Waiting

I’m standing by the side of the road. My left hand has a a loose grip on Cooper’s leash while my right arm is out straight, palm facing the ground, attempting to flag down the oncoming bus. Through the windshield, I see the driver shake his hand, telling me that the bus is full. I’ve been standing here, on the side of the road with my dog for over an hour. Every bus and van that has passed has been full to the brim, people hanging from the open doors, squished up against the windows and one another. Only the driver gets a few feet of space to steer and signal to potential passengers. I take a step back from the highway as the bus speeds by, leaving Cooper and I to wait a bit longer.

Many part of my service could be summed up by the word “waiting”. Waiting for a meeting to start, waiting for funding to come through, or waiting for the youth I work with to be available. Even the lead up to my service was quite a wait – the was a year and a half between my first application and my departure (the usual wait is only 6-9 months). In the last 23 months I’ve waited for brownouts to end (RWT (record waiting time): 24 days), I’ve waited for running water to return (RWT: 27 days), and I’ve waited for the rain to stop (RWT:39 days). Patience is a vital virtue for Peace Corps Volunteers around the world.

I have given up on the spot where Cooper and I were standing, and have walked about a kilometer down the road to a waiting shed where we can wait with other weary travelers. About five minutes later a mostly full bus pulls up. I stream aboard with the other hopeful passengers, only to be told that they don’t allow dogs on this bus line. I knew that already, but I was hoping they would make an exception. I try to explain the Cooper is not like other Filipino dogs: he’s not going to bite anyone, and he isn’t going to poop or pee on the bus. The conductor doesn’t buy it. We step back down on to the concrete, and dejectedly return to the waiting shed.

Let me tell you, waiting can be a frustrating business. If you go to the city on the wrong day, you can spend an hour waiting in line at the grocery store. If you’re traveling around the holidays, lines mean nothing: when that bus rolls up or the ticket counter opens it’s a free-for-all. It’s enough to make you scream (or at least make you use your elbows to keep people from cutting you). When you’re unsure about when the waiting will end, it’s like sitting on a weird teeter-totter of hope and despair – you’re hopes being raised, and then smashed by the events around you.

Teetering on the edge of despair, I lean up against the railing of the waiting shed. Almost all of my fellow travelers have found a ride, so there are only a few older men to keep me company. I knew that it was going to be difficult to find a ride with Cooper at this time on a Sunday afternoon, but it’s beginning to feel impossible. One of the older guys heard me speak Visayan when I was having the philosophical debate with the conductor on the bus, but he asks me just to be sure, “Kaibalo ka ug Binisaya?” (Do you know Visayan?)

I respond with an affirmative, “Oo. Dugay na ko anhi.” (Yes. I’ve been here for a long time.)

“Pila ka buwan?” (How many months?)

“Mga duha ka tuig na man.” (Around two years already.)

Hearing this, some of the other guys join in, and the conversation goes on…

There have been times when the waiting has been too much. Times when a long line or a rainy day has made me want to give up. However, when I do manage to stick it out, it seems that the waiting pays off. There is almost always some experience along the way that made it worth the wait. Sometimes the payoff is something to witness along the way, like when, in a dark crowded bus terminal, I spot a boy blowing bubbles. Sometimes I have to wait until the very end of the journey, when the funding finally comes through, the program comes together, and the youth enjoy an activity that I designed.

I talked with my fellow waiting shed occupants for 10-15 minutes, as we all stared down the road, waiting for what seemed to be my only hope – the potential of a somewhat empty van. They asked about my dog, my living situation, my marital status, and my job (the usual Filipino ‘getting to know you’ questions). As we’re talking, a large white ton-truck pulls up, and a few teenagers jump out of the back, running towards city hall to find the public restroom. The truck idles there for awhile, as we continue to talk about life, the universe, and everything. As our conversation drifts off, one of my new friends goes to talk to the driver. About a minute later, he calls me over. The truck is headed through my town and, since I’m a poor Volunteer and can speak Binisaya, they’d be happy to give me a lift.

In the States, I would never get in to a stranger’s truck. I wouldn’t even risk it in a different part of the Philippines, but Bohol is a very friendly place, and the teenagers sitting in the bed of the truck are very smiley and reassuring (as are the two older women in the back seat). It also didn’t hurt that Cooper and I had been waiting for almost two hours – we were more than ready to get home. So, I thanked my waiting shed buddies profusely, picked up Cooper, and climbed into the back seat with the two older women. We talked for awhile, and they handed me a large bag of banana chips as Cooper curled up and went to sleep on my lap. 45 minutes later, they pulled over to let me out in the middle of my town. As we said goodbye, they joked that I should give the driver my number because he was single too. We both laughed as I woke up Cooper and awkwardly clambered out of the truck. As they pulled away I shouted my thanks one more time before turning to walk home.

Our waiting was done.

IMG_9287

Advertisements

A Different Kind of Blue Christmas

Christmas away from family can be especially difficult so, this year, I had a bit of a get away with my friend and fellow PCV, Mel. We spent our short holiday exploring the beautiful island of Siquijor. Our time was filled with beautiful blue waters, wonderful food, and breathtaking sunsets.

Christmas Day was spent by the pool, with short excursions for water and walks on the beach. We had an extra special Christmas dinner at Baha Bar in San Juan, Siquijor, where I filled up on Crocodile Steak, Mango Quesadillas, and Veggie Spring rolls. On the way back to our resort, we passed the beautiful Christmas trees in the plaza.

We set aside the following day to hit some of the tourist destinations. We hired a tryke to drive us around and met up with one of our fellow PCVs assigned to Siquijor.

Our first stop was at the Balete Tree, where we got a pedicure from some surprisingly large fish, under the shade of an incredibly large tree.

Next we went to Cambugahay Falls where we had a blast using a Tarzan Swing and jumping off the falls.

Final stop of the day was a group of twelve water falls up in the mountains of Siqujor called the Zodiac Falls. We payed special attention to Lugnason Falls and finished out our day at  Monkey Buisness with excellent pizza and swinging bar stools.

Overall, we had a wonderful time in a wonderful place, enjoying the many different shades of blue that water can take on.

Foundation Day

This past Wednesday was the 163rd anniversary of my town’s founding. It is a local holiday, so every town employee had a day off, and the schools were closed. The morning was supposed to begin with a parade, but it was cancelled because of the rain, so the festivities were kicked off with the annual marching band competition. Six of Candijay’s seven high schools had been practicing for months and fielded strong bands with drums, chimes, and dancing majorettes. It seemed like the whole town had come to watch, and Cooper and I stood behind a few rows of onlookers. Each band preformed several numbers then the top three finalists went head to head in the finale.

While the judges were tabulating the results, all six bands took the field for one last cooperative performance. BISU took home the trophy at the end of the morning, and all of the spectators headed out to the other events (including sports competitions and an evening food expo). By the end of the day, Cooper and I were both exhausted.

Project Design and Management

Part of my job at Bohol Island State University (BISU) involves helping with the organization, planning, and execution of programs for the grant students.  November’s sessions were meant to be about gender-based violence prevention and healthy relationships but, after our program date was moved around a few times, our guest speakers from Cebu were unable to make the final chosen date of the program. I still wanted those speakers to share their valuable information with my students at a later date so, with two days left before the event, we had to develop a new topic and at least six-hours of educational programming.

Luckily, I had a few ideas in my back pocket and a Peace-Corps-provided thumb drive full of resources. Project Design and Management (PDM) is a program designed by Peace Corps and a number of partnering organizations in which participants learn about the Community Development Cycle for project planning and actually develop a program throughout the course of the program. I had thought about holding a PDM with my students, and this with the perfect opportunity, I just had to get the materials together and condense the program (PDM is usually a multiple day event). I spent two days running around like a headless chicken, trying to pull everything together and get my PowerPoint in order.  With help from my counterparts at the university and Pantawid, we got everything together just in time for the program to start on Wednesday morning.

Divided in to six groups, my students spent their day identifying community resources, envisioning the future, and identifying the issues that needed to be addressed before their vision could become a reality. They then developed projects to address those issues. These are the ideas they came up with that they hope to realize before their graduation in March:

  • Monthly educational sessions in every neighborhood around the University to increase literacy in the community
  • Weekly feeding program for malnourished children at Can-olin Elementary with free vegetable seeds sent home with students for the development of backyard gardens
  • Renovation and repairs of classrooms at BISU to create a better learning environment (and reduce the number of puddles indoors)
  • Nutritional sessions at Tawid Elementary with an example of a healthy lunch
  • Solid-Waste management inspections at every household in Cogtong to assess the current waste management program
  • Community center for youth with library, instruments, and tutoring services

I am really excited to work with my students to make these projects and programs come to life over the next few months, but the success of these programs will ultimately depend on persistence of my students and the investment of the community (*fingers crossed*). Here are some photos from our day of PDM:

 

 

Special thanks to the United Church of Hardwick. While I was home in October, they gave me over 40 lbs. of school supplies. I couldn’t afford to fly all of those supplies back to Bohol, but I got them all to the Philippines and shared them with my fellow Volunteers at our Mid-Service Training. The supplies that then came with me to Bohol were used in PDM, and will be used in many other events over the next year and beyond. The other Volunteers have promised to share pictures with me when they use the donations, and I will forward them along. Thank You!

Around the World and Back Again

I recently used some of my annual leave to travel back home to Vermont and attend my great-grandmother’s 90th birthday in October.

The travel around the world (from the time I left my room in Bohol to the time I walked through the door of my family home) took over 48 hours via van, tryke, taxi, plane(s), and car, with pit-stops in Manila, Tokyo, Detroit, and Burlington. Being home for two weeks was wonderful and bizarre (we take a lot of things for granted in the US), and my memories of my time home have a sort of dream-like hazy quality, perhaps due in part to jet lag. While in Detroit for my longest layover (over six hours), I cried about seven times – half culture shock and half sleep deprivation.  I cried once because there was hot water in the bathroom sink, once because I sneezed and several people around me said “bless you”, and once in the overly-stimulating airport tunnel (look up “Detroit Airport Tunnel” on Youtube – it’s a terrifying experience for a sleep deprived person arriving from the developing world). Perhaps the most memorable crying incident occurred while I was waiting at my gate:

Several planes had just boarded, and I still had about four hours to wait, when another passenger reported an abandoned bag. Everyone else cleared out, but I was too tired to move, and (perhaps I trust airport security a bit too much) I figured it would be pretty difficult to sneak a bomb through the luggage scanner.  I sat across the aisle from the abandoned bag and listened to a podcast while the gate staff called in the police and a bomb sniffing dog. Within a few minutes, an officer was on the scene. She gave me a wary look, as I was the only person within a hundred feet of the infamous bag and probably looked a bit unhinged with my rumpled clothes, runny nose (I caught a cold on the plane), and bloodshot eyes. Maybe ten minutes later another officer came in with the bomb sniffing dog. I took one look at the beautiful, healthy, well-trained black lab, and started openly weeping – now, in the officers’ eyes, I was the girl with rumpled clothes sitting near a potential bomb and crying, so the female officer pointed me out to her male counterpart and I got a visit from the dog before it checked out the abandoned bag (which turned out to have just been forgotten by its owner). It all ended well, and my final tears of the day fell when I ran in to my mother’s arms at the airport in Burlington, Vermont.

The next two weeks flew by in a blur of welcome home parties, birthday celebrations, speaking engagements, and friendly gatherings. I went to BINGO with my grandmother, went hiking with friends, visited Cabot Hardware’s new bar (and a couple other bars), made apple cider, picked raspberries, got a maple creamee, and ate lots of good food. Here are some randomly arranged photos from my many adventures:

My trip back to the Philippines was also quite eventful (though with fewer tears). I flew from Burlington to Manila, (again with layovers in Detroit and Tokyo), but about a third of the way across the Pacific Ocean, there was a medical emergency, and we had to turn around and land in Alaska.

IMG_7421.jpg
Those aren’t clouds…

The passenger was taken off when we arrived, and we refueled and took off again in under an hour. We made it to Tokyo a few hours late, ran through security, and boarded the plane to Manila (which they had delayed so we could make it) only to find that there was a problem with the navigational equipment and we could not take off. After we sat on the runway for an hour or so, we returned to the gate for repairs. (Whenever you can, fly Delta – they had snacks and beverages waiting when we got off the plane, and bought food for everyone when the delay had lasted over an hour.) Around 10:00PM, we were allowed to board again, landing in Manila just after 2:00AM. I found a taxi and headed to the Peace Corps pension house for a few hours of sleep before my dentist and dermatology appointments the next morning. I remained in Manila for a week of medical appointments and trainings before making my way back to Bohol and Cooper.

A Transpo Nightmare

Yesterday, Saturday, September 23, I was invited to help out at a YDS Intensive in Bilar, Bohol. While the event was an amazing and awarding experience, my travel there and back was peppered with various misfortunes.

I began my day at 5:00am with a bike ride from my University to the center of town. Less than half a kilometer in to my 6km bike ride, I picked up a thumb tack in my front tire and had to turn back and find a vulcanizing shop to fix my tire. As it was only a little after five in the morning, the shop was not open. I spent at least ten minutes calling from the door before someone inside answered my pleas. I explained my situation and, after a few more minutes, a man emerged from the house and set about the task of fixing my tire. I got back on the road around 6:15, only to have my chain fall of twice – both times in the middle of big hills. I arrived in Poblacion slightly annoyed, dripping sweat, and incredibly late. I had hoped to catch the six o’clock van, but it was already 7:00.

I dropped off Cooper, took a very quick shower, and changed in to cleaner clothes as fast as I could, but still didn’t get to the terminal until just after 7:30. I then sat for almost half an hour. A van pulled up just before 8:00 — the same time the event in Bilar was supposed to start. I was already late and I was still 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) from my destination.

An hour and a half later, I got out of the van at a crucial intersection to yet again play the waiting game. The first bus heading the way I needed to go was full to the brim — doors open with people hanging out. In the Philippines they say, “There’s always room for one more.” but not one of the Filipinos waiting with me moved to get on this bus. The next bus was also incredibly crowded, but I managed to summon my inner sardine and board the bus. Imagine an old bus with the front three rows removed and replaced with bench seating. Now imagine that bus packed to the brim with about 100 people (and at least a dozen children) speeding up a winding mountain road with steep drop offs. I stood in the aisle near the door holding tightly to the bar on the ceiling. I couldn’t move an inch without hitting someone or loosening my grip, so, with backpack balanced between my head and my shoulder, my butt pressed firmly against a seated stranger’s shoulder, and with a young man’s arm pressed against my chest, I did my best not to bump into anyone too forcefully as we sped around sharp curves in the road. The bus was so full that the ticket master could not pass through the isle — instead, in order to get from the front of the bus to the back, he went out of the front door and climbed along the side of the side of the moving bus, using the open windows as footholds for his flip-flop clad feet and the railing along the top of the bus for his hands. After another 45 minutes, I finally arrived in Bilar with a significantly diminished personal space bubble, but I still had to make my way to the school.

As I crossed the road to the market to find a tryke that could take me to the school, another woman who had just gotten off the bus called out to me. Pointing to my DSWD polo, she asked if I was heading to the high school. I told her I was, and she suggested that we share a tryke, but first she needed to by some things in the market. We found a driver, and I waited near the tryke in the hot sun (for what felt like half an hour) until she returned with her purchases. A short ride later, I arrived at the school just before 10:30 – two and a half late.

The next seven hours were wonderful. I worked with 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, talking with them about “Discovering Their Destinies”, goal setting, and planning for the future. In total I had sessions with about 150 youth. The youth were great, and these hours were pleasant, in sharp contrast to my trips to and home from Bilar.

My trip home began with a walk from the school back to the market. I then sat waiting for a bus. I didn’t wait very long — a bus pulled up within ten minutes, and I began my trip back down the mountain. The squealing of the brakes, as the driver made sudden stops to let people off, made me wonder how often the brakes of the buses that travel this route need to be replaced (and question how recently these brakes had been installed). However, I was not questioning for long, as about halfway down the mountain the engine suddenly cut out, and would not restart. The driver said something about the sharp turns in the road having an effect on the engine, but I suspect it may have something to do with overuse of the engine brake.

I filed out of the bus with all of the other passengers and lined up on the side of the road, searching for my ticket stub in my bag so I could prove to the next bus going by that I had already paid for my journey. Luckily we were in the middle of a relatively flat and straight section of the road and the sun was still above the edge of the horizon. A new bus came down the mountain within fifteen minutes, and everybody rushed towards it before it had even stopped moving. I held back, avoiding the rush, as I don’t really mind standing and “there’s always room for one more”, so I figured we would all get on the bus. I stood in the aisle, but had a bit more room this time — I could sway without bumping into anyone. My new bus got be back to the intersection, where I got off, crossed the road, and did a bit more waiting.

My last bus of the day was also crowded, but emptied out a bit as we got closer to my destination, so I got a seat after thirty minutes or so. I arrived in my town around 8:00, grabbed my food for the week, packed some clothes, picked up Cooper and we made our way back to the University for the night. The batteries in my bike light need replacing, so I could only see about seven feet in front of me, which gives enough warning to stay on the road, but not enough to avoid pot holes and rocks. We arrived at the campus with sore butts, having been chased by three packs of street dogs at different points on our journey, but at least we only lost the chain once. Glad that my journeying for the weekend was done, I took a quick shower and collapsed in to bed where I was joined by pup for some nighttime snuggles.

Getting $#!t Done

Around the end of their first year of service, most Volunteers experience what is known as a “Mid-Service Crisis”. Anniversaries are time for reflecting and, upon reflection, many Volunteers realize that they have not accomplished quite as much as they had hoped. Throughout my service, I have experienced many triumphs and disappointments, and just as I was beginning to settle into my Mid-Service Crisis, I was wrenched out of my foul mood by the sudden approval of a number of my previously-submitted project proposals.

In the matter of a couple of hours, I went from having very little to do at the University, to being swamped with regular sessions and event planning. I’ve got weekly life skills sessions with the ESGP-PA grantees and, with the help of my co-facilitators and a hardworking guidance counselor, we’ve almost completed the entire YDS program at one of the high schools in my town.

Here are some pics of my sessions with the ESGPPA grantees:

Here are some pics from the most recent Youth Development Sessions:

We have a big three-day training in the works to help us expand the YDS program to include the other high schools in my Municipality. The first weekend in September, we will be training the grantees to facilitate the sessions with help from the DSWD. With a big event comes a lot of planning: I’ve had countless meetings with the Mayor, the Campus Director at the University, and a number of written communications with the Regional DSWD office. With the help of my counterparts, I’ve secured funds for materials, a venue, lodging for the facilitators, lunch and snacks, and certificates for the participants- it’s been a busy month, but even with all of those tasks, it’s hard to evaluate what I’ve actually accomplished in a year at site. Most of the impact of any work I do at site with my main project won’t be seen for years or even decades. Luckily, we’ve also got a number of side projects in the works, including a volunteer environmental program with the scholarship students at the University.

Early one sunny Saturday morning, I met about 30 of my ESGP-PA grantees (and some of their friends) in front of the University gates, and together we walked to a neighboring barangay. We met some of the barangay officails at the Barangay Hall, and they led us to a nursery, where they had been raising hundreds of mohagany seedlings with the help of the DENR.

DSC_0461

We took as many seedlings as we could carry and climbed a near-by hill, our designated planting spot. With a single shovel, two machetes and a a lot of sweat, we dug many holes in the mountainside and, in a matter of a couple of hours, we planted 102 seedlings. The students had a blast, and the DENR and Barangay Council teamed up to buy them all merienda when the work was done.

As a CYF Volunteer, when leading life skills sessions and trainings , sometimes it’s hard to see the impact of any of my work, so it felt really great to do a little manual labor for a change, and see all of the seedlings we had planted when we were done.

DSC_0502