Saturday, September 19, 2009

Adopt a Cluster and 149th Annual Foundation Day Celebration

I just wanted everyone to know that I will be a father, a father of five. I know some of you will be shocked by this news but I thought the best way to let everyone know is by broadcasting it on my bog. Indeed, I am adopting five volunteers to serve as a mentor (gotcha mom!) for them for a little less than a week to aid them in their training. I'm headed to Tacloban tomorrow morning to stay with a cluster as the new batch 268 volunteers proceed through their own Pre-Service Training (PST). I don't have too much to say about this experience as it has yet to take place, but I am pretty excited to be a mentor of sorts, a resource to ease their anxieties and an assistant to the technical and cultural facilitator, introducing them to Bloom's Taxonomy, a bit of education theory.
Peace Corps has really given me some great opportunities for expanding my outreach beyond that of my own site. The PC office in general is super supportive of this kind of work and it's often a real pleasure to work with them.
In other news, September 15th marked my town's 149th annual foundation day. The day was celebrated with a parade and other programs out in the park, as well as me sleeping until 11:30pm and missing many of them. I guess I should refrain from letting my subconscious know I have the next day off from school as it tends to take advantage of the situation. Fortunately I did not miss the cultural program, including both native and modern dancing and singing programs. Each governmental organization (local government unit (LGU), elementary, high school, the court, etc) was expected to contribute one of each: a song number and dance number. Below are some pictures an videos I took while observing the program.
The following is a traditional Sinulog style dance performed by the LGU complete with live band and fire dancers.

The following is a traditional dance called the Tinikling in which two sets of bamboo poles are used in an elaborate dance. The elementary school's rendition is spirited and all in good fun!

Below are some picture. More pictures are available at my Picasa web albums page.

One group gave a rousing rendition of Michael Jackson's "Heal the World", complete with candles!
There were some pretty cool costumes
Indeed, these are men

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reposting of Dan Greenland's "Language" Article

My best friend here in the Philippines, PCV Dan Greenland, just posted a really insightful artcile on his blog about the complexities, the use of, need of and future of language here in the Philippines and everywhere in general (9/8/09). I was so impressed I asked him if I could repost it here on my blog because it really disects the issue articulately and, from my perspective, realistically.
Here is a link to the original posting.
Before I left for the Philippines, I was instructed by Peace Corps to learn the national language of the Philippines, Tagalog. They gave me a free computer program (Rosetta Stone) and told me that I should do at least 40 hours. That might not sound like a lot since I had the entire summer to complete it, but there is actually a clock that runs on Rosetta Stone that only counts when you are actively doing activities, so it's very tiring. When I arrived in the Philippines, I was told that I would actually be learning a completely different language called Cebuano. For three months during training, I studied (kind of..) Cebuano and was fairly comfortable getting around and doing the basic life functions I'd need the language for. I taught in English only, so the language was mainly for integrating in the community, making friends, and performing everyday life functions like going to the market. When training was over, I was told that the island I was going to was actually not really pure Cebuano. The town I live in is surrounded by Waray-Waray speakers, and the language of my town is a mix of both Cebuano and Waray-Waray. Now, I am conversational in Cebuano and I can sort of understandWaray-Waray, and know basic phrases of Tagalog.

At first, I was pretty angry that I had to keep relearning languages just to get by. By now though, I've realized that it's just a part of life in the Philippines. Everyone in town can speak a bit of three or four languages. English and Tagalog is taught in school, and the island is populated by Waray-Waray speakers and Cebuano speakers. Grammar and words from each language are used interchangeably. "Magtext na lang ko unya po" = "Just text me later sir" That phrase alone is a mix of three different languages. Learning language used to seem very mystical to me, but I've really learned how natural learning a language truly is. It's just a part of life really, and most people in town don't even realize they are combining four different languages when they speak. I once told Kim that language is a discovery, but for children it's even easier than that. They don't have to do anything at all really because picking up language is so inherent in us. The fact that different languages are being used is an afterthought so long as the meaning of the communication is clear.

Language is political. In the U.S., we have an idea of what is proper or standard English, and deviations from that standard are generally assumed as less academic, correct, and intelligent. Of course, no language, be it Cebuano or a deviation of English, can be superior or inferior to another language. It's a linguistic principle that all languages can equally express the environment of that language just as well as any other language. We have an idea of a standard English due to a long timeline of history and current cultural norms, but the fact that it's standard doesn't make it better, just the accepted standard. I think it's important to learn that standard because you will be judged by your language in the future, but it's not better or worse than Ebonics or Waray-Waray. The Philippines has its own examples. Take the national language, Filipino. Filipino is almost exactly the same as Tagalog, but it was renamed in order to garner support and create a sense of national pride for the language. Tagalog is the language used in Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines and the language of the capital, Manila. It's also the language of the politicians who decided that the national language would be Tagalog, because Senators here are "at large", so they don't represent a province or state like in the U.S., but the entire country. Making a national language in a country with over 80 languages could not come about without controversy, but I think the opposition had some good arguments on their case (although I'm biased). The opposition of Filipino/Tagalog becoming the national language were the Cebuano speakers because the Cebuanosactually outnumber the Tagalogs in the country. There are more native Cebuanos than Tagalogs, but they are not as powerful politically. The controversy is still alive in some aspects. In Cebu (second largest city after Manila, and where Cebuano derives its name) people still will play the national anthem in Cebuano instead of Tagalog. Also, some native Cebuanos refuse to speak in Tagalog before government members if they are called to court.

All this is interesting to observe from an outsiders point of view. I really didn't care what language I learned, so long as they didn't keep changing it on me. Now, I find myself identifying with Cebuanos and finding it distasteful when people from Manila come to the island and speak Tagalog as if they expect everyone to bow to their native language. This is a ridiculously ironic thought for an American and native English speaker to write, and the irony isn't lost on me. Nevertheless, it's annoying that all the television programs are in Tagalog and all the famous songs are in Tagalog. That said, there are even more levels to this language cornucopia. The Waray-Warayspeakers are expected to know Cebuano, since they are in theVisayan region and I find myself getting annoyed in Tacloban(Waray-Waray capital city) when I can't speak Cebuano. TheWaray-Waray speakers in my college are expected to at least understand Cebuano even though like 40% of the population are native Warays. We are all hopeless hypocrites really: I'm here because I am a native speaker of a valuable foreign language, I am fluent in a local language and despise the national language, and I want everyone on the island to speak the language I've already learned. What am I even saying anymore?

Basically, Waray is being squeezed out of existence by English, Tagalog, and Cebuano. My counterpart Jethol is aware of this and very passionate about saving the language. He has published stories and poems in Waray-Waray, and we have many conversations about the politics in language. I'm doing my best to learn Waray-Waray, and got a few books to do some studying. I can understand it pretty well now because the apartment I moved into is surrounded by an extended family of native Warays and I've been playing with the volleyball team who is also all Waray speakers. I forgot to mention that people tend to be drawn to others who speak their language, which is why every single member on the volleyball team is a Waray. The languages really aren't that different, but there is a different rhythm that people my Cebuano friends say they have trouble relating to. "Hin-kaon ka na?" Nikaon na ka?" The first is Waray and the second Cebuano for "did you eat yet?". They look pretty similar right? The thing that's tricky is the glottal stops... Waray has lots of quick stops and they speak it quite a bit faster. Cebuanos thinkWarays always sound angry, and it does kind of remind me of the difference between French and German, if you get my idea. (Maybe that's just my idea of it.)

Language is both simple and complicated. It's simple on the most important level: communication. It's complicated on the abstract levels: politics, culture, etc. Are we moving towards one universal language thanks to globalization (i.e. Internet, songs, tv.)? I would say most likely, given the statistics. In the past 100 years, we've lost over half the languages that exist in the world. As things get more connected in the world, we'll all probably speak some kind of Englishpidgin infused with tech. jargon and old cultural standbys. Lucky for the English speakers, but not so much for the Warays. That said,necessity is the mother of invention, and I'm sure that people will learn what they have to learn to keep going on.

For now, I'll stick to talking in a weird Cebuano/Waray mix and try not to become a raging hypocrite about who should speak what language. Language--any language--never really mattered anyway I suppose; it's what people are saying and meaning that's what has always mattered.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fecal Analysis, Book Donations II and Reading List

[Plot Spoiler: my first story in this post is about poop]
Hey there, hi there, ho there! It certainly has been a while. I am well though I had a bit of a scare earlier this week. I had convinced myself that I had intestinal parasites (having experienced 4 or so symptoms we were warned about during training). Psychosomatic or not, I was concerned, so I received the blessing of the Peace Corps Medical Officer and went in to the local medical clinic for a poop test.
Having entered into the medical clinic, I was led around to a building on top of the hill behind the clinic where a physician instructed me to "move my bowels" and collect a sample with a folded piece of construction paper and place that into a small glass vial, which I am certain had assorted uses preceding my own. Okay, so this was fine, I even had some in the bank, so to speak, as to not suffer a shy colon at this moment of truth. But when I stepped into the appointed comfort room (CR) some of my involuntary muscles clenched! The CR was lightless, had a soaked toilet bowl rim with no seat, no toilet paper and no running water although there was a bucket with a plastic ladle.
I guess sometimes you gotta just roll up your sleeves, avail of the construction paper pooper scooper and pray you don't get your shorts soaked by the ladle.
After the deed was done, I was again led all over the campus to deliver the specimen, which my host brother, who was with me and wanting to do me a favor, insisted on carrying the vial for me to relieve me of added stress. Waiting about 40 minutes outside of the clinic, my host brother and I watched a chicken pecking across the parking area and joked about being hungry, stoning it and eating it raw (see why I was concerned about parasites!?). The clinician came back out and looked nervous, which startled me. I greeted her in Visaya (at which point she looked very relieved, most provincial clinicians do not speak very good English) and told me the results were negative and that I owed 30 pesos ($0.60) to the front counter for the test. She also instructed me to get a followup test the next day.
Anyway, I decided to forgo the followup test since we have mandatory testing in December when my volunteer batch will all meet in Manila for our mid-service training.
In COMPLETELY different news, my school has yet again received two boxes of books, this time from my Gram and her local Optimists Club. At this point, donors have sent my humble school over 500 books, well over doubling our library's collection!
My latest project has been working with the fourth year to catalog all of the donated books into a digital database, a first in my school's history! But how to go about this? Keeping the database on a local computer would be great, but what about data corruption and/or hardware failure? We needed a cloud-based (which is to say internet-based) solution. I happen to follow a couple volunteers in South Africa on Twitter, @stevegerner and @fizzyh2o, who recommended that we use a service from The two of them are currently engrossed in a project building libraries in South Africa and have a webpage explaining that project, which I encourage all my readers to check out; you can find a link to a Peace Corps hosted website detailing their project here.
So as I said, the fourth year has been hard at work encoding ISBNs and other information into our cloud-based database and at the time of this writing, we have 256 entries! If you are interested (and this is certainly a benefit of having a cloud-based solution), you can visit our virtual library to see what kinds of books our donors have been sending here.
But there was just one problem I hadn't anticipated using the online database! The free account only allows for 200 books to be encoded; a lifetime membership costs roughly 950 pesos ($19), a whopping sum where people live on about 50 pesos a day, all for an intangible investment in a rejuvenated library. Where would the money come from? The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to ask the school to pay for it; "ownership" is a bigtime buzz word in development and in the Peace Corps. This is a very nontechnical definition but ownership refers to an investment made by the target community to acquire resources. It is one thing to donate and provide goods and services for free (me volunteering my time here and the donors sending us books) but the community has not made an "investment" in making those free goods and services sustainable. By having my agency invest money into this project they are now stakeholders in the project and have a vested interest in its success and perpetuation.
I spent the better part of an afternoon drafting a proposal to submit to my principle, doing a cost/benefit analysis and practically begging that the school invest in this component of the project. The next day, the principle came in to see how we were doing and, before I could pitch my proposal, my counterpart, Sir Erwin, asked Ma'am Rachel to fund our membership. She looked around for a moment and approved of it in a matter of seconds! Working with Ma'am Rachel is a volunteer's dream come true! We now are the proud owners of a lifetime membership to with an unlimited resource for encoding our books for the future growth of the library.
As I said, the fourth year was able to encode 256 books in a matter of two hours, during which time we had a brown out losing power and therefor access to But the power came back and the students finished for the day by taking some R&R and spending some quality time with that which they had worked so hard to enter into the database. Honestly, one can spend hours coordinating donations, hours researching viable and sustainable resources to compliment the project and hours having students enter book information into the database, but really, this is what it's all about (the student facing the camera is the principle's daughter):

More pictures are available here on my Picasa web albums page.
Speaking of books, I wanted to include my own reading list:
  1. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail -Hunter S. Thompson
  2. Side Effects - Woody Allen
  3. The World is Flat - Thomas Friedman
  4. Freakanomics - Levitt and Dubner
  5. The Nasty Bits - Anthony Bourdain
  6. A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier - Ishmael Beah
  7. The World According to Garp - John Irving
  8. Hot, Flat and Crowded - Thomas Friedman
  9. Sex, Drugs and Coco Puffs - Chuck Klosterman
  10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -Hunter S. Thompson
  11. Sarah Palin: how a hockey mom turned the political establishment upside down - Kaylene Johnson (don't ask)
  12. Audacity of Hope - Barack Obama
  13. Complete Idiot's Guide to Judaism - Rabbi Benjamin Blech
  14. Pnin - Vladamir Nabakov
  15. Dreams from my Father-Barack Obama
  16. The Watchmen - Allen Moore
  17. In Our Image: Americas empire in the Philippines - Stanley Karnow
  18. Salt: A World History - Mark Kurlansky
  19. Portnoy's Complaint - Philip Roth
  20. Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond
  21. Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  22. I am America and So Can You - Stephen Colbert
  23. The Next 100 Years - George Friedman
  24. Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk
  25. Island - Aldous Huxley
  26. The Rum Diary - Hunter S. Thompson
  27. Over the Edge of the World: Biography of Magellan - Laurence Bergreen
  28. Hell's Angels - Hunter S. Thompson
  29. 1968 - Mark Kurlansky
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