Over the past 6 weeks I have learned so much about the Philippines and Filipino culture. On top of a couple paragraphs-worth of Tagalog, I’ve learned how to eat bangus (the local fish) with my hands and without swallowing bones; how to sleep through the roosters’ crowing and the asopin’s (street dogs) barking; and how to shower, use the bathroom, and wash my clothes with just a bucket (it can be done)! I have to say, I feel quite at home (yes, it’s that word again) here already. I cannot wait to improve my Tagalog (or my local language once I get my site placement) and really become part of a community… I envision walks to the beach stopping at my favorite sari-sari (a little shop) or a fruit stand while joking away with the locals, or stopping by landing docks and checking out the fresh catch of the day, knowing all the dialect names for the fish. Maybe I’ll always be the Amerikana, maybe I’ll get a cool nickname besides Jo, but however my community decides to embrace me, I’m excited… Hopefully, it’s not too tall of an order!
In the meantime, I wanted to share one of the greatest things I’ve learned about Filipinos thus far: they are incredibly kind, positive, and caring.* Three examples to illustrate this point:
- One night while walking back from a neighboring town with one of my trainers, a woman and her child drove by us. They were riding a motorcycle with a sidecar that looked like a heavy-duty baby’s crib, used for cattle or storage, or just piling in more people. It was dark and their headlights weren’t working (not too uncommon, I’ve noticed) so the woman was driving and her child was in the side car holding a flashlight on the road so they could see! I was blown away by this concept and was contemplating the meaning of life when a minute or two later the duo came back at us and pulled over. The woman asked where we were going and if we needed a ride. Okay, okay, I know this might seem extremely unsafe to you, first world readers, Mom and Dad, so don’t worry, we did decline the ride; but how amazing is it that someone who has to use a flashlight as a headlight is willing to extend a hand in kindness towards a stranger? Just think about it…
- Later this week we were supposed to collaborate on a youth camp with the other sectors, CYF (children, youth, & families) and Education. Life and (mostly) a lot of rain got in the way, so the camps were cancelled last minute after some groups had already driven an hour or two towards the event site. As a group, we were tired and somewhat disappointed… several days of preparations with nothing to show for it. But we had a debriefing as a group and discussed the positive outcomes of this unfortunate turn of events: namely, the experience! Whether we ran the camp or not, we gained experience in creating, organizing, and having one cancelled. We also discussed how common it is for events to get cancelled from weather, lack of funds, external or internal organization issues, a medley of reasons. What struck me, was the incredible calmness and understanding of our local trainers and the feedback from the schools and the members of the communities. Yes, there is disappointment, but on a whole there is this acceptance that things get cancelled and life moves on… bahala na, they say here: it’s up to god.
- Lastly, a few days ago I came down with a nasty sinus infection that made my head pound and my body ache with exhaustion. My host Tita (aunt) saw me sneezing and sniffling all day and exclaimed that she would make chicken soup for dinner, so that I could feel better. And she indeed made one of the best chicken soups I have ever had in my life! It was Vietnamese style, with rice noodles, shredded chicken, caramelized onions, chilies, cabbage, and bean sprouts in a savory broth. What was uniquely fun is that all the ingredients were cooked separately, and then I got to pick how much of everything I wanted in my bowl… a sort of make-your-own-soup-for-the-soul. It was heavenly and wonderful and made my head feel a hundred times clearer. Moral of the story: you should never underestimate the power of chicken noodle soup, nor a Filipino’s heart.
Anyway, the Coastal Resource Management Trainees have an exciting week ahead of us! Tomorrow we will be visiting an indigenous people (IP) community to learn more about their history and culture. Later in the week we will be presenting a Coastal Environmental Profile to community members in reference to the assessments and workshops that we conducted earlier this month. And most excitingly, next Monday the whole of Batch 275 will take their language proficiency exams and receive our permanent site announcements. The mystery of “where will I live as a Peace Corps Volutneer?” will finally be solved! Once we find out the location of our site, the language groups will be reorganized by region so that we can begin to learn our new local dialects. After that, just a couple more weeks of training and I will be swearing-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer! Anyway, as always, thanks for reading!
Until next time soon,
*As a rule, I don’t like making such vast generalizations about any culture, nationality, race, gender, religion, species of animal, belief system, sports’ enthusiasts, or what have you, but given that this is such a positive generalization, I let it slide this one time. Hopefully, you do, too.