Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween - Some Scary Stuff

It's been a weird couple days. Some kind of crazy things have happened that I wouldn't necessarily like to get into on this public forum. That said, I spent most of today laying in bed thinking about what's been going on. The fact that it's Halloween doesn't help much, it's the holiday that gets the holiday season (including me and my brother's birthdays) rolling and it's going to be really hard to be away from home.
I've spent today thinking that I might not be able to muster whatever it is that needs mustering to make it through another year. Come November 10th (or so), we will have been at site for one year, a total of 15 months in-country. I know my blog is typically optimistic, but looking at another year sometimes feels like looking down the barrel of a gun (to be dramatic about it). There are days that are too lonely to describe, days that seem like friends are too hard to come by, days when the weather is too hot and humid, days when it won't stop raining. There are days I don't want to speak the language, eat the food, or even be outside. There are days, like today, I sit in my room waiting for the sun to go down just so it can come up again, sleep and malaria medicine-induced dreams breaking up the monotony. I never realized before that both boredom and homesickness can inflict a physical kind of sting.
But then again, there are days when my coteacher, Sir Erwin, the students, the principle, my host family and others really make me smile, and when they make me smile, it feels like my mind is being hugged. I'm certain I will stick it out, but on days like today, when I'm feeling less than invincible, it's at least a little liberating to entertain the thought.
Again I have been thinking about grad school. Frankly I am so terrified of the GRE that I won't even want to attempt it, but then again, I have lived in a foreign country with cockroaches the size of matchbox cars; what is a standardized test going to do to me? I'm still looking at the University of Denver at the International Communication program, emphasis in international journalism in new media. Seems neat.
I think I should stay in the States a while at least. Since 2007 I have spent appx. 12 months in the States and I'm getting a little road weary. It could be one possibility of what's causing my slump. But in the end, Peace Corps is not about the adventure or excitement. It's a job, plain and simple. I have duties and responsibilities here; it's just like any other 9-5, except in the developing world.
I miss Halloween in the States. I miss Halloween with Brian, Kari, Aaron, Jay and Malena, I miss the Cider House. I miss watching Nightmare Before Christmas and going to the pumpkin patch (no matter how old I got) with the moms. The holiday season is a tough one and I don't think it's going to be any easier this year.
Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Red Cross Donations

So today I collected the donations contributed by the local government unit and my high school for the victims of the recent natural calamities here in the Philippines. All together the two agencies donated 751 pesos or $15.98 U.S. This may seem like a meager sum however the tough economic times has been felt world-wide and my community is no exception. In fact, the economic crisis has arguably hit the developing world exponentially harder, affecting those living on humble monthly budgets far harder than those in the developed world. That said, I am extremely proud of my community banding together to support their kababayan, or countrymen, up north. I sent the money as a direct donation to the Philippines Red Cross this afternoon.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Exotic Shells, a Test, the Office and a Halloween Surprise

I'm going to chase this feeling. Tonight we had some pretty exotic (and fun) food. I can only assume what you must be thinking. After reports of eating duck fetus, pig brain, chicken feet and cow blood soup, this must pretty out there, right? Well, it's not exotic in that sense; what we had tonight is called kinhason in the local dialect. I'm going to let the picture speak for itself. Please excuse the quality and orientation as the pics were take with my phone; I would get such a scolding from my web design professor from sophomore year.
Before I get ahead of myself, I walked home from school today to find a huge container of these things swimming around and crawling all over each other. I told my host mom that they looked like aliens but I was anxious try them. My standards for "fresh seafood" have risen substantially since I have been here.
If you look closely, there is indeed a safety pin to get the delicious inside out. It's a giant shellfish with tiger-ish looking stripes. These things were seriously HUGE, some the size of my fist, and we had to fish them out with the safety pin. I turned out to be quite adept at jiggering them out. Once removed from the shell, a lumpy piece of flesh, trailed by some sticky intestines which slurped out, you get the morsel as seen in the top picture.
One must carefully remove the intestines because, as my host mom put it, they are walay lami or not tasty. I tend to trust her 100% when it comes to these things so I made a little intestine pile at the side of my plate. As I have formerly described, Filipinos by and large will never let any part of the animal go to waste, so having a moment like tonight, when my mom warned me not to eat the entrails, reminded me of that Farside cartoon with the native american holding up a nondescript piece of buffalo saying something
to the tune of " we use all parts of the buffalo except this." When nanay says not to eat something, it is heeded, no questions asked.
The insides were delectable. It tasted like clams but 100 times richer and very tender. The entire time I was eating I was trying to imagine how they would taste in the San Francisco clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, which made me a little homesick for a second, but it was hard to stay that may, my mouth, nostrils and mind trying to wrap around this crazy-tasty food! To the right is a picture of my brother Johny going crazy with the kinhason. He asked me what we call them in English, to which I replied "sea monsters." He just laughed and that's when I snapped the photo.
My host mom said these become available about twice a year and this is the first I have seen them. I'm excited for a repeat performance. But now that she knows I like them, I'm sure she will keep a watch for them. She's so awesome when it comes to making things I like and keeping an eye out for them at the markets.
In other news today, I gave my first big test, a unit test on computer troubleshooting. All in all I am very pleased withe the outcomes as the class average score was 77.15% for the whole unit, passing! It's an indication I am actually doing my job correctly. I have learned that tests are not only an assessment of the students' comprehension and attained knowledge, but also of the teacher's abilities to pass on that knowledge. So I am giving myself that grade as a teacher; in other words, I get 77% on my ability as a teacher. There is room for improvement, but I am quite satisfied as a first attempt. My counterpart, Sir Erwin, even taught me how to set up an Excel spreadsheet to automate the grading process. I have never had a reason to fire up Excel, having majored in English, but I think I am getting the hang of it (he still has a lot to teach me).
I started watching The Office, seasons one through three, that I had previously ripped onto my computer. Just seemed like it was time to watch them again. Memories of sitting at Aaron and Jay's house with Brian, Kari and Malena started pouring in and it felt like we were all watching them together on Aaron's monitor just like the good old days. After a few days of obsessive watching, I felt like I had not only reminisced about my college social circle but also saw friends I hadn't seen in a long time: the characters. At the end of season three, I felt like I had to say goodbye again. But it was a weird feeling, it wasn't sad at all but a very sweet feeling that I'm not sure I can explain. I have spent the last three years with these characters and it's as if they were just stopping by to say hi, just to me. Naturally I began wondering what the old gang has been up to more recently than season three, so I found and acquired season four, which I am now devouring! Boy do I feel behind the times. I have discovered a means to acquire season five and by then I will finally feel caught up. I thought the Dinner Party episode at Michael and Jan's place was one of the best written episodes in a long time.
I will also soon be acquiring Arrested Development :)
Today, I also received a Halloween package from the moms and, aside from the assorted Tootsie bag from heaven, I got a TY bear named Haunted. Now my bear from last year, the guitar-wielding Treatsies, has a friend. Honestly I have no idea where the TY bear thing came from; it's a new tradition since I have been in the Philippines, but you know what? I think it's dang cool. Thanks moms, and Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blast from the Past

So I was sitting in the park earlier this evening, minding my own business, when a student I had last year walked up to me. After catching up a little bit, him complimenting me on my improved Visaya and I complimenting his improved English, he told me was was going to college in Manila and was back in town for his grandpa's funeral. After asking him about how school was going, he told me he is a computer science student now and is about a year ahead of his peers. He told me all this and concluded it by saying that it was because of the class Sir Erwin and I taught and, specifically, because of the web design class I had introduced to the curriculum last school year.
Current Song: "I'm Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves

I'm still alive!

Might as well blog. I know a lot of you have been emailing me asking me about things ranging from if I received your letters to if I'm still alive. Well, I'm still alive and all is well. I think it's safe to say that the affects of Parma and Ketsana have settled and the country is slowly building itself back up. In fact we have had some pretty pleasant weather here in Southern Leyte. I have been told that the snow has started to fall in Minnesota and while it's been hot as b@ll$ here, I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Christmas spirit is in full swing and it still strikes me as strange, even for my second time looking out on the sunlit landscape, palm trees blowing in the tropical breeze, that it's still so HOT and we are listening to "Jingle Bells". This December will be my second Christmas away from home. I'm certain my most memorable experience will be my dad visiting me from the 16th to the 28th! More on that another time. The most memorable thing that happened to me last year was a phone call from my friend Jess who was medically evacuated last November.
This brings me to another point I've been stewing over and wanted to share. Jess has now been readmitted to the Peace Corps, this time serving in Ukraine. The funny thing is, she is in the same batch as a friend from Augsburg who was in my German classes and roommate of a very close friend! And if the world were not small enough, they are in the same batch as my brother's friend's older brother! All that compounded with the fact that my friend from my Namibia program is now in the new batch of volunteers here in the Philippines leaves me truly admiring how small the world (and how incestuous the PC world) can be.
As far as projects go, I have finally finished setting up the computer lab to my liking; I finished this last month (mid-September) and have been focusing more on my library project. We now finally have all the donated books encoded into our online library system, which includes 607 books (and my Gramma promises that more are on the way!). Otherwise, I have been trying to come up with a way to help out the victims of Ketsana and Parma; living so far away from the site of the disasters and not being able to leave my site for more than a weekend makes it difficult to go off to Manila for a sustained cleanup effort, much like me and Brian's trip to Biloxi, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. After doing some research, I found that there is a way to send money electronically directly to the Philippines National Red Cross (bypassing any sticky fingers along the way) and have been collecting spare change at the Municipality Government Hall and the High School. I am still in the process of collecting so I don't have any figures, but the boxes are getting pretty heavy!
The country director of Peace Corps Philippines, as well as my regional manager came to visit me at my site. It was an honor to host them in my humble little town and show them around the school, orienting them about my projects. They were very pleased with my progress and creativity with my projects as well as the glowing report the principle, Ma'am Rachel, gave them. The country director even asked me, towards my close of service, to help rewrite training material for future incoming batches to incorporate ICT content and include strategies for incoming trainees with no teaching experience. I was quite honored.
Some other things on the horizon, I am just finishing teaching a unit of computer troubleshooting and I couldn't be more proud of my students in TLE IV. While they still struggle to express themselves in English, their English comprehension is something of which the English department here can be very proud. They have the best comprehension I have seen here at the high school. I am thrilled I get to work with them for the entirety of the next semester (the new semester begins Nov. 3 after All Souls' Day) teaching them web design. There is still a whole semester left and I am beginning to miss them already! Jane, is this normal?
Come December 7th-11th, my batch (or what's left of it) will all meet up in Manila for our Mid-Service Training (MST). The reason I say what's left of it is because a slew of close friends have been leaving for various reasons including my good friends Jasmine, Loren, Jeff, Cassie and some close calls that have (at this point) decided to stay. Of the original 69 people in my batch, there are 53 left I think, mostly people from my training group in Dumaguete.
I'm super excited about my dad coming; it will be a litmus test to see what changes I have undergone as he will be the person with a base of comparison I will have seen in over 16 months. I am thinking we will visit Bohol, Cebu city, Dumaguete and parts of Leyte. This will be his first venture into the developing world and I couldn't be more flattered that he is coming; often times, the intimidation of going to a developing country outweighs the reasons for going (recall my blog posts of the dinosaur spiders, typhoid, typhoons, earthquakes, etc.). Anyway, as I told him, I'm still alive so it can't be that bad, right?
I'm not homesick anymore. Of course I miss people and I have some MAD food cravings, but the Philippines has truly become my home and it's where I feel like I belong. This feeling is compounded by the fact that I am still a resident of California, my dad has recently moved to Arizona and my friends are spreading to Wisconsin, Virginia and as far as Oxford, England to study (yeah, Brian for a Rhodes Scholarship, and I know him!). Actually I am feeling kind of...I really don't know the word. I was looking at a picture from graduation with a friend here. The picture is of me, Brian, Aaron and Jay. As I pointed across the photo, I found myself saying, "Brian got a Rhodes scholarship, Aaron is in law school, and Jay is running for congress in Wisconsin. And I'm in Peace Corps," still waiting to start my real life I suppose. But that's fine. Fine indeed.
K, bye!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Natural Disasters

Dear friends and family,
I have been receiving scattered facebooks messages, tweets and emails regarding the affect of typhoon "Ondoy" on me and my site. Fortunately I am safe and my site was relatively unscathed aside from some moderately heavy rains (which did not flood anything) and strong winds (which were not even strong enough to blow down the ants' nest in the tree above the hammock that plagues me so).
The devastation felt in Manila has obviously made the international press and may have caused a lot of you alarm. Indeed it is sad, but we are very far away from Manila. Typhoon Ondoy had a heavier rainfall in it's short-lived stay than hurricane Katrina and while the death toll continues to climb and there are half a million displaced, all Peace Corps volunteers and staff are safe and accounted for.
As many of you may know, there is another typhoon coming, typhoon "Peping". Peping is reportedly stronger than Ondoy and has the potential to become a super typhoon, which sounds like a thing that can only exist in my nightmares. This storm will reportedly get a little closer to my site, hitting the island to my north-east almost directly. However, we will not bare the brunt of the storm and again will only be affected by heavy (but not flooding) rains and strong wind (and, undoubtedly, the ants' nest will continue to thrive). We get regular updates from our safety and security officer via text and have backup emergency action plans (EAP's) that we have all been throughly trained in since PST.
As for the 8.0 level earthquake in American Somoa, there is a lot of talk about a tsunami heading this way. Again, my site is opposite the ocean, protected by a small mountain range. While there may be cause for concern in other parts of the already battered Philippines, I am assured we are safe here.
Many Peace Corps volunteers are already mobilizing to collect donations, etc. at their site for the victims of Ondoy. We have been forbidden to enter many parts of Manila as they are still quite hazardous. Personally, It's a little overwhelming to think how we can help the effort in my little town, but I hope for clarity on that issue in time. Providing latent aid, as opposed to immediate aid, will still be welcome.
I am proud of my country as the American Embassy here has pledged $50,000 to relief efforts. Our government has also provided over $4 million worth in "dispatching medical teams and supplies [...], heavy equipment and helicopters [...]" ( I think it's important that Americans know where their tax dollars go and there is a lot to be proud of with regards to our government and it's spending. In fact, I wish the ways in which we disseminate aid money was more publicized.
Again, I am safe and healthy,
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