Since moving to the Philippines I’m trying to get myself into the habit of journaling. Some weeks I’m on top of it, some weeks I don’t even have the time to take a 2-minute bucket bath much much less write about my feelings. I recently looked back at some of these entries and while I’m sure I think I’m funnier than I actually am, they’re preeetty entertaining, and honestly educational. So what way better to share than on the blog.
The cultural hiccups, the awkward blurbs, the trials and tribulations of immersing yourself into a new culture. I proudly present everything lost in translation – My Highs, Lows, and “I don’t Know’s” of Pre Service Training.
(so we can only go up of course)
I LOVE dogs. I was THE neighborhood pet-sitter in my younger years. I knew all the dogs in my hood. I was never scared of dogs instead, I would walk right up to one ready to shower it with love. I grew up loving all animals really but especially. dogs.
The general attitude towards dogs is very different in the Philippines. There are street dogs everywhere, strays. A street dog in the States is a lost dog whereas a street dog in the Philippines is an unclaimed dog. Some are so traumatized they cower once you’re within 5 feet of them. Some are so indifferent they fall asleep in the middle of the street, unphased when you walk inches from their snout. Some look healthy and well fed while some have visible ribs and mange. Dog bites and rabies are both a problem and a good reason to avoid going near a stray, as much as it kills me. However, there are plenty of people who own dogs. Most serve as guard dogs, essentially permanently outside and on a leash. My Nanay during PST had a dog named Wheatie. He never left his (very short) leash on the back porch. A couple times a day Nanay would rinse the porch area of Wheatie’s waste… But Nanay loved him, you could hear it in her voice when she “puppy talked” him, she would take home bone scraps for him and she even took care of the litter of kittens that hung out in the back too because they were “Friends of Wheatie”. It’s just… different.
Currently, Bataan is on the list of malaria-prone provinces of the Philippines. Therefore, we had to take a daily malaria pill ALL OF Pre Service Training. Our PCMOs (Peace Corps Medical Officers) warned us there might be some uncomfortable side effects at first and that we should take the pills in the morning with a meal to avoid them….but that just wasn’t the case for me. For almost a month I took the pills at morning merienda (snack/break time) and like clockwork by 4PM I was zombified. Hazy, foggy, dazed, I always hit a point of extreme lightheadedness regardless of the amount of sleep I got the night before or what I had been eating that day. I gave in and began taking them at night, embracing the rumored “malaria dreams” that some of my friends were experiencing. They weren’t bad. Some were bizarre, like when I dreamed my brother and I were riding an ostrich through the African Savannah because we had strayed too far from the safari jeep the rest of our family was on… but not too bizarre. I would take ostrich dreams over routine nausea any day. It worked out well and I quickly found myself more energized by the end of afternoon sessions.
It’s bound to happen. They’ve warned us since we hopped off the plane. Parasites, food adjustments, constipation, stomach bugs and everyone’s favorite… explosive diarrhea. The inevitability of stomach issues is a running joke within the Peace Corps community because it’s just. that. prevalent.
I used to be vegan. This meant no animal products whatsoever, a big element of that being dairy. Heeding to everyone’s advice regarding diet in the Philippines, I had been trying to transition to pescatarian-ism or just fish, eggs, and maaaybe chicken. But still, no dairy. Why you ask? I believe cutting out dairy for so long has now made me hypersensitive to lactose. I just can’t do it and I swear I’ve tried (it was awful). So picture this, Nanay comes home from a trip to Subic, the nearest city to Morong. It’s Filipino tradition to bring “pasalubong” back home after you have been traveling. Literally translated – “gifts for when you welcome me”. Loosely translated – SNACKS from wherever you just were. Nanay’s pasalubong was… Pizza, and she was proud of it. “Look its pizza! And no meat just pineapples!” She had even made it vegetarian for me but of course all I’m thinking about is the sketchy cheese surrounding every pineapple piece. She’s so cute and had been so thoughtful in bringing it home I sucked it up and had a slice, just one. 24 hours later and I had never regretted anything more. I barely made it through the day of training fighting nausea that when I got home my time was UP. But of course, the best is yet to come. As I’m bee-lining it toward the bathroom having just walked in the door I pass a very frazzled Nanay crouched behind the fridge. As I pivot around her I see that two of the kittens from outside had gotten in the house and wiggled their way behind the fridge trying to escape Nanay. So, as a result, the following half hour consisted of extreme vomming by yours truly, “HOY!”-ing from my Nanay, and hissing from the kittens. It was so chaotic I almost wish someone had been there to witness.
I Don’t Knows
“Sige” in Tagalog (pronounced sih-gay) means “O.K.” But Filipinos will also often use the phrase “okey lang” meaning “just okay”. I initially thought “sige” and “okay” were relatively interchangeable, especially since “okey” is basically the same as English “okay”.
Filipino “sige” is either expressed neutrally or positively and therefore never negatively. So, when you use sige you are generally agreeing to something or at least acknowledging.
“Tomorrow, we will go to the market” “Sige” (okay, sounds good) “Would you like more rice?” “Sige” (yes, I would)
I quickly (but not quickly enough) realized that a favorite phrase of mine is “It’s okay” or “I’m okay” and that when I say it I’m using “okay” to express a negative sentiment or that there is no need for something because I am already “okay”
“Do you need an umbrella?” “It’s okay” (No I don’t need one, I have one) “Would you like more rice?” “I’m okay” (No I don’t want more, I’m full)
So I’m sure you can guess how these DO NOT compliment each other. Whenever I would say “okay” in English, even when expressed like “No, it’s okay” or “No thanks, I’m okay” all Nanay hears is Okay = Sige = Yes. Then, BOOM, I have two more helpings of rice on my plate when I thought I had just politely declined. Extensions of that scenario happened multiple times during PST with Nanay and sometimes I’d catch and correct myself and sometimes it was too late. One morning Nanay made french fries for my breakfast along with the usual eggs, pancakes, and turon (fried wrapped banana). She said something like “Americans like french right? Steph (her previous volunteer) liked french fries”. I responded “Yeah, Americans like them, they’re okay” and THAT is how I had french fries for breakfast every day for the following week. What I should be saying everytime is “okey lang” or “just okay” which interpreted by Filipinos is “I’m okay” but wow its a hard habit to break.
I feel like I will forever be navigating this, and so now it remains in my “I don’t knows”
Bananas. I love them. The Philippines has SEVEN native varieties of bananas, they are the most common food you’ll find on any dinner table. Banana in Filipino is saging and I think my favorites are saba, or saging ng saba. They are small and chubby and are less sweet but almost more tangy to me. They are the most nutritious variety as well and because they aren’t inherently sweet they are used often in other dishes such as turon, banana cue, or salted chips. I believe I average about 3 saging a day now and I have not determined whether that is a high or a low. I’ll keep you updated.
My “highs” are definitely in the little ‘yes’ moments I have with my Nanay, with my cluster-mates, or with community members.
The morning after my bout of illness so kindly delivered by Nanay’s pizza I was feeling worlds better. Per usual I woke up around 6 and mosied my way to the CR (comfort room = bathroom). Nanay was in the kitchen and after looking at me said “Oh my goodness! You look alive! You look beautiful!” Good to know I looked like absolute hell the day before, but it did make me feel good 🙂
There was one particularly stressful week where my cluster mates and I were hosting a PCRA meeting with local officials, fisherfolk, and teachers. This was our first big project as a group and it was very important that it went well. I was pretty frazzled that morning, I woke up late having stayed up the night before prepping and it had just started pouring meaning I needed to grab all my rain gear too. By the time I emerged from my room I was in rainboots, rainjacket, balancing a stuffed backpack, morning coffee, umbrella, baon (packed lunch), posters, and a speaker for the session. Nanay took one look up and down at me and exclaimed “HOY! You look like a Christmas Tree!” We both had a giggle and I shuffled out of the house with her yell/laughing behind me “Ingat! Ingat ka!” meaning “Careful! Be Careful!”
Filipinos are very in touch with their emotions. It’s clear by the degree of drama in their version of soap-operas which air every afternoon. I’ve caught my Nanay crying several times, eyes GLUED to the television. The last weekend of CBT she wanted to do something special with me so she took me and Gizelle (19-year-old who helps my Nanay and our neighbor around their houses) to Subic to the movies. We saw the “How’s Of Us” the epitome of a Filipino Rom-Com. There were English subtitles at the bottom of the screen and honestly I truly enjoyed the film. I sat in between Gizelle and Nanay. Towards the end when the couple had made up and it was all very VERY mushy, the man surprised the woman with a trip to Amsterdam (her dream vacay) to see tulips (her favorite flower but she’s only seen fake ones). Gizelle, who barely speaks any English leans over to me and asks “what is….tulip?” I said, “oh it’s a kind of flower it’s the one that’s her favorite!” and she welled up right then and there and I saw what was about to happen so I put my arm around her and rubbed her back as she blubbered. It was precious. There was a time where you could hear every single person in that theater shamelessly crying, sniffling, and pulling out their bandanas to wipe their eyes.
Dishes. In training, Peace Corps tells us to help out around our host family houses. Hand wash your laundry, clean your room, do your dishes, help cook. Why? We need to learn! Of course, understandable, sige sige sige, walang problema! (no problem!). No, the problem is that it is near impossible to convince your sweet Nanay that you actually WANT to do the cleaning, you NEED to do the cleaning. Nanay would go into my room asking for my dirty laundry, not leaving until she found some. She’d change my sheets and sweep strategically while I was in training sessions. But after dinner dishes, THAT was my moment. She’d usually fix up a plate of scraps for Wheatie and the cats so I’d sweep in and wash my plates and utensils. By the time she caught me and exclaimed “no No NO leave it there!” they were already done. Score 1 Julia. One night she spent an extra moment outside with the pets and I took full advantage. Clearing the whole table, putting back the uneaten rice in the cooker, and setting aside more scraps. When she came back inside of course she freaked but I was too far in. “Please, Nanay just let me! I want to I want to!” She reluctantly allowed but only after picking up a rag to aimlessly wipe the counters while peering over my shoulder. When all was said and done she was honestly impressed. With a huge smile she exclaimed, “WOW, thank youuuuuu! Now, you can get MARRIED!” What? I must have looked confused, so she continued to explain that I have proven myself a good housewife and am now fit for marriage. “Congratulations!” I went along with it, we laughed and hummed the wedding song. It was great. Definitely not looking to get married though, but thank goodness I have Nanay’s blessing.
Annnnnd that’s only half of them believe it or not. It really is in these little moments, the small wins, that I am finding such comfort and happiness and love. Instances where I am simply connecting with those around me on a real, genuine and human level. I look forward to all the highs and even lows to come and what they will teach me. Thanks for sticking around for this post, a little more personal yes, but it’s just as significant to my service.
More things in the works!