Saturday, December 13, 2008

Merry Christmas and a broken bike handle

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas to everyone! This is the happy holiday season! Everyone is celebrating the birth of Jesus from the month of September to December! There are Christmas lights, caroling, nativity scenes, parties, food, dancing, and much more! You would think that it may be slightly uncomfortable for a little Jewish girl, celebrating Jesus' birthday every day, in the midst of the predominately Catholic Philippines- but it's not.

Last week the teachers at my school had a Christmas party where we exchanged presents, performed dance routines by department, and had a lovely feast with traditional Filipino food! I am proud to say that in between preparing the chop suey for the feast in the evening and practicing our dance routine to Feliz Navidad, I received a pedicure, manicure and had my make-up done for the big evening. This took place in the English department and I felt fabulous after wards. It was funny because the manicurist said to me, "you do your own nails right? hm?? I can tell." haha Also I am not used to wearing that much make up unless performing and working at Teatro Zinzanni, but they applied purple, pink, and gold eyeshadow along with red cheeks and lips. I think I'm beginning to fit in, or at least I'm trying my best! haha

So given the Holiday spirit I decided to give myself a bicycle- on Peace Corps budget of course. Rachael and I decided it would be exciting if we bought bicycles and rode our bikes home from Bacolod City- only 21 km. My teachers and family warned us against that idea because of serious construction and the dark, in their words "unwanted elements" that could endanger us. We disregarded their warnings and went ahead in search for the perfect, cheap bike. Before making such a large purchase I had to stop by the temple of kape and consider my options. If you are confused about my reference to the temple of kape, I am speaking of the glorious coffee shop, STARBUCKS! They just set up their first store in Bacolod last week and I was crying inside (tears of joy) when I met my friends, Rachael, Justin and Marlo there.

After Starbucks we went to the market to find affordable bikes- I mean cheap, but can get you from one place to another. After about an hour of haggling for 3 silver bicycles with awesome helmets (mine is red) we were on our way home. Unfortunately we didn't know how to get to the road that would take us back to Bago City. Justin offered to lead us to the superhighway first and on the way Rachael's chain broke. So Justin gave her his bike and Rachael and I were finally on our way back to Bago. The bike ride home is about 21kilometers, which is only about 13 miles. We timed our trip fairly well so we were leaving when it was NOT 100 degrees, approximately around 430pm. (Side note to indicate emotion at this time- EXCITEMENT AND CONTENTMENT- we were so proud of our smart purchase and ability to save money by riding our bike home) We were taking pictures, smiling, and singing our way back to Bago.

Then, we reached heavy traffic and congestion. The pathways were so narrow and there are no rules of the road! If you are able to cut someone off and speed ahead, go for it! As the night grew darker, Rachael and I became a little more nervous. We were about half way home, it was very dark and we had no lights. As were were passing over a narrow bridge, my pedal became loose right as a large semi-truck zoomed past me. My pedal fell off. SHIT! So we beckoned over some young boys with a bike and they attempted to slam my pedal back into place. It was a temporary fix and they said, "Ride slow, very slow." We had about 11 km left to go! No one in the Philippines actually knows exact directions, or distance- but that was my estimate. So imagine, now its very dark, my pedal is dysfunctional and we have no lights or tools to fix our bikes. We don't know how far it is to get home but we're slowly pushing our way towards Bago. For 2 little American girls, wearing flashy and unattractive bike helmets- it probably wasn't the smartest idea. We started to doubt our initial enthusiasm and seriously question our judgment to ride from Bacolod to Bago in the first place! BUT given our well trained Peace Corps mentality- which basically suggests that we go with the flow because you never know whats going to happen AND most likely you will have very little control over your outcome- we attempted to maintain a POSITIVE attitude.

However, after another 30 minutes of riding in the complete dark with jeeps and large trucks zooming by us on the narrow street, my bike pedal fell off again! At this point we decided to swallow our pride and attempt to catch a jeep ride home. Unfortunately we were a little too late. All of the empty jeeps were finished providing transportation for the night and the only jeep that stopped was completely packed full of people. We couldn't fit and our bikes definitely wouldn't have space. Finally a sweet married couple on a tricycle felt pity for the 2 ridiculous looking Americans who were wearing bike helmets, frantically trying to flag down a ride in the dark...and they offered us a ride. So we gratefully accepted their generous offer and paid them 200 pesos for their trouble. Merry Christmas to you! We tried to ride our bikes home and save 15 pesos for the cost of a jeep ride, and instead paid 200 pesos to go 7km. Very smart.

Well, we finally made it home around 8:30pm. At this point, Rachael's chain broke on her bike and I had only one pedal. Completely exhausted, we just went to bed. When I woke up in the morning, I couldn't walk! My crotch hurt so bad from the bumpy road, I was positive I broke something! After a few days of healing, my pride and my crotch, the whole experience was more humorous than disappointing. When I share this story with my Filipino family and friends, they just laugh and say, "Charge it to experience." haha well I guess that's the attitude!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Welcome to Bago City

I’m sitting here in a small, wooden desk, in the back of a first year high school classroom. Three small Filipino boys are seated directly in front of me. They continuously glance back at me, and burst into a fit of giggles (and I’m pretty sure I’m hearing references to Barbie). The rest of the fifty students are looking at the chalkboard, intensely copying down what the teacher has written- probably the most common strategy for teaching in the Philippines. Lecture, copy, recite, assess. Hmmm
Ideas are flowing through my head, I feel like I’m going to explode. This is only my first week here at my permanent site in Bago City and already I’m thrown into the center of all the excitement in the English department. The two main projects I am involved with are co-training the impromptu and declamation speakers for their competition next week, and also planning the upcoming high school musical.
The declaimer is a quiet girl named Jaypen, but when she begins her theatrical piece, which is a modern day “Romeo and Juliet” where she describes the struggles of a Muslim and Christian in love in the Philippines, the once quiet girls transforms into this strong, expressive performer. Then we have Boy George- yes that is his name. He is our representative for the impromptu speech competition. Basically he is given a controversial question, usually a global issue or a concern affecting the Philippines today. He is given only 1 minute to develop an argument and then fluently and logically respond to the question under 2 minutes.
Both of the kids are very talented! English is not their first language, maybe not even their second. However, all students in school are required to speak English when they are in the classroom and also when taking standardized tests. Learning English in the Philippines is highly valued and symbolizes opportunity and success. As a native speaker of English, I am respected mostly because of my accent and speech. Filipinos of all ages want to converse with me because they are able to practice “proper” English. I don’t think they are aware that I am in awe of their linguistic ability. Many Filipinos speak at least 3-4 languages fluently: English, Tagalog, Hiligaynon, Cebuano, Spanish and many other local dialects. I can only communicate in English and American Sign Language fluently, minimal Spanish (so I can understand the dirty words spoken around me in the kitchen when I worked at restaurants back home in Seattle), and currently very limited Hiligaynon. When people ask me, “Do you speak Hiligaynon?” My answer is always, “Duitay lang,” (only a little). I seriously wonder how long it will be before I can say, “Huo. Gahambal ako sang Hiligaynon,” (Yes, I speak Hiligaynon). Well, it’s a work in progress, like everything else here…
My most exciting project that I am working on is the high school musical we’re putting on in one month. It’s based off of the first high school musical, but we’re tweaking it give it Ramon Torres National HS flavor. Last week I held auditions, along with 4 other young, energetic teachers from the English department. Over 45 students showed up to demonstrate their talents in music, dance and theater. We felt like we were judges in the American Idol auditions! Some performers were AMAZING and others were quite interesting. Sometimes we were laughing so hard tears were streaming down our face. This play is so gay and I love it! I’m right in my element! You can take the girl out of the theater, but you can’t take the theater out of the girl! Honestly, I am just proud that so many students were brave enough to audition. All of the energy and enthusiasm coming from the teachers and students really inspires and encourages me to look forward to the next two years with growing anticipation.
Bago City is really a beautiful place, like a breath of fresh air. Rice fields and sugarcane surround the city, and natural springs and waterfalls are embedded in the greenery. I live next to a beautiful river where I can run without dodging the clouds of pollution and smoke that you would encounter in an urban city. For the first three months I will be living on a compound that looks more like the secret garden, but with many Filipino children playing among the trees and flowers. If I walk a few blocks to the plaza, there is a bustling market and a huge coliseum, which is the perfect venue for hosting summer camps and putting on stage plays. Together with Rachael Saler, my partner in crime, we can really initiate some amazing projects in our area, hopefully that are successful and sustainable! Rachael is another Peace Corps Volunteer that lives in Bago City with me, but she works in a different sector and mainly focuses on projects regarding youth development.
I need to finish up this blog because my nanay wants me home for lunch- she gets very upset if I don’t eat. She worries that I will starve, but with the hospitality here- I’m more likely to die from overeating! Afterwards, I have a date with my 2 younger sisters. We’re going to make some courtesy calls at the local hospital where my Manang Tata works as a midwife. Looking at a local hospital in a developing country should be very interesting so I’m really looking forward to visiting the facility. Hopefully, I’ll find a counter-part that is willing to work with me on developing an HIV/AIDS education program so I can participate in the upcoming workshop in Manila.
That’s all the update I have for you, but don’t worry Hillary I will not forget to update my blog. I’m sorry that I fall behind, but you inspire me to keep it up!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mabuhay! Mabuhay akon pamilya!

So this past week has been wonderfully overwhelming and hectic! All the PC trainees in the Visayas region were sent for a few days to check out our permanent sites where we will be living for 2 years. I am assigned to Bago City. Let me tell you a little about my new home....

So Bago City is about 30 minutes from Bacolod City, where I am living right now. It is a beautiful rural city with rice and sugar fields. There is plenty of fresh water, I live right next to Bago River, and waterfalls where we can hike, Kipot twin falls is the most famous. So I live on a compound, but I like to call it the "garden of eden." It's very beautiful and calm, my nanay and tatay are both retired teachers so they have plenty of time to garden. I can imagine myself preparing my lesson plans in the garden everyday with my manang who lives next door; she's a fourth grade teacher.
In the compound, I have 3 generations of family. I live on the top floor of the first house with my nanay and tatay. My tatay undergoes dialysis 2 times a week, which can be a very costly visit. It is not a cure for his kidney, but they really have no other option. In the house behind me my manong and manang live there with their 3 children. The father is a seaman so he is abroad 8 months out of the year, which is very common in the Philippines. The mother is a midwife at the local hospital, she promised to take me there to check out the services so I am sure I will have much more to say about that soon... Next door my other manong and manang live there with their children. Basically when I arrived the first day they had a huge feast waiting, posters welcoming me to the community and family, and even balloons with my name printed on them! It was insane how welcoming and hospitable everyone was; the entire community was there just to greet me! Also there is a fabulous clan of little people, I mean children. They performed a hip hop routine to "Low" by flo riders, which seems to be a common event here in the Philippines. There are two little princesses in particular, Beb-C and Ai-Ai who wake me up every morning with besos (kisses). They are so adorable, I help them with their homework at night and they hold my hand wherever we go. I feel special:)
So now my high school. I will work at Ramon Torres National High School, which has 4,700 students!! My first day on campus, I met all of the department heads, all the English teachers, and walked around the entire campus meeting students and observing their classroom. I have NEVER felt such a welcome before in my life! There were HUNDREDS of posters for me hanging on the classroom doors, which the students made themselves. One boy also stitched a piece of cloth with our names on it! The students also prepared songs and cheer dances... pretty sure the word "whore" was included in the chant. I think they borrowed the cheer from "Bring it On" but nobody else seemed to notice, so I just smiled. Sometime next month, they invited me to judge the regional cheer competition so I'm pretty excited about that! All the students call me "gwapa" which means pretty, and the random sexy is thrown out in the mix as well. It's common here to call someone sexy, and I know they think it means pretty... but it's still awkward to hear a student call you sexy. After meeting everyone at the school, I went around the city to meet the mayor, dept edu superintendent and all the other important people in the community. Everyone was lovely and I can tell that I will have no problem finding exciting projects and people to work with these next 2 years. They have a drama club, speech lab that they want me to develop, teacher trainings, remedial reading classes, cheer events and practice... the list goes on. They even have marathons here!
Ok one more thing I really want to mention. Every Friday night they have a band play on the boulevard on Bago River, which is right next to my house. Everyone in the community comes out to the event, families, barcada's (groups of men drinking together), teenagers. Its a huge event so I think that will be my excitement for a while. I went to my first Friday night band event and later that night when I was in bed, there was a drunken fight outside my window. I totally peeked out and was trying to get the chika chika on the fight. Sweet..Oh, I have another volunteer, Rachel, who works in the DSWD and women's crisis center. She lives 5 minutes away from me so I'm actually really lucky since most people are placed pretty far from another volunteer. We have a lot of opportunity to work with each other and use each other for support when we feel like we're losing our minds!:)
Ok ok I love everyone, sorry if this post was more serious than funny but that's my life these days:) Please post comments and send love messages because it makes me smile and warms my heart! Also I would enjoy some wine, I'm going through withdrawals....
All my love,

Sunday, September 21, 2008

City of Smiles

Maayong adlaw sa tanan (Good day to all)

To all of my loved ones, this is my first blog! This is the best way for me to share stories and update everyone on all of my crazy adventures here in the Philippines!

So I've already been here in Bacolod for a little over one month, I can't believe it! Bacolod is called the city of smiles, so pretty sure I fit right in. So far, this is why I love the Philippines...

1. I have small hands and feet like many Filipinas (so I fit well in the jeepney- our transportation)
2. I can sing a fabulous Madonna rendition on videoke (thank you Teatro ZinZanni for preparing my karaoke skills)
3. The main harvest here is sugarcane... so I have sugar for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and pamahaw- snack in between)
4. There is no such concept of personal space. Women like to touch your shoulder, arm, buli (butt -sometimes) as a way of showing closeness. No problem for me I like being close
5. Everybody loves to dance... i don't need to elaborate on that. I think you know me well enough
6. Mango, pineapple, banana, marang, atis, watermelon, guava, the list goes on and on and on
7. Its tropical, hot and humid. Beautiful and hot hot hot!
8. Rice: sticky rice, fried rice, garlic rice, steamed rice, rice cakes, gelatinous rice... i like rice!

Language: So far, I've been taking language classes in the morning with 5 other Peace Corps volunteers. We've been learning Hiligaynon, a language mostly spoken in the Western Visayas region. We're picking up the language pretty quick... so far my favorite words/phrases
1. Puto- rice pudding (not the same meaning as the Spanish word)
2. Gwapa- beautiful, I just like it when people say it to me:) haha
3. Chika Chika- Basically gossip and everybody does it
4. Bussog na ko- I'm full! If I didn't know this phrase, I would become tambok gid! (very fat)

Work: In the afternoon, I co-plan and co-teach with a Filipina teacher at Bacolod City National College. So far the students are very entertaining, they call me Mom (which is really Ma'am) and I asked them to say Ms. Shaun, instead of Ms. Aron because I felt like my mother and I'm not sure I'm ready to go there yet... love you Mommy! They like to giggle A LOT and say oh you're so gwapa, so gwapa. I find it very sweet:)
I also observed the HI (hearing impaired) classes. There are about 80 deaf students in my high school. They all use ASL (American Sign Language) and are very intelligent! I don't think most of the deaf students have ever communicated with an American who can sign so its an amazing experience to work with these kids!
We have a very talented group of students who are preparing for the Masskara festival in one month. They have elaborate costumes, floats, and dance routines! All of Bacolod comes out for this parade and the students at my school win every year!

Host Family: I love my host family!! My tatay(dad) plays the guitar so he's been teaching me how to play! I finally bought my very own guitar a couple of days ago. I have a nanay (mother) Inday who is wonderful, and a younger sister named Charity who is 22, but we call her Mae Mae. Mae is lovely and she takes me out with her friends for kape (coffee) and drinking out in the town of Bacolod!
I also have a Manang(older sister) Hasel, who is also our timbang. She does all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Hasel has taught me how to wash my own clothes and shop in the market at 5:30 am- when all the fresh food is there. Without Hasel I would be lost! She is my kasama (my companion) she walks with me to school every afternoon when I teach and I ask her all the inappropriate questions I need answers to:)

Peace Corps Trainees: So we're not volunteers yet, still in training. Here in Bacolod there are 18 of us! 6 here in Taculing, which is more of the city. There are 12 other volunteers 30 minutes away in Granada, which is a more rural suburb of Bacolod. 6 are teaching English, and the other 6 are working with kids who are in trouble with the law- kids often who have been abandoned, abused or neglected.
We have a lot of fun together. A couple of weeks ago we all went to Santa Fe, a resort where we had a BBQ and went swimming. (tankini of course, can't wear the 2 piece in most places because its a little too scandalous)
Yesterday, 6 of us went to IloIlo which is a province on Panay island. Our language teacher took us to his family's farm and to the beach. I could finally wear my 2 piece bathing suit! Yay!

To sum up my experience so far.... I do not have malaria or dengue fever from any mosquito's. I haven't gotten worms or any bacteria or virus from food or the water. Pretty much its a success! I'll keep you all updated on my blog and please feel free to comment!

All my love!! xoxoxo

Akon Balay

Akon Balay
yes, family and friends, I live here!