Initial Orientation: You Know Nothing Peace Corps Trainee

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Initial orientation is the first two weeks in country as an official Peace Corps Trainee. During these weeks, we are coddled. We are given nice rooms with Wifi and AC. We are given a buffet 3 times a day and two meriendas (snack times!). Also, IIRR, the compound where we stayed, was gorgeous- complete with a pool and basketball court. So many flowers!

However, despite all the amenities, IO was no cake walk. Of course, we were kept fairly busy with information/training sessions twice a day, four hours each. But the real trouble was the adjusting: to the time change (12 hours difference!), the food (stomach troubles galore), the language, and to the idea that we all basically arrived in a country as new born babies, having to relearn the most basic necessities of survival.

Also, PC really likes to emphasize the importance of being comfortable with ambiguity. Because they tell us only what we need to know. I do not blame them, many things are up in the air and have to be rearranged last minute. I have now been in the Philippines for nearly a month, and I still have no idea where I’ll spend the majority of my service, or what language I’ll need to be speaking.

I left the comforts of IO one week ago, yesterday. It feels like it was months ago. I’m now living with a wonderful host family in the coastal barangay of Mabayo. For the sake of my new family members, I am extremely thankful to have been given those two weeks at IIRR. However, it feels good to be out of isolation and on to community-based training.

Oh, and just for fun, here’s some pretty coral pictures from a field trip out to Batangas on the last Friday of IO.

 

 

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Introduction to Filipino Culture

This week, the fantastic LCFs (Language and Cultural Facilitators) and other Peace Corps Staff here in the Philippines put together an activity to give us a brief introduction to Filipino culture. This post is going to be pretty casual, but I wanted to share some of the things I saw and learned.

Rituals

  • Healing rituals are still practiced in some rural areas throughout the Philippines, particularly those without easy access to modern medical care. Magtatawas are healers found in some of these communities. When a person gets sick, they can visit a Magtatawa and perform rituals to get rid of the evil spirit that is ailing them. As a Peace Corps volunteer, we are allowed to observe such rituals, but not participate.
  • Cañao is a ritual practiced in the Northern regions of Luzon involving dancing and sacrifice of livestock to bring about good fortune.

Superstitions

  • Cutting baby’s eyelashes will make them grow longer
  • People with curly hair are crazy
  • Mole location says something about a person (on the back- lazy, foot- adventure, shoulder- carries a heavy burden)
  • Polka dots are good luck on New Year’s Eve
  • Black ants in your house are good luck
  • Kissing a sleeping baby will turn it into a naughty adult
  • Don’t sweep at night, or you will drive away your good luck
  • If a pregnant woman cuts her hair, her baby will be born bald
  • It’s bad luck to go to sleep with wet hair

Street Games

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  • Filipino football- kind of a dodgeball/kickball hybrid
  • Tumbang preso- one person’s it, everyone else throws their sandals at a can to try to knock it over

Holidays

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  • The Philippines is a majority Catholic nation, and this is reflected in their holidays.
  • Filipinos take Christmas very seriously, starting celebrations all the way back in September.

Videoke

  • Videoke is everywhere in the Philippines. It’s basically the same as Karaoke, but you have pleasant scenery playing in the background. Many people own their own Videoke console and sing both American and Filipino songs.
  • We tried out our videoke skills on the pinoy taglish (tagalog-english) song: picha pie, writen about the joys of discovering pizza put to the music of “I Will Survive”

Food

  • Durian- the infamous fruit known for it’s horrendous smell. It wasn’t that bad, like a creamy, slightly pumpkin-y, spiky melon.
  • Helmet- chicken head on a stick
  • Adidas- chicken feet on a stick (get it? feet… shoes… Adidas)
  • Betamax- congealed pigs blood
  • Isaw- chicken intestine
  • Balut- an unhatched chicken (or duck) embryo (Yes, I ate one. It was a bit like a normal hard boiled egg, with a little something extra.)
  • Lechon- roasted pig, eaten at major celebrations, the national dish of the Philippines
  • Sticky rice- my favorite, prepared in several ways

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Festivals and Fiestas

  • Festivals and fiestas are a big part of the culture in the Philippines.
  • Shown above are some of the more famous celebrations, but smaller fiestas are thrown in towns throughout the country all year.

Dancing

  • As a special treat, we got a performance by Filipino university students.
  • The dances were diverse, some reminiscent of Balinese and others of more spanish and American styles.
  • They wrapped up with Tinikling- the former national dance. Tinikling is meant to represent the graceful tikling bird, as the dancers jump and step through bamboo poles that are operated by other dancers.

Staging in Los Angeles

Staging is what the Peace Corps calls the day, or several days, that takes place in the US right before all of the new trainees head out to their country of service. The purpose of this event is get everyone together and review main goals and expectations. Our staging was scheduled as follows:

July 1, 2016
12:00 PM: Registration
2:00 – 4:25 PM: Who We Are, What You Expect, What’s Next
4:25 – 4:45 PM: Break
4:45 – 7:00 PM: What We Expect, Closing

July 2, 2016
5:00 AM: Check out of hotel
5:30 AM: Bus arrives for loading and departure to the airport

In order to make staging a success, the Peace Corps must organize, in our case, 72 individual flights from all over the country. Most of these flights went out same day. According to the US Dept of Transportation, over 15% of flights end up being delayed. That works out to being about 11 of us. And, of course, I was one of those 11.

After a long delay for take off, post-boarding (due to a missing log book), I made it to staging just about 3 hours after it had begun. I was exhausted, disoriented, overwhelmed, emotional and excited (also probably a bit smelly). But, with no time to waste, I had to jump right in.

2016-07-01 16.15.23I learned that Peace Corps was conceived in 1961, when JFK was late to a speech at the University of Michigan. Apparently, he arrived in the early hours of the morning to find that thousands of students had patiently awaited his arrival to hear his speech scheduled to take place the previous evening. So, not to disappoint, he gave the speech at 3 am on the main steps of the campus. He asked this group of clearly motivated students if they would be willing to go abroad and dedicate themselves to several years of service in the developing world. After an overwhelming positive response, a major petition spanning hundreds of universities, a historic election, and an executive order, the Peace Corps sent its first Volunteers in August of 1972. Since then, over 220,000 volunteers have served.

2016-07-01 16.15.10We also discussed our expectations for service, particularly our anxieties and what we were most excited about. Of course, it seemed all of us shared a lot of the same thoughts. Anxieties included struggling to communicate, separation from loved ones, illness, crime, loneliness, bugs, joining in a host family and natural disasters. We talked about how these concerns were not unfounded, and the best we can to is to realistically prepare ourselves for what is to come. On the flip side, many of us voiced excitement to master a language, experience a new culture, grow as a person, and enjoy the beauty that the Philippines has to offer. Discussing these thoughts as group was an extremely helpful exercise, at least for me. I could see how other shared my fears, but also my reasons for wanting to face them. As bizarre as this endeavour feels right now at the start (and that’s very bizarre), it’s comforting to be surrounded by people going through the same experience.

After a break, where I caught up on what I missed (a few signatures, having my passport returned, getting a little walking around money, and a survey), we resumed and talked about the Peace Corps’s 10 Core Expectations and how they come into play in potentially difficult scenarios. We talked about how we would handle issues including racism, harassment, religious differences, and wanting to leave early (know as ETing for early termination).

ETing is major occurrence in the Peace Corps. Unlike military service, staying the entire time of the assignment is hoped for, but not mandatory. As a PCV, we can return home whenever. They’ll even pay for the flight. For reference, of the 88 PC Philippines volunteers that began this journey last year, only 64 remain. That’s more than a quarter. The little fact is certainly concerning. Being a volunteer comes with challenges and stresses unlike anything experienced back home in the US. It seems that finishing out the whole service isn’t what’s best for everyone.

We wrapped up as a group with some organizational prep, a visualization exercise, and a group picture. Then we were done. All of us were officially Peace Corps trainees. The real part of our travels began at 5am the next morning for our flight out at 10:45 am. (Turns out, planning for 4 hours to get a group of 72 through bag check and security is about right. I guess they’ve done this before.) Next, onto three months of training, after which we will be sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers. Wish us luck!

First Check In: We have arrived!

250px-ph_locator_cavite_silangLast night, around 11 pm Filipino time, all 72 of us brand new Peace Corps trainees arrived at our initial orientation site at IIRR in Silang, Cavite, a couple hours west of Manila. All volunteers fall in one of three groups: CRM (coastal resource management; ME!), CYF (children, youth, and families), and education.

It’s been a long journey, over the course of 3 days and 3 long plane rides, with 30 lbs of carry on bags and 90 lbs of checked bags. My feet have never been so swollen.

The most interesting part was my 2 hour layover in Tokyo. Although I never left the terminal, I feel that I got a decent sample of Japanese culture, complete with anime characters, kawaii outfits, selfie sticks, and matcha tea. What struck me the most, however, was the eerily low volume even in the busiest areas.

 

I haven’t been able to do any exploring yet, but so far the Philippines is about what I expected: beautiful, humid, and hot. (Also, it smells AMAZING.) And, it just feels good to have made it and know we’ll be settled in one place for the next two weeks.

Also, my address, just incase anyone wants to send me mail, is:

Cara Ann Simpson (name has to be exact for customs) c/o peace corps
6/F PNB Financial center
Macapagal Blvd., Pasay City
1308 Philippines

More to come soon!