Click play and take a look.
This is a little post on how I get around in the Philippines (specifically on land). Transportation/Transpo around the Philippines is hot, crowded, and at times can we white knuckle fun. #YOLO (in this case take YOLO as a warning, and as an excuse to do something you usually would not do).
I think it would be safe to say that 90% of Filipinos ride a Jeepney (seen above) as their main form of transportation. A product of post-WWII life, Jeepneys came about when some clever Filipino decided to use the leftover Jeeps lying around from the war and turn it into a form of public transportation. Jeepneys are known for their crowded seating and flamboyant decorations, which have become a ubiquitous symbol of Philippine culture.
Jeepneys can be found along any major route, with routes painted on the sides and below the windshield of the vehicles. Passengers have to ask the adjacent passengers to pass on the fare to the driver by stating either “bayad po” or “bayad daw po” (pronounced bye-odd dow poe) literally translating to “fare sir” or “someone said fare sir.” The driver relies on the honesty of the passengers in paying their respective fares.
Because Jeepneys are usually crowded (its often a treat to get on an empty one) a certain etiquette is followed. Talking loudly is discouraged; children are allowed to sit on pretty much anyone’s lap and usually do not have to pay a fare. The elderly and women are offered seats first if the Jeepney is full and male passengers would then cling to rails outside or sit on the roof instead. Hanging on the outside of the Jeepney is called “Sabit” in Tagalog and means “to hang on with your fingertips’.”
To ask the driver to stop, passengers can tap the roof, tap a coin on the metal handrails or simply tell the driver “para po” or “Sa tabi lang po,” (pronounced saw tah-be long poe) meaning “stop sir” or “to the side sir.” It is preferred that passengers ask the driver to stop as evidenced in the common admonition pained in some Jeepneys: “Ang kato, sa pinto; ang sutsot, sa aso; ang ‘para’, sa tao” meaning “Knocking is for doors, whistling is for dogs, ‘para’ is for people.” Because of its open rear door design, picking up and dropping off is easy for both passengers and drivers. Unlike public transportation in the States, you do not have to get off at a particular stop. When you want to stop, you tell the driver to stop. While this may sound convenient, it is rather annoying as many people call the Jeepney driver to stop literally 5 feet from where the last person called stop and got off. Jeepneys often breakdown and when this happens, all the males get out and start pushing, it particularly sucks when you need to go up hill.
Sorsogon City, where I live, belongs in the remaining 10% of the population that does not relay on the Jeepney as its main form of transportation. A few years ago the city decided to “centralize” and ”decongest” its transportation network. By doing so, they prohibited Jeepneys from stopping in the city proper, meaning they can only stop before and after the city. The result is that in Sorsogon City, you only use a Jeepney if you are traveling outside of the municipality, not within the city. So, in comes the tricycle (seen below).
In the Philippines, the design and configuration of tricycles varies widely from region to region. The usual design is a passenger sidecar fitted to a motorcycle. Tricycles are designed to carry a maximum of 5 passengers (2 inside the sidecar, the driver, and 2 behind the driver on the motorcycle) in reality, especially out in the province (countryside), tricycles can carry much more than 5 passengers. Like Jeepneys, passengers can hang on to the side or sit on top. I have seen a tricycle with 12 people on it at once; needless to say, this is horrible for the motorcycle.
The reason I like tricycles (and its not because I fit better on them because I don’t fit in any type of transportation here) is because you will never take the same route twice. Tricycles do not have established routes. If you share a tricycle with other people, you will go down streets you never knew existed and see parts of the city that you have never seen before. Additionally, tricycle drivers are fun people to talk to and practice my Tagalog. They usually love Americans, and have a good sense of humor. And when you find that one tricycle driver who knows your name and where you live (which you may find creepy, but it’s pretty cool), it’s the best feeling on earth.
I have been in the Philippines for almost eight months now, five of which at site. The transition periods are over and daily life is becoming “normal,” my work roles are becoming more focused, and I am seeing a clearer idea of how my two years will play out.
As expected, the first few months at site, especially December, were rather unfruitful. Between integrating into a new community, fighting my bout with Dengue, and the commotion that is Philippine Christmas, there were only several accomplishments to be noted: successful tutoring of one of my high school boys; learning that several of my ALS students passed the National Exam and will be given diplomas; co-facilitating a successful gender and development camp; planting trees to help restore a mangrove, and co-facilitating a medical mission that provided health services to over 400 of Sorsogon’s youth and less privileged.
I hope 2013 will be a more lucrative year in terms of direct impact at my site, rather than random activities that I participate in within the community. So far this year, there already have been two “milestone” accomplishments at site: PACA and the implementation of Life Skills sessions.
PACA, also know as the Participatory Analysis for Community Action, is Peace Corps signature development tool. In short, it is a community needs assessment. I am not going to get into the details of exactly what happens but you draw, make schedules, rank things, and hopefully identify a need in the community, and create a project to address that need. The project that my boys came up with is reviving the vegetable garden. I gave them two big thumbs up for picking a project that was both appropriate, and realistic. The plan is to start the garden within the next month or two.
Life Skills, as obvious as it is, are skills that are needed in order to successfully go through life. I plan sessions according to the following categories: Communication, Critical Thinking, Employability, Health/Fitness/Nutrition, and Personality Development. The goal is to learn while having fun. Do my boys enjoy them? Not as much as I would like them to, but it’s a start.
The big project that I have this year is the construction of the “Learning Center.” This center will house the ALS program that I teach, as well as provide income to Casa Miani through renting out the facility. The staff has given me full authority over this project, which includes: drafting the project proposal, securing grant funding and community partners, and ultimately the construction of the center.
Other projects that are on the docket this year are: an income generating beekeeping project, revival of the library, building a new bakery, computer classes, and art workshops.
The quote, in the title of this post, perfectly illustrates how I view life at this moment. Resources are incredibly scarce, funding is low, and yet you still have to accomplish what you have set out to do. Resourcefulness is the greatest thing I have embraced thus far in my Peace Corps experience and if I want to accomplish the ambitious plan that I have for this year, I will no doubt need to remind myself to use what I have, and do what I can.
Typhoon Tropical Depression Quinta is currently rolling through the Bicol and Visayas regions of the Philippines brining with it rain, cool temperatures, and bordem. Besides listening to the drill whizzing at unlucky patients at the dentist nextdoor, I have had fairly little to do especially since I have finished the excellent and highly recomended show Suits. So I decided to do a little creative time killing. I grabbed my ipod and started Instagraming the shit out of my room. Think of it as a little glimpse into my only area of privacy in the Philippines. All of the photos below were either taken within my bedroom, or from the window.
TIN ROOF: Roof covering the dining area on the first floor with its distinct rust line.
SORSOGON NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL: The largest public high school in the province of Sorsogon with an enrollment of 2,500 students. The noise from the school wakes me up in the morning.
CURTAINS: They do not block the sun very well. Allow for good ventilation when windows are open.
ESSENTIAL ELECTRONICS: Some of my essential electronics that I could not survive without.
GLOW IN THE DARK VIRGIN MARY: She looks over me when I sleep. Enough said.
Shoe: These get me though the day, unless it is raining, then they just suck.
IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS: I should put a little more effort into keeping these in a safe place.
TIME KEEPER: I would be lost without it. Although time is generally irrelevant here.
THE LOCKED CABINET: The only thing in my bedroom that I cannot access. There is probably a giant spider in there.
CHARGING STATION: The three outlet strip on the wall essential to keeping me well powered. You even get a little shock once in a while.
BANANA PEELS: These red monsters are my go to in rainy weather. They are also 6 months old and need to be replaced.
PRESTO CREAMS: The most delicious mass produced snack in the Philippines. Sold at your local sari-sari or SaveMore.
THE FRESH MAKER: My favorite post-merienda snack. The whole bag costs under $1, what a steal.
LIFE JACKET: Peace Corps issued life jacket. Cannot go on a boat without it. It will probably save my life one day.
Move to a time zone 14 hours ahead of your family. As the holidays approach, research the price of a plane ticket from Manila to Minneapolis around Christmas as a way to kill time. Have a heart attack. Think to yourself, “that’s what credit cards are for.” Accept the realization that you will have a green Christmas. Comfort yourself by saying, “Next year.”
Try to stay positive. Recall how cold it is back home. Remind yourself that you actually like the cold. Lie to yourself and say you don’t.
Be proactive and mail Christmas cards weeks before need be, do this in case there is a mail strike or something and your cards are suddenly lost in the mail. Travel to your favorite restaurant and buy a 12” Tres Fromage pizza, flourless chocolate cake, and an artificial strawberry flavored drink called “Pillow Talk.” Glance at the bill and notice that it is way over your budget. You don’t care. Make it a Christmas present to yourself. Leave a good tip.
Receive a notice that a package has arrived for you at the post office. Once you have the red, white, and blue United States Postal Service Flat Rate box in hand, realize that there are more beggars than usual asking you for money. Perhaps it has to do with you carrying a red, white, and blue United State Postal Service Flat Rate box. Say “Sori po, walang pera,” catch a trike home. Look at the package for a bit; pretend you can wait until Christmas to open it. Realize that waiting is overrated.
Start playing your Christmas playlist all the time. At times, blast it from your office. No one will care. When you hear The Christmas Song, Baby It’s Cold Outside, White Christmas, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, or Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, play the song twice to make you happy. Throw in a Filipino Christmas song once in a while to feel “integrated.”
Be invited to numerous Christmas parties. Attend them all, especially the ones that are specifically for elementary students. Be the judge of a talent contest; restrain yourself from laughter when a kindergarten student unintentionally recites a poem in a morose and dramatic way. Realize that you are going to Hell. Accept it.
On your way to work become engulfed in a parade that seems to originate from nowhere. Smile and say to yourself, “What the F***?” Carolers will bombard your house the two weeks leading up to Christmas, they do not stop singing until you give them money. You enjoy the first few carolers but then you realize you have a Peace Corps budget and Pesos are going quickly. Pull a Harry Potter and go to your bedroom, make no noise, and pretend not to exist.
Become an aficionado of fruitcake. Your host mother will make 10 a day starting the first week of December. Realize that fruitcake is not that bad. Take another piece. While eating the said piece of fruitcake, consider the unique combination of delicacies like marshmallows/hot dogs and mangos/fermented fish sauce. Try the former, not the latter.
On Christmas Eve, forget to take your Malaria medication. Watch The Nightmare Before Christmas on FOX Asia. Try to explain movie to host family. You get the feeling that they think you are strange. Look in the mirror and find a red pimple on the tip of your nose. Wonder if Santa may need your assistance later in the evening. Go to Noche Buena mass at 9:30pm and watch singers and ballet performers perform scenes of Christmas. Get excited when the song is a traditional English carol. Have no idea what is happening because you don’t understand the language. Leave at 12:30am, and realize that you just spent three hours in a church. Go home. Feast on food, particularly pistachio ice cream while listening to a remix of traditional Christmas songs and Call Me Maybe. Contemplate how the two might be related. Find no answer.
Christmas day you wake up and prepare for a Skype session with your family. You suddenly realize that your family is bad at technology and an hour and a half later begin talking to them. Talk for a few minuets before they have to go paly “the dice game.” Finish watching season 2 of the excellent and highly recommended show Suits. Spend the rest of the day listening to the rain as another typhoon approaches. Picture yourself on a boat in the Bohol Sea sailing between picturesque islands. Think to yourself, “Five more days.”
Also know as Breakbone Fever, is an infectious tropical disease caused by the Dengue virus that is transmitted through mosquitos. Symptoms include: High fever (104-105F), Headache, Muscle and Joint pains, and a skin rash that is similar to Measles. In a small proportion of cases the disease develops into the life-threatening Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever, resulting in bleeding, low levels of blood platelets and Dengue Shock Syndrome, where dangerously low blood pressure occurs.
I head home after work with a severe headache. I skip dinner in an attempt to go to bed early.
Cannot sleep. Pain behind the eyes, back hurts, hot. Take temperature with a disposable thermometer. Temperature was 104F. Rest the remainder of the day. Eat only crackers. Decide to text the Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) for consultation. PCMO tells me to drink a lot of water and take Ibuprofen.
Another night with little sleep. Morning temperature was still a high 104F. Updated PCMO on condition. PCMO suggests that I go to the hospital for tests. Blood tests comes back normal, urinalysis shows signs of a urinary tract infection, possibly due to E. Coli. Prescribed an antibiotic.
Rest. Fever slowly lowered to 100F. Watched the bulk of movies and TV shows on my hard dive.
Temperature lowers to 99F. Everything seems normal. While eating dinner I pass out, falling onto the floor, knocking various things off the kitchen table including a glass of water that I shattered. Wake up not knowing where I was or what was happening. Host family frantic. They prop me up in the chair where I proceed to pass out for a second time and “convulse.” Needless to say I go to the hospital where I am admitted and subjected to various tests. Blood pressure 100/80. Low blood platelet count of 90.
Blood tests conclude that I have Dengue Fever. I drink a lot of water and have an IV. Have blood drawn every 6 hours for platelet monitoring. Peace Corps sends out a mass text stating that there will be a mandatory evacuation drill. I do not participate.
Watch the election. Obama wins. I am happy. Find out that host family no longer wants me. They are too nervous that I will get sick again. When discharged, my temporary living arrangement will be at Casa Miani.
Get discharged with a medical bill totaling 23,000 PHP ($522 USD). This is about 2/3 of the money I currently have in my bank account. I will get reimbursed in a few days.
There are several things that I learned while in the hospital:
This Saturday will be the one-month mark of my time in Sorsogon. Contrary to a previous blog post, the time seems to go by reasonably fast. Perhaps it is because I am working a lot, my current schedule is 10-7, Mon-Sat. I am slowly making my way outside of Pangpang (my neighborhood) and into Sorsogon City proper, this worries my host mother greatly, she thinks that everywhere outside of the house is unsafe.
I live about a 10 min. trike ride from the city center where there is really not much to do but peruse the aisles of the supermarket or browse through illegal copies of “HD” movies. I have also unsuccessfully gotten a haircut. To clarify, this means that I paid the equivalent of $1 to get practically no hair cut off and a poor shoulder message. I have thought of cutting my own hair with the pair of sheers that are found in my medical kit. I only wonder what my host mom’s reaction would be.
I started teaching English to a group of 33 students who are considered “out of school youth,” which in the simplest form means that they did not finish high school. My students range in age from 16-62 and are currently preparing to take the National Exam, the Filipino equivalent to the GED, later this month. Teaching English is hard, not to mention sweaty. My students are not part of the organization that I work for (Casa Miani), the Department of Education has partnered with Casa Miani to use our facilities. ALL of the boys that are in Casa Miani either attend public or private school.
I usually teach in the mornings, then after lunch my time is spent surfing the Internet until about 3. I would also like to comment that surfing the web and being on Facebook are acceptable uses of time while at work. The elementary boys return home around 4, and then there is some sort of recreational activity until 5:30. They boys then take a shower and then proceed to Rosary until 6. At 6 I take the high school boys and help them with their homework and do “research.” Research consists of Facebook and YouTubing songs.
On Monday and Thursday mornings I continue my Tagalog language tutoring with a Peace Corps language tutor who live in Sorsogon. I am also joined by the only other Volunteer near me. We are slowly progressing in our language skills. Nowhere close to fluent.
In other news, yesterday I attended the Kasangayahan Fiesta parade. It was a very long parade that had dancers from each municipality in the province. It was hot. I was sweating. Thankfully I get to cool off every Sunday with a trip to the beach with the boys. I have also started looking for my own house. More specifically, I am looking at where the past Volunteers have stayed, and I like what I see. I am also traveling to Dumaguete for New Year’s. It should be fun. I have also lost 30 lbs. Clothes don’t fit any more. “Ain’t nobody got time for dat!”
PS: I am not going to get into the details of the negative things at site (giant cockroaches, human sized bats, ants in bed, mosquito bites, moldy toothbrushes, and runaway sheep).
Life is good.
It is almost the three-month mark of my time in the Peace Corps and the Philippines. Let’s take a look and see what I have learned so far.
Wanting to be something you are not is way too normal
One of the most fascinating aspects of travel is the ability to observe “normal” behavior from an unbiased perspective. By unbiased I mean societal norms that you would not think twice about if you are a part of that particular society.
For example, in the Philippines (and most of Asia), the whiter you skin color is, the more “beautiful” you are. This then creates products that indeed whiten your skin. It is extremely difficult to find face wash or hand sanitizer without a bleaching agent in Asia. I was yelled at for being in the sun because I would turn “dark.”
Now after reading that, most of us would say, “that is so weird.” But is it? No. If you look at Western cultures, you will see that we are doing the same thing, just in a different way. Western societal norms value darker skin. Thus, we have products and services that make our skin darker: tanning salons, tanning lotion, laying in the sun, etc.
Even more absurd is that it took a trip to Asia to even consider how ridiculous this norm is.
Eastern toilet practices are far more superior
I know that this is a highly debatable issue, especially among genders, but it juse makes sense. No toilet paper, just a bucket of water and a tabo “dipper.” This is brilliant for two main reasons:
1) Hygiene – Soap and water to clean, dry with a towel. Enough said.
2) Environmentally Friendly – No toilet paper = win for the environment (and your wallet).
The world is not nearly as scary as you think
I have said this numerous times before, but it always gets overlooked. There are places here in the Philippines that I felt safer walking around at night than in some places is rural/suburban Minneapolis. Don’t overreact, just use good judgment.
PS: you are far more likely to die from a car accident or a heart attack than being kidnaped, murdered, or becoming a victim of a terrorist attack. Let’s replace fear of the unknown with curiosity. Go explore! Be fearless!
Happiness is not location dependent
Upon arrival in the Philippines, I was in a stunning country, with welcoming people and endless new experiences; I was excited to see what the Philippines had to offer. Three months later, the high is still there, but fading.
You have to be able to appreciate wherever you are, otherwise even the most exiting and exotic places will eventually become just ordinary. I am quickly learning that in order to be happy for the next two year, I need to find excitement in the everyday, mundane, and the little details that are far too often overlooked. Embrace simplicity, be content with what you have and are. Traveling is not a solution to discontent; it can only be a supplement.
Read Zen and the Art of Happiness by Chris Prentiss for more information on how to do this.
Embracing chaos leads to serendipity
With traveling comes uncertainty and many split-second, poorly researched decisions. But with that also come some of the best memories, and serendipitous events you will have. Somewhere along the way it becomes obvious that there is some method to the madness because things work out far too perfectly to blame chance.
Let the universe take control of the planning and enjoy the ride.