Pretty ironic how last post I couldn’t believe my work progress and now here I am 4 months later feeling like I haven’t moved. BUT I’m being hypercritical, I know I am, and THAT’s the left-brained, science minded, number driven gal in me. So many things have happened outside the office that are honestly just as important. There are three goals within the Peace Corps Mission after all, but I’ve been hung up on the first one….
“To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women”
So here’s the technicality of my job, right? Helping a Filipino Local Government Unit manage its coastal resources effectively, efficiently, and most importantly, sustainably. Thus far, I’ve gathered a fairly large amount of secondary data from the coastal communities via interviews, surveys, habitat assessments and various meetings. I’ve identified 4 marine protected areas (MPAs) within my municipality that are in need of restoration, rehabilitation, and legal establishment. I’ve brainstormed and written a proposal for this MPA project with my officemate who attended the project design workshop with me in February. I’ve turned the proposal into a formal grant with only 5 obstacles along the way – dengue, elections, no counterpart, fiesta, and …. batteries? Let me explain.
After returning to site from a (amazing, highly HIGHLY recommend) trip to Coron, Palawan, I began preparing materials for an “Eco Camp” that I had been asked to assist with by my sitemate, Oscar, along with some other volunteers. After the camp we all traveled up to northern Leyte to overnight a local favorite, Kalanggaman Island. Somewhere in there I must have been bit by a particularly malicious mosquito causing me to come down hard and fast with my first tropical virus (awwww), Dengue. By the time I returned home I was out for the count. I won’t go into detail, you can look up Dengue if you are really curious, but to be short Dengue is similar to the flu paired but with a WILDLY uncomfortable rash that appears once your fever breaks. YIKES. While it’s treatable like the flu, it is a cause of death here in the Philippines to those who unfortunately don’t have access to adequate health care or aren’t knowledgeable of proper treatment. This rightly explains why Nanay freaked when I came home from the hospital with my positive test results. Ancient Chinese porridge recipes and papaya leave extract freshly ground by my Tita shortly followed but I’m not complaining I quickly recovered in a couple of weeks (it can sometimes take a month!)
By the time I was back in the office dengue-free, April had officially kicked off the campaign season for Filipino government elections. From the national to the local government, numerous positions were up for vote. Peace Corps Volunteers are strictly prohibited from participating in any political event so as you can imagine my work began to slow down as everyone’s attention turned to the elections. In some cases, a PCV may even be temporarily removed from their site if it’s determined to be unsafe during election time. As for my municipality, our former mayor was stepping down having maxed out his terms and the new mayor was running unopposed. This made for a very relaxed pre-election dynamic. Nevertheless, office life crawled.
The day following elections just so happened to be my municipality’s FIESTA. A near week of off days filled with food, family, and more food. It’s tradition during fiesta to visit all of your extended family and friends by moving from house to house, indulging in classic Filipino dishes like pancit and lechon with your loved ones. You can also pick up the videoke mic a couple of times, or tagay (drinking rounds) some tuba (coconut wine) with you best friends. I personally prefer both, simultaneously. OH and DISCO! You cannot ignore the massive dance parties that go into the early AM under the covered community basketball court. The music is so loud you might as well go, you won’t be able to fall asleep anyways.
Trying to get a move on my work after fiesta was a slow battle. My officemate who had attended the project workshop with me left the office for a new gig. Ugh. It was better pay and more in his field so of course I understand and wish him the best but it rendered me alone. He was the only one in the office that had been a part of this MPA project planning so now I was back at square 1, struggling to engage my other officemates who’s priorities and responsibilities lie in agriculture demands, and they are rightfully busy with them most of the time. The next move was to request and acquire large buoys from the Provincial fisheries office to delineate the boundaries of the MPAs. To do that, I needed the coordinates for where the buoys would be placed. While I had coordinates, I had three sets of them for each MPA all from different sources within the LGU – ooff. But not too difficult right? Just get out in the water and determine the correct coordinates maybe in a full day’s time at most. Wrong. Our GPS is ancient but we can’t afford a new one. It takes BATTERIES. It’s now so old that a new set of batteries will only last a couple of hours. This is when my 5 week quest to find rechargeable batteries, that WORK, began. I won’t go into detail but I think it’s a classic “Peace Corps” moment. Acquiring rechargeable batteries would take a single trip to Target back in Texas, but here, it involved 8 hours combined travel, 4 weeks of waiting, and way too many pesos (for my budget at least haha).
SO I’ve got the batteries, I’ve got the coordinates, I’ve got the buoy request in, and I’ve got my first GRANT in pending approval. And now I wait. “Hulat na lang jud!” a common Bisaya phrase meaning “Just wait!” but kind of with an attitude, which I strongly relate to at the moment. Although elections are now over, we remain in a standstill until the new administration takes office in early July. With so much time on my hands and no work to be done I found myself increasingly frustrated. But, I seemed to be forgetting the other two Peace Corps goals..
“To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served”
“To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans”
Coastal Resource Management isn’t necessarily my job. Being an American ambassador is my job. Integrating into a foreign community is my job. Exchanging culture through food, language, and perspective is my job.
The past several months I dove into my Bisaya studies. I even caught my Nanay bragging to her cousin (in Bisaya) about my language skills over dinner one night. I attended countless birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. I disco-ed with my host siblings and cousins. I spent a day in the mountain waterfalls with my office mates. (I then got trapped in the mountain waterfalls with my office mates because of a sudden rainstorm, excellent bonding though). I drank tuba with the local priests during the municipal tennis tournament. I attended the soon to be Mayor’s birthday party at which she told everyone that I was going to save the sanctuaries (!!!). I was spontaneously asked to crown “Miss Inopacan” during the Fiesta coronation ceremony. I helped Nay and Tay serve lunch to around 100 impoverished families who couldn’t afford fiesta on their own. I explained to my host brother why I cried when our pigs were butchered for fiesta food. I successfully haggled an overpriced trike ride in pure Bisaya after the driver assumed I was a tourist. I spent work mornings watching The Finals with my office mates and betting afternoon snacks on the winner. I ate kinilaw (like ceviche) and rice with my hands during work lunch to everyone’s surprise. I fell asleep (hard) on my coworker during the 3 hour van home after she helped me deliver my buoy request letter. I cheered on a local fisherman who took second place at the “Fisherman’s Got Talent” competition in the capital. I introduced myself and Inopacan’s coastal resources in Bisaya to a couple hundred people over the mic of a mega mall. I asked Tay to teach me how to cook my favorite Filipino dish – ginataan. I laid on the floor in the heat of the afternoon with the rest of my family during a power outage. I befriended the local tablea (pure cocoa tablets) lady and she agreed to fill my zero waste jar instead of her plastic wrap. I began asking my office for a daily Bisaya word to learn and use in a sentence. I taught my host family how to use our (previously unopened) blender to make coconut milk mango smoothies. I sang countless videoke songs at Nay and Tay’s high school reunion (yes, I was the only one under 65 there).
I accepted the pace in the office for what is was and turned my attention to my friendships, my family, and my community. I reminded myself of my purpose here. I practiced vulnerability. I didn’t take myself too seriously.
I now walk with a new confidence around Inopacan and I can only think of my community to thank. They pushed me out of the office and out of the house with countless invitations and generosity. They are patient and encouraging with my language learning. They are just as open to my flaws and ignorance as they are to my strengths and passion. How neat is that.
I’m in the office about to take my lunch break. The office has been hectic all morning because this afternoon is the “Turnover Ceremony” in which all the department heads “turn over” their documents to the new Mayor and Vice Mayor. Like I mentioned, the previous mayor served a full three terms totaling 9 years. This means all my office mates are compiling documents from 2010 and on as I type this. They are clearly stressed and I have mentioned several times I can help but with no success. So, I guess I’ll just wrap up this post. I know it was a long one but thanks for sticking with me, there was a lot to catch up on. A special thanks to my friends and family who got me through these past several months and forced me to realize that experiences outside of work are just as important to reaching my goals as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I love you guys and I love my community here in the Philippines. I feel more and more fortunate to have landed in sweet little Inopacan every day.
There’s officially a new mayor in town, a new CRM Program Manager in Peace Corps HQ, and a new gal in the office part time from Provincial fisheries who is excited about my MPA project. I invited her to the Peace Corps hosted mangrove training with me last week in Cebu City and it went swimmingly. I’ve been thinking a lot about the rest of my service and beyond, including adding elements to the blog to enhance its versatility. Things truly seem to be falling into place and I am excited for what is to come.
Keep refusing that single use plastic and don’t forget to ask where your seafood comes from!
Amping kanunay! (Take care always!)