Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Saying My Goodbye

January 23, 2010 I will embark on a very strange journey: my journey home. I have known this was coming for quite a while, though it never seemed appropriate to blog about until now. I have been in-country 18 wonderful months living with people and dealing with experiences that have changed my life. I have told people here, going to another country for any length of time, not knowing anyone, not knowing what one will be doing is a frightening thing, and I am not strong for surviving. My community is what kept my head above water. I have to shed my American lens of do-it-yourself and realize that it was community, host family and host agency that continued to inspire me, the work I did and the relationships I formed. 
Below is a blog entry from one of my students:
Today, in the 8th day of December 2009, Sir Sean Stanhill just told us about a really shocking news that is maybe good or bad for others. He will be leaving Philippines maybe on the 22nd day of January 2010. It is really a bad news for us because he contributed many techniques to our I.C.T lab. that made our school more popular. char! hehe. But what if God has a plan for him back to the States. We don't know! Only God can know. But we will really miss him. Not for locking our computers sometimes but for the lessons he taught us that we will treasure forever!
I will continue to blog upon my arrival in Phoenix on homecoming and reverse culture-shock reflections. However, it is with a heavy heart and a light finger that I press "publish post" for the last time in the Philippines.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Invitation for Dinner

This evening I had one of those pure "Peace Corps moments" wherein I was invited to dinner by a parent of a student. Today is the student's birthday and I was invited to come for dinner.
This may not sound like a big deal, but I had dreamed of being invited for dinner at the house of a student since I read River Town by Peter Hessler, the account of a PC volunteer in China whom, after about one year at site, was invited to social gatherings at the residences of his students. To me, being invited to have dinner with the family of a student is the ultimate in acceptance, in gratitude. Having dinner with that family meant more to me than any number of thank you's I could receive from any number of people. I am in, I am integrated and I am appreciated. Indeed, tonight was truly a "Peace Corps moment".
An added bonus was that the birthday celebrant is one of my best students and I had a blast telling his mother how impressed I am with his performance and how much work and effort he puts into his projects. I got to be a proud teacher!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dad Visits the Philippines

For the picture gallery of the trip, click here!
Months of waiting and my dad finally arrived; two short weeks and he is now back in Phoenix. Needless to say we had a very fun, meaningful time together, traveling throughout the central Visayas.
He arrived in Tacloban where he met me on a very raining morning at 7:10. After getting the baggage sorted out, we jumped onto a jeepney and realized we were, in fact, sitting next to each other for the first time in 17 months.
We met up with a friend for a day in the city, seeing Imelda Marcos' infamous Santo Nino Shrine wherein she kept the Marcos' many gifts from Asia and beyond, including this very fancy chair made of 100% silver than our tour guide encouraged dad to sit in. The museum also includes collections of ivory given by Mao Zedong, tiled Gucci leather walls imported from Italy, Austrian crystal chandeliers, a fountain made of local corals and a chair used by the Pope. Unfortunately, her legendary shoe collection is kept in Manila.
After the museum, we went for a pretty fancy Italian dinner, the likes of which are quite uncommon for Peace Corps volunteers, and we gorged ourselves on fine pastas and delicious wine.
After our Tacloban excursion, we headed down to San Juan to join the teachers in celebrating their Christmas party and to partake in a celebration of our own:
Interesting side story, dad had taken so many photos since I had last recharged the camera that the battery had been dead all day. After lighting the candles for the last evening of Hanukkah, I tried turning the camera back on, hoping we could capture this moment. The camera turned on, took one photo and then died again. This, my friends and family, was our own little Hanukkah miracle in the Philippines. Please appreciate how the last picture was of our Hanukkah celebration and the next is of the Pig roast we dove into that same week.
The Christmas party provided a few firsts for dad: his first time meeting my counterpart, Sir Erwin, my supervisor, Ma'am Rachel and my old friend, Mr. Lechon (roast pig)!
After leaving my site the day after the Christmas party, we embarked on a 16 hour excursion through Cebu City to Dumaguete so Dad could meet my tita, my host-auntie who took such great care of me throughout my pre-service training. Dad was enchanted with Dumaguete. On our way back to my site, we stopped for a night in Cebu City so dad could get a truly "urban" experience.
We spent Christmas eve with my host family, joining them for the midnight mass and returning home for the noche buena, or meal at midnight. Waking on Christmas, we immediately started eating and didn't really finish until we passed out later in the night. The one break from feasting and drinking we had was going to the celebratory Christmas day cock fights. Dad said he had more fun watching the people than the actual fights.
For the sake of relevance, as this is my blog and not my father's, I will spare the rest of the itinerary and details.
It meant the world to me that dad came all the way to the Philippines to see me, my family and my projects. I cannot express the pride and validation I felt when I gave him a tour of the school and the computer lab especially. Dad and I have never needed a preoccupation to spend time together. We have become adept at both deep and shallow conversation with nothing but time on our hands; I believe it has to do with the hours upon hours we have spent in the car together during road trips.
I can't express my gratitude to the time, money and sheer willpower this trip required; it single-handedly legitimated my efforts here and made me feel as though I had not been living in a vacuum for the last 17 months.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hanukkah, Night 4

This afternoon I found a children's book which my grandma sent me, explaining Hanukkah. I gave it to my host mom to read as she has always shown interest in my religious (read cultural) observances and the book did a great job of simply explaining the Hanukkah story.
She read the book and immediately started asking me questions about my family's traditions, as I always described my family as being reform and more lax than conservative Jews.
I decided I would finally bring down the menorah and show her the motions.
Mommy Esper is a very devout Catholic and a pillar of faith in my community. However, she is possibly the most respectful person I have ever met regarding different faiths, with a natural curiosity and reverence for learning others' beliefs ("As long as you believe in God," she always says). She was very excited when I brought down the menorah.
After reviewing the book again before I started lighting the candles, she called the menorah and shamus by name and took a real interest in the Hebrew prayer that I have had memorized since I was a kid. I thought for a minute and said it has something to do with "God bless...Hanukkah." It was good enough for both of us.
After indicating after the prayer that that was about it, we both sat near the menorah and I reminisced about Bubby's latkes in Vegas, dreidel games Colin and I invinted as children and, of course, geld (chocolate coins).
I also explained a Jewish teaching that my good friend Emmy told me when we were in Namibia together (she's the one who donated five boxes of books). I took a match, lit it and said that in the Jewish tradition, fire represents God as it always points to Him. No matter which way you direct the match, the flame will always point up. She said that that is the reason why they light candles during mass for prayer.
We decided that once you whittle away the little differences, Catholicism and Judaism really had a lot in common -- both pointing to God. And there it was. She and I solved the World's pains and agony in our little rural town in the Philippines.

Father and Son

My dad is leaving for the Phoenix Skyharbor airport in less than 12 hours. He will fly to Honolulu and catch a connecting flight to Manila, stay the evening in Manila and catch another flight to Tacloban, where I will be waiting.
Indeed, the endless months of anticipation have finally come down to the last two days. Tomorrow morning, I will head to Tacloban, stay the night, and wait for my dad at the airport early the next morning.
I cannot convey the excitement I am feeling. He will be here a little under two weeks, during which time we will visit my host family in Dumaguete (my first time back since training), Cebu City and make it back to San Juan in time for Christmas Eve with my family here. It's going to be a bit hectic, but the hours of transportation will give us a chance to do what we love best: yakking it up while heading down the open road (or ferry route as the case may be).
Aside from the general enthusiasm I feel about seeing my dad again, I am looking forward to his visit regarding two aspects in particular.
This trip will be his first to a developing country. This experience will be his first encountering absolute poverty, seeing some things that seem outlandish and exotic and, if I can get him drunk, his first time to eat balut (boiled duck fetus).
Secondly, he is the standard by which my growth and changes will be measured. After the last 16 months or so, I am certain I have changed, developed and grown in ways I cannot imagine, of which I have lost track. I am excited to see what shocks or surprises him that I see as being completely normative. To what have I become jaded? I will learn from my dad's reactions.
I may not update the blog for a while as he and I will be on the road, but I promise there will be pictures.
P.S. Dear mishpuka, I promise he will return in one piece.
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