“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

June 24, 2013


My sakay! My ride!

Heh, I choose that title only because I stand out so fiercely at the moment.  It is another brown-out and I am sitting here in a lovely little local café in Calbayog, enjoying wi-fi AND AC, provided by a generator.  It feels like a luxury to be in air-con.  I took a trike to get here …from the center they are only around 7 pesos, or 17 cents.  Crazytown.  But I was able to tell the driver where to take me in Waray, and he understood me!!!!!  It’s the little successes.  😛  I am trying to get more comfortable walking around town and being seen in the town.  It’s sooooo intimidating, though.  Sitting here in the coffee shop, I have 3 teenage boys sitting across from me, staring.  Occasionally they talk about me and laugh.  I try to smile at them, and they giggle and smile back.  I try to ignore them, but they just keep staring.  In the grocery store this week, there was a very long line.  Grocery shopping here is an EXPERIENCE.  You often stand in line for over 40 minutes, in the sweltering heat.  The woman in front of me literally turned completely around while in line, just so she could stare at me.  Not for a few seconds, not for a few minutes…for the WHOLE. TIME.  What an interesting experience.  

ImageI have been a busy girl.  Where to begin?  We went to the high school for school visits.  They weren’t quite as fun as the little kids, though.  The older kids are more shy about coming up to me.  A few brave girls asked where I was from.  When I tell them Hawai`i, they seemed either confused or unimpressed.  I don’t think people here have any concept of where or what Hawai`i is, which I suppose isn’t too surprising.  But I notice all of the time how many commonalities Hawai`i has with the Philippines.  You can really see how heavily Filipino culture has influenced Hawai`i.  Later that night, Melissa and I were sent to Ma’am Chad’s “farm” on the outskirts of Calbayog.  Ma`am Chad is a rather big deal, it seems.  She’s some sort of public official for Calbayog.  She sent a real car to pick up us, (I’ve seen like 2 in this entire town), and it had air-conditioning.  You know she’s a big deal when that happens.  When we got to her farm, it was basically a summer country house.  She also has a home in town.  It was BEAUTIFUL.  The house was amazing and the outside dining area was incredible.  She had a massive spread of food for us.  We walked up and started murmuring to each other, “Why are we so special?  Why were we invited to this?!?!”  Other people began arriving.  3 doctors traveling and researching maternal health and child/mother mortality during childbirth.  2 were Swiss and the 3rd was a Filipino doctor, showing them around the most rural parts of the country, where infancy and mother mortality are at their highest.  They had fascinating stories and I really enjoyed speaking with them, as that subject matter is right up my alley.  It occurred to me that they were why we were invited. They spoke English and I think we were brought in to help entertain them.  Also, I have noticed that I am getting special treatment at the center.  Melissa mentioned to me that she did not get any kind of special breakfast, orientation, gifts.  I, in contrast, am invited to every meeting, every everything.  I think this is because of Consuelo.  Since they are the major funder of WESADEF (the agency I am volunteering for), I think they feel the need to impress me.  It makes me feel guilty though…I obviously have no control over funding and did not know much about Consuelo until this trip.  Melissa finds it both funny and annoying (understandably so), as she has volunteered her time here for 2 years, and I am just here for 2 months.  Yet I am the one treated like a star.


All of us! (Ma’am Chad is beside me) I love how sweaty we all are.

Anyway, we had a lovely meal and a lovely conversation.  I got to bed very late that night. In fact, the workday here is often from about 7am-7pm or so, which makes for a very long week.  As I mentioned before, they seem to enjoy staying at work late, but that means very little alone time for me, which is really hard. 


I feel like something is scheduled every 5 minutes!  Even on days “off.”  Friday night, I went to Ellen’s house with Melissa (both Peace Corps folks) and we made tacos and drank some wine.  It was nice to relax and hear their musings on life here.  The tacos were AMAZING.  I feel like I am starving here!  I have been eating terribly because I just can’t figure out how to cook.  I have a kitchen , but at night it is so full of mice, mosquitoes, roaches, ants, spiders…I can hardly cook without getting bitten to death, (and freaked out by the rest), despite dousing myself with bug spray.  I eat a lot of eggs and fruit and ramen, because they are simple.  I’ve got to figure it out though, because I can’t live on that for 2 months.  I go to a café 2x a week for tacos or a chicken plate that is very good, and that helps. Anyway, we had a nice time but it’s interesting to hear them talk about Calbayog.  I’m sure they find me overwhelmingly annoying, as I am so excited about everything.  Haha.  I just can’t help it!  They seem to make fun of my “newness” which is both understandable and irritating at the same time.  I think they’ve forgotten how exhausting and overwhelming it is to be new here.  I am grateful that they include me in things, but I also feel like a burden to them.  I try my hardest not to rely on them and to be as independent as possible to curtail that.  But I suppose there really is no getting around it.

Anyway, the next Saturday was a great day!  ImageI spent all morning with the girls. I brought my guitar and we sang and danced for HOURS.  It was great!  (I have to blur their faces for confidentiality).  They were so excited to teach me dances and to sing for me.  They only sang in English, I think to impress me.  ;P  We danced until we were sweaty and exhausted.  They hang all over me and compete for my attention.  I am reviewing their case files to choose a case or two to follow for my time here.  I am particularly interested in one girl at the moment.  She is about 10 years old, and very quiet.  She rarely joins in with the girls when they dance, andImage when I speak to her, even in Waray, she barely answers above a whisper.  She was raped by her Father and Uncle and obviously has some serious trauma.  However, when the girls were singing, I asked her to join in and she did.  She was sitting beside me, singing quietly, but I could hear her well and she has a really lovely voice.  Especially in one so young.  I later asked her to sing for me, and she did.  I was truly impressed.  I would like to work on a song with her, if she can get more comfortable with me.  She seems to have taken to me already, however.  We’ll see how that goes.  I know I need to be careful about giving special attention to one girl, but for music therapy to work, I need to be able to work one-on-one at times.  There are a few others that I am particularly drawn to.  Those are the ones that I want to scoop up and take home with me!  😛

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The next day, I walked around, got fruit and food for the week, and came back to the office, sweaty and tired and ready to just read and relax.  I was about to take a wonderfully needed cold shower, when I heard, “Ate Katie!!!!  Ate Katie!!!!!  Sayaw!!!”  and banging on my windows.  I threw on some clothes and opened the door.  The girls climbed all over me and told me to come to the house, and to get my guitar.  I told them I would for a bit, and headed over.  OH MY.  Everyone was there from the office with food, 3 guitarists, amps, music…I walked into a party!  It was so funny…no one even bothered to tell me about it.  I have noticed that plans are beyond loose here.  I feel like I never have any clue what I am going to be doing on a daily basis.   I was completely unprepared.  Since Sunday is truly my ONLY day off in the week (because Saturdays the girls are not at school so I like to spend time with them for at least a half day), initially I was annoyed.  But, I tried to roll with it.  The girls are so sweet and cute I cannot resist them.  ImageI played and sang, they sang for me in Waray, and we danced for hours!  I had a lot of fun, but one of the songs the girls danced to was Psy’s “Gentleman.”  (Psy is the man that made Gagnum Style a world-famous hit).  Don’t get me wrong, I am not a prude in any way, and even though I’m a feminist, I love to have fun with music.  But it seemed so strange to me that the girls were all dancing in unison (as in, they knew the actual dance) to a song that seriously objectifies women, with the “dance” being  women (who in the video are of course half-naked) “dancing” sexually in front of a “gentleman.”  The staff didn’t bat an eyelash.  It just seemed so odd to me that a big group of girls who have been sexually abused, molested, and raped (2 as young as 6 years old), were encouraged to do this dance.  I sincerely didn’t know what to do with it, but needless to say, I was surprised.  I know a woman’s role here is to find (and subsequently to serve) a man, but the center seems so much more progressive than that.  It goes back to my notions of patriarchy as the underlying problem with violence against women.  Again, both here in the Philippines and in the U.S., we treat the victims and not the root of the problem.  I think until we can finally have honest conversations about REAL prevention (meaning, groups centered around educating men and boys, the primary perpetrators), the problem will continue.  I hope to at some point have an honest conversation with Ma’am Emma regarding these things, but I have to be wise about timing and phrasing.  I finally told them after several hours that I needed to shower and relax (it was 9pm) and left.  I felt terrible being the first one to leave, and I was praying that they weren’t offended.  One never really knows because I suspect Filipinos are not the most confrontational group, even when asked.  I fell into bed that night, exhausted.

The next morning, I made myself go for a run.  I could feel myself getting a little crabby and run down and I thought a run was just the thing I needed.   While it was nice to run, that whole relaxing thing was a short-lived reprieve, as I got out a little bit later (around 6:40am) and traffic was heavy and kids were walking to school.  Which meant, you guessed it, the inevitable staring.  Most of the time, I can chalk it up to just curiousness, but on this particular morning I was struggling. My runs are usually just for me, my biggest means of de-stressing, allowing me to totally zone out and get into a meditative-like trance.  But running here is completely different.  It’s stressFUL.  I am on constant alert; dodging trikes, motorcycles, dogs, all while withstanding serious leering and staring and about every 20 feet some man asks me if I’m married.  Why yes sir, please stare at me creepily then continue to try and have a conversation with me while I’m literally running away from you.  So, you get it.  It was a rough morning.

I finally met with my practicum instructor that afternoon, whom I had already met at the Consuelo conference.  I adore her.  She is so very sweet and quite intelligent.  There is definitely a language issue, however.  Her English is pretty decent most of the time, but I have to really simplify my word-choice when speaking to her, and annunciate every word.  She, of course, has to do the same for me in Waray (though her English is far superior to my Waray).  She also seems, like many women here, to be a little self-conscious about her English, always doing the hand thing…placing her hand in front of her mouth, making it more difficult to understand.  She, like the other women at the shelter, wants me to have a very well-rounded experience here, which naturally means continuing to take me to absolutely everything.  I tried to explain that I would really like to pick a few specific focuses, but I’m not certain it landed.  We shall see.  She invited me to go with her on Wednesday (Philippine Independence Day) to a nearby barangay, where she works with a local charity, helping to build houses.  It is sort of similar to Habit for Humanity, building small huts for families that cannot afford it.  I was STOKED!  She explained that I would have to do a river crossing, on a stand-up raft, which just made me even more excited.  Plus, building a hut with a bunch of Filipinos sounded amazing…what an experience!

ImageThe next morning was my very first intensive sign-language class at city hall.  I was reallllly excited!  It was about 6 hours, which is A LOT of information, but I think I took to it quite well.  Sign-language is so intuitive, so many of the signs just make sense and that makes it easier to remember.  The instructors are deaf and mute (there is of course, a translator) and so very patient with us.  But I still think it’s so funny that I am taking a 2nd language in this country, and that it’s taught in mostly Waray.  That just makes me laugh.  

The next morning I received a text, cancelling my super-cool-barangay-hut-building-visit.  I was bummed!  Ma’am Jenai wasn’t feeling well and decided not to go.  At first, I thought…”Well, at least I actually have a day off!!!”  But then, Ma’am Emma called and told me that I should go to Ate Joan’s son’s christening.  Since I had backed out of dinner, I certainly wasn’t going to say no again.  I had no idea what to do for this christening.  No idea what to wear, where to find a card, Imagehow much money to give…I am in a constant state of ineptness and idiocy in this country.  I finally just made a card (and lemme tell you, it was gorgeous…I have ZERO artistic ability, haha) and put some money in it.  I rode to the church with another worker, Ate April.  The christening was very similar to an American one, but it was in a teeny little church in a neighboring barangay and hot as…well, hell.  I don’t think I have ever sweat that much in my life.  And I run marathons.  The ceremony was short and sweet though, and I felt honored that they included me.  After, we went to her parents’ house for a fiesta.  Their house was very nice and there was videoke galore!  Man, those Filipinos love to sing!  It’s great!  A lot of the kids performed for us and we had an amazing meal…probably the best I’ve had, yet.  Again, the kids performed Psy’s Gentleman song.  Very odd to me, but I guess less so compared to the girls at the shelter.


When I got home that night, the girls came running to my window as they do most nights.  I’m not going to lie, always having them pounding on my windows is annoying at times, but it’s also really endearing and cute.  I have a hilarious picture of them all smooshed into my window frame…I wish I could post it!  I’s adorable.  🙂

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San Policarpo

That afternoon, I accompanied Ate Racquel to a micro-finance home visit.  We went to San Policarpo, which is the largest barangay in Calbayog, about 6,000 in population.  It was such a strange barangay…parts of it were filled with beautiful houses and other parts were so poor.  We were visiting a client that was taking out her 2nd loan from the micro-financing program.  Her business (a sari-sari that also sells gasoline to the trike drivers) has been so successful that her 2nd loan is for $25,000.  If they pay their loans back on time and their business thrives, they can take out a significant amount for their 2nd loan.  Her husband is abusive, however, and much of what they discussed was lost on me due to the language barrier.  The little baby with her (her granddaughter), had a distended stomach from dysentery.  The woman told us that her daughter is only 31 and has 9 children.  The workers said that they were trying to encourage family planning.  What methods, I’m not sure.  I like the family visits, it gives me a better peek into the culture here and lets me see different areas.  I feel a little awkward, as I know my presence is strange and maybe even alarming to them, but I try to smile constantly and make them as comfortable as I can.  Speaking a bit of Waray really seems to help and goes a long way.  Though speaking to me in Waray is akin to speaking to a toddler.  I sound like Yoda.  “How today are you?”  “Delicious this food is for my stomach.”  “Your shirt is in love with me!” (I actually said that one a few days ago…I was trying to say that I loved her shirt).  

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Videoke and hot cakes? Philippines are my kind of place.

I was with 3 women for this visit, and afterward, one of them invited us all to her house for merienda and videoke.  I couldn’t say no.  For merienda, they fed me hot cakes.  HOLY CRAP those things are deeeeelicious!  They are basically little waffle/pancakes with syrup baked in and wrapped in banana leaves.  I wanted to eat 10.  So dangerous!  We sang for a few hours together, and it was my official initiation into videoke.  I love that they love to sing and dance so much, I fit right in!  It was a good way to end the day, but of course it put me getting back to the office late, at about 7:30pm.  Some of the staff were still there.  I couldn’t wait for them to leave so I could take a shower and relax.  Long, long days.  But good days.  🙂

Ate Racquel took me out to a home visit again the next day.  This time, it was farrrrrr away!  We rode on a bumpy trike for about an hour and a half.  It was blazing hot and we were crammed in this tiny thing with TEN other people. Those clever Filipinos can always squeeze ONE more person in!   I think Racquel was really worried about me because she kept asking if I were ok.  I really was.  I actually sort of enjoyed the scenery, despite having 9 people who were THISCLOSE to me staring straight at me for an hour and half.  Haha.  We finally arrived at Bangaray Timabacan Sur.  This was definitely one of the wealthier bangarays we’d visited, as there were some really fine houses, which Racquel was quick to point to and simply explain, “Foreigner.”  However, the house we headed to was sort of a shock.  Amongst some really desirable places was a tiny little shack with dirt floors, no walls, and…not much else.  Oh, except pigs.  Yes, pigs were kept in the kitchen.  I got very excitedPhilippines 4 097 about this.  I think the fact that I was so happy about the pigs made the woman that we were visiting much more relaxed.  She laughed and laughed at me.  She spoke a little English and with my little Waray, we were able to speak.  She had a very interesting story.  She is a part of the micro-finance program and is awaiting her 3rd loan.  She makes “rice bread” and sells it, as well as breeds pigs.  I wanted her to show me how to make the bread, as she explained that it takes almost 4 hours to make just one loaf (but because of this, she is able to sell at high prices) and it would good for me to experience the Philippines 4 102kind of back-breaking work that women do to support their families, but she was not working that day. She is a former abuse victim but her husband and she are now separated.  Divorce does not really happen in this area at all, so couples separate and will even start families with other people, but they will not divorce legally.  She has two daughters in college, whom I met.  Both were shy, but well-spoken, sweet, and beautiful.  One of them is also a micro-finance recipient, as she got money to start her own sari sari store.

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The woman told us that though she and her husband are separated, he still comes around sometimes to see the children.  She is very afraid of him.  In fact, the night before, he came over drunk and with a gun.  She was very scared.  This alarmed me.  She has a protection order and so I inquired if protection orders were really enforced.  Both she and Ate Racquel said no.  Of course this limits the victims’ safety severely.  I tried to do some minor safety planning with her, but it is difficult because there are not any good options.  She usually goes to a friend’s house when he comes over, but this time, he took her by surprise.  How frightening.  I have noticed that there are NO options for victims of domestic abuse here.  While this does not exactly surprise me, I’ve been trying to come up with some way to support them.  I think I will mention starting a support group with Ma’am Emma.  I can help organize and start the first one, if someone is willing to commit to keeping it going after I am gone.  At least this way, the women will receive some understanding and support for what they are/have been going through.  The older girls that have aged out or been released from the shelter could join as well, as a means of some post-assessment work.  It would be a way to keep the girls in touch with one another and to continue some sort of service.  I worry to take on yet another big “project” but I would really like to feel like I made a difference and left something behind.

After our home visit and our long ride back into town, I started to feel strange.  By dinner time, I was in hell.  I became violently…let me stress that again, violently ill.  I think it is the sickest I have ever been in my life.  I have NO idea what caused it, as I have tried to be super diligent about being careful with food and water, but somehow, something got to me.  For the entire night, I was in agony, even passing out on my way from the bathroom back to my sweaty bed.  If I had been able to, I probably would have attempted to go to the hospital.  But the thought of trying to ride a trike on a bumpy road for 40 minutes, forcing him to pull over every 20 minutes so I could vomit, was not an appealing option.  Obviously, I was a mess.  By 8am I had not slept at all and still could not keep anything down.  I texted Melissa and begged her to somehow, some way, procure me some Pedialyte.  It was Pedialyte or hospital.  Miraculously, she found some and very sweetly brought it to me.  As soon as I began drinking it, I immediately started to improve.  It took me a full 3 days to get completely over it. Dear God that was rough!  I do not wish that on anyone.  But now I have my badge of honor and fully expect to never get that sick again.  Do you hear me, stomach???  I’m lookin’ at you!

By Tuesday I was back in fighting condition.  I woke up early to get in an easy workout.  IPhilippines 4 109 have not been exercising regularly and I can really tell that it is affecting my mood.  Just because I cannot run like I normally do at home does not mean I can’t exercise – it’s silly to use that as an excuse.  So, I have made an effort to work out every day this week.  I feel much better because of it.  On Wednesdays the women do yoga with the peace corps volunteer, Ellen.  It’s a great wellness idea for the staff, and good for this girl, too!  It’s also something less professional and active to bond over.  I love Wednesdays because of it!

This week has been slower, which has been a blessing.  It is OFFICIALLY rainy season, as it has rained for the last 5 days straight.  While it does cool things down, I think I almost prefer the sweltering heat, because when it rains, it traps you.  It is nearly impossible to go anywhere, because the roads get so muddy that the trikes get stuck.  It floods so quickly here.  The mosquitoes get especially bad in my place when it rains.  I am COVERED in bites.  Philippines 4 116If I escape this experience without Dengue, I will be shocked.  😛 On the (hilariously) bright side, I am getting super good at killing mosquitoes.  I kid you not, last night I killed one by grabbing it out of the air with my thumb and forefinger.  Maybe I am part Filipina after all?  One of the women saw me grab one out of the air and decided I needed a “mosquito racket.”  I had NO idea that these things existed!  The next day, I was presented with one!    Because of the rain, all of the home visits scheduled for this week have been cancelled, which bums me out.  It did, however, give me time to prepare for “Hawai`i Day!” with the girls!  I’m excited to show them my home.

Also, and this might just be my most exciting thing to report (sadly), I received an amazing care package yesterday from Sessan from Consuelo!  She emailed to check on me and asked me about the food situation here.  She has been to Calbayog and knows that there are limited food options.  Plus, she told me that she has lived abroad before and knows it can be a struggle to learn how to eat.  I told her that I’ve lost weight, despite being fed all of the Philippines 4 113time, and that actually, my biggest struggle in the Philippines revolves around food.  There is no cheese in this town (I ADORE cheese and put it on everything) and there is only a plain, white bread that is really sickly sweet and sugary.  There is also very limited meat in the meat shops.  They almost always have chicken, but that’s about it.  As I’ve mentioned before, I live on eggs, fruit, and rice.  She immediately jumped into action and said she would send a box on the next flight out.  I couldn’t believe it!  I was almost drooling over my keyboard thinking about cheese.  Glorious cheese!  When it arrived, I felt like it was Christmas!  The box was chock full of delicious goodies!  Not only cheese (though there are FOUR kinds of cheese…gouda, greyere, cheddar, Monterey jack) but taro bread, cans of chili, turkey slices, bacon, ham slices, wheat bread, and a box full of delicious pastries!!!!  Needless to say, I had a feast that night.  I apologize for writing so long about food, but that should tell you how hungry I was!  Ha!  Consuelo sure does take care of us!

Now I am sitting in a coffee shop writing this (again), where the employees are gathered around the tv watching a Filipino game show. The show’s host has some kind of Slurpee or shake in a cardboard cup with a straw that he intermittently sucks on while he hosts the show. I friggin’ love this country.  A few minutes ago the Macarena came on and all of the workers jumped up and started doing it.  I was dying.

That’s about it!  I’m trying to stay on top of these blogs, but it’s difficult!  I apologize that they are so long-winded, but I promise I am leaving A LOT of stuff out.  Many thanks to everyone for the amazing support, the sweet facebook messages, the cute emails, everything.  You have NO idea how much I need it!  Mahalo, thank you, and salamat!

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