Saturday, March 19, 2011

quarterly litmus test

March 19, 2011
Sometimes I like to test what I’ve done in class that day to see how I’m doing. After an activity or lesson I’ve taught all ask for a show of thumbs on how it went: thumbs up, thumbs down, or thumbs middle. Then I’ll ask why they voted that way. It is a great way to get a general feel of how I’m doing, if I’m being understood, or if my objective got lost in translation (as so many other things seem to do). It is a trick I did in the States also and the kids really like it. It lets them have some control of how I approach their class.
Well, it is time to give myself my own thumb test.  I’m seven months in, 20 to go. Somewhere in the past 30 days I completed a quarter of my time here. So how am I doing?
I think as far as my well being I’m for sure a thumbs up. For a while there when people asked how I was doing I would say something along the lines of the good moments were starting to outnumber the bad. Which is true, and still is true. I’m sure I could have said good and not been completely lying, but a lot of what I was saying was more to convince myself I was surviving this alright more than to convince others. Now I can say I am surviving and pert near thriving. Things are still different and not comfortable, but the shock is gone. So logistics of living, and by that in no particular order I mean rain, rats, roosters, rice, bucket showers, rats, hearing every noise my neighbors make, noisy neighbors (there is a difference), traffic noises,  heat, laundry logistics, roosters, insomnia, rain, rats, bug bites, the actual bugs themselves, lack of sleep due to roosters, spider bites, roosters, Filipino time standards, heat, lack of sleep because of rats, ants, crazy Aunties, rats, dirt, dirt that won’t come off my body, crazy Auntie’s cooking, lack of sleep due to heat, roosters, etc and my ability to deal (I deal by listing them out in hopes of some sympathy, do I get any?) with said things I’ll say thumbs up.
As far as everything else I’m going to be honest and say maybe not a thumbs up, but I don’t know as if it is a thumbs down either. If I were to compare myself to others I might put my thumb way down for myself. But I need to not do this. We all have our own stories, own sites, and our own talk. Also, it won’t make me a better volunteer dwelling on what others are doing. I’ve got to do myself.
I’ve been frustrated with the progress I think I’m making as a volunteer. I’m doing my best, and am always trying to do better, but that doesn’t mean I’m feeling a thumbs up. This summer is fast approaching and it is overwhelming. April is booked up. Language camp the first week, along with graduation on my birthday. I’ve got an adventure planned during Holy Week, or rather I’m tagging along on other PCs’ adventures. And then a PDM in April.
An important PDM that will allow me to apply to grants and put on trainings. It requires that I bring a counterpart, which I think I’ve got lined up if her husband lets her. But I have very few details for my school. Peace Corps, how am I suppose to successfully set this up if I’m not all that certain what is going on? If I get that figured out it will shoot us in to May.
My May is a blank slate right now, and this has me also freaking out. I keep trying to plan and discuss with my Supervisor, but she is not getting past the right now it is hard. When I told her I was looking to get things set up for a summer reading program she mentioned me going around and doing things in the classroom. First that is a plan slated to start next school year, second she wants me to start something with literally two weeks left of school. It didn’t matter how much I stressed April, May, summer she wasn’t getting past what she had in her head. I was getting more and more frustrated. This was right after a lengthy discussion we had about what I’d be needing a counterpart for in April. Without PC details I was trying to explain about getting grants, and moneys, and Peace Corps would pay for it (I think, I hope, eeks), and I don’t know the dates. She seemed to be following and understanding and then after all that she asked if this was for English methods. A frustrating meeting provoking fight or flight in me. I chose to flee, and have started to do plan through the lovely medium of texting, which is a-whole-nother blog of lost in translation, but seems to be working better.
So for work, maybe a thumbs down, but with an acknowledgement that some things are getting done. When I teach I feel I’m making an impact, and from reports from home and enthusiasm here my library is two thumbs up.
The rest of this thing: thumbs middle (there has got to be a better way to put that).  If I were rating my ability to make great PCV friends then the thumbs would be through the roof. I’m very lucky that fate gave me the crew I’ve had to deal with. Other wise I’m not so sure. At school my teachers are super friendly, and I even call some of them my friends. But at the end of the school day they go home to their families and I come home to my rats. I’m ok with that, I understand. Yes I wish I had someone at the school who was closer to my age and a little bit less married with children, but that is not the culture here.
This is not an excuse, but the culture here does make it harder for the girl PCVs than the boys. The women work, the men drink. The women take care of the families, the men drink with their friends. The women are inside cooking and cleaning, the men are outside gambling and drinking. Women drink, but not sociably, or like the men do. So this creates a situation. A male PCV can pull a chair up to table no problem. However.  If I were to sit down and throw back the tuba this would be culturally inappropriate. Men and women don’t drink together. These men are for the most part married. I don’t really gamble and I don’t really drink. I know it is not impossible to make friends with females, but I just got to find where they are. It would help if I wasn’t so shy, but in time I think I’ll get there. I get the over all sense that I’m respected in the community. People know who I am. Some of the drinking men even called me teacher the other day. When I ride the Jeepney I have great nonverbal communication. So for now, thumbs middle but more on the upside of the radar.
I know this all takes time. I know that for most PCVs the first year is a wash. I also know these frustrations will fuel me. I’ve still not given up hope on May. I know I’ll make my friends. I know that I’ll still have bad days, but I know that I can deal with those and be better for it.
Just think, it is going to take a lot to have a bad day once I get home.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

beep beep i'm a jeep

March 15, 2011 (beware the Ides of March)
Today I got my first proposal in country. Well one involving eye contact, I’m not counting the millions of times people have shouted that they love me and ask me to marry them. I was looking for my money to give the conductor when he asked me if I had a dollar. I said no. He asked again, I said pesos la, waray dollars. He asked again and I said no not on me. He asked again for a dollar to give it to him as a keepsake. I said no, and he said well then you can give me a wedding arrangement I said. I just smiled and gave him my pesos. Later he asked me if I had a boyfriend, I said yes (sometimes I lie and say I do just to make life easier). He asked if her was guapo and I said yes. Then he asked if he was guapa like he was and I said not quite. Then we were at the mall and I got off.
Today coming back from the mall I was in the scary seat, which is also the best seat in the house. Jeepneys are old medical units from WWII. They have benches along each side that set anywhere from 16-21 Filipinos. Then in the middle they have stools you sit on, one person facing front the other facing back. These stools are three pieces of wood held together on will alone and a nail or two sometimes. A jeep can fit 3 of these stools. My seat was the last stool facing out. It has its perks, more legroom, a good view, and adventure. It also has its drawbacks. When they cram people into the door that seat can get stuffy, there are no arm holds, and when there are no people in the doorway every bump could be your last bump. Today I was sitting there texting with one hand, bracing myself with the other. I told C about my seat and she said I love/hate that seat, I feel like I’m always going to die. We had just picked up open highway speed and decided it was safest to put away my phone and focus on not flying out the back door (there weren’t people standing in the doorway).
I agree, I love/hate that seat, but I love/hate Jeepneys in general. I could dedicate a whole blog to just my jeep rides, but for this post I’ll keep it minimal and just keep to those two anecdotes, and skip the stories about the forgotten cat, the school bus rides, Filipino Jesus, and the countless near wrecks I go through whenever I get on.
i swear to blog (part 2 of this post needed a better title than beep beep i’m a jeep)
As for all the posts of late, and for their lengths (I kept this one short). For lent C said she would post everyday, and I don’t know if I’m extra bored lately or inspired but I’ve kind of followed suit. Not blogging for lent, but in keeping more notes on my goings on and doings.  For lent I chose to give up Internet cafes. Not Internet it self, but the daily 30 minute fix I’ve been doing lately. The emails I get will still be there when I do get around to check them, and I won’t be sad when I logged on to have no emails and still have to fork over the pesos. I’ve never been one to do Lent, but when in Rome, or in the Philippines that is, do as the Catholics do.

luck of the irish

March 17, 2011 (Happy St. Patrick’s Day)
The back of this guy’s shirt said something along the lines about volunteering reducing stress. Maybe so, but what about all the stress it does cause? After all, I was somewhat stranded as I read his shirt.
This morning as I was waking up I got a text from C: LEYTE DIVISION CLASSES ARE SUSPENDED TODAY DUE TO HEAVY RAIN…(she doesn’t really text like that, it was a forward). So I texted Ma’am to make sure this was me too. Then lazily went back to bed. It wasn’t raining then, and when I finally did start moving about it still wasn’t raining. I had some Peace Corps errands and other things I wanted to do, and I figured I’d head east and get them out of the way. So I went to get on a Jeepney hoping things would work out. There was one and I climbed on in. As I sat there I saw jeeps zooming by the other way so I figured that flooding wasn’t affecting travel. We get moving and the conductor makes an announcement, I couldn’t understand much (I swear my language progression would be better if Filipinos didn’t feel the need to all talk at once). The only words I picked out were diretso (straight), Santa Fe, airport, tubig (water). No one on the Jeepney was upset or got off so I thought it weird but stayed on (the jeeps never go near the airport). Half way to the Santa Fe I noticed they were saying Santa Fe la. Apparently they were only going to Santa Fe.
I paid up, got out when everyone else did and followed everybody through town. Santa Fe la indeed. The road was washed out. So there I stood amongst many other stranded passengers. It started to sprinkle and I pulled out my umbrella. These three girls came and gathered around my umbrella. One was a nurse, the others were students wanting to work on some research papers. We talked and watched, and knew nothing of what was going on. A giant Region 8 Disaster Risk and Relief Truck came through, they shouted at the workers, the workers shouted back and then they left. I watched around for a while, and then headed back to find a jeep or something. A giant Coca Cola truck hollered at me stating they loved me and wanted to know if I wanted a ride. I ignored them and walked on.
I waited in front of the school, read that guys shirt, chuckled to myself and waited for anything to happen. A huge bus came through from Alang Alang. The nice Filipinos tried to get me a seat, but at this point I was only going to Tacloban if I could guarantee a ride back. Then a random Campetic Jeepney came by (Campetic is in between Palo and Tacloban, I take those jeeps from the mall to catch Alang Alang Jeepneys home) people filled in, I asked if they were going all the way to Alang Alang and went on home.
To nothing. I ran across the street in the rain and got an egg (I love that I can buy one egg, I love even more I can buy it from the electric parts store) and had a dance party while I made myself some lunch. I’ve read most of a brand new book. Listened to some Podcasts. Taken a nap. Danced some more (it reduces stress you know).  It hasn’t stopped raining since I got here.
Erin Go Braugh, I guess.
 It rained all night, it is raining now. I texted about school. My teacher said there is class but no students so stay home. Texted around, and travel is back on course. Which is good, I didn’t like that feeling of not being able to get out if I needed to. What a crazy week. I came in to town to get things done and also because of curiousity. I wanted to see what it looked like beyond Sta. Fe. C said they had waist high water. Along the road there was still a lot of sitting water. In one part of my trip where the road is a good 20 or 30 feet above the barios it was lined with furniture and appliances, as well as pigs tied up to the side of the road. I'm very lucky. Alang Alang got just as much rain but seemed to be able to handle the water better. Other places not so much.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

heroes and villains

March 13, 2011
Sometimes when I give kids writing assignments I myself will do it, or at least think long and hard about it. I found out earlier this week that my teacher had a meeting and I would be watching the kids. Found out just as class was starting, so I said hokay and then came up with something I thought might be interesting to them, this way it is fun and they are working. I asked them what super hero power they would choose. Most kids picked invisibility. Mine has nothing to do with saving the world, and we’ll see if I can even explain it. My super hero power would be to make my first shot when shooting hoops. I’m not asking to make every shot, because that would be straight up cheating. What I’m talking about is the first time you pick up the ball you swoosh. Take an old ball to a new hoop, swoosh. The first time you attempt the shot in the shooting session was just beautiful and made that perfect swoosh sound.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned my plans to run a half marathon in October around a volcano, but that is the plan. At this point if things don’t change I’m going to hate life come October. I’m out of shape something sore. I’m blaming the rain, the rats, the roosters, the fact that that 5:00 comes awfully early, and whatever else makes it look not so bad that I’m not running. My diet is hit and miss. I feel like I’m either ravenous or not hungry in the least. I also feel like there is a correlation between who cooks and how hungry I am. If it is my Auntie I get full pretty soon. I’ve started to take strides into being more self-sufficient (slowly swallowing that guilt like M suggested). And then there are the times when we convince ourselves we can’t live with out McDos (McDonalds). Who doesn’t need French fries? And today I needed a lot… and a lot of chicken nuggets, and an apple pie, and a Green Apple Float. I also needed to go to a birthday party and have some fried chicken, a Coke float, and an ice cream dessert. I also needed to do this in roughly a two-hour time frame. To be fair we did have vegetables last night.
I’ve started to stroll around this town in hopes it can start the habits towards running. Now that the rain is gone I can go out and about. I want to get to know the community. I’ve had issues with feeling like I just work and commute. With the rain gone (and by gone I mean it stops once or twice a week) I don’t hate leaving my house. I love how friendly the people are and how tight it just seems. Reminds me of one those places I call home and how you can just walk across the street and spend a couple hours with your neighbors. Tonight I really needed that walk, see food consumed earlier, and it was a good one: a lap of each side of the high way.
However, it did trouble me when after my walk my Auntie told me not to look at people who try to talk to me. “Um, Auntie, that is kind of the whole point of me here doing this thing.” Joke la. I didn’t really say that. What I did say was, “Kay ano, atay?”
“Because there are mga bad people, that is why I never look at them.”
“That is why people think you are stuck up.” I didn’t really say that either, but over Christmas at a party her family joked and said she was the stuck up one, but not really she just looked that way. So again just joking. What I did say was that I’d be ok. I guess my super hero power wouldn’t help me fight all the many bad people in town either. For those of you who are now worried about me, know I wield an umbrella when I walk and the people are in fact nice.
I texted this conversation to my site mate and she said, ‘She’s coo koo.’ This time I’m not joking, she really did say that. I love that D! But she’s been here a year and has had no incident and people tell me over and over again how safe it is. But I guess not safe enough for me to live on my own.
Now, back to that seemingly superfluous super hero power of mine. This town is riddled with basketball hoops. How awesome would it be if every time I passed a game I took my stance, clapped my hands, said ‘Pwede ka?’ with a lip pointed head nod to the rim, got passed the ball, drained it, and then walked off an Americano legend?  Went to the next court and did it all over again. Pretty sweet, right? I haven’t drained any shots yet, but tonight I did catch a tennis ball that came flying out of nowhere at me, and kids did think I was some what awesome for it. Win!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

life is bununus, b-u-n-u-n-u-s

March 3, 2011

Chalk one up to cultural differences, they’ve helped me through many a lesson.
-lesson on cause and effect, cue There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
-lesson on onomatopoeias, cue Old McDonald Had a Farm
-the kids have been sitting in their seats for 45 minutes of English class and still have another 55 to go, cue The Hokey Pokey
Not going to lie, life has been hard lately (don’t cue the freak out stateside).
On my end there is little to do on my library. The main building of my school is very old. One teacher says 100 years, but she also says the materials are still in good shape (has she not seen the library I sit in). I’m thinking more like 60 years old. DepEd knows the materials are not in good shape, they also know they don’t want to tear the building down. Apparently it is the only structure of its kind in Region 8, which means preserve. Which to my schools credit, it is doing. They got the money and now they are working. In the process, classrooms have been scattered. The canteen is now a classroom, as well as my library. However, my school has not lost their enthusiasm for my project, or for any of my summer projects. I just need to sit down with my supervisor and finalize logistics. Which is hard when she is not around that often.
This is my non-functioning library. Look at that rot!
School wise, things are basically done. March is the last month of school and the focus is so much on NAT tests that most everything else is just for show. Cue other tricks. In the past couple weeks I’ve taught my kids all those games and songs that are just innate to American public education students. When it is my turn to lead the study session we play Around the World. Which is a huge success. They are addicted to Head’s Up 7 Up. I just taught them Apples and Bananas, and my Grade 6 boys go into hysterics thinking about it. Yesterday I taught them Red Light Green Light. They were sweating and complaining about the heat (it feels like August out there and it is still not the hot season) but would not stop playing.
The kids playing Red Light Green Light in front of my one of a kind school.

My Grade 5 class was glued to the windows watching. When I walked by they asked why they didn’t get to play games. I was honest and said they didn’t behave well enough. At the risk of sounding very Filipino, this class is very naughty. Which is a major frustration of mine. Not so much that they are naughty, (which is the perfect way to describe it because they are not malicious or mean but just being kids) but because it is soo ok. The way these kids behave would not fly in a classroom at home, but the teachers have classroom management strategies. Here it is very much a turn the other cheek policy, but how am I suppose to ignore 25 of 36 students?
Luckily next year I’ll be here the whole school year, so I can establish how kids behave when I’m teaching, then move onto the lighter side of education. It will be good for so many reasons. I can be busy again, and not deal with the feeling of I could be doing nothing at home. Which has been a haunt of mine recently. I did get to teach a lesson this week, and it felt good. Hooray for teaching a lot more next year.
Also, hooray for still having a bag of tricks for next year. Because my grade 5 is naughty, and because I have them again next year I can use those games and have them be brand new! Heck yes!

giant pizzas and mini-despididas

March 9, 2011
An alternative title to this post could be: the other day.
This post has the potential to be very long, for that I am sorry. I will try to figure out how to link to things so if you don’t want to read about every tine minute detail of the awesomeness that is my life you don’t have to.
So, here goes. It is common knowledge amongst us PCVs that we are going crazy. Dear loved ones, I’m giving you basically 20 months (whoa) warning that I will be certifiable by the time I get home. Well, the other day I could not find my toothbrush. I had it the night before, I was positive I put it back where I got it. To be honest my living situation is such that if I don’t put things back where they belong than there is no where to put them. So this drove me nuts and I texted all around to vent it out. There was the theory that the rats took it, but really, the rats? So I got a new one and had been very deliberate about placing it where it belongs. Woke up the other day, and it was gone. So it is either the Tooth Fairy’s evil twin or the rats. 
I’m working on getting the bravado to kill them. Filipinos just deal. I’m not that culturally assimilated. Options are traps or poisons. If I go the trap route I’ve got to deal with I’m not sure how many rats there are. I am a light sleeper and would for sure here the rats’ demise as it snaps shut. Then the whole waking up and saying good morning to the rat in the trap and disposing of it. Gross. So poison. Still, I don’t know how many there are. They live in the wall, so what are the odds they will eat the stuff and die in the wall and then rot and stink? If they don’t die there will they just keel over in my room? Then I’m dealing with disposal again. See why I’m going loony?
Speaking of animals living in walls, the other day my teacher and I are chilling in the canteen. It is our prep period, so she was working on writing tests and I was grading compositions. The canteen is still a make shift classroom while the roof is being replaced. Well a bird flies into the canteen putting all the girls in a tizzy. It lands up on the rafters, then we hear thumping from the roof, a thud, and the bird falls to the ground with a thunk. Moments later a feral cat jumps down from up there and has a late lunch. Now the whole class was in a tizzy.
Now we are done with wild animals, I think. I showed up to school the other day and the kids were in an assembly. They were learning about fire extinguishers and the fire department. Or at least there was an illusion of learning. Really they were running around and getting yelled at. Then they all go to recess all the teachers go into a classroom and have their own fire safety assembly. Then we go to class, so I think, but nope, we do fire drills. As I’ve mentioned, school is all but over. Which means, of course, it is the perfect time to learn how to do a fire drill. I get that March is fire safety month, but it is ok to teach fire drills, in oh I don’t know June when the kids come to school.
(Back to wild animals. The other day after the town was basically all shut down I was lying in bed just sort of decompressing. I had my music playing and the lights out enjoying the false security of my mosquito net--see the post where the rats chewed holes through it—when there was a fire fly flying around. Just one glowing about, and it must have been a bad day or I was in just the right mood because it made me very happy.)
Speaking of fire, it has been hot. It still rains, but now when it is not raining it is hot hot hot. I’m just loving my east-facing bedroom, or not. The other day we were running errands for our send off (more on this to come) and it was just so hot. We stopped and got pop in a bag. I’m hard pressed to think of something more refreshing than Royal Orange Soda in a plastic bag, and that is the honest truth. So we are walking along and C starts groaning. The one from Atlanta is groaning, while M who is from San Fran, one of the least warm parts of Cali, and I are just quietly sweating it out. I am certain that I’m not going to make it through summer. In fact I doubt I’ll make it to summer. Graduation day, the official start of summer, is on my birthday. I’ll make it to 25 and then just stop. A quarter of century well spent!
Really I jest, but it is miserable, but I guess there is some good from it. I went to class and was getting my students going, Ma’am would be along shortly. They were doing some last minute studying and then they all started looking at me. I have students who will not talk to me, but usually some one will do it for them. So, Jacquleen says, “Ma’am Denver says you look very mahusay because it is mapaso,” to this I replied, “ Ano? I look beautiful because it is hot?” Then the whole class says, “Yes, you have rosy cheeks!” So at least the heat is becoming.
Almost done I promise. M left the other day, which has given us heavy boots but we wish the best for her! So to send her off we went to pizza. There is a local joint downtown that is a favorite. The first time we went while we were eating we saw this huge pizza come out of the oven. It was the group consensus that we needed to get one. It was M’s last meal request and we were happy to oblige. We got half veggie half tropical (Hawaiian) and waited. Then it came out, 36 inches of pizza! We ate, and by we I mean the ladies went to town and the boys had some. Most of the pizza was gone and we went home happy.

But for us, it was not enough of a goodbye, and we threw a mini-despidida for M, but used our own rules. Technically a despidida is when the person leaving throws themselves a party and pays for it all. It is the same with birthdays. Well, we weren’t having that. We got fixings for nachos and got some Dunkin Donuts and a giant bottle or two of beer. And had a party. It was perfect! Wishing you the best M!

insert gloria gaynor quote here.

March 11, 2011
A friend of mine once sagely stated that only the survivors survive. Heck yes for those random moments of cafeteria wisdom. Well I am a survivor and I am surviving.
I’ve not been evacuated, and am staying put as advised by PC Safety and Security. When deemed safe here is what one does in case of tsunami (or as Filipinos say choo-nam-ee,):
-Encode 4th contact tests for grades IV, V, and VI. All there major tests are next week and I said I’d type them up for my teacher. After that stick a fork in school it is done. Except for that whole two plus weeks we still have class thing.
-Check out the local happenings. Tonight is the Junior and Senior prom. It was very similar to the last prom I went to but this one had popcorn. Take that Palo. And the girls had more dress to their dresses.
- Walk around the town. Today it rained all day so tonight is really nice temperature wise. I’ve done some walking around, but I really enjoyed my stroll tonight.
-Get text blasted. Peace Corps sent texts way ahead of time telling us who needed to find higher ground (I did not). My warden called me, and is still sending me updates. I’m very far inland, and more than 50 feet above sea level. I’ve also kept in contact with my red zone friends.
-Listen to podcasts. Current fave is NPR Tiny Desk Concert. The Adele one is only 3 songs long but I can listen to it for hours!
-Feel loved. My sister-in-law works the grave yard shift and saw on the news the details. She called her husband (i.e. my brother) who then called my paps. He interneted and saw that Leyte was a target island. He knows I live inland but sometime head into town for the weekends, and it it was 3 in the morning and he wasn’t thing straight. So he called to make sure his favorite daughter was alive.
So here I sit. I’m sure if I had a TV. I’d be more aware of the situation and might be more freaked out about this. But as is the cable has been out for what I’m sure is years, or a month. So here I sit debating a game of solitaire. I would go to bed, but there is a prom bumping outside my window.

This girl doensn't have cable either. On my walk home from school I saw her watching TV under the gate.

In other news, I did run out of tea this week. Don’t know how I’ll survive that one.