Thursday, August 25, 2011

Life and Death in the Philippines

I have been meaning to write about life and death here in the Philippines. Someone said that we would experience a lot of milestones like births, deaths, christenings etc. and after two weeks of being here at my training site, my host mother’s mother got very sick and died. They call the grandmother “Lola” – she was 84. All of a sudden she had stomach pains and within 3 days they said she died of colon cancer. Because of the language translation and cultural exchange I did not fully understand her condition, but never the less, she died. A week prior, another PCT’s host Lola also died, so we have had a lot of exposure to cultural traditions around death. After my Lola passed there was a “lamay” – a wake began for three days, the casket was put in the living room of Lola’s with a glass covering over the body, there were elaborate lights and drapes surrounding the casket and a candle burning, flowers, etc. and the body was never left alone, the family took shifts. A huge bamboo frame covered with tarp was erected beside the home to cover the area that all of the visitors would gather, there were about a dozen tables, tons and tons of food, people from all over the community would come and go for the three days, playing cards and gambling with the winnings going to the family to offset the cost of the burial etc. – Many many people stayed day and night, for the last day of the lamay a baboy (pig) showed up and became the sacrificial food for the day. Huge pots of rice and pork dishes in outside open cookfires, tons of children, people visiting, etc. – it was really an incredible site to see how many hundreds of people gathered to pay their respect to this family, it made me wonder how many people would show at my last memorial, how many people this wonderful Lola had impacted and how many have I? On the third day the funeral began, the coffin was taken from the living room into the white hearse and then we walked behind all the way to the church, a bubble machine was on top of the hearse and music was playing loudly from the speakers on the hearse. The service was a typical funeral Catholic Mass and then we walked behind the hearse again all the way to the burial plot (bubble machine and music still playing, it was quite moving really) people on the route threw money to help the family, it took about 45 minutes, way down the road, twisting off the side to a mountain and then when we arrived, they took the coffin out of the hearse and carried it straight up the mountain, the coffin was like vertical and there must have been about 50 steps straight up, we all walked up and gathered at the cement tomb like enclosure for the family. The view over the rice fields was breath taking, truly a peaceful resting place. Folks said their final goodbyes through the glass viewing coffin, several wailed and carried on and truly I was touched at how much this lovely woman impacted old and young, I think she had about 9 children. Finally they hand passed the young children over the coffin, a tradition of sorts and then slid the coffin in the tomb. A large set of white balloons was set free in the air, with prayers and such attached. We climbed back down the mountain, rode home and a pancit (thin noodles and veggies and meat) meal awaited us, the yard and home had all been cleaned up with no trace of lamay. After 40 days there will be another celebration, I attended a 40 day event of my fellow PCTs Lola, again a large pig is sacrificed and folks from all over the area come and eat and celebrate the life of the deceased. They displayed a photo of the wonderful Lola age 99 who had passed, along with the food offering of pork and rice along side the photo of Jesus and statue of a saint. Beside our language class site, there have also been 3 huge celebrations in the last week. Usually videoke accompanies these celebrations, continuing non-stop through the night for several days. Friday morning I headed up the stairs to language class and heard a little snort, a pig was tied to the stairwell, I took his/her photo. I knew it’s fate and sure enough, after lunch someone went ahead and signaled to me that I needed to close my eyes as I walked pass the loud chop chop chopping noises…….smoke billowed upward and we had to move our language class. This was a one year old’s birthday celebration, apparently this is a huge celebration when a baby turns one. Then two people died on either side of our language location and yesterday and today we listened to videoke while studying Tagalog, very interesting cultural experience to have a Filipino singing John Lennon’s song Let It Be, not very skillfully I might add, while we practiced our Tagalog verbs aloud.
So about life here – my best friend is my umbrella, it goes everywhere with me. If it is raining I obviously need it but if it is not, then the intense sun beats down and everyone uses an umbrella to shade themselves. So my investment in a golf size umbrella was worth it, I already have a small hole though, I use it more than anything I brought actually. The other thing everyone carries daily is some kind of sweat cloth, usually a colorful bandana, handkerchief or piece of terry cloth – you don’t go anywhere without it, of course the Americans are dripping and use ours like mops. Many Filipinos daintily tap their upper lip to dab the sweat, I know that when the Filipinos are using their fans and cloths that by golly it really is hot. I also bring a folding hand fan everywhere, there may not be electric fans and sweat drips – actually I  know that it is 7 am everyday because that is when the sweat starts, it is almost 7 pm and I am still sweating, you really do get used to it. My goal is to be able to wear long tight jeans like most Filipinos and NOT sweat profusely in one year…… I am dying in shorts and capris, let alone thick long jeans.           

Roosters are also part of our daily morning, I dodge dog and horse poop on the road as I walk to school, it amazes me that dogs will poop right smack dab in the middle of the street here, they also sleep in the middle of the road. Our feet take a beating, we wear sandals all the time, my feet are filthy every night. Most kids go barefoot and many little ones do not even wear pants/diapers but run butt naked. All the school children wear uniforms and so you can tell what age they are by the color of their uniform and also if they go to public or private school. They really look so sharp for school, girls with white anklet socks and little patent leather heels for high school.  I never leave home without a full waterbottle of clean filtered water. Everyone, including teachers, goes home for lunch. They leave around 11:30 and go back around 1pm, school is usually dismissed at 4 – 4:30. Lunch is usually rice and veggies, just like dinner for me. Lots of fish. Breakfast can be eggs, noodle soup, pancakes, bread, variations. Fruits are for merienda, snacks. Like I said, by 7 am the world here has been up, the lady that sells bread in the morning begins her rounds at 5am, she has this annoying squeeky horn on her bike that wakes me up every morning. She delivers pan de sol, actually a lot of folks bike through all of the neighborhoods with the wares they sell, very convenient so you don’t have to go shopping, the shopping comes through the neighborhoods. Most folks burn their trash and it can be quite the air pollutant. The tricycles (remember they are motorcycles with side cars) and jeepneys apparently don’t have pollution control on their exhaust fumes. Part of carrying a sweat cloth is to cover your nose when the visible grey or black exhaust cloud engulfs you as you walk by the road. This is such a gorgeous country and pollution seems to be it’s enemy. There is a tremendous amount of litter everywhere, I don’t see many trash cans and like in the US years ago, no one thought of litter as a problem. The whole anti litter campaign and don’t be a litterbug idea and keep America Beautiful has worked for the most part in the US. We did an educational session at an adult learning center last week about litter – many so called third world countries have litter on the streets, rivers etc. – maybe we impacted a few folks and made them aware. Everyone and I mean everyone says hello to me as I walk to class or the school. I say Good Morning or Magandang Umaga about 100 times. I love it! I guess I am the token Caucasian, the unusual one, the grey/blond haired older Foreigner, the overweight one (I swear everyone here is a size 00), I am called Lola or Aatay Amy – several take my hand and put it to their forehead for a sign of requested blessing. I think when I become a grandmother I would like to be called Lola and give blessings to my children/grands via a touch on the head, it is so very sweet to see it. Respect of elders is huge here, we were told that Filipinos believe that to be born is a privilege and you should spend the rest of your life thanking those who brought you into the world and cared for you – nursing homes etc. are almost non-existent here.
On a bit of a sadder and realistic note, many high school age kids do not attend school because they either have to babysit younger siblings or go to work to feed the family. I have witnessed this first hand, a family with 5 kids, the oldest daughter rarely attends school so she can help with the little ones and now she has a night job so they can have money to eat, the father figure is somewhere else supposedly earning money and sending it occasionally. The Overseas Filipino Workers do have viable jobs in other countries and regularly send money home, we were told that if you see a really really nice house that most likely a family member works overseas and sends money home. In the case of the family with 5 kids, I think the male is not like this kind of worker. Well, dinner is at 7 ish, bath time for me via a bucket and dipper, fan roaring with non-screened windows wide open, ear plugs in, mosquito net down (dengue fever is everywhere right now) and night night for me about 9 pm – Enjoy the photos.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Last two weeks

A hectic two weeks. August began with a whirlwind of activity. My first co-teaching, my site placement interview and a 4 hour community information gathering session titled PACA. Co-teaching went fine, I realized how much I have to learn about Filipino education style, they love to choral read everything as a class. My counterpart teacher is so very nice and wants to help me. It is a bit weird teaching English, I am actually learning things about grammar that I didn’t even realize. The site placement interview was a blur, I was asked several questions about how I felt about an 8 hour boat ride and was led to think that maybe I would be placed on a far off island, I was excited. The Participatory Analysis of Community Action is a Peace Corps method of getting the community to really look at what they have and what they perhaps can improve on. We heard lectures on it and read a book but there is nothing like seeing it in action. All of the pieces fell into place so very nicely, it was really cool to see the different community groups share about their lives.
All of batch 270 headed to the Island Cove Resort just south of Manilla for our Supervisors conference last Monday –Thursday. We were all super excited to finally find out where we would be spending the next two years and to meet our new supervisor. The hotel was very nice, AIR CO.!!, we sure needed a break – wow, toilets with seats and toilet paper and soap! We attended several health and safety sessions – PC really makes sure we are aware of possible issues and what the procedures are in case of different scenarios. The afternoon came and there was this huge map of the Philippines on the wall with little photo spots and pins on the map. We were called up individually and our site was announced, we then took our photo and placed it on the huge map. So I am heading to the province of Batangas, just south of Manilla on the big island of Luzon. Many of us were placed close together and at first we were disappointed because we wanted the isolated roughing it PC experience – a few folks got placed almost alone (no other volunteers) on isolated islands. I was jealous I have to admit. But I have researched Batangas a little and it seems very interesting. There are a lot of great beaches, a cool volcano in the middle of a volcanic crater lake, lots of famous dive spots right off shore, the ferry to two islands close by is in the capital, not far from my town. I will be in Ibaan, you will have to search on a map of the Philippines, just south of Manilla and east of Batangas City. It looks pretty rural, I will be co-teaching 3rd grade, yeah!, and my supervisor is so very sweet. She is an older lady with one daughter, we got along great. I received photos of my next host family, the house looks nice and there is a big family within the compound. Eventually I hope to live on my own, around Christmas, and after I have explored the area, maybe I can move closer to the coast. It is hard to tell how close I am, maybe 10 miles, but transportation here can be slow, so who knows exactly how long. The Taal Volcano and Lake is called the Sailing Mecca of the Philippines, so maybe on a weekend or two I could head over there. Batangas City is where you catch the ferries to Mindoro and Marinduque Islands that are just south of where I will be. I have to admit I was a bit bummed out not being placed right on the coast or on a small isolated island, but maybe it will be better to visit all the cool places and live on the big island.
Yesterday I took the jeepney to town, Dinalupihan, went out for pizza and shopping- what an experience looking for a few items, it has very limited selections on almost everything. I am going to try and post some photos of the lovely ladies I met in the market selling pork, fish and vegetables. I went swimming at a local pool today, heavenly because it has been so so hot, I can’t believe how much we all sweat when the sun is out, it is exhausting. I am drinking tons of water and my powder Gatorade 2. I co-teach again tomorrow and Wed. and then on Friday our entire group here will be doing a training at an alternative learning center. Enjoy the photos – random scenes that I have found interesting, kids on my street, etc.