Dali lang, pero dugay pa (So close, but so far)

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Exhausted. Nervous. Hopeful. Proud. Grateful. Stressed out. Emotionally drained. These words can’t begin to summarize how I felt after arriving back at site from the 5th and final Peace Corps conference of my service. In 3 short days, we reflected, processed, and discussed planning for the future. We were warned how difficult it’s likely going to be returning to the States after service and given a hodgepodge of advice on topics from handling mental breakdowns in grocery stores to appropriate networking strategies.

The Close of Service Conference means that service is almost over—but not quite. It’s a reminder that with the end of Peace Corps, comes the end of my catch-all health care, monthly allowance, and visa. It’s a gentle kick in the pants to tell volunteers that now is a good time to think about jobs or school or whatever’s next, but also stay focused and finish strong at site. Some volunteers will wrap up in less than two months and are in a greater hurry than others. Meanwhile, because I chose to extend my service, I’ve still got 5 more months to go.

However, I will not get the chance to see most of my batchmates before their services come to a close and they start their next chapters. It’s unlikely we’ll all be neatly collected in one place again. But, to be fair, that’s been true of every training. Of the 73 of us that started together in the country just about two years ago, only 35 remain. The rest, willingly or unwillingly, had to end their Peace Corps service early.

That’s a strange aspect of Peace Corps service—it’s hard to know when the final goodbyes to batchmates are actually happening. I hate double goodbyes (and single goodbyes in general), so I find this situation frustrating. When leaving the COS conference I opted for an abrupt, awkward group, “Bye everyone! Good Luck! See ya!” Maybe not the most tactful. It does nothing to communicate the extreme gratitude I have for the 72 Americans that signed up for this crazy experience with me, especially the 34 others still hanging in. It doesn’t indicate my willingness to stay in touch or to provide support however possible. It doesn’t touch on the sadness creeping in on having to close out this part of my life.

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In addition to goodbyes, I also don’t like having to state the obvious. But, I’m learning some things are important enough to be said, no matter how obvious they seem. I should say clearly how extremely grateful I am to my batchmates. Even just knowing that others were dealing with the same struggles, work and personal, made the difficult parts of service better. We all leaned on each other when needed– exchanged ideas, vented, and entertained one another. We took ridiculous vacations together, visited each other’s sites and helped on projects. I’m sad to see the end of my service coming up, and I’m especially sad to be losing this network of like-minds, connected to each other through parallel experiences (and facebook chat) but spread across more than 10 different islands.

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That’s all for now. Now, back to work. Maybe I’ll share an update how that’s all been going soon.

Cara

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Why I’ve been MIA

It’s been awhile, a pretty long while, since I’ve posted any updates. But as they say, no news is good news, yeah? In this case, that’s accurate.

When I was first accepted to the Peace Corps, I went a little overboard preparing my blog. I was excited. It was a way for me to get mentally prepared for this little adventure without the labor of cleaning, packing, sorting, etc.

During my first three months of training, blogging was a fun way to reflect on all the new sounds and sites in the Philippines. Once I swore in as a volunteer and got to my permanent site, I didn’t have a whole lot of work up front and posting on the blog made me feel productive. (I made posts about walking to work and snacks.) Then, work picked up a little and I had some new things to talk about. (FARMCs and Oyster Farmers) From there, the posts slowed down and I eventually stopped updating all together.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have news to share. Since my last update (8 months ago), there were quite a few times where I thought of ideas for blog posts. I’ve gone on some pretty amazing vacations in this beautiful country.  My mom and best friend from home visited. I’ve lectured on proper solid waste management and overfishing.  I planned and implanted a two-day training on environmental education for high school teachers. I facilitated camp sessions and helped teach college students about HIV/AIDS.  I spent my Christmas back in the US. A whole new batch of Peace Corps volunteers arrived in country and are now 6 months at their sites. I accidentally adopted a kitten.

More than all that though, I’ve really settled in. Life has happened, and I stopped counting how long I’ve been in the country and how much time I have left. I have made friends and feel like a part of the community. I have regular tasks at work and hobbies outside of work. I don’t get stressed about having to communicate in the local language and transportation is rarely an issue. Wi-Fi and general internet activity has continued to be a problem, however.

As all this has been happening, sharing blog posts has fallen down on my list of priorities. But, in my weekly phone calls from my parents back home, my dad keeps reminding me to get back to it. (Hi Dad.) So this post is part explanation for my absence, part resolution to myself to keep updating, if not for my dad, than for myself and anyone else who randomly comes across this page. I’m still here, and I promise I’ll be back with something to share soon.

In the mean time, here’s just one picture from each month I’ve been away:

July MFARMC meeting in Balaring
July: MFARMC meeting in a coastal barangay
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August: Lauren gets to experience the random selfie requests from strangers
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September: My mom visits and spends time in my community with my counterpart
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October: Some stylish SCUBA diving in Puerto Galera
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November: Talented students from Capiz State University perform during the diversity-themed talent show
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December: Learning about mangrove seedling bagging with the Zoological Society of London in Iloilo
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January: Roxie- the cat I took home with me from the trike terminal in Roxas City
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February: About to enjoy some mango halo-halo with friends in Boracay on Chinese New Year

Halong (take care)!

Cara

 

Some Lessons Learned From 1 Year in the Philippines

I left the USA for the Peace Corps 1 year ago today! Yesterday, my site mate and I splurged on wine and cheese in celebration. Today, I’m attempting to reflect a bit on some of things I’ve learned since arriving. In no particular order, here goes:

  • Roosters do not just crow at sunrise- Actually, they crow at anytime, for any reason… including at sunrise. Science agrees.

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  • Specialized kitchen tools like can openers and bottle openers are extravagant and unnecessary– No can opener? A knife will work, but I’ve learned  you can make do with a spoon and some willpower. Got a bottle needs opening? Use another bottle. Only have one bottle? Get back out the spoon or find any small, strong object with a good corner.
    • So are refrigerators– Turns out a lot of things don’t need refrigeration if they were never cold to begin with. I’ve found most produce and eggs are fine in my 90 °F apartment for about a week.
    • Also washing machines and driers– Hand washing isn’t so bad as long as I don’t get behind on my laundry. Also, I’m using a lot less water/energy and my cloths seem to be getting just as clean.
    • And toilet paper– It just really doesn’t seem all that sanitary any more.
  • Small fish often are just as tasty as big fish, just require more effort– I’ve found people are usually pretty impressed when I willingly eat small fish like sardines (manamsi), anchovies (dilis) and pony fish (sapsap). Turns out, foreigners have a bit of a reputation for refusing to pick or chomp through the bones. bulinao.jpg
  • Ants are very impressive, and the worst– I can deal with the spiders, flies, mosquitoes, roaches (could they always fly?), mini beetles that move into my monggo beans, geckos, and most of my other uninvited roommates… but THE ANTS. They are relentless and organized. If there’s food, they’ll find it. If it’s in an air-tight bag, they’ll get in. If I somehow secure everything I can think of, they’ll start a party over a crumb in a pocket or a dead spider in the corner. They’ve formed colonies in my back pack, my pencil case, and on my shelf. Slowly, I’m accepting that they’re just a part of my life now.
  • There’s more than just one kind of banana– At any given day, there are at least 3 varieties available at our local market, often more. Señorita are small and sweet. Española are red. Saba are starchy and great boiled or fried. Then there’s lakatan, latundan, and a few others. I’ve also had 3 different types of mangoes. market2
  • Early morning might actually be the best time of day– I’m still not a morning person. But, on days I can get myself our of bed early, I mostly don’t regret it. The streets are busy and people are out and about before the work day begins and the heat sets in.
  • Waiting doesn’t have to be a miserable experience– Americans are notoriously impatient. But, if you have a room of people waiting for something to start in the Philippines, no one looks stressed. However, organized lines are a rarity.
  • Conforming isn’t always a bad thing– Peace Corps prefers to use the term ‘integration’, but really it’s the same thing. I’ve conformed to local norms in all kinds of little ways, from how I respond to questions with my eyebrows, wear jeans in 90°F, and eat with a spoon and fork (or just my hands).
  • Coconuts are not brown and hairy on the tree- ever– I knew that coconuts were green sometimes but I did not realize pictures like this one were just lies:coconut-1293036_960_720
  • You don’t need to be a good singer to enjoy videoke– However, I am glad that my videoke-loving neighbors happen to be quite talented.
  • Cheese-flavored ice cream is pretty good and beans and corn are legitimate ice cream toppings– Cheese + Ube is even better, and jackfruit and leche flan are the ultimate toppings for a good halo-halo.
  • Just enjoy!– Probably the No. 1 piece of advice I receive from Filipinos. Whether I’m stressed about work, preparing for travel, or being brought around to weddings, christenings, and even funerals… so long as I relax and enjoy, at least something good will come of things.

Here’s to a full year of service behind me! I’m looking forward to my next big milestone: 1 year at my permanent site on September 15!