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!

Akon Balay

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