New Year’s Eve, New Apartment

imageIts one month into the New Year and time is speeding by.  I spent New Year’s Even in Dumaguete and it was necessary to have that time away from site to come back re-invigorated to continue my mission here.  Peace Corps can be extremely tasking even at the best sites.  Anyone who labels one site PoshCorps over another doesn’t know what they are talking about.  I hate this term and I hate it especially when fellow volunteers use it because we should know better than those on the outside the sacrifices it takes to commit yourself to being far away from home and integrating into a new community for 27 months.  You are expecting that you will miss holidays, birthdays, weddings, funerals, etc.  and that’s true no mater where you are posted.  Those family ties can cause a volunteer to ET(early terminate) whether they are in the most idyllic site or ruffing it somewhere with no running water.  The key is community integration and self-care.  I think I have done a pretty good job integrating into my community.  I had a great host family situation and my co-teachers rock.  I think I have partially integrated into my community.  I still am unaware of a lot that goes on outside of the school and how to connect with key partners in order to get projects implemented in the community but that’s my goal for the next three months.  The past four months at site, I have spent getting to know my school and my students.  I started teaching classes and I am starting to learn the names of some of my students.  The first three months at site, I think are the hardest because of Peace Corps policy that you can’t stay out of site at all.  I understand the need to be in your community and integrate at site but the three months away from other Americans after being around each other every day and having a little micro community can be hard for any volunteer.  I have a great setup here and love my community so I didn’t feel the stress as much as some other volunteers.  That being said, the holidays were difficult for me so Dumaguete was a welcome break.

I had a great time in Duma!  I got to see some volunteers I haven’t seen in a while and reconnect with them.  I love listening to how their site is going and what things they are doing, as well as some of the struggles they are having.  It’s all part of the journey for all of us and made me realize that they too are having some problems.  I am so eager to help and to implement projects but things move slower in the Philippines and I need to practice patience.  Anyways back to Duma, I had some awesome food, great conversations, and I swam with sea turtles.  I have to find a way to a way to swim at site.  I always knew how much I loved the water and it is my favorite way to work out but I also think it is an important part of me feeling centered.  In my area of Negros, there are no swimmable beaches.  I know it seems crazy because I’m on an island and I can’t find anywhere to swim, but the beaches here have trash floating in the water.   It’s a real problem here in the Philippines.  There is a lack of education about proper trash disposal as well as people don’t receive regular trash pickups so they have nothing to do with it but burn it or put it in the river.  Neither good options!

I have tried other things like yoga and meditating since returning to site to help keep me centered and they help but not in the same way that being in the water does.  I know its clique but I guess I’m a typical Cancer.  I’ve been in the water since I was a baby and it feels to me here that it’s so close but so far away.

imageA couple weeks after returning to site, I moved into my new apartment.  I love it!  I loved being with my host family and I will always be close to them but I like having my own place to call home and being able to cook for myself.  Though I’m more in the middle than some people I know and Filipinos say I’m fairly talkative, I consider myself an introvert.  It takes me awhile to trust people and I don’t like to get up on front of stage and address a group of people.  I do it because it’s my job but I feel more comfortable journaling or sitting at home watching a movie.  I enjoy the solitude that my apartment gives me.  Though Filipinos believe being alone is synonymous with being lonely, Americans tend to enjoy that time to ourselves.  Also, if I want to hang I just ask my friends here if they are doing anything.

All and all I have a great site and though things have been bumpy this first month at site: thought I had a parasite due to stomach issues and my computer is currently non-functioning which is limiting my ability to do the paperwork that PC sends us; I am still having a great time.  My students are awesome and I think they might actually be listening to me.  At least some of them are and some of the time…So pretty much the same as students in America.  Haha!

I take joy in the little things now like mastering the ability to sleep anywhere.  Give me a cement floor and a yoga mat and I’m good!

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“I may go to places I have never been to just to find the deepest desires in my mind.”-Two Door Cinema Club

I just found this today from before New Years.  Warning:  I guess I was feeling a little discouraged.  My next blog should be out tomorrow.

It is my 6 month anniversary of being in the Philippines and I have now spent three months in Victorias. Christmas has just passed and to be perfectly honest I have been feeling really homesick and overwhelmed. So in the Philippines, Christmas starts in September.  So I am constantly reminded that it’s the holidays but it doesn’t feel like the holidays to me.  I miss lighting the fire pit outside on a cold night, having a beer, and listening to hockey with my day.  You don’t realize how much you miss the cold until you are pouring your water bottle on yourself in the middle of the night (not even bothering to get out of bed), just to cool yourself down.  Of course, it’s only natural to miss your loved ones during the holidays but I was hoping that I wouldn’t really notice it was the holidays here because it doesn’t feel like it but you can’t escape it.  The Philippines is a very Catholic country so Christmas is all around.  (I have to include on Love Actually reference in my holiday blog)  It hasn’t been all sadness though.  I went with my host sister to Escalante for a couple of nights of swimming, watching New Girl, and maybe having some cocktails.  Also, I am a godmother now!  My host sister’s daughter Joy Joy was baptized on Christmas and she is little of bundle of joy. IMG_0418 I’ve been really lucky to have great host family experiences throughout my Peace Corps service.

 

 

 

 

So the reason I’ve been feeling overwhelmed is due to the size of my school. I have accomplished many things in these first couple of months here but I am feeling as though I haven’t done anything and a part of me feels like I won’t be able to.  I am still feeling very out of place in my school community.  There are app. 5500 students and 220 teachers and I don’t know anyone.  Obviously, that is not true!   I have made some good friends in some teachers and I’m starting to get to know the students but I am barely scratching the surface and there is so much I want to do here.  Everyone here seems to know my name and even the trike drivers shout the name of my street at me as walk by but I am  terrible at names and so many were being thrown at me my first month here that I was expected to know after one meeting.  I’m the type of person who needs to get know something about you before I remember you.  Tell me about your kids, sister, family, hopes and dreams, etc. and then I remember your name.  However most Filipinos don’t want to talk to me besides the standard hello and how are you?  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s not that they don’t want to talk to me but they are intimidated to.  So much of the culture here revolves around perfection.  It’s like they won’t attempt to speak to me unless they are sure they’re English is perfect.

Side note: It seems to be an important cultural aspect for them: perfect hair, body, makeup, skin color etc. Sound familiar? So it’s like every imperfection that a women would think about in America is amplified 1000 times.  You lost 25 lbs. congratulations; you are still looking a little fat today!  You got too dark on your vacation; perhaps you should try some bleach.  (Oh!  I’m sorry I mean whitening cream) In the same way that Americans subject themselves to tanning beds to get a little darker, Filipinos avoid the sun at all cost to get a little lighter.  The thing about the Philippines is it’s too Americanized.   The idolize America and American culture.  I find myself talking more about the pitfalls of being an American and explaining America’s history of injustice than I do discuss the positive traits associated with America.  Just to adjust their image of America so that’s more realistic.

No matter how many times I tell my students that their English is amazing, they don’t trust themselves. So the main obstacle I am running to right now is students turning the same assignment, plagiarizing their assignment, or not turning in anything.  All three scenarios stem from this cultural concept of perfection or just not wanting to do the assignment.  Either way, I have no idea what to do about it.  I encourage them to do better and believe in their work but they still don’t trust that it’s good enough.  Hopefully, next year I can approach all of these challenges with a renewed sense of confidence.  Well I’m off to Dumaguete to meet with other PCVs!  I’m excited to be in the water again.

Romanticism and Resiliency in the Philippines

bacolod

The Philippines is the most romantic country that I’ve been to. It’s not the tropical flora and fauna or the beautiful beaches that make it so. It is the people. As I sat in front of the lagoon in Bacolod, I watched couples dancing and a husband and wife playing with each other as their children chase after with music playing in the background. The music that was playing is the kind of cheesy soft rock that plays on 102.5 in St. Louis, but for some reason here it’s not cheesy. It’s genuine because that’s how people here approach love, as something that is ultra-romantic and yes maybe a little over the top. The courting and serenading, which let’s be honest is all but dead in America, is not only common practice here but obligatory. There’s a kind of innocence that exists here in the minds of the people when it comes to love.

Whether they are watching a serial or singing videoke, Filipino life is centered around romance. So much so that not a day goes by that I’m not asked if I’m married or have a boyfriend. When I answer in the negative, the natural assumption is that I want one. The concept of being content as a single person or just not considering romance a priority right now doesn’t really exist here. This is not to say that Filipinos are unaware of the very serious problems that exist here and only spend their day thinking about what we would consider frivolous topics (though they would not consider family and the support system that it offers to be unimportant). They spend the majority of their day hard at work and then go home and work some more. They are very industrious and willing to tackle their problems. Family is the center and most integral part of Filipino society and offers support when times are hard and money limited. There is an expression in the Tagalog, Bahala Na, which means it is in God’s hands or whatever will be will be. It is a kind of natural acceptance of the problems that exist and the hardships that a part of life here. (Side note: The Philippines is very prone to natural disasters and recent typhoons such as Yolanda have devastated some communities that were already struggling) They seem to just accept these problems as part of life and continue on with an ever present smile on their faces. There is a resiliency in the hearts and the minds of the people here.

Yes there are also problems here that make all the petty little problems in America that cause so much inter-fighting and gridlock seem small and easily manageable(if we get out of our way that is). As I was walking home from the Mercado and watched the street dogs fighting for a scrap of food, I thought about a particular friend of mine, who is very much into animal rights, and what she will think when she visits and sees how nonchalant I am when I walk by these poor creatures. This is not to say that I don’t feel anything because I want to adopt every dog here. However, the first time you see a child huffing shabu or rugby ,a sort of crystal meth that keeps the pangs in their stomachs at bay or hear from your CYF friends about child living on piles of garbage some problems weigh on your mind more. You know we join the Peace Corps because we idealistic and want to affect a change in our world but the realization that some problems are too big for a handful of volunteers to solve can be discouraging for some volunteers.

For me though, as I’m sitting at my desk watching the future of the Philippines walk past my door, I have hope. Hope that maybe a small portion of the 5000 students that walk around my school every day will want something more than money or the latest iPhone that we(and by we, I mean American consumerism that has infected nearly every crevice of this world) tell them they need. Maybe they will want their fellow students not to come here hungry or maybe they will work to create a world where children don’t live on piles of trash. They may become future doctors and lawyers or fisher folk and housewives but the impact that they have one their community can be great regardless because of the strong communal bonds and sense of sharing that exists here. Here people have a lot less than Americans but share a lot more. I hope for my country that they learn from the Filipinos’ sense of caring and sharing and for my students here: I hope that the sense of community and idealism that Filipinos have can propel them towards imagining a Philippines of their dreams!

“Development is a Dream that cannot come true without Action.”

I’ve begun my second round of PST in the Philippines and am starting to get acclimated to the climate and time change.  Although, I am still waking up at 5:30am and those of you who know me can attest that I am not a happy camper in the morning.  Language Training and Technical Training have been going really good so far.  This program is completely different than Ukraine.  Actually, everything about this country is completely different and I’m glad.  This way I’m not constantly comparing and my experiences are all new and exciting.

The past two days we’ve had speakers that have had a profound impact on how I view my role as a volunteer in the Philippines.  Not because the information they presented was particularly new to me but because of the passion with which they approach their work.  In spite of the enormous challenges that their work presents, they have seemingly boundless energy and display extreme enthusiasm even in the face of difficult circumstances.  The speaker we had today discussed the way to approach development in an inclusive way.  His fervor was something to behold.  His religious views guide his passion to work with the poorest communities.  I think that his passion can be applied in a non-religious way and probably made some of us in the audience who are not so religious uncomfortable but presenting community development in this way can be useful in a Filipino context.

The other speaker spoke yesterday regarding human trafficking.  Her statistics regarding the prevalence of the sex trade industry was sickening.  Both speakers made my passion for my secondary projects more evident.  I hope that my site has a CRM and CYF (CRMs basically deal with the environment, fisheries, coral reefs, etc. and CYF deal with sex trafficking, children/family issues, etc.  It’s a lot more complicated that but for the purposes of our current discussion we’ll just go with that) volunteer close by.  But if my hopes and dreams were food, I could feed every child in the Philippines.

I know I have to be realistic and I’ve done this before so you’d think I would be more realistic.  I can’t help it, I’m a dreamer.  We’d all have to be a little bit or else we wouldn’t be here.  At least that’s what I think when I look at all these people that I’ve known for little more than a week.  I’m not the only one.  (It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t end with some sort of Beatles reference)

-Gina