Hello, from the Philippines!
My life has been a whirlwind since I officially signed in as a Peace Corps Trainee in Los Angeles five days ago. It’s 5am here, and I’m listening to a chorus of birds chirping and fans whirring, while fighting off ants that are coming out of my computer… But I already love it here! Arriving at our Initial Orientation (IO) site after 24+ hours of travelling felt wonderful and surreal. It was the middle of the night and we could hardly see anything on the drive from the airport, but when the buses stopped at the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction–my home for the first 2 weeks–I couldn’t help my excitement. There was music and a whole strew of Peace Corps Philippines staff cheering us on, and the heat and humidity of the tropics engulfed me like an old friend. At nearly midnight it dawned on me: I am officially a Peace Corps Trainee in the Philippines!
Since then a lot has gone on in a mere 48 hours… I started my first morning here waking up with jetlag after just 3 hours of sleep. I explored the center’s grounds with some other insomniacs and was so pleased to find a slew of tropical fruit growing everywhere: pomelos, rambutan, durian, coconuts, papayas, pineapples, mangoes, and of course, bananas! Everything is green a luscious, there are flowers blooming everywhere; I found a plumeria tree with flowers on the ground and am putting one in my hair daily. There is this bizarrely distinct feeling that I have been here before. It’s the same feeling I had in Costa Rica 8 years ago, when I put my toes in the black sands of the beaches for the first time, surrounded by jungle and sunshine. Something about the nature of these tropical places speaks to me, makes me feel a sense of ‘home’, and only a day into the program, I know that I am falling in love with this place.
Most of the past two days has been spent getting to know the 71 other volunteers in my batch, discussing the Peace Corps expectations of us and our expectations for service, or learning about health and safety in a unique environment. We’ve been given an introduction to our separate programs: Children, Youth, and Families; Education; and Coastal Resource Management (my program!), as well as tasters (literally, we’ve eaten so much food!) of Filipino culture, beliefs, and traditions. I’ve accumulated a lot of PC swag in just a couple days, as well… I’m the proud owner of a new push button Samsung phone with a Filipino number, a water bottle, flash light, whistle, two canvas totes, a hefty medical kit, a mosquito net, and there is still a life vest and some more things to come! As a volunteer you are quite the busy bee with an onset of meetings and social events. We have short and concise interviews with the program director (she’s truly inspirational) and our new PC doctor, and we get sent like cattle in batches to get vaccinations (I’ve had a Hep A booster and we will all be getting the rabies series over the next few weeks). There are also a handful of ‘resource volunteers’ who are from the last two batches of volunteers that are around to answer our questions and lead fun activities. We’ve had a yoga session, “speed friending”, taken a trip to the mall, and even a 4th of July party (or Filipino American Friendship Day as they have here) complete with pin the tail on the donkey, a sack race, corn hole, bowling, and a pie eating contest!
I am about to start Day 3 of training with an organized walk, a swim in the pool (we’re really quite spoiled here) and another delicious breakfast. So far, the food has been fantastic: rice, eggs, toast, mango/pineapple jam, fruit, avocado, juice, tea, and coffee for breakfast; fish, meat, and veggie dishes at lunch, and even a stir-fry tofu dish at dinner time. Filipino office culture also big on snack time, or merienda here, so mid-morning and mid-afternoon we break from our lectures and enjoy sweet, fresh tropical juices, cookies, fruit, tea, and coffee. Today is Filipino culture day, where we will be learning about the local foods, dances, games, and traditions that we will be exposed to during service. In the evening there is a dance group coming to perform and we are having a lechon, roast pig (okay, I won’t be having any) and a feast.
More soon. With love,