Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Goodbye Training, Hello Service

Counterparts Conference and Swearing In
Peace Corps loves to have conferences, so we attended our last one before actually taking our oath and becoming official United States Peace Corps Volunteers Sept. 11-15. This conference was for us to wrap up the very end of our training (since we arrived in L.A. 10 long weeks ago) and to meet our “counterparts” – the Filipino teacher, for education volunteers, we would be working with for the next two years. Many of us were really really ready for training to be over. The actual language classes had been great, I could have easily continued those. The technical part, working in our training school, had been completed and we had said a tearful goodbye to the teachers and our host families. There is a very interesting video online showing us trainees playing musical chairs at our goodbye party and two trainees broke a chair fighting for a spot, one of them is me J. I saw my very first lechon at the party, a whole pig roasted on the table. Anytime a group of people are put together for 24/7 under a bit of stress, cliques and poor personality clashes are bound to occur. I was tired of the petty and flirty games that certain trainees were playing, many people were extremely immature despite being over 30, sometimes I felt like I was chaperoning a youth group trip – I will give all the benefit of the doubt and believe that stress sometimes does not bring out the best in people. Never the less, I am proud of my behavior and can say that I did my best under the circumstances. There is a litany of items written about the PC training experience and I won’t bore you with more details. I made some life long friends who have sustained me during the lonely and culturally crazy times.

     The counterparts conference was very rewarding, I have to say that PC staff read our evaluations of the previous conference we attended and made some welcomed and beneficial changes to this one. My counterpart is a very dedicated male teacher who loves young children, works very hard and is respected by the community. We got to know each other over the few days and had to practice teaching together.

Eric and I demo teaching

I also got to know other counterparts in Batangas Province and they were all so welcoming and nice. My supervisor, the principal of our school, was so considerate that she hired a private van to come and pick us up and take us back to Batangas, she did not want me taking public transportation the first time with all of my luggage.

    The day for Swearing In arrived and my friend Ali and I decided to be brave and take public transportation for the first time in Manila and go to the Peace Corps office that morning. There is a wonderful resource center there and we wanted to see it before leaving for our post. It was a little scary venturing out by ourselves, we managed two buses and a few jeeps, a very long walk and finally found it. Everyone at the office kept saying, why are you here? Aren’t you supposed to be swearing in today? We selected some resource books that Peace Corps kindly will send to us to use and then found a quicker bus back to our Swearing In location in plenty of time. The hotel ballroom was nicely decorated and each of four training groups provided entertainment. Our group from Dinalupihan, Bataan sang a medley of Filipino folk songs. 
The Honorable Leslie Bassett, U.S. Deputy Chief of Missions, administered our oath, the same oath taken by ambassadors and I think even congressmen/senators, to uphold the constitution etc……

My life long dream has finally arrived, I am a Peace Corps Volunteer!
We got our official Peace Corps Philippines pin, a much coveted item. They shot off cannons of confetti, it was very exciting, a nice reception to follow. 
My great teacher and friend!

The best was that many of our host families from Dinalupihan hired a private van and drove almost 4 hours one way to come and see us!! Wow, I felt so loved and appreciated; it was so great because none of us had our real US families in attendance. 
Wonderful Filipino family
So we are official United States Peace Corps Volunteers, a very special group of people, a kindred family of thousands since 1961, whom you bond with and you never leave. Even after service, you are forever a Peace Corps Volunteer, although you are called a RPCV, returned PCV and can communicate and join with other groups around the U.S.
    So let the real adventure begin, no more hand holding by the Peace Corps staff, we are set off on our own now (still with many safety and security measures in place) to our permanent posts for the next two years.
P.S. If a 55 year old single mom of three wonderful grown sons can achieve her dreams, then you can too! Dare to dream big and watch what God can do!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In Honor of the start of college football....

Well the college football season began this past Labor Day weekend in the Southeast US, but alas, there is no Labor Day here in the Philippines and there is no college football :( 
In honor of all of my fellow University of South Carolina Gamecock fan's, I thought I would share this video of many of my "neighbors" here. The almost non-stop crowing can be tolerated when I think that it means we just scored a touch down!
Whatever your sport or team, enjoy this season with friends and family. 
p.s. I wouldn't mind it if someone taped a Gamecock football game and send the dvd to me, hint, hint. 
Oh yeah, and Go Gamecocks! Fight! Win! Kick ###!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bataan Journey

We were privileged to be guests of the Governor of Bataan for a tour of this historic and scenic province. We began our tour at the welcome center of Bataan where we viewed a video about the province and a museum about the history. A van and tourguide took us to Mount Samat where the large cross was placed to memorialize the Bataan death march. In 1942 the Bataan Death March was a 65 mile trek in which 78,000 prisoners of war, both American and Filipino, were forced by the Japanese to walk to a Japanese POW camp. As many as 11,000 died along the way, American and Filipino. They walked in the hot sun without food and water and the ones who survived the walk were herded into cattle cars and shipped to POW camps. Actually, the oldest Bataan March survivor recently died at age 105 in Illinois, “Doc” Brown. A book about his life has been published by Kevin Moore, titled “Forsaken Heroes of the Pacific War: One Man’s True Story.” We saw many photos, newspaper clippings, etc. about the death march and camps. We took the elevator to the top of the large cross and the view was breath taking, you could see the entire peninsula of the province. Wild monkeys still exist on the mountain. The Japanese later gave the Filipinos a friendship bell monument after the war to encourage peace.
Our Bataan journey took us across the province, we briefly viewed Corrigidor Island, which had an important role to play in WWII, we arrived at the western shore of the large island of Luzon, on the newly termed West Philippine Sea, at the town of Morong. We were treated to a visit about the sea turtle conservation efforts of a volunteer organization, the Pawikan Conservation Society, we even got to release some baby turtles into the sea. They will return in 25 years, if not eaten by a predator, to lay eggs on the same beach.

My Tagalog teacher, Yoly, and I (I am the tall one)

See the wild monkey?

What about that final caption?

View from the Refugee Camp

Voyage of Refugees to Philippines

Bats just hanging out
We visited a very interesting site that brought back memories after the Vietnam War. I remember vaguely hearing about the “boat people” when I was younger. We got to visit the location of the refugee camp that accepted and processed the thousands of refugees that fled Vietnam and Laos from about 1980-94. Many were relocated to the US. They are in the process of building a museum there, photo also of the Pope’s visit, interesting caption. The view from the camp was magnificent, it was quiet and peaceful since the camp has long been abandoned, but you could imagine the thousands of refugees who lived and awaited a permanent home.
We concluded our tour via Subic Bay, again an important military location in WWII and a former US military base. We saw Filipino military troops training by walking up the steep mountain slopes and then back down again toting heavy packs in the hot sun. We stopped by some trees on the way home that had huge bats hanging in them.
It was a real treat to sight see and learn about the history of the Philippines.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Lumpia, dances and teaching

Rolling Lumpia

My veggie lumpia

Our group in Dinalupihan

National Dance Troop

Orchids, about 12 on a stem
 So much has been happening since we are so very busy so I am playing catch up. I have included a few photos of our language group cooking some Filipino dishes. We had to go to the palengke and buy the ingredients and then prepare and cook at someone’s home. We made lumpia, mine had no baboy, and adobo and fried chicken for others. Yummy sticky rice and pina for dessert. My favorite Filipino dish so far is kalabasa squash, sort of like acorn squash, cooked with green beans in fresh squeezed coconut milk, ginger and garlic as seasonings. Other photo in front of the DepEd logo is our group after conducting a morning session for adults who left school but want to continue their education. We did sessions on interviewing, self esteem and problems with burning trash and littering. We were fortunate to see the National Dance Troop perform and they were incredible, live music, beautiful costumes. Our elementary group did a community project that consisted of a teacher training on reading/library resources, science, math and English. I did the science part and we did several easy but exciting experiments. We all look drenched in sweat, I told you that by 7am I am sweating, hair slicked back. No one came  here to win a beauty contest for sure.
It has been raining for a week, several typhoons have passed close by. An immense retaining wall of a landfill burst due to the rain and garbage spilled all over a town and killed several people. Sad, death by garbage slide. There have also been a  lot of photos of Manila bay with an incredible amount of floating garbage in it from the rains, kids were actually swimming in it scrounging for anything of value, the pictures were unbelievable. Folks here tend to throw trash in the open sewers along the roads, the sewers drain into rivers and then the rivers drain into the ocean and bays. It is sad to see so much trash in such a beautiful country. Floods have wrecked havoc in many towns due to the hard rain for a week, no floods by me, but Manila has a lot, almost waist deep. We are in the home stretch for training, next week is language testing. Tomorrow we FINALLY get to go to a beach, I have three things of sunscreen and have not used any and it is Sept.! Hopefully the sun will come out tomorrow. We will do language and technical sessions at the beach. My next blog installment will be about WWII and Bataan Peninsula. We toured all of Bataan and it has some amazing history so I want to do it justice with photos and facts.
We swear in as volunteers soon and then head to our sites, very exciting. We are hoping that the Ambassador from the US will attend (last year they had Hilary Clinton..) I will miss several PC folks, but honestly, some have gotten on my nerves, not unusual when you get a group of leadership folks together 24/7 for an intense training. Sometimes I have felt like I was in a high school youth group…..there is something to say about “been there, done that” – age does occasionally grant you perspective on what is and isn't worth getting upset about,  “ingat” take care.  I will post my mailing address soon, I would love to get some snail mail letters, newspaper clippings from home, etc. Miss everyone!!
Me teaching science