A Frenzy of Fun in the Filipino Sun

Blogging is hard when you are in the Peace Corp and a day feels like a week, and a week feels like it lasts a year. I feel like I could write a book about the past 10 days of my life at Community Based Training (please, don’t challenge me, I might do it but quite frankly, I haven’t got the time)!

One week ago, I moved in with a lovely host family at my training site. A two month program in a small town with four other volunteers a few minutes walking distance, and the 20 other Coastal Resource Management trainees a nice walk, or bus, or trike away. Training is a lot of fun and oh-so-tiring! It’s 9pm now on a weekend (whatever that word means!) and I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open already. But in true Peace Corps fashion I will be flexible and persevere, and I’ll do so now in the form of a photo blog.

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This was my first visit to the beach and first sunset in the Philippines! My host family took me  Sunday evening after I moved in and we sat in the sand and watched people play as the sun went down. My host family consists of a tita (aunt), pinsan (cousin), and lola (grandmother)… there are also other cousins, nieces, nephews, that come in and out at any point of the day. It is friendly and sociable, and at the same time quiet and peaceful. I love talking to my Tita Nida and pinsan Camille about the differences between Filipino and American culture, and they are wonderfully patient with my iffy Tagalog.

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Ingredients for one of my favorite Filipino treats so far: avocados, evaporated milk, and sugar. Sounds intense… but blended with ice it makes a deliciously cold smoothie that I had delectable dreams about afterwards.

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One of the activities that we did during training this week was go for a community walk and design a community map. This is a practice for a project that we might carry out in our site; it is a great exercise to do with community members in order to learn more about the community but also to unify them in their goals and actions. Here is my team: on the left are our trainers, Ibeth (language) and Raz (technical), followed by Neill, Perri, Bennet, and Jake, the other trainees in my group, under the entrance way to our neighborhood. Along the walk we saw different churches, basketball courts (it’s the biggest sport here!), the fire station, the market, food vendors, gambling centers, small farms, and a few schools. Many people smile and wave to us or call out magandang hapon, good afternoon, and it ends up a very fun day!

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Watching the boat measuring demo…

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Measuring our first boat!

Another component of our training was learning about fishermen and boat registration. We were lucky enough to get to work alongside members of the local government and fishing community to learn how fishermen register themselves and their boats. Part of the registration process involves inspecting and measuring the boats, as we were doing above. It felt about 110* in the sun that day, but it was a really eye-opening session. Fishermen registration is important not only to help monitor illegal activity, but to have a better idea of how many fishers are out there relying on these waters for their livelihood. If a fish stock were to crash, who would it affect? Where is overfishing occurring? How can we keep fisheries sustainable, long-lasting, and able to provide poorer local communities for generations to come? These are just some of the questions we look at as stewards of Coastal Resource Management, and having a good relationship with fishermen is the foundation to our success with both the communities and the environment.

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I loved the colors and textures of the fishing nets

Aside from all the studying and training and eating, we do get to have a little fun! One of the highlights of the week was celebrating a fellow batchmate’s birthday. We had a birthday cake and hung out on the beach during low tide, playing with the local kids and watching the sunset as a group of foreigners does in the Philippines.

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A local girl walking on water

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Games with local kids

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Making our own hurdles

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Jumping over them with flair

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Sunsets are the best time for photos!

It doesn’t look so bad, right? Lastly, I’ll share with you one of my favorite perks from my short stay in the Philippines thus far… On my first afternoon of free time, one week after arriving at site, I went snorkeling (swoon) with a couple of my batch mates. The first photo you see is the crown-of-thorns sea star, a very hardy multi-armed sea star that eats hard coral. Can you imagine? It’s hard to even think of sea stars as having mouths, but they do, on their underside, and this beast of an invertebrate (it has no internal skeleton!) likes to munch on coral with an almost beak-like mouth. Crown-of-thorns play an interesting roles on reef… one or two are a good thing because they eat faster growing coral allowing slower species some room to grow. However, too many crown-of-thorns can destroy a whole reef. In many places, including the Philippines, they kill them with cyanide to prevent an outbreak (cutting them up can lead to them multiplying; because they can grow back their limbs)! I only saw two during my snorkeling, and the reef seemed quite healthy, as I demonstrate in the picture below; lots of fish and lots of growing coral (the white tips at the ends of the coral branches denote growth in some species)!

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The Crown-of-Thorns Sea Star!

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Healthy growing reef

Healthy reefs = healthy ecosystems and this is a good thing for us all, land and water animals, including humans 😀

Okay, that’s it for now… Will aim for a more organized post next time!
Ignat (take care)!

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