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 :)