“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

June 9, 2013


Just landed!!!! Calbayog, baby!


On the way into Calbayog!


Coming into the town

I love the title quote on this post…when you are in a new country with a different language, you have to learn to deal with the fact that you are going to look and sound stupid.  It isn’t always an easy thing to accept.  I’m now in Calbayog, West Samar, my new home for the next 2 months.  I kept practicing that in Waray, as the women taught me on the plane, “Ma istar ak didi duha ka bulan.”  (I will be here for 2 months).  I said it over and over, knowing I would use that phrase often.  Still, every time I use it, no one understands me because my accent is so off.  😛  Our flight was at 5am, so I had to get up at 2:30am to be at the airport by 3:30am.  When we got to the airport in Manila, there was the longest line I think I have ever seen for anything. In my life.  Like, ever.  I thought I was sooooo smart to only pack a backpack, continuously congratulating myself for being such a minimalist and making traveling so easy, with no unwieldy suitcases to lug around.  Then I had to carry my 40 lb. pack for nearly 2 hours.  I thought I would die.  Not only was it heavy as hell, it was hot as hell.  Turns out, I’m not so smart, after all.  As soon as we landed, I felt like I was in another world.  We got off the plane in the teeny airport, and got a tricycle.  The ride into town was great – I took pictures and Ma’am Emma (one of my supervisors)  narrated the journey.  When weImage arrived at WESADEF (Western Samar Development Foundation), they had a big breakfast waiting for me.  Unfortunately, about 50% of it was seafood.  I know it’s weird, but I have never liked seafood.  I have tried a million different kinds a million different ways, but I’ve always disliked it.  I didn’t want to be rude, however, (and after all, I ate balut, so what’s a few fish heads?) so I ate as much as I could stand.  I have no clue what I ate, but I will say that it was far more disgusting than balut, which is saying a Imagelot.  Still, it was a sweet little welcome.  They showed me to my room and then encouraged me to rest, as they were all going home for the weekend.  I just couldn’t rest, though!  I was unbelievably tired, but I was so happy to finally be here that I couldn’t relax.  I unpacked and made plans to meet the two Peace Corps volunteers in town for lunch.  One of them, Melissa, works here at WESADEF with me.  As soon as I started unpacking, there was a brown out (black out).  I was informed that this happens nearly every Saturday, so I need expect to suffer through the stifling heat with no fans, or trek into town where a few restaurants and coffee shops have generators.  I can handle that.  🙂

My room is cute – two twin beds, a little wardrobe/dresser, and a small table.  No AC, but there are ceiling fans that work pretty well, actually.  However, there are no screens on the windows.  I knew this would be a problem, not only with mosquitoes, but roaches, spiders, ants…so I shut everything up and prayed that I could stand the heat with a few fans blowing right on me.  It gets hot, but I would prefer that over the millions of mosquitoes.  Here is a little tour of my new place:


The girls’ shelter – funded by Consuelo and only 1 year old.

While I was unpacking, I could see the girls.  The shelter is right behind the center (which is where I’m living) and they told me I would be “formally” introduced on Monday, so I didn’t know whether or not to go out to them.  They were chattering and would stare at me.  I would wave and yell “Maupay nga aga!” (Good morning in Waray Waray) and they would giggle and run back in the house.  Too cute.

Calbayog street view…cute, huh?
Melissa and I on a trike!

Melissa (PC volunteer) took me into town for lunch.  I voted that we walk so that I could learn the way on foot and see more (instead of hopping on a trike).  W-O-W.  The staring was NUTS.  Especially because Melissa is tall and white and now there’s a new white girl in town with bright yellow hair.  Melissa told me that even after 9 months, she’s still not used to the staring.  She said that it’s so bad that she sometimes has a “recluse” day and hides in her apartment, just because she needs a break.  I can understand…it was as if we were walking naked down the street.  Naked with boils all over our body.  Boils and horns.  You get the picture.  I thought Manila was bad about the staring…this was far more powerful.  We went to lunch and then Melissa took me a few places – a fruit stand, a small Mercado, a place to buy towels and laundry detergent.  It was very kind of her to take me under her wing.  She’s knows enough Waray to get around, and I am so jealous!  I have learned that it is a hard language to learn, as there are no dictionaries, tutorials, or really anything except one small Wikipedia page, dedicated to the language.  And that page is not even Calbayog’s Waray…it’s Tacloban, which is quite different (or so I learned when no one understood the 50 phrases I had painstakingly memorized…ah, such is life). 

I went back to the shelter to try to settle in.   Everyone was gone and the building is very large.  The brownout finally ended around 5pm, and I got my much-needed and beloved fans back.  As it began to get dark, I began to see the center come to life…with critters.  Spiders, ohhhhh tons of spiders, crickets, ants, geckos, and even a frog perched right on my bedpost.  Ironically, none of this bothered me very much, I was more amused than anything else.  I was exhausted and as I lay down on my bed, about to turn off the light, I noticed 3 GIGANTANORMOUS roaches above my head.  The roaches in Hawai`i are big, but these looked like they could eat Hawai`i roaches for a snack.  I FREAKED OUT.  I loathe roaches.  You would think that after living in Hawai`i for 8 years, I would be immune, and to some extent, I am (to the small ones), but the large roaches just make my stomach turn.  Killing them is like killing a rodent.  I couldn’t relax until they were out of my room, even though I knew that they were likely to slither back in.  I spent the next hour chasing them around, screeching like they were poisonous snakes.  I kept telling myself, “Katie,” (using soothing tones and hugging myself), “It is JUST a bug.  It won’t bite, it won’t even bother you at all.  CALM DOWN AND GO TO SLEEP.”  But I just couldn’t.  I can eat balut, I can sleep with frogs and spiders galore, but put me next to a roach and I’ll resemble a stroke victim.

Melissa, Siege and I!!!
The big cathedral in Calbayog…impressive!

Wow.  That was like half a page about roaches.  My apologies.  The next day was Sunday, and I gathered up the courage to walk into town by myself.  I figured that I should try to start to adjust to the staring.  I’m not sure it will ever get easier.  I made my way through the main street, then cut over to a cute little coffee shop, called Isla cafe.  I had some yummy food and then Melissa and her local friend, Siege, met me for coffee.  Siege is GREAT – his English is flawless and he gave me a short crash course on Waray so I could start learning some common phrases.  Apparently, he is the go-to guy for PC volunteers, as he is so likeable and helpful.  He took us to the huge outdoor market for fruits and veggies, then on a motorcycle tour of Calbayog.  It was amazing!  We got to see things that I wouldn’t easily be able to see on foot.  He took me down to the beach and water, showed me the best restaurants, and a safe place for me to run.  

Here is a video of our tour!


A few of the women I work with!

That night went a little easier, possibly because I was just too tired to care about critters.  I hope it stays that way.  The next day was my first official day of work.  In the morning I met with Ma’am Emma and a few others for a short orientation.  I could tell that they were trying to decide what to do with me.  I tried to tell them some of my interests, but the language barrier made it tough and I realized that I would really have to take the reins in this internship.  Luckily, I can do that.  I suggested that I try to do music therapy with the girls.  The girls really don’t speak English, and my Waray is limited, so I thought that music would be an easy way for us to bond, and an easy way for the girls to express themselves.  The staff loved the idea.  I told them that I could start with a “Hawai`i Day” and possibly teach the girls some hula.  We could make “grass” skirts out of construction paper and I could show them some pictures of Hawai`i and teach them a few Hawaiian words.  This will be my first project with them – just so that we get to know each other and become comfortable with one another.  Then I explained that I could buy a cheap guitar in town and just leave it at the center when I go, hoping someone continues a bit of music therapy, if the girls take to it.  They all seemed to really like the idea.  I am so used to working with women, and women are more self-possessed; they can identify their emotions and work through them.  But children…children are different.  I am hoping that by singing and dancing and writing songs together, some healing will happen. Or, if nothing else, maybe that music can take them away from the pain they’ve endured, for just a little while.

Calbayog Courthouse

That afternoon was really interesting.  For my first day, they took me to hear the sentencing of a rape trial.  One of the girls testified against her Father several months ago.  She has another pending rape case against her uncle next month.  Ate Lea (one of the social workers), the girl and I, rode to the courthouse together. She was incredibly quiet and shy, though she did keep touching my hair in awe.  The court was an experience.  It was crowded and hot and her Father (and her convicted rapist) was sitting a mere 4 feet from us.  He kept staring intensely at us.  I worked for years in the courts in Honolulu with victims, and I know how traumatizing it can be for them to see the defendant.  I felt so terrible, because I couldn’t really communicate with her.  I finally moved to sit in-between his eye-line and her, using my body as a physical barrier.  Even though we couldn’t really speak to one another, she seemed anxious and restless, so I put my arm around her and she sank into my shoulder.  It made me almost want to cry.  Again, this stuff touches me so deeply that I can’t believe I have chosen it as a profession.  They began the court session with a prayer, which is most unusual as an American.  The whole hearing was fairly religious; with everyone making the cross when someone deceased was mentioned.  Also, the court proceedings were conducted in English, which really surprised me.  So far, I have only met a handful of people in Calbayog that speak English fluently.  I was sort of glad though, as at least this way I could understand what was happening.  Finally, her case was called.  He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, and ordered to pay her the equivalent of about $1700.  I was completely impressed.  A man would never, ever be sentenced to life in prison without parole in the States for rape.  They were all thrilled because this is a very rare case, indeed.  I met with the girl’s attorney afterward, and was so impressed.  She was incredibly well-spoken and intelligent, and I saw how important it is that these girls receive good legal assistance.  She was still tense, even after the hearing, and quiet on the way home.  Even if you feel the tiniest bit vindicated by a sentencing like that, it still doesn’t take away all of the pain.  Especially by someone that is supposed to love you and take care of you.  My heart just aches for her.

“Ate” is a sign of respect for a woman. 🙂 (Sounds like Ah-tay)

When we got back, it was time to officially meet the girls.  I was so stoked!  I wish more than anything that I had pictures of it, but I was told fairly firmly to be careful about pictures.  I was also told that the girls would be quite shy and not to expect too much out of them.  But as soon as I stepped in the yard, they came running…”Ate Katie, Ate Katie!!!!!!”  I like my name in the Philippines…it’s softer.  Sweeter.  They crowded all around me, touching my hand to their forehead (a greeting to someone older that you respect) and peppering me with questions.  It was so fun!  Are you married?  Do you have children?  Is your hair real?  Where are you from?  How long are you staying?  This was all in Waray but I caught most of them, close enough to answer, anyway.  I gave them their gifts, which were necklaces from Hawai`i…little sparkly honu, hibiscus, and slippers with “Hawai`i” printed on them.

One of the girls’ rooms at the shelter.

They loved it, of course.  We went inside and sat in a circle and tried to talk.  It was difficult, though.  A few of the older ones understood a little English, so that helped.  I can’t wait to sing with them.

Meeting the Mayor of Santa Margarita
More meetings!

Ever since then it’s been a whirlwind.  They take me to every meeting, every appointment, every everything.  It’s usually pretty interesting, but by the end of the day I could die I am so tired.  We went to a nearby barangay called Santa Margarita, to see their CPU (Child Protection Unit), which Consuelo funded.  I feel like I am always treated with such respect after they hear that I am volunteering for Consuelo.  I assume this is because Consuelo funded so much of their work, but it always makes me feel strange, since I am so new to the organization; like I don’t deserve the automatic respect.  Anyway, we also toured the police station and met the assistant mayor as well as a few other organizations.  When everyone left that night, I was BEAT.  Meeting so many new people, trying to learn the names of the girls, hanging onto every word, hoping to absorb or understand something, and trying to figure out how to say something in Waray without looking like a total moron…is beyond exhausting.  At night I try to study, but I find I am so tired that I don’t absorb much.  The women often stay at the office until pretty late (around 7pm or so), which I found confusing at first.  Americans, though we are labeled with having a crazy work ethic, like to be out of the (office) door as soon as possible.  But the ladies seem to enjoy being here…they like to be at work.  They stay late and “chika chika” (which is similar to “talk story” in Waray Waray).  I am making a huge assumption here, but I wonder if it’s because as soon as they go home, they just have to work some more.  Feed and bathe the kids, cook the dinner, clean up, etc.  I know this is a highly patriarchal culture so the women are still expected to do everything.  Not that it’s really all that different in the U.S., but more extreme in the Philippines.

Caribou on my run!!!! Coooooool…
My new running path!

On Wednesday I woke up determined to run.  I have been putting it off, not because I think it’s dangerous (I have been assured by everyone that it is not) but because I’m intimidated by the staring and the attention it will draw.  But, I am a runner.  It’s just what I do.  And I don’t feel normal without it.  And trust me, I could use some normalcy.  😛  So, I got up at 5:15am and out I went!  It was already hot and humid and I followed directions to run down a certain road near the center, because it is safe and there is less traffic.  The staring was (of course) uncomfortable, but the roads were definitely less crowded.   The wildlife was different as well. 😛  It greatly improved my mood and lifted my spirits.  But WHOA is it hot!  Mapaso uraura!!!! (Very very hot!)

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Cutest kiddos on the planet!

Wednesday was a good day.  I got to run, and I had a very easy morning. In the afternoon I went with Ate Lea (the social worker) to do some school visits at the elementary school.  SO. FUN.  I think it’s the most fun I’ve had since coming here.  Ate Lea goes to the school about once a month to check on the progress of our girls.  I asked if the girls were at all stigmatized by their classmates because of living in the shelter, and all that it entails.  She said that the teachers and principal are careful to call them the “WESADEF scholars” and the other kids are told that it’s a scholarship program.  However, I’m not really convinced.  I’ve noticed that many people in the town know about the shelter; what we do here and where it is, and I imagine some of that trickles down to the children, too.

I LOVED going to the school!  I was seriously treated like a movie star!  In fact, one girl actually asked if I were a movie star.  Everywhere we went, they would stare and follow me and occasionally one would yell out, “HELLLLOOOOO!!!”  I asked if I could take a picture, so here you go

(above).  I keep joking with my husband that I am coming home with 4 kids.  Haha.  Katielina Jolie.  But I mean SERIOUSLY, how cute are these kids?  Here is a super short video of them right before my camera died:


HOW cute can you get?

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Baranga Balud

We went to the house for the Healthy Start visit and it was in a very poor barangay: Barangay Balud.  It was very hard to walk into that situation, and talk to the family.  It must be so strange to have a white (and in comparison, very rich) woman staring at you in wonder while you discuss your life.  There were 3 children in a one-room balay (house), with the cooking area outside (a pot over a fire) and flies and mosquitoes EVERYWHERE.  They still tried to offer us food, because Filipinos are the most hospitable, generous people I’ve ever met.  This kind of poverty is mind-blowing.  It’s weird to go from a situation like that to logging into something like Facebook.  I see people complain all across the U.S. about the silliest, most trivial things…I had to wait in line for 30 minutes at Wal-mart, the grocery was out of my favorite kind of soy milk, the air-conditioning in my office hasn’t been working properly all day…I’m not judging, I know that I too will be back in the U.S. soon enough, bitching that my mocha latte isn’t strong enough or that I am struggling to balance graduate school with beach time.  But it is strange to straddle those two worlds.  For example, I was in the mercado buying some food this week and 2 Americans (Filipino, but American), were complaining LOUDLY about how long the line was, how hot it was, and how this would NEVER happen in America.  I was embarrassed and ashamed of them.  I moved away so people would not automatically assume I was with them.  I never understand why Americans travel and then lament the fact that things are not as they are at home.  Ummmm…hello…you traveled to a developing country across the world and you want to eat at an Outback and shop in a Target???  If you love America so much, then stay there. And if you do stay there, you are missing out.  🙂

Sorry…I digress…again.  This trip is an amazing gift, and I must remind myself of that.  Even when I’m tried, when the girls’ stories are too painful to hear or give me nightmares, when I have sweat through my 2nd outfit of the day, when I live in the bathroom because I might have eaten something my body can’t process, when I wake up with red ants biting on my ankles (it happened), or when I’m forced or coerced into eating something that looks and smells incredibly gross.  I have to focus on those beautiful girls and how they cling to me, obviously needing love.  I have to focus on the sweet people of this country, always willing to help, laugh, feed you.  I have to focus on the beauty of where I am..the gorgeous water, the accents, the music, even the streets. I have to focus on how much I take my life, my school, my very existence for granted every single day.  I am saying these things as much to me as I am to you.  Until next time…

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