Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Competitions and Special School Events

I have been at my permanent site now for almost 3 months and I have experienced many of the Dep. Ed. School based competitions and special events. At first I was concerned that the pupils would miss a lot of school by attending these events, but they are voluntary and actually very educational. The last one I visited was called a Science Camp, I was thinking like a 2 day “day camp” with science related activities, but oh no, we are in the Philippines and a Science Camp means a camp out! The “encampment” lasts Sun. – Thursday, pupil, parents and teachers attend and spend the night. It is about an hour from our town and people from all over the province attend. It was like an elaborate mini-village of tents, complete with mini-fences and decorations to partition off each designated towns spot, very creative and beautiful decorations. The toilet facilities had a real ceramic toilet placed over a hole in the ground and the tables and sink area of our encampment area was created on the spot out of bamboo. Pupils engaged in using a large variety of recyclable materials to make various things. I was really impressed.
I also recently attended the Special Education Olympics. I am glad to see special education in the public school system here, albeit not widespread. The competition for Mr. and Miss Special Education was a joy to watch, the ladies showed such pride and self esteem. Last Friday was declared National Reading Day by a Dep. Ed. Memo, these memos appear to carry a great amount of weight and dictate what is and is not to be done at each school. The memo said we were to have several school wide competitions and a program. We did all of that and it was actually very interesting to promote the value of reading in elementary school. In addition to girl scouts, boy scouts, oratory competitions, journalism camps, sports competitions, there will be an art camp perhaps in the spring. Again, I am thinking day camp but here it is a major production hauling tents, canopies, cooking materials, bamboo flooring for the tents, etc.
Hand made entrance with creative use of coconuts

Our area is famous for making mosquito nets, little pink and yellow mosquito net decorations

Bottle cap wind chimes

Grandmother, grand daughter and great grandson from Christening

We all got mini cupcakes to take home

Notice the hog head in tray of pork

Miss Special Education competiton

Local parish priest's pet turkey

Night procession of Christ the King

Celebrations, Filipino style

There is one thing I have learned in my 5 short months in the Philippines, the Filipino people really know how to put on a celebration! I have been to so many parties and celebratory events; I can hardly remember them all. This past Sunday I went to a Christening celebration, a prayer event for a deceased loved one and then to a 30th wedding anniversary. Food galore at every celebration of course!! Birthday’s are very important here, especially when you turn age 1, age 7, age 18 for girls and 21 for boys. There is a huge party, tents, videoke, games, clowns, tons of food, presents – depending upon the financial situation of the family, I even heard of a 7 year old girl having “attendants” almost like a debut! My birthday is coming up and thankfully everyone is making a big deal about it, it will make me feel less homesick and know that I am appreciated.
One of the first birthday parties I went to was very interesting, there were colored marshmallows and pieces of hotdog arranged alternately on skewers as a sort of arrangement for the table, included of course, was the entire hog’s head. You must eat spaghetti and/or pancit on your birthday for long life. I can’t quite get used to the sweet spaghetti sauce and bits of hot dog in there…..miss my old fashioned Italian version. Children’s games include breaking a ceramic pot of sorts filled with candy, sort of like a Mexican piƱata. There is another gadget that hangs from the ceiling with little bags of candy and money that is raised and lowered over the children’s heads for them to grab at.
Filipino’s celebrate life and death. I went to a 4 day after the death celebration complete with open casket in the living room with lively conversation around as we all ate, we returned for the 9th day celebration, sans casket. I met a very interesting woman who has worked for a middle eastern prince for 10 years and has traveled the world as she takes care of the children.
Apparently the 30th wedding anniversary is a big one here and again, catering, huge tents, food, live music, tons of people, a program complete with the couple dancing 30 dances with guests, a slide show of their lives…it was very touching. Passing a board examination and graduating from college is also very important, customized special large canvas banners are created with the person’s name and accomplishment and then strategically displayed for the community to view. The family I visited the other evening was so proud of their son’s accomplishment and it seemed like the entire town gathered to join in the celebration.
If you are asked to “sponsor” someone in their confirmation it is a big deal, also with a baptism, there is the spiritual commitment to the child as well as a financial commitment, you are part of the family forever and can be called a “compare” – accent on the last e. Sponsoring a wedding is an even bigger deal, more expensive too, here the groom’s family shoulders the expense of the wedding! I am not entirely sure what the sponsor obligation is for a wedding but I do know that it is a huge honor, and therefore responsibility, to be one.
Fiestas are another fantastic celebration, our local one is coming the end of December. Don’t forget the Christ the King celebration where we processed through the town holding candles with the large statue of Christ the King, Immaculate Conception is next.
We have been celebrating Christmas, no joke, since Sept. 1st, decorations have been up and music has been playing. We had our own version of Thanksgiving here with a lovely Filipino family and another PCV, mashed potatoes for everyone! Christmas is next and then New Year’s Eve! Like I said, the Filipino’s really know how to put on a party and celebrate!
Enjoy the photos!
Even Priests have big parties


Marshmallows and hotdogs left of cake



Puto, lumpia, spaghetti, pancit, pundok

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

More All Saint's Day and preview of upcoming posts

I found more photos of All Saint's Day and wanted to share them. Hopefully you get a feel for how massive this celebration is, how many people are involved from vendors to candle and flower merchants. Traffic near the cemeteries is very congested, most folks walk. Look carefully at the photos and contemplate what you see, how you feel. The Filipino's are a very religious people, most Roman Catholic. Whereas in many parts of Europe and America, church attendance is dwindling - not here! Churches are packed every Sunday. There are about 6 or 7 masses each Sunday and the very large church here in my town is packed to overflowing.
Traffic jam, mountain to Lobo in the distance

Father of my host family, 10 children, he died when the youngest was a baby

Mourning the loss of a young motorcycle racer

Wonder who he is calling?

Some have roof top verandas and air conditioning

Camping in the cemetery
Preview of upcoming blogs - I have been very busy!! Gone to the historic town of Taal famous for Barongs and Balisongs (look them up on the internet), mountainous Tagatay overlooking the Taal Volcano, circled massive Taal Lake, gone up and down the huge mountain I see everyday to Lobo to go swimming in the Pacific, gazed at Verde Island and Mindoro in the distance, visited historic churches in Taal, San Juan, Rosario, Batangas, San Jose and Padre Garcia, shrines in Taal, planted trees in a far barangay with a community group, attended numerous school related competitions and events (sports, girl and boy scouts, Jose Rizal local and regional event, home economics, journalism, principal farewell), seen amazing Filipino folk dance presentations, presented my first teacher training session, shopped at local big malls, made a quick day trip to Manila for a birthday, attended several birthday parties for young and old, began looking for apartments and houses, purchased some authentic Filipino crafts and gifts for my family in America for Christmas, learning how to cook new Filipino foods, making great Filipino friends, found a tutor and resuming my Tagalog studies, got a bike! and falling in love with my little first graders who are just as busy and talkative as they are in America.....just to name a few things! I actually gave an oral quiz to the grade 1 pupils in their Filipino class. They laughed at how I pronounced the Tagalog words but they were very quiet!
Think about visiting a loved ones grave site and remembering what they meant to you.

All Saint's Day Philippines

Nov. 1st approached with much anticipation, I had heard many stories about how Filipinos celebrate All Saint's Day. Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming emotions I experienced on this day. So much love, so much devotion to family. Rich, poor, old, young - the entire town flocked to the cemetery, people drove for hours to visit their departed friends and family. The wealthy have mini-houses where their loved ones are buried above ground with elaborate roofs with gutters, statues, plaques - I even saw one with a spiral staircase to an upper deck. The less wealthy are stacked above ground in what is referred to as "apartments". The "park" has most buried in the ground with flush plaques marking the grave.
Families visit the graves of their departed loved ones, say prayers, light candles, talk, eat, sit quietly, reminisce, visit with friends, some even spend the night in the cemetery - it is a very happy and sad occasion at the same time. When I saw the photographs displayed of those who had died, I got tears in my eyes, the departed became real to me, they were and are still loved. A man who had died over 35 years ago had a graveside visit from an old friend, I imagine this friend has been visiting yearly for the past 35 years. Who will visit my grave?

What began as an awkward occasion for me as a new comer to this culture, ended up as a tremendous blessing and privilege to have experienced this outpouring of love and family. I envisioned my own family sitting by my grandparents grave sites, looking at old photos, remembering the times we all had together, creating new memories. November 1st will never be the same for me. These photos say more than I ever could.