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Monday, November 12, 2012

Moving On

Just like the United States President Obama's campaign slogan; I have to move forward with the news I've been given by Peace Corps.  To most of the readers of this blog, you already know where I am at and it's not in the Philippines.

INBOX 
RE: October
On October 11, I suffered a seizure at my site Kalakake National High School (KNHS).  Two days later (Saturday), I was cleared to leave the hospital, but was told by the Peace Corps Doctor that I had to stay in Manila till the following Monday (Oct. 15), so they can consult with the Peace Corps main headquarters in Washington, DC.  As soon as I heard this, I started to worry about what they would say.  When I arrived back at the hotel, I took a walk along Manila Bay.  I recalled some memories of my stay in the Philippines.  Memories that occurred were trying to hand wash my clothes in the basement of my host family's house with a sling on my arm in Dinalupihan, Bataan during training to helping the girls & boys scouts do a cleanup along subic bay to teaching students about certain historical events such as September 11, 2001.
















As I write this, I realize there's been so much I haven't written that when I finally sit down in front of a computer to type an update for a blog, my memory can't keep up with what has happened.  The next morning (Sunday), I do remember eating a good breakfast at the Pancake House near the hotel, then took another walk along Manila Bay, but then realized I have to check out the Pasay Public Market, which I'd never took a visit to during my stay in the Philippines.  I bought a battery charger for my phone, a tank top, and some underwear.  I had worn the same pair for three days.  That's the Peace Corps budget for you.

The next morning I arrived at the PC Office early as I didn't sleep very well the night before even though I felt confident that I would be heading back to my site just like any other visit from Manila.  As I walked closer & closer to the office, my hands & feet were sweating waiting in anticipation.  In fact, they're both sweating now as I recall this.  I head to the PC nurse's office & she gets the PC Doctor to come in the office too.  Then, they both tell me that I would be (Medsep) medically separated from Peace Corps service due to my multiple seizures in the Philippines.

One of the PCVs I trained with before we became a PCV
Hearing the news was a shock & tough to handle even three weeks after landing in the U.S.  Furthermore, I couldn't travel back to my site to say goodbye or even go to my apartment to gather my things.  A PC Driver had to go pack my belongings from my apartment.  I had to say goodbye to my fellow teachers via skype, talk about fighting back tears, that was tough.  On top of that, I had to summarize my service in two pages for my Description of Service.  This is my first time to reflect on the hours leading up to hearing that decision.

After coming to realization that my time was ending in the Philippines, I made the most of it and sent a ton of texts out to friends saying goodbye.  There were many Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) from another batch leaving for the U.S. or other destinations that finished their two years of service.  I was lucky that some PCVs from my batch were heading to Manila for a meeting & were staying in Manila on my last night.  We went to a Cuban restaurant in the Greenbelt part of Manila called Cafe Havana.  I remember eating there during language camp with many PCVs and our Country Director.  Last time we ate inside, this time we ate outside & what a difference that was.  Not so much in the food, but in the surroundings.  It was a funny, but an awkward experience seeing old U.S. & foreign expats hitting on young Filipinas or most likely paying them to sit next to them.  Our table was the only one that didn't have an escort sitting at it.  It was awkward because I recommended the place, but I kept repeating throughout the night that we sat indoors last time.  Had I noticed earlier, I would've moved us inside.  It wasn't until a friend of a PCV who lives in Manila pointed out that this place was a hook up spot for rich foreigners.  We had already ordered our food & inside was filled up already.  Nonetheless, the food was excellent, I had a steak, and a desert in the shape of a cigar with chocolate inside.  Afterwards, we all walked around & took last photos.  I set my alarm for 3am, but then a hotel worker came into the dorm room & said my ride was here.  I looked at my watch and it was 4:10am, I was supposed to leave the hotel at 4am.  I just barely caught the plane.

The flight home was around 20-21 hours.  I'll admit feeling the cold air in Detroit when boarding the plane to Chicago felt great; I'm glad I wore my fleece because that air was brisk.  Arriving in Chicago and seeing my Dad for the first time in months, priceless.  We ate Mexican food an hour & a half later.  I think I ate that meal in about a minute.

NOW

Since then, I've been able to see family & friends that I haven't seen in quite awhile and I've even made new friends in the Epilepsy community in Chicago. I couldn't believe how much weight I lost, which was around 15 lbs.  I'm slowly gaining that back due to a new bakery shop in my neighborhood; it's very masarap (delicious in tagalog).

The toughest thing has been updating my resume.  The first resume & cover letter I sent out to a company was too rushed, but I'm getting the hang of it, but I'm going to have a lot of practice in the next few weeks.

NEXT

A few weeks ago I submitted a revision of my grant for the Kalalake National High School (KNHS) Reading for Life Center.  This week I'll find out if my old site receives the funding or not.  Also, I'm going to try to start an Epilepsy support group in the suburbs where I live.  There are many in the city of Chicago, but none further south, so we'll see where that leads, it may take awhile, but I'm hopeful that I'll get some visitors to the group.  Take care & safe travels.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

2nd Year of Service Underway

NOW
Today is Teachers's Day at Kalalake National High School (KNHS) where the students danced & sang songs for the teachers for half the day and all the teachers ate Pancit, chicken, kanin & saging for lunch.  Now, I just finished invite letters for the HIV/AIDS workshop next week.  No pics on today's event, I'll put that on my facebook page.  Here's a link to my friend's blog, her last post was hilarious and I thought it might make you laugh too.   http://brynacaroline.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/my-face-when/

Past
I haven't written extensively in a while & I thought this would be a good time to catch up on what I've been up to.  On August 18, I took a few of my students on a bike tour of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and we saw the Lighthouse.  After that, we rode our bikes two hours west to Ocean Adventure.  It  was a tough ride for the students & the one staff member who also rode with us.  At times, we had to push our bikes up the steep hill, but they were able to do it.  One student said he didn't believe he had it in him to ride that far, but he did just fine.  That comment made my day.  Teaching has been a great experience, but taking the students on the bike ride & showing them places they had not been before was amazing & something I plan to do more of.
I know they should be wearing helmets, but the helmets here are just too expensive  for them

We saw many Bats & Monkeys, this was one of the monkeys.
All of us near the Beach with Subic Bay as our background.


During the flood, I lost a few important items.  One being my external hardrive (backup) and the other being my passport.  Recently, I made a visit to the U.S. Embassy to request a Peace Corps issued passport.  Visiting the Embassy is similar to paying a visit to the DMV to get your drivers license, it's not a fun experience and it's a long wait, not surprisingly.

Ok, back to fun again.  This past Sunday, I went on a field trip with my school to see four places: Church/museum, Science & Discovery museum, Bread factory & Enchanted Kingdom (mini Great America).
First, some faculty members, students & I took two buses and left at 4:30 am en route to Manila.  Then, we arrived at a Church./Museum & the students were able to witness a mini show of the history of their country through a tour similar to what one may see at an historical museum or an historical reenactment, but instead of actors playing the roles, we all saw statues with voices coming from the speakers telling the story.  It was dark, but the museum does a fascinating job at explaining to students the history of the Philippines, especially Philippines icon Jose Rizal.  Second, we all hoped on the bus & journeyed to the Science & Discovery Museum in the Mall of Asia.  The students enjoyed this too.  The last part of the SDM was a visit inside an astronomy theatre/dome to look at stars & hear other science related information.  This took me back to my junior college days where I had a class for a few hours on a Wednesday night inside a similar dome.  However, inside this dome, they sold popcorn, which was totally cool.  I just munched popcorn off the students.  As a PCV, we gotta save pesos when we can. ha ha.  Don't worry, I just took a few kernels.  After this we chowed down at gas station.  The teachers & myself ate at KFC & the students ate somewhere else, I forgot already.  Then, we headed to a bread factory in Laguna where the students saw the process of how one company makes loafs of bread & ships them everyday to supermarkets across the Philippines.  Finally, we made a visit to Enchanted Kingdom, which is a small Great America, but Enchanting nonetheless.  The first ride I went on was with the students on the swings and that was a lot of fun.  Then I rode with the teachers on the raging raft water ride, which I gladly welcomed the water onto my clothes & face, it was still early & I did eventually dry off.  After this, I went on a few other rides, then I stumbled onto games & played basketball.  I made two shots in a row & I received a stuffed animal, which will be someone else's eventually, for whom, I won't say.  The whole day was a blast, I'll send photos soon.  I forgot my camera that day, but the students & teachers took many photos.

Future
Both tomorrow & Friday, the city will celebrate teachers day & we will meander down to the convention center to sit through the same acts we sat through today with our school, except tomorrow, we will sit beside other schools as well.

Next week, I have an HIV/AIDS workshop that one of my teachers & I will be hosting.  I'll let you know how that goes.  I am really looking forward to mid-service training (MST) to see all my fellow 270 batch mates.  After that it's vacation somewhere, I don't know yet.

Ingat na.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

For My Grandma


I didn’t think I would be writing a remembrance letter about my Grandma just under six months after my Grandfather’s death.  However, with the passing of my Grandmother two weeks ago, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

My Grandmother, Hope L.  Delgado, 85 was suffering badly from Alzheimer’s disease, but I thought I would be able to see her when I return from my service.  As I write this, I’m listening to Spanish music, because that’s what my Grandma played in the house when I was younger, but it’s not helping.
My Grandmother was a ray of light whenever she came into a room.  She always brought energy and love to everyone around her.  Going to Grandma's to stay overnight when I was little always made me excited.  Together with my Grandpa, we would go to the movies, the park, and bring Chicago hot dogs home or pizza from Vito & Nicks.  (I’m getting hungry just writing those items.)  She always shared stories of growing up in Chicago.
 
Chicago
My Grandma loved this City.  She worked at Marshall Fields when it was called that & was proud of it.  Now, it’s called something else, but that’s another story.  She would walk with my Mom & I in the store to look at different shops every holiday season.   Another Chicago story she told was growing up on Taylor Street.  All of her brothers & sisters had a choice of either taking the bus going to the park or walking to the park & taking a bus ride home.  The choice was always simple for them and that was taking a bus to the park, so they can start playing at the park as soon as possible.  Her family might have been tired at the end of the day, but to them it was more time at the park & that was all that mattered.
Similar to my Grandfather, Grandma was a terrific cook.  Her mole & rice were out of this world.  Unlike the hot cakes I found in the Olongapo City market that I found before my Grandfather died, which were one of the items my Grandfather made; I haven’t found anything remotely close to my Grandmother’s cooking in the Philippines.  However, she would encourage me to try some of the new foods here & I have.  Just the other day, I tried Chicken liver; it tastes like chicken, but on a stick.  Not bad for 12 pesos.

I was one blessed Grandson and now one incredibly sad Peace Corps Volunteer.  However, I'll be ok knowing my Grandma is now at Peace and joined with my Grandfather & Mom (their daughter) in spirit.  May she rest in Peace.  If anyone knew my Grandmother, please post your memories below.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Flooded Out Temporarily - SAFE NOW

Last Tuesday August 7, 2012 started out like any other day. I worked out, walked to the bakery through puddles (as always) and got my pandasal (bread).  However, the puddles were now spreading into the streets, but just a little and not enough to concern me.  I found out that school was cancelled when my counterpart teacher texted me saying that 'Olongapo is being flooded.'  After reading this, I looked out my door and although it was wet, I didn't think I would be leaving me my place to stay at another friend's anytime soon, but that's exactly what happened.

After buying my pandasal, I cooked my usual oatmeal and then started packing an emergency pack just in case (again, not thinking I would need this).  Once this was done, I started reading, but couldn't concentrate because of the thought of having to leave my place in the case of a flood.  Then, instead of rain, I heard the sound of water/flood moving outside.  I peaked out and it was already at flood level, but not close to my place yet.  I started piling things high quickly moving my clothes to the second shelf.  I should've piled them higher.

After gathering as many things as I could to higher ground, I took a walk around the block IN THE FLOOD.  It was pretty weird neighbors standing outside and kids playing basketball like nothing as if there's no water around.  At 11am, I ate lunch an hour early, just in case power would go out (I was surprised it didn't).  Around noon, my friend who lives up in the hills said I could stay at her place.  Once I made the decision to leave, some locals down the street said the floods were too high in the direction I was heading, but I had no choice if I wanted to avoid sleeping on the roof or second floor of someone's place.  At first, I resisted & stayed back at my place, but figured the floods are just going to get worse.  I might as well get wet now, but sleep in a dry spot later.

I started walking and already the water was up to my thighs, two more blocks and it reached my waist.  I was ok, until I came to the first intersection and the currents were going against me fast, at that moment, it became tough to walk, but I continued on towards the jeepneys.  My worst fear started coming to mind and that was that jeepneys would stop giving rides up the hills.  However, I didn't want to trek back, it was all systems go now - No Turning Back. When crossing an intersection, I had to take baby steps to keep my feet closed to the ground.  If I didn't, I would've gone with the currents.  After walking against the current for nine blocks, I finally made it to the jeepneys.  I got in line to board a jeepney to New Cabalan, where one of my fellow batch mates lives.

The Aftermath
I came back to my place the next day, opened the door and I didn't see any part of the floor, only mud.  When I opened the bathroom, it just looked like a muddy mess.  My friend took a measuring stick & measured 16 & half inches of water came into my place.  After this piece of news, we started cleaning up what we could & then headed up to her place again.  On Thursday, I met with my Regional Manager & he saw my place, he couldn't believe, but there were many others that were worse than I was, in fact my old training spot in Dinalupihan got hit the hardest.  I felt bad for them & realized how luck I was.  After his visit, it was time to withdraw pesos to buy some cleaning supplies from Ace Hardware.  Yes, there is Ace in Olongapo.  I bought a squeegee & that was a great buy because that cleaned up the mud fast.  Then, I washed the floors (They were dirty anyway).  After that, I went back to my friend's place to get my things because I could now  move back into my place.  Plus, it was now time to clean the school the next day and since my new bed is sleeping on my yoga mat now, I needed to get as much sleep as possible.  Some of the classrooms were flooded too, but not as bad as mine or some of the other homes around here.

Items lost
My mattress was toast & I'll have to get a new frame.  My external hardrive went bye bye, but that's it. My computer stayed dry, as well as my food & kitchen appliances.  I will have to go to the dry cleaners this week for few loads, but I'm very lucky, compared to others in Dinalupihan, lower parts of Olongapo & many parts of Manila, where there is still standing water. Ingat na!  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rain outs & Brownouts

This week week we had one day off from school & two half-days off because of the rain.  Yesterday, we had an eleven hour brownout (no power) in Olongapo City.  Today, it seems back to normal, but this is just the early beginning of the rainy season.  Not many updates since last time, but I hope to have students bike ride with me next Saturday to SBMA (Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority).  We would start at Kalalake National High School and then bike ride to Waterfront Rd, the last street before you hit Subic Bay.  Once we're on there we would bike ride along that road and then stop to take some photos.  That's the hopeful outcome, but the reason we're doing this is to bring kids outside & to let them know they can transport themselves without using a trike or jeepney to do it for them.
With extra time on my hands lately, I guest-blogged on another site "The Gotham Foundry."  My post was about biking in the Philippines.  Check it out at http://blog.bikegotham.com/
Ingat na!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fractured tooth, PCPP Grant, 1 yr anniversary and oh yeah the USNS Mercy & JMSDF come to my site to play hoops with my students

Since my bike accident, I've been busy with many things including taking a visit to the dentist, which discovered I had a fractured back tooth and I need a crown.  The crown will be put on later in the week.  The other events I will discuss, but in this blog I'll go backwards and write about recent events you may have already seen photos on.  If not click http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.4191965439711.180109.1301887593&type=1

On Thursday, July 5, nine of my basketball players & one hearing-impaired student (a student of a fellow PCV)  played basketball with 12 U.S. Navy from the USNS Mercy (United States Naval Ship) & 10 JMSDF (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces) at Pag-Asa court where Kalalake National High School ((KNHS) the school I volunteer at)) hold their basketball practice. In the audience were 60 students along with 40 onlookers witnessing a game where all the players got a chance to play and have a lot of fun.  The day started with a few phone calls from PC staff making sure everything was set and it was.  I commend my school for being on time & Barangay Pag-Asa for letting us use their court for free.  Both being on time & having a covered court for free for two hours is a rarity in the Philippines. Maraming Salamat po. (Thank you very much).
At 9am, our school started walking down to the court and the players arrived there shortly after.  I walked with the students just in case anyone arrived early.  Once everyone was there, we shot around for practice.  Then, 3 vehicles arrived (one being a squad car) and I knew it was them.  After meeting, greeting each other, and everyone trying to get photos with the USNS & JMSDF, we finally started to play.  We played for an hour mixing the teams making sure there was a member of USNS, JMSDF, and at least two of my players playing at the same time.  It was a great mix.  My job was to take photos & I refereed the 1st part of the game.  After playing for an hour, there was a quick game between USNS & JMSDF vs. KNHS.  The players really enjoyed that because that's what they wanted in the first place.  After  a 30 minutes of playing, the USNS handed out girl scout cookies & badminton rackets to the teachers of KNHS for the students.  Simultaneously, the JMSDF leader handed out towels & a pin to the players & KNHS basketball coach Butch Atis.  The pin was a flag symbol of Japan & the Philippines together (equivalent to the pin I received at my Peace Corps swearing in except my pin was of the U.S. flag & Philippines of course).  Many thanks to both the USNS Mercy & JMSDF for coming to our school & playing with the students.  I hope to work with them again.  Again more photos on the link above.






One Year in the Philippines
The night before this event I attended a one year anniversary party of being here in the Philippines with my fellow Batch 270 Zambales sitemates.  It was a lot of fun with great food.  It's something, it was just a year ago I was at IO (Initial Orientation - in case you forgot).  It's been so long since I wrote or said those two letters, but that's exactly where the new batch 271 is at now.  Best of luck to them with their pre-service training trying to earn their "V" status.  I remember how intense IO was followed by center-based training in Bataan, but I also remember how helpful it was too.  My advice to the new batch would be to stay focused, but have a positive outlook on everything; you'll need it.  Staying positive helped me out so many times, I wouldn't be here now in an Internet cafe listening to kids laugh & shoot imaginary characters at a computer screen or hearing a neighbor sing "hey Macarena, AY!" over & over if it wasn't for a positive outlook.  Good luck & see you soon Batch 271.  A lot has happened to me both physically (still happening, read below) and emotionally.  I look forward to the next 15 months as there is still a lot to accomplish.  Again, happy one year anniversary to all my fellow Batchmates of 270.
Batch 270 volunteers in Zambales and all from the Chicagoland area
PCPP
PCPP stands for Peace Corps Partnership Program and it's a form a volunteer fills out with their counterpart to possibly receive a grant for a project at their site.  My school's project name is the "KNHS Reading for Life Center."  We developed a new title at the advice of someone who looked at our grant.  If awarded, this will be to renovate our existing reading center.  The amount our school is asking from the partnership grant is $4,010.58 to cover materials & labor.  My counterpart & I finished the revision of the PCPP proposal on Friday; it took us all afternoon and into the night, but we finally finished it.  The overall project will be $5,365.81.  We have the reading materials to go into the reading center; now we just the space renovated.  I have my fingers crossed.

Fractured tooth
This past week I went to Manila, so the dentist could look at my tooth.  It turns out the bike accident fractured my back tooth, so I have to go back on Wednesday to have a crown put on it.

A look into the future
This week I hope to finally start talks on an HIV/AIDS project with my school.  The sooner the school decides what they want, the sooner I can fill out more grant work for that.  Ok, off to lunch now.  Happy late  fourth of July to everyone in the U.S.A.  Ingat na.

Friday, June 22, 2012

FACEPLANT

I bet you didn't think you'd see a post this soon.  I didn't think I'd be writing this soon, but what happened on Tuesday night deserves a small one.
After my language session I headed back home on my bike.  I thought I could pass a jeepney on the side, however I forgot the curb went down and when I tried to go back on the street, wipeout.  I fell down hard and my chin got cut up pretty bad, but I didn't realize how bad until I got home.  At first, I was concerned about my bike because it couldn't move forward, but then I realized that the front was twisted.  Once I realized it and untwisted, I thought I escaped unscathed, minor cuts-a happy ending.
I was so confident that I took a detour home & got something before I went home.  Once I arrived home and put my bike in my place I noticed a couple of drops of blood from my chin.  This time I checked the mirror and noticed a small mouth on my chin.  Yes, you read that right, a small mouth.  It was a bigger cut than I thought, this little mouth looked like it could talk, but I wasn't gonna stick around to try to witness it, it was saying enough with blood coming out of it.  Now, I walked fast to the jeepney to go to the ER in Olongapo City.  I needed stitches.  Once arrived, they confirmed my thoughts & stitched the small mouth closed with three stitches.  I was out in an hour and next Tuesday they will remove the stitches, hopefully.
Sometimes, when you least expect it, you'll get injured once, twice, or more if you're me.  Until next time, happy trails.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Where I've been & the Start of School

It’s been awhile since I posted one of these, but I thought now would be as good as time as any, I’m writing the first part of this on the bus heading back to Olongapo from Baguio.  If you’re keeping score at home that makes 3 times I’ve been to Baguio.  If you’re a fellow volunteer reading this, I’m sorry (giggles) I know I’m lucky.

Ok, maybe writing on the back of the bus didn’t fair out so well, start of school & hand-writing a few letters to some family members are some of the reasons this came out so late.  However, I’m back now & will catch you up on the happenings in my life.

After Mt Pulag, I started work on the Peace Corps Partnership Program for the World Connect Grant Proposal with my counterpart for the Reading Center, but we’ve had to make changes to and it’s in the final steps now. I hope to have this done by the end of this week.  The Reading Center will be my main project and the engineer said this would cost php300,066 pesos ($6,798.00 USD).  I’m crossing my fingers.

In May, I journeyed south to Manila for language camp.  Man, my tagalog sucks.  It took a nose dive after my training last year; having a week of language camp and practicing with my LCF (Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator) again was great.  I just need to keep practicing, but it’s hard because all my fellow teachers speak very good English, which makes it easy to resort to. 

Then, a week later, I headed up North to Baguio for an HIV/AIDS Workshop with my supervisor/counterpart.  We will be doing a project educating both teachers & students about HIV/AIDS in the fall-very late fall.  We did many activities including going on a street immersion similar to how my fellow CYF volunteers did theirs during their training.  Street immersion for us was going out in the evening and asking a few women about their experience working on the street.  When I mention ‘working’ my priest in the States once put it in his mass reading as “a lady of the night” to put it lightly.  I’ll let your imaginations go where they may.  I was lucky my counterpart was very cool doing this, I was always looking over my back because it seemed like men were walking by staring and gawking at the women we were speaking to.  We were talking to these ladies in the red light district of Baguio, an area you don’t want to venture to alone.  On my last day in Baguio, I attended an International AIDS candlelight memorial at People’s Park in Baguio City to “promote health & dignity together” on the HIV/AIDS.  I was impressed by Baguio City’s set-up and it’s something to emulate in Olongapo City.  They made great use of the small space they had & made 50-75 people seem like over 100.  It was the perfect ending for my trip. 















When I came back I had my first skype talk with a U.S. classroom out of Stillwater, MN and it was pretty cool until I couldn’t hear them anymore probably because it was close to midnight where I’m at.  Before Iost audio connection, I was able to span my laptop camera around McDonalds.  They were surprised to see a security guard at McDonalds.  Yes, you read that right, there is a security guard at McDonalds, and in fact there is a security in about every store you venture into here in the Philippines.  They even check grocery receipts.  Anyway, the students & their teacher asked me some good questions.  One of them was “What are your students’ hopes & dreams?”  I couldn’t believe I couldn’t answer this & told the students that I would make sure I would ask my students this year.  On the second day of class last week, I asked them and most of the boys said they wanted to join the Army & most of the girls said they wanted to be a nurse.  I think most of them just wanted to sit back down, I’ll ask them again six months from now.  However, I do remember one student’s answer from last year and he said it was to see the Great Wall in China.  Another good question I couldn’t answer right away was “What have you learned about yourself?”  Blindsided again, I gave an answer around change, but in reality, I am only halfway through my service, and I am still finding out the answer.  I apologize to the students & their teacher in Stillwater, MN, while adapting to change is important, I’m still finding out the answer.  Other questions were the differences between the US & Philippines and what do kids do on their free time.

Lastly, the day before school started, I went to Ocean Adventure by bike.  It took me nearly an hour & half and was a tough climb especially when I went past Subic Bay International Airport, but fun; I will definitely do the same ride again.  As for Ocean Adventure, it wasn’t bad.  The Sea lion & dolphin shows were great; Walk on the wild side (about the jungle) & the diving show were ok.  After the shows I walked on the beach, but then the rain started to come & I headed home.  I took a different route the ride back to the main road & the tough climb turned into a fast drop.  I was on the main road in seconds; it was great, but I had to ride the break a few times or I would've fallen down.  Once on the main road, the rain started pouring & piercing my body as I pedaled through the floods of droplets caving from the sky.  One weird feeling I hadn’t felt in Olongapo ever was cold.  The fierce rain brought a nice chill that was much needed.  As I came back to the city, I ventured into a Mexican restaurant for a nice meal.  I still like the two Mexican restaurants in Barreto better, but after a tough ride, this meal tasted delicious and a great escape from the rain.

Back to School
First Day of School & Books arrive
After my trip to Mt Pulag in April, I sent a 2nd request to Books for Peace for a donation and guess what they came through for us again, only this time, it was a class set of multiple subjects including English, Science & Economics, plus an assortment of fiction books including “The Hunger Games, three Harry Potter books, Swiss Family Robinson, four nearly complete years of archived issues of National Geographic magazine, Helen Keller autobiography, two Hardy Boys & two Nancy Drew books & many more, 19 boxes of books & magazines in total.  Yes, I’m very lucky & our school will definitely be ordering another set before it’s all said & done.  All those boxes came on the first day of school, June 4th.  What a day, meeting all the students & doing inventory on our new material.  I am already teaching out of the new English books.  The first shipment came in February, but was only a sample set of what we want now.
I teach four grade 7 clasess.  Grade 7 is new, last year grade 7 was called 1st year for the 1st year of high school, but the Philippines DepEd is making changes & adopting the U.S. grade school system of having students in school from grades 1-12.  In previous years, students only finished up at 4th year, which is equivalent to 10th grade or a sophomore year in the U.S.  Even though the grade 7 students are in high school, they will be here for six years instead of four with the last two years being grades 11 & 12. 

Yesterday, we had our first day off already for Philippines Independence Day.  Since rain season is here now, I bought a rain jacket with rain pants; I'm glad I did.  This morning was the first time I got to use it, plus I wore my rain boots for the first time since my Peace Corps training.  It was a downpour this morning, but I was dry, it felt good.  Finally, let me know what you want to know about the Philippines & I’ll try to answer it in the blog, so I’m not monotonous.  Ingat na.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Like Father, Like Son


Last weekend I spent some time on Mt Pulag, the third highest mountain in the Philippines, but more on that below. Before I left for Mt Pulag, I told my Dad, living in the U.S. to take care of his foot because he has a cyst and now he'll have an MRI on it next week. However, he kept telling everybody and me that it was nothing even though he had to use a cane for a few days and was limping pretty badly according to witnesses.  This stubbornness reminds me of my own ascending up Mt Pulag last week.

We hiked at night and it was a terrific hike, the stars were out, all of us hiking together in the cold, but I slipped on one of the wet rocks while hiking. Although I didn't fall, my ankle felt like it did. Next, guess what happened. Yep, you guessed it, I kept walking. I thought I would walk it off. When our group took a break, I kept moving my ankle thinking stretching it in circles would cure it and I would turn into self-acclaimed Dr. Steve. Nope. As we ascended I did consider stopping and not continuing, but to hike all that way and not go to the top, I had to go for it.  Once we made it to the top, we stayed there for 2 hours.  It was around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius), but it felt like zero considering the temperature I’ve been accustomed to in Olongapo City is the mid-90s.  After a while all the volunteers bundled our bodies together for warmth to no avail, it was still cold.  However, the sun started to peek out and above is what it looked like, the pic below is what it looked like 20 minutes later.

Yes, those are clouds


The hike down was something I wasn’t looking forward to for obvious reasons and also, the view from the top was breathtaking.  We were above the clouds, and even had a cup of coffee on top before going down from one of our members who brought his big gas stove.  As I started to go down, I just thought to myself one step at a time and at first I was doing well.  Our group had gotten to what I thought was the halfway point in no time.  Then, we started back down and I started to feel the pain in my ankle more.   Next, we arrived at another rest stop to have breakfast and I got to use my backpacker stove for the first time in the Philippines to make coffee and tea.  After that I took off my barefoot sandal and noticed the swelling.  (Yes, I hiked in these thinking if I could run down the street block and climb a small mountain, I could climb Mt Pulag in these, but no cigar.  These particular barefoot sandals aren’t good on rocks for me.)  The one thing I had going for me was that there was no discoloration on my ankle.  One person wrapped a bandage around my ankle and gave me a stick to walk with along with pain reliever.  After breakfast we had a longer walk than I thought heading back down to the beginning.  Some of the areas we walked down I didn’t even remember from the night before. 


Moving on, I took one last shot of the scenery I couldn’t see in the dark (to the left).  Finally, we got back to the jeep and I had my friend re-wrap the bandage because it was wrapped too tight on the trail.  I tried to sleep, but going down the hill was bumpy, which made it impossible to sleep.  Once I got back to La Trinidad, I got plenty of rest.

As for my father, we skyped the other day and he criticized my decision to wear the barefoot sandals and I the same to him for not seeing a doctor soon enough.  I hate to admit, but I can relate to his stubbornness, but I think all of us are a little stubborn at one point or another and will find a way to procrastinate our problem until we can’t delay no more.  Next hike, I will definitely be hiking in boots.  As for my Dad, I only hope he reacts faster next time.  Ingat na.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Graduation

Graduation happened two weeks ago, but I still can't believe how long it was.  The ceremony lasted 5 ½ hours with an extra hour of taking pictures.  It was great to see, especially some of my basketball players walk up to get their diploma.  In addition, witnessing a graduation in another country was great too, one parent walked up with their son or daughter to the stage.  The ladies are on the left side and the boys on the right. 

The night before, the school had what they call "Recognition Rites" similar to an Honors night at some schools in the U.S.  This was to recognize
the students in the 1st-3rd year levels.  This night wasn't as long as graduation, but they did present many awards that might not even be considered in some countries. 
Basketball players: Alvin, Villegas, Rodin

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Soccer Camp


Although summer break officially started, I still have a lot of work to get done.  First was participating in a 3 day soccer camp for my fellow volunteer's site, April 2-4.  We had our camp at the Zambales Sports Complex in IBA, Zambales.  They were long, but fun days.  It would start with an hour & half bus ride to IBA, then we would break into groups (I was the leader of the group (Team Warriors).  Our team won the championship on the last day.  There are plenty of photos of this on my facebook page.

Project Time
Last Saturday I met with my counterpart at her house and we looked over possible grants to look at for our Reading Center Renovation we want to do at our school.  This will take awhile because we are still making our proposal.  We found out the budget for this project and the total amount is PHP 300,066 equivalent to $6,978.00 USD.

Although I'm off these next two months from teaching and will explore Northern Luzon (Mt Pulag), I will concentrate on finishing this proposal because we will need all the help we can get.

Ingat na.



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Language Training, HS Prom & Island Cove

Recently, I started taking language lessons in Subic, a 30-40 minute bike ride up & down the mountains.  At first it took a lot of energy at the end of a long day of teaching to start on that hilly trek.  However, I’ll admit it; I do love the route going to tagalog lessons.  I gradually start up the mountain, and then go down like a roller coaster; it’s a lot of fun. 

A few weeks ago, my school had their prom & my teachers told me the morning of prom that all the teachers go & that I should go.  I texted Arleen, the lady I met in Baguio about this, she was our tour guide and jokingly asked her to the dance later that night.  I didn’t think she would hop on a bus for three & half hours to be my prom date.  She came from Manila & arrived there at eight just before I got there.  I was late because Tuesdays are my language days.  I biked as fast as I could back to my apartment to change.  Normally, I would’ve cancelled the appointment, but I was just starting my lessons and didn’t want to do that.  I finally arrived and we all had a good time.  I took other photos of that night, but my camera doesn't take good shots at night.  This was the only good shot I got.

Island Cove

I can’t believe next Monday (3/19) will be my six month anniversary at my site, Kalalake National High School (KNHS).  At that same time, it will be 8 & ½ months here in the Philippines.  Time does travel fast.  Last week my counterpart (co-teacher) & I took part in a conference that got us started on what our main project will be.  Every volunteer has a local counterpart, regardless of what sector they work in; Education (me), CYF (children, youth, & family), or Environment.  Our project will be renovating a reading center here at KNHS and more details on this will come in probably two weeks as we still have to put a budget together, which is going to be tough to do because every single item has to be accounted for.

Back to Island Cove where I only had 15 minutes of internet, enough though to send my VRF (Volunteer Report Form).  That's a report where we have to include everything we did at our site, including the costs of each project.  It takes a long time.  I'm glad to actually send mine when I did (6:15am on a Tuesday, it also helps working out in the morning and realizing no one is in the lobby using the internet.)  I quickly raced up the stairs as if I was five and got my laptop and waited patiently for my computer to boot up, sent my VRF, then off with the internet for the week.

The Project design management (PDM) workshop went well and was a big help for my counterpart & myself.  They're were a lot of details that I hadn't considered such as tasks under each objective and a line by line budget.  We have our work cut out for us in the next 18 months, however just like the bike ride above they're will be ups & downs, but a lot of fun.

Ingat na

Thursday, March 1, 2012

For my Grandpa

Just because I’m in the Philippines, doesn’t mean tragedy doesn’t affect me.  Yesterday, I was just informed that my Grandpa, Gonzalo Delgado died.  He was 85.  I’m sad, but I know he would’ve wanted me to move on and was proud of me for volunteering.  Let me tell you about him.

My grandfather was a great person to know.  He loved telling stories, taking me to the barber shop, and driving Grandma & myself to the movies, so all three of us could watch them.  His excitement wore off on me.  When I was little staying overnight at their house, my excitement for getting my haircut grew so much that I woke him up at four in the morning to remind him about our visit to the barber shop later that morning.  I think I remember him saying, “Miho, it’s 4 in the morning, it’s too early.”  The next morning he told my Grandma about his wake up call & they shared a laugh together.

Storyteller

He told some great stories, but one that I remember is the importance of reading.  He told me the story of one person applying for job at the factory he worked at.  All this person had to do was fill out the application & he had the job, but he couldn’t read and he wanted to take it home so a relative could fill it out.  However, the job application had to be completed there in the office.  This person wound up not applying because he couldn’t read the application.  I told this story to my students today, but my English is still too fast for them.  They just looked at me with a blank look, huh?  However, I will translate again in tagalog before their summer break, which is coming soon.

Musician

Before he was a Grandfather and a father, my Grandpa was saxophone player.  As I write this I put on some jazz music, the band Portico Quartet, album Isla.  There are some great saxophone sounds on this album and I know he would’ve loved it.   While I’m in the Philippines I am learning an instrument, the acoustic guitar, so far it’s pretty slow as I have no time to practice, but I hope I have tune or two down before I leave here.  You'll hear more stories about the trials & errors of learning the guitar soon.

Pancakes                                       

“Grandpa you’re a great cook, you & Grandma should open up a restaurant,” I remember telling them. My Grandma was a great cook herself, I have to add.  One of the items my Grandpa cooked were pancakes and I loved waking up to the smell of those delicious cakes.   It’s ironic that in the last few weeks, I found a place in the market that cooks pancakes similar to his, not as good of course, but a respectable second, another place I know my Grandpa would’ve loved.  It’s as if my Grandpa was sending me a message to check this stand out, there’s a treat there for you. If you knew my Grandpa, please post your memories about him below.  You may also post memories at curleyfuneralhome.com
Eating those delicious hot cakes Tuesday.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberry Farm, LaTrinidad, Benguet Province
Last weekend I went on a trip 6 hours north of where I am to Baguio City.  For someone who is used to Chicago’s weather at this time of year, this trip was breath of fresh air.  It was 70s, but enough to have a fleece jacket on and at times a ski cap.  Baguio is known as the summer capital of the Philippines and doesn't disappoint.  I went along for the ride with my school along with 100 other students in two buses.  We left at 2 am early Saturday morning or late Friday night for some of you reading this.

The hills and streets of this city remind me of San Francisco because of the way they go straight down one minute and the next you’re climbing.  Plus, the weather is similar there to Baguio as well.  It’s awesome for mountain biking as there are many cycling events happening throughout the year. 

Before we saw the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), our bus made a pit stop and it was there where I tried strawberry taho.  This snack is something that is served quite often from vendors up here because of the abundance of strawberries in the province of Benguet.  Strawberry taho is like a strawberry sundae.  It consisits of Strawberry Syrup with Chunks in the syrup containing Soft Tofu and Sago (seeds of a sago tree) in a plastic cup.

When we arrived at the PMA, we saw a live drill (picture below) by the Philippine soldiers.  PMA is equivalent to West Point in the United States.  Once the drill was over, the students and I walked over to the PMA museum.  Before we arrived at the museum, we saw a wall of PMA accomplishments over the years.  I also noticed that the PMA wasn't the first name of the academy.  The PMA was originally called the Constabulary Academy before the name change in the 1930s for those history buffs out there.  At the PMA museum, I saw many artifacts used by Philippine Military in the early 19th century.


















Next, the bus took us to Wright Park and we there literally 15 min to take a snapshot of the President’s Mansion, that is the current President of the Philippines, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

After that we drove to Mines View Park where we had lunch, took photos & shopped at the market.  This break allowed us to take in the incredible view of the mountains.  It was at the market where I discovered a shop of Ilocano artifacts and bought the CD I am listening to now on my new CD player that arrived in the mail.  It’s a CD of Filipino locals in the Baguio area playing old favorites from the local culture using the flute, guitar, lovely vocals and other beautifully sounding instruments.  As I am listening to this, I am imagining myself on horseback going slowly up a trail and this music is the soundtrack echoing in the mountains. 
I am in the back and to my right in the purple jacket is my supervisor Mam Juliet Canlas.  Two of the girls in the picture are my students.  The dog steals the photo.








Then, we drove to the Catholic Cathedral Church where everyone visits, but all the students probably spent less than 5 minutes inside the church in order to rush to SM mall. Although they have a mall in Olongapo City, it didn’t open until last weekend.  Here in the Philippines, Malls are a big thing as it’s something they’re not used.  However, not everyone enjoys the malls taking over.  My language tutor’s priest said the malls are “Mountains of materialism” meaning they’re just stuff for people to spend their hard earned pesos on and the Priest is right. Nonetheless, students flocked over there in droves, but luckily for them they didn’t bring much change and only bought fast food as everything was too expensive to buy.  Everything one needs to buy around here, food included is at the market & much less expensive, plus one can tawad with the seller.  Tawad is the same as bargain in the tagalog language.  I can do this at my site in Olongapo City as well.
 
After the long day, we arrived back at the hotel ready to crash except for one thing blankets.  Since I was the teacher chaperone, I let all the students have the blankets; I just slept in my jeans and used my fleece as my blanket. In Baguio city, it’s freezing at night; I was shivering most of the night.  However, to my surprise when I woke up the next morning for my shower, they had hot water for showers and that felt great because I never have hot showers and this was a morning I needed a hot shower.  Then, we boarded the bus and headed to breakfast, which hit the spot (two helpings of eggs, sausage & rice), Masarap (delicious).

After that, we headed to Strawberry Farm in La Trinidad, Benguet, which is 30-45 min away from Baguio City. At Strawberry Farm, I bought a couple of kilos of strawberries, which tasted scrumptious.  The next day I put some strawberries on top of McDonalds pancakes and that made for a mouthwatering meal with syrup and hash browns.  The first photo you see doesn't give this field enough justice, but believe me they're are plenty of strawberries here, they're just well hidden in the fields and they're not all small either.  Unfortunately, this is the closest place to my site to buy fresh strawberries.  This may be the only place in the country to buy fresh strawberries, but that is yet to be determined. Nevertheless, it really does feel like the Beatles song, "Strawberry Fields Forever."

Finally after Strawberry Farm, we headed to Burnham Park where we spent the afternoon shopping or just walking around.  I would compare this to a large neighborhood park with 10x the amount of vendors.  I took a taxi with the tour guide back to Mines View Park and headed towards the Good Shepard shop where I was told by my fellow teachers who weren't able to make it that I had to bring back pasalubong (gifts).  I think I brought back to much, but they loved it.  Plus, by bringing back more this time, it takes the pressure off future times I go back to Baguio, which I am hoping will be two more times before this journey ends.
The bus ride was longer this time around, but I didn't mind as we all had the day off the next day and could sleep in.

View from my hotel in the early morning.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Q & A & My first water bill

Recently, I just answered a few questions from the students of Ms. Damon's AP Human Geography class at Stillwater Junior High School (SJHS) in Stillwater, MN.  Before departing the United States last summer for the Philippines, I signed up to be part of the World Wise School Program.  It's a program where it allows a volunteer like myself to be connected with a school in the U.S.  SJHS is the school I will be in contact with.  Here's a link to the Q&A I answered for them; just scrool down to view the entire Q&A. http://apgeog.blog.stillwater.k12.mn.us/?page_id=741

My first water bill came to me last week and my eyes & ears couldn't believe it when I was told it was over a thousand pesos.  It was p1098, which is pennies in the United States, but I receive my stipend in pesos and I thought this was only going to be p200-p300.  I was lucky I saved and this wasn't a problem.  The reason it was so high is because I had my water pressure turned up.  My landlord suggested that I turn off the water pressure, if I know I am going to be away from my apartment for more than a couple of hours.  Hopefully, this will do the trick. I'll keep my fingers crossed.  Tommorow, I am off to the beach with friends and Sunday, I'll run in another 5k run. Ingat na.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Apartment Living

After five & half months living with two gracious host families, it’s now time for me to step out on my own.  My apartment is new and when I stepped into my apartment, it smelled like paint because it was just painted by the landlord’s son, Manny.  It was also dirty, I had to get on my hands & knees & scrub the floor because there was so much dirt.  I’ll have to do that now & then because my sandals & my bike scoop up dirt from the streets better than a vacuum cleaner.  I got a broom to sweep the dirt away, but these tile floors need more than sweep.  Currently, the bottoms of my feet are black, but don’t worry I keep them clean.  Below are pics of my place.





Cooking
So far, I’ve just made easy meals like rice, pasta, Pancit canton (ready-made noodles-just add hot water & cook 5 min) and oatmeal (I add different fruits to my oatmeal).  I addition to oatmeal, my other saving grace for breakfast has been & will be pandasal (dinner rolls), but better and fresh out of the oven from a bakery shop less than a five minutes from my front door that makes them on the spot; they’re delicious and just 10 pesos (less than a quarter).  However, I want to learn to cook pancakes and even try cooking local Filipino cuisine like talon (eggplant).  Hopefully, I’ll tell you more cooking stories of those & other recipes I’ve received in future blogs. 
Before I get to eggplant, I have to master the basics first.  This is a plate of my pasta that I cooked a few days ago.  This was delicious, this picture doesn't give it enough justice.  No laughing.  Joklong (just kidding).  It did taste good though, but you're right I could use more sauce.  Thanks to everyone who provided recipes.







Teaching
Teaching is something I haven't been doing this past week.  In fact, these past few weeks have been busy as our school is getting ready to announce who is Mr & Mrs Kalalake, which will take place today.  There is a dance number that all the students have been practicing, but looking from their performance, it looks like they were just forced out there, but some of them are actually good dancers.  All the other students who aren’t in the dance just skip class & watch, which makes my job harder because I’m trying to get the students’ attention while they’re watching the dance practice.  I told them they had an opportunity to join, but they just want to fool around. 

Yesterday, two of my four classes got cancelled because of dance practice, which I believe should be done after school or on the weekends.  This reminds me too much of sports fest last year where everyone says they want to practice, but they really just want to get out of class.  The solution to this is difficult, but I would like to start a Physical education program or something after school or even before school, similar to zero hour, which I had at my high school, but never signed up for.  The physical education program is just a concept in my head. 

Shaving
The other day I heated my water not for coffee, but to shave.  I was reading my friend's blog and his host family told him that you should always shave with warm water.  Well I missed the boat on this piece of news too when I was younger.  Anyway I tried and that feels good to the face.  It reminds of being at the barber shop.  Now every time I shave, I will heat my water & dip my razor in it for a better shave.  I recommend trying it out if you don't already do so. Ingat na.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Eve & Christmas Photos

Below are photos from my first Christmas & New Year's Eve here in the Philippines.  I had a great time & it will be tough going back to school tomorrow, but I'll manage. 
This is picture of Aja, Carmen & myself eating Pizza at Cafe Espresso in SBMA (Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority) on Christmas Eve. The pizza tasted delicious.  We ate with 6 other people as well.  All total, 5 Peace Corps Volunteers & 4 from other countries.




When I saw an opening to get across the street to get a pic of Subic Bay in the background, I had to go for it.  After this photo I am heading towards Subic for Christmas Day.  In the Philippines, all the action takes place on Christmas Eve. Christmas is business as usual.  So I got out the bike and rode from Olongapo City to Subic.  It was an hour bike ride that was mixed with hills and urban city bike riding.  I loved it and plan on doing it again.

















The pictures above are from my friend's Aja's site in Subic, who is in green in the picture above.  In the photo lighting the candles is Jessa and she is from batch 268, the Peace Corps Volunteer to the left is Pa and she is from batch 269.  The picture to the right is our homemade meal, devil's eggs, potato pancakes, and chili.

Back to Dinalupihan
To followers of this blog, these people may look familiar; they're my training host family. The bottom right is Ate Loida, her daughter to the left and smiling, Irisz and her friend.  Another family is sitting right next to me.








Sitting next to me at her training site in San Benito, a Barangay and 5 min walk from my training site is Phyllis, my cluster mate.  It was nice seeing her again.  Her site is six hours south from Dinalupihan in Los Banos.  She teaches at a University down there.







The photos above are of Phyllis and myself walking on the trail and taking adavantage of a gorgious day outside.

The photos above are of my host sister Irisz, host dad Kuya Rolly, & host brother Aldwin waiting in anticipation for the duck to cook.  It's a tradition here in the Philippines to have a main course at midnight, however I can't speak for every family in the Philippines.  That's it for now.  Happy New Year and welcome 2012; it's going to be a busy year. Ingat na.