Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My first kill

I have done it. My first kill. I am now a man…. er woman. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Everyone has different ideas of what Peace Corps is or what PC service might be like. When I first thought about my PC service I imagined myself living rurally, maybe no running water or electricity, walking or riding a bicycle as my only means of transportation, having a garden and, of course, killing my own food. When we first arrived to Manila for our initial orientation, it became apparent to me that my PC service would be quite different from this, what with the SM City Malls, McDonalds, lots of city pollution, and even the fancy hotels I would stay at during PC conferences. Don’t get me wrong, I love my PC service in the Philippines, and I do live quite rurally (and at the writing of this blog I don’t have running water) but I am also not living is some hut in the middle of nowhere... Everyone’s PC service is different and mine has been and continues to be a great one!

When I was in the States I was not a big meat eater. I ate mostly vegetarian meals at home and when I did eat meat it was only poultry or seafood. This is not out of a dislike of killing animals (we are omnivores after all), but rather out of dislike for how our farms are run in the US. Here in the Philippines there are no CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and most of the livestock are allowed to graze. Even though this is more sustainable method of farming I still do not eat much meat, out of trying to lead a healthier lifestyle. Add to the fact that most of us PCVs usually live more vegetarian lifestyles just because of our living situations. Not having access to a refrigerator and not knowing what to do with the parts of the animal you don’t eat means that few of us venture to cook meat at home and end up eating mostly veggies and rice.  So although I occasionally bring home a whole fish to fry up, I usually don’t buy meat and even if I did, the animal I would be buying is already dead and bought at the open market nearby.

But I digress….

The other day I was hanging out with some of my volunteer friends. Rob had just been on a trip to visit another volunteer and while he was there he killed and prepared a goat for dinner, cooking it a multitude of ways including one in which he ate the brain. This of course brought up discussion about the times Jensen killed a chicken and Elliott killed a pig. And that made me realize my lack of killing experience.. so although the thought of killing a live animal intimidated me a little, I realized it was time to achieve a PC milestone (at least in my book) and kill myself some dinner. So we talked to our Filipino friends and Jensen’s counterpart offered to donate a chicken to me.

It was a beautiful white, native Filipino chicken. And it was dinner time.
say hello to my little friend

Now there are different ways to kill a chicken but since our Filipino host wanted to make adobo (a native and very delicious Filipino meal) and they wanted to be able to fry up the blood to eat afterwards (it taste rather iron-like), death by bleeding was chosen. Jensen’s counterpart, Jolie, held the chicken for me and even plucked a few feathers on the neck to clear a spot for the cut. With knife in one hand and the chicken’s head held outstretched in the other, I ended the chicken’s life. Or at least attempted to…. I thought I could make it a quick slice. But after two tries I realized not only was the knife a tad dull, but there were virtually no marks on the chicken, who seemed to look at me like “really?” So I mustered up some strength and cut true.

We held the chicken tight as the warm blood drained into a bowl on the table. Once the deed was done we boiled a pot of water and dipped the chicken’s body into it to help with plucking. Plucking was not so bad, the hot water makes it very easy for the feathers to slide out. Though apparently I was a slow plucker since Jolie decided to “help” me and then just told me “I will finish” as he took the chicken away from me…

So that’s the story of my first kill. And it really wasn’t that bad. After all if I’m gonna eat the animal, I should probably know how it got to my table. I’m not saying I will be killing a lot more chickens in the future, but when I get back to the States and go to the grocery store to pick out some organic, cage-free chicken breast, I will have a better understanding of the life that was taken so that I could cook up a delicious meal.

.............And that chicken adobo sure was delicious!
taste even better when you kill the chicken yourself!

Until next time!

Monday, September 3, 2012

A rainy day poem

My 1st attempt at poetry (and perhaps my last )....

Rain rain
Comes abound,
No more will percolate
The ground.
Everything comes to a halt,
As water pools
And people gawk.
The rainy season,
True to its name,
Has come to the Pilipinas again.
It reminds us we
Are not in control
As roads fill
And buildings float.
But perhaps tomorrow it will subside
And people will return to stride.
Until our next reminder comes
By way of flood, quake or storm
That Mother Earth is in control
And deserve respect in truest form.

                             - S

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Samar and Leyte Adventures!

I have been fortunate enough to have many travels during my two years here in the Philippines but there was one region that I had not yet visited. So with my time here quickly coming to an end I planned a trip with two other volunteers to visit Region 8 of the Philippines in the Eastern Visayas. This region is known for getting the worst of the storms as it lies on the Pacific Ocean. But with their rainy season ending and the rain still pouring where I live in the Western Visayas, it would be the perfect weather for our trip!

The Eastern Visayas is primarily made up of two large islands, Samar and Leyte. Samar Island is the third biggest island in the Philippines after Luzon and Mindinao. For a long time this island was off-limits to Peace Corps Volunteers due to the active presence of NPA or New People’s Army. The NPA is a communist organization in the Philippines whose aim is to overthrow the government but they usually hide out in mountainous areas. However in recent years the NPA has receded to the northern parts of the island and PC has deemed it safe to travel to and even has assigned volunteers in southern and eastern parts. Samar and Leyte islands are known for being more rural and beautiful, with many beaches, caves, rivers and blue waters.

It took me two flights to reach Tacloban, Leyte (which is unusual since you can usually get anywhere in the Philippines with only one flight!) The small city of Tacloban is located on the northern tip of Leyte island. Just north of the city is a 2 km bridge connecting Leyte to Samar, making Tacloban the perfect place for travelling to either island.

After meeting up with volunteer friends we made our way into Eastern Samar to the town of Guiuan, where some of our PC friends are assigned. They took us on a sightseeing trek around their site, walking along beautiful rocky coastlines and crystal blue waters and into some caverns along the beach. Just a few years ago there was a US base located in Eastern Samar. The coastline is very rocky and then drops off, allowing for lots of wave action along the shore that could be dangerous. So in the very hot Philippines weather the soldiers made make-shift “pools” that they could swim in by blowing up areas of the coast line and creating large tidal pools. As an environment volunteer I definitely do not condone this coastline destruction, but the soldiers are long gone by now and the large tidal pools have remained behind, offering a nice swim for us along our hike.

The beautiful coastline of Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

stepping inside one of the beach caverns

relaxing in one of the tidal pools left by the US soldiers

Our next stop in Samar was to the town of Lawaan. There was a PCV assigned to this site but he has since left. So the volunteers in Guiuan put us in contact with the old local counterpart in Lawaan who arranged for us a guide to hike to some waterfalls in the area. (Another example of how PCVs are the best source of information and contacts when traveling abroad!) When we arrived in Lawaan we met up with our guides and set off on the hike. It was a hot day but the hike was through beautiful thick Philippines forest and along the rivers. We came to about 4 different waterfalls, allowing us a nice refreshing swim along our hike in the ice-cold waters.


Our final stop in Samar was to the Sohoton National Forest. We stopped in the town of Basey where their tourism office is surprisingly organized and efficient! We arranged for our tour to the caves of Sohoton. We rode a river boat inland to the caves, passing by many of the river villages along the way. When we got to the caves it almost looked like something out of a movie and made us feel like we were in the amazon! When we arrived to the caves we were greeted by our cave guides who gave us helmets and held lights as we walked around the three huge caverns of the cave. Along the way our guide pointed out rock formation, their names referring to what they resembled. I was very impressed with the state of the caves considering how many tourist come through their on a weekly basis. After the caves we hiked a bit farther to a swimming area where we could cool off from the heat of the day. The river and rock formations were truly breathtaking and I would urge anyone travelling to the Philippines to visit the Sohoton Caves of Samar if you are able.

arriving by boat to Sohoton National Park

LOVE the helmets!


Sohoton was our last stop in Samar, so afterwards we made our way back to Tacloban and then continued south to Hinundayan, Southern Leyte, the site of one of my volunteer friends. We spent the next few days with her swimming and snorkeling at her site and meeting her coworkers. Its always fun to see where other volunteers live and work and explore their site with them. She took us on a short boat ride to some of the rocky coastline where there was a nice place to jump off into the ocean.

exploring Southern Leyte

beautiful coast!

jump away!

After our time in Southern Leyte it was time to return to Tacloban for my flight back. My flight to Iloilo via Manila was 6:10am in the morning… not a pleasant time to catch a flight…. Especially after spending a night out in Tacloban and only getting to bed at 2am… What made matters worse is that I forgot to set my alarm and did not wake up until 5:30am! I was so sure I would miss my flight but quickly gathered by belongings and hailed the first trike I could find to take me to the airport. The trike ride took around 20-30 min, the whole time I was preparing myself to miss my flight and have to pay to rebook. When we finally reached the airport I ran up to the counter and asked if my flight had left yet. I was a mess, breathing hard from running and slightly hungover. But the nice Filipina at the check-in counter simply smiled at me and told me that my flight was boarding and of course I would make it. I was so happy I almost started to cry! Only in the Philippines!

After checking my bag I made my way on the plane, thanking my lucky starts I had made it!
My travels to Samar and Leyte were some of the best times I have had travelling here in the Philippines. Its not a popular tourist visit which makes it all the more appealing to me. It was an amazing week filled with hiking, swimming and exploring the islands of the Eastern Visayas. These island are perfect showcases of all the natural beauty that the Philippines has to offer and I highly recommend taking a visit if you get the chance!

P.S. Aug 21 marked my two years in the Philippines! How time has flown! With only two months remaining I am finishing up spending my grant monies with two additional trainings (one on management strategies for the new MPA management board, and a second on performing biophysical assessments for the fisherfolk associations). It seems like a lot to do but I know I can get it done!