Tuesday, November 30, 2010

first few weeks at site

To all back home, I am sorry for the lack of consistency of my posts the last month. I have been trying to get on some sort of a routine now that I am here at my permanent site. Today, Tuesday, is the start of my third week of work here. The first two weeks have been interesting to say the least. My first week was the most difficult week I have had here since arriving in country. I definitely took for granted having other Americans around me during my training in Banate. It was nice to have multiple volunteers with us in training because it seemed we were all in it together. When one is at their site, you are all alone and need to depend on yourself for everything.

I am the only volunteer in Buenavista (my municipality) and as far as I know the only American/foreigner as well. So, my first week was hard to adjust to new co workers, a new municipality, etc all without any really support from anyone. On my first day, I introduced myself to the mayor and numerous other government officials in Ilonggo. They were all very surprised that I could communicate in their native language, even though my speech was less than 5 mins. I am working for the Philippine government at the municipal level. There are 4 steps of government here in the Philippines: Barangay’s (make up municipalities), Municipal level (make up a Provence), Provencal level, and finally National level. My office is the municipal agriculture office or M.A.O. We are responsible for obviously agriculture, fisheries, solid waste management, and numerous other environmental concerns. There are about 10 people in my office and I have been assigned a counterpart, Gerard and a supervisor, Jonathan. Jonathan is the M.A.O or head municipal agriculturist for Buenavista. I will be concentrating on fisheries management, setting up a marine protected area, and doing baseline biophysical assessments my first 6 months or so.

My first two weeks I have been going around to the 17 coastal barangays that make up the coastal part of my municipality. I come to the office everyday around 8 and meet my counterpart and we usually make it to 2 coastal barangays and interview the barangay captain. We are gathering baseline data..such as the number of motorized and non motorized bancas (boats), number of fish pens, types of fish coral, mangrove coverage area, number of fish ponds. We have finished about 10 barangays and today I have been making a template and doing some serious data entry.

Some other interesting events that have happened in the first two weeks of work include: Meeting the governor of Guimaras (the name of my Provence/island I am on), getting on the basketball team with the mayor and other government workers in a league; our team name is WHITEHOUSE with jerseys, referees, scorekeepers, etc.. trying to explain to tons of Filipinos that I am NOT a mormon or some sort of religious missionary, buying a mountain bike to get around since were not allowed to ride motorcycles, eating lunch everyday with the 6 or so women that work in my office, some of the meals we have had dinguan (pig innards soup with the blood as the broth), and kinelaw (raw sardines soaked in vinegar).

Since we had a three day weekend for Bonfacio Day this past weekend I had booked a flight to Manila to meet another volunteer for Thanksgiving. We were not able to get our hands on any turkey, but we had a great weekend roaming around the city. It was the first time that I was able to get to Manila. We had initial orientation there, but we were outside the main city proper and not able to go out exploring. I am not even going to try to explain the complete and utter chaos that is Manila. I have never in my life seen a city like this and I have been to New York, Chicago, London, etc. The sheer size and scope of the city is completely mind-boggling. There are so many restaurants and bars that choosing one makes for a difficult task. We made a trip to the PeaceCorp office which is in a different part of the city, so we took the LRT (pubic rail system) and we had to literally squeeze into the train, 12 cars all shoulder to shoulder. We picked up some materials for our sites and walked around for hours checking out the sites. We also made it to a PBA game, which is the professional basketball league in the Philippines. The stadium holds about 12,000 people and since we showed up a little late we were relegated to the upper view seats for 30 pesos per seat (less than an American dollar). The game was awesome..back and forth the whole time with a last second 3 pointer that missed, but would of forced the game into overtime. Filipinos really have a passion for basketball and the atmosphere was really excellent. We wrapped up all of our nights going to bars and checking out live bands which seem to be everywhere. I have some pictures from the weekend, but I left my camera in her purse because I was in a rush to catch my flight. I will be getting it back for New Years, so I’ll have to wait to post them here. Ok my lunch break is now coming to an end..gotta get back to more data entry.
Dason lang

Monday, November 15, 2010

Training is Tapos na!

The last few weeks here in the P.I. have been by far the busiest and most exciting since I have arrived wayyy back in mid August.  I think I will start with the LPI... We took the LPI a few weeks back during our last week of training in Banate.  It consisted of a lady from the PeaceCorp office whom none of us have ever met giving us our exam.  She was born in an Ilonggo speaking region, but grew up speaking Cebuano or another dialect.  It was a little difficult to understand her because she had a little different accent than my teacher and the people in Banate.  It was about a 35-40 minute conversation between the two of us and it was also tape recorded.  She asked me things like: "tell me what you do for fun."  "Describe your host family and your family in America."  "what is the role of the PeaceCorp" "explain your training and permanent site"  I came out of the gate really well and about 20ish mins into the conversation I started to struggle a little.  She gave me a card and we did a role play in which I had to ask about the important spots in town. (Home,Market, Bus station, where to get clean water, etc.).  When we stopped it was a great relief to finally be over and I wouldn't get my results until the next week.  Also, she refused to say ANYTHING in English, so I had to keep telling her to "hinay hinay lang" which means slow down and "liwat" which means repeat, quite often. 

Our last weekend in Banate we had a handog which is a sort of thank you for all the families who hosted PeaceCorp Trainees for the past 11 weeks.  It was pretty emotional, there were a lot of tears and it was difficult to say goodbye.  We all have developed deep bonds with our host families and I know I will never forget them and the amazing hospitality they showed me.  My host mom gave a little bottle of Lambonog which is a distilled spirit from the palm tree as a going away present.  As I was saying goodbye the next morning I gave my host sister a hug (3 yrs old).  I picked her up and as I was pulling her away from me she slapped me right across the face and it wasn't a love tap.  But, you would have to know her to appreciate the "kind gesture."  I was sad to leave Banate, but also very excited to move on to my next site and challenge.

We went to Bacolod City which is about a 1 hour bus ride and 1 hour boat ride from my training site for our Counterparts conference and for our swearing in ceremony.  I think we arrived on Sunday and we got to know our counterparts and did numerous activities to try and plan out our next two years.  Swearing in was on Thursday afternoon at the capital.  It was really cool...we pulled up to a Filipino drum band playing and excitement filled the air.  There also was MAJOR swat and police presence because of the anti American sentiment and also because Harry Thomas; ambassador to the Philippines swore us in.  The ceremony lasted about 2 hours and we had a little reception afterward.  My camera died during the middle of it so I wasn't able to get that many pictures.  We found out our LPI results the next day, and I passed with a score of Intermediate Mid.  The highest score out of the 12 CRM volunteers was Intermediate High and there were 4 out of the 12 of us who did not pass the LPI.  They will have to retake it every 3 months until they pass it.

I am now at my final site in Buenavista, Gumiaras and have just completed my first work day!  I used a typewriter to do our weekly calendar that was most definitely older than my parents.  My counterpart  had to be teach me  how to use the thing.  I had to get up in front of the mayor and numerous other government officals and introduce myself and why I was here all in Ilonggo.  It actually went very well because nobody expected me to speak their language.  So, I got a crazy stares, laughs, and a good ovation.  My counterpart put me on a basketball team with other g'ment officals in a league which we play 2 times per week.  The mayor is on my team too, however we lost by 2 points tonight.  Afterward I was invited to have some soup and Coke with the other team (water district).  That is all and since I do not have to work tomorrow (hero's day) I will be going to some beaches.
dason lang