Monday, December 20, 2010

barkada, fiestas, and some CRM work

Since I have returned from Manila from Thanksgiving break CRM related duties and tasks have been moving at a mind numbingly slow pace.  My counterpart and I have been continuing to make appearances and surveying the 17 coastal brgy’s (barangays) that make up my municipality of Buenavista.  The two major CRM related tasks that we have accomplished in the month of December has been two proposals.  The first one I wrote by myself to my supervisor asking for funding to bring two PCV’s to my site for a few days in January.  Our office is trying to set up a MPA (marine protected area) and since nobody here at my office has ever done a coral, seagrass, or fish stock assessment I will be needing assistance.  My proposal was accepted about two weeks back, but there really hasn’t been any conversation since then to go and get snorkel gear and set specific dates.  We were told in training that not much gets done in the office during the Christmas season, so right now I am chalking it up to that fact.  Hopefully when the new year arrives we can start having conversations again to get these assessments done so we can move forward with our proposed MPA.  The second proposal my counterpart took the lead on because it was to the provincial government.  There is a specific format/template that needs to be used when requesting money from the provincial government.  We requested php50,000 ($1,150) for cages for our tilapia hatchery.  The proposal was about 7 pages and we had to explain the reason for the cages, the dimensions, the direct benefit, etc.  The total costs of the project is php 67,000, so our municipality is going to have to shoulder the remaining php17,000 if the proposal gets approved.  We sent that proposal into the provincial government about 10 days ago.  However, much to my chagrin, the proposal will not be approved or denied until 6-8 months from the date of submission.  This is a little bit frustrating because the hatchery was supposed to help the fishermen from the brgys within the proposed MPA.  Once the MPA is up and running it will affect two brgys.  The fishermen from these two brgys will not be allowed to fish within the parameters of the MPA and therefore their fish catch and ultimately their income will be taking an enormous hit.  Fishermen in the Philippines depend on catching fish to support and feed their families and most of them already live very meager wages.  So, the hatchery was an alternative livelihood project for the fishermen affected by the implementation of the MPA.  They could raise fish in the hatchery and then sell it to the local market or to the community to sustain their income.  So, it is crucial that we coincide the opening of our MPA with our tilapia hatchery for the benefit of the many fishermen in the two affected brgys.  If there is one thing I have learned here it is that nothing ever goes according to plan or runs smoothly, so one needs to always be conscious of this fact because people’s livelihoods are in the balance. 

Since, the CRM related tasks having been going relatively slow because of the Christmas season I have been doing some serious cultural integration.  My host family here has not really introduced me to anybody outside of their street/compound.  This has been both good and bad because it has forced me to go out and talk to people and make friends in my community.  I already have developed a barkada/grupo (group of friends) here in Buenavista.  There are 7 of us including myself and when I am not doing work here I am hanging out with them.  They have been influential in showing me around and introducing me to people not only in my brgy, but throughout my municipality.  We all are between the ages of 23-30, so we have a lot in common even though I am the only non Filipino in the group.  They have taken me to three fiestas already in different brgy’s throughout Buenavista.  The most recent one was brgy Ban Ban which was this past Sunday.  They picked me up at around 7 and we went to one of their friends house to of course eat eat eat and also do some drinking before we went to the brgy hall to dance.  At these fiestas the whole brgy is involved and it is a giant party with people drinking all over the streets, a dj is present with literally a wall of speakers that play music at deafening levels, and the fiestas are usually good for 4-5 fights because everyone is inebriated.  However, one of the guys in my barkada has a very influential and well off family here in Buenavista.  His dad and brother are members of the police, so whenever I go the fiestas he never lets me get more than 10 feet away from him because everybody is afraid of his family (think Sopranos).  I think one can imagine the stares and looks I get when I go to these fiestas because I am the only foreigner among 300-400 people.  While the vast majority of people here are very friendly there is always a couple who are not happy to see an American at their fiesta.  So, my barkada is always looking after me and makes sure nobody gives me a hard time which is pretty awesome.  This last fiesta was memorable because of the three new foods I ate, or maybe forced to eat.  The first was called soup #5 which was cow penis and testicles with some veggies.  If I wasn’t told what it was BEFORE I ate it there was no way I could tell what it was.  The taste was chewy and sort of bland; I have eaten far worse dishes here.  The second dish was my favorite of the night and was cow stomach in soup with potatoes, chilies, and carrots.  The stomach was cut up into long thin strips and was cooked in the broth until it was less chewy than it would be if eaten raw.  The third dish was the bone marrow of a very big fish for Philippine standards.  I got about 4 notches of vertebra off the fish and broke them off one by one and had suck out the marrow located inside the bone.  All these dishes are called sumsumain which means food you eat while drinking.  So, we were all sitting in a circle and in the middle of the table was a bottle of Rhum (that is how they spell rum here) and these three dishes that everyone was picking at throughout the night. 

Some other highlights over the last two weeks: I was able to release 6 sea turtles in the first week of December with another CRM volunteer at her site in Jordan which is the municipality just south of mine.  They have a turtle rehab center there and we released the turtles in front of a news team and the governor of Guimiars was in attendance as well.  I made a trip back down to Jordan last weekend for another volunteer’s birthday which was fun.  We cooked chicken tacos with real cheese, onions, tomatoes, and salsa it was an awesome dinner.  It is always nice to see familiar faces and hear native English speakers because I am the only PCV here in Buenavista, so I don’t get to see other PCVS too often.  We had our Christmas party last Friday and it was for all the local government workers here in Buenavista, so there were about 100 people at the party.  We did a gift exchange and I got a cup and a wash cloth that I will be using as a sweat rag because the one I bought during training is getting a little foul.  There was tons of food prepared for the party and lots of beer as well.  I think we went through 50 kilos of rice, 25 kilos of fish, 2 pigs, and 40 cases of San Miguel pilsen.  There was bingo, dance numbers from employees (thankfully I wasn’t forced to do anything), and the gift exchange.  It was a lot of fun because since I am working at the municipal agricultural office I don’t really have much interaction with the other arms of the government.  So, I was able to talk to and meet people from the accounting dept, engineering, etc.  I plan on going to Iloilo for Christmas with two guys from my barkada because they have family with a house there.  I will be leaving Guimaras on Friday morning (X mas Eve) and will be spending the weekend there eating and drinking.  I hope to be able to meet up with some other PCVs during the evening to catch up.  For New Years’ I will be going to Boracay which is a tiny island about 7 hours from me.  Since, there are no flights available I will be taking a 6 hour bus ride to the northern tip of Panay island and then a boat to Boracay.  I am really looking forward to it because there is going to be about 60 other PCVs from all over the Philippines descending on Boracay.  I have been reading some news and there is massive flooding in California and tons of snow in the Rockies… It is been about 88-95 degrees here everyday with minimal rain, so I cannot complain too much.  It is much better then my college days in Milwaukee not seeing the sun for days on end.
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