3rd world”) the thing on most foreigner’s minds is probably “is it safe for me there?” The Filipino people are the most hospitable I have ever encountered. That in mind, they know that the average tourist is bound to be carrying wads of cash. And considering the meager living most Filipinos use to support themselves and their family, you will probably be a target for pick-pocketing. More likely than that, you will just be overcharged. But before getting angry, know that any amount that you are overcharged will be spent not only on the trike or taxi driver, but also for his household which is probably home to his children and elderly parents. An extra 100 pesos for him could mean they have more rice and meat for dinner that night, whereas it represents about $2 to you. But if you still are wary about the price, you can generally cut whatever the price he offers you in half for the true local price.

Besides being “ripped off” every now and then, you are in no danger here. Filipinos are a proud and generous people who want you to have a good trip and remember your time in the Philippines fondly. So know you are in no real physical harm while here and enjoy getting to know the Pinoy People.

I hope this gives some insight to the people and culture here, But remember above all else, enjoy the hospitable people and beautiful places when you visit the Philippines :)


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Quick Work Update

Our coral gardening training in Sagay was really amazing. I hope I will be able to duplicate some of it at site, but if nothing else it was a great time with all the CRM volunteers and our counterparts in a beautiful marine reserve that is actually working. Here are some pics:
                    (And just look at how blue and beautiful that water looks!)
One of the coral nurseries we constructed. Hopefully in a year these pieces will be big enough to transplant.
See Rob’s blog for more info and pics from the training. (

When I came back to site, it was time to do my own coastal assessments, looking at fish, seagrasses and corals. With the help of my BantayDagat crew (local coast guard), counterpart and three PCV friends who visited to help with assessments, we got the job done!

Laying down the transect line for coral reef assessments (the coral were pretty poor in this area).


Crown of thorns starfish - they love to eat corals and run amuck in areas of low fish abundancy.
Blue starfish so pretty!
(all that underwater work left us hungry for some rice and fish, Yum!)

Enjoyka and halong!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Manggahan and more!

Happy Manggahan Festival!

Manggahan is a week long festival in Guimaras celebrating the much loved Guimaras Mango! Guimaras is very proud of their mangos, and even is quarantined from the bringing of outside mangos to the island. It is rumored (on wikipedia so it must be true) that Guimaras mangos have been served in the White House and Buckingham Palace.

Yummy Guimaras Mangos!

The week started out as any other Filipino festival does, with a parade!

Mango tribe

Corn tribe

Indigenous tribe

Every day was a different event, including local band competition, Ms. Guimaras Competition, island talent show and more, all culminating into the famous and much anticipated Eat-all-you-can-mangos (for 60 pesos lang)!

However the eat-all-you-can-mangos were a little too popular as they quickly ran out of mangos! My friends and I were certainly not going to let that stop us from our eating contest, so we ran to buy the little bit of sweet mangos they had left (they had plenty of green/unripe mangos that Filipinos also love to eat... with soy sauce) and bought enough to have our own mango eating competition. In this case I think pictures really do describe more than words....

He is really into the competition

Finishing off another mango!

juicy and sweet!

Digging in to mangos!

And of course the garbage compactor that is Jensen ruled us all by eating 7 mangos (about a kilo and a half). Needless to say we had a pretty great time hanging out with other visiting PC and JICA volunteers. My roommate and I even wore kimonos to the festival one night! (I mean how many opportunities do you get to wear a kimono?)

Kimono time

The weekend following the Manggahan Festival was Easter weekend, which Filipinos like to celebrate by attending a Pagtaltal event. Pagtalal is a reenactment of the crucifiction of Jesus. Jordan has their own well known version of such an event, attracting visitors and tourist every year. It is quite a day since it starts out in the morning at the bottom of the the island and then you follow the actors as they act out the events leading up to the crucifixtion, at the top of one of the highest points of Jordan. It was a very hot and sunny 6 hour walk but quite the experience. The people who perform do it every year as volunteers for their church. Def not something you see in the states!


So as you can imagine with all of these events going on, there has not been much work to do, but I have my PC training going on for the next two weeks, followed by biophysical assessments, and my parents and brother visiting in June (yeah!).

I will keep you posted!
Halong gid!

P.S. Hope everyone had a Happy Earth Day! I know I did! I helped my Provincial Gov plant over 800 mangroves in one of my coastal barangays.

Celebrating Earth Day with my co-workers and community members

planting those mangroves!