CHRISTMAS IN THE PHILIPPINES
ARRIVING BACK AT MY TRAINING SITE
I returned to Mandurio, my site during training, to celebrate Christmas with my old co-teachers. One of the teachers, Mam Gildge, has become my closest Philippino friend. We were co-teacher together and we get along so well, it’s a pleasure to return to the school.
As I arrived I was quickly I felt at home. The first three months during training really shaped my confidence as a teacher, and I quickly trusted the English Department staff at the High School. I told them about all the work that I was doing, and they were really impressed with my ideas and shocked about the work that I was taking on. Before the break I was teaching every grade level, 1, 2, 3, and 4, which means 4 separate lesson plans. In some classes I had a heavier role, sometimes completely teaching lessons, while in other cases I merely assisted in furthering discussions and so forth.
What’s my plan for the next quarter?
While co-teaching, I found out that there is a computer lab at the school with only 20 computers. The teacher in charge of the lab is names Margot, and he has become my good friend. He is 22, and we are the youngest people on the staff by a long shot. It’s nice to have someone near my age to be around.
Together we discussed some of the problems, some students have no idea how to turn on a computer, and to move the mouse they wave it in the air as they are confused why waving the wand doesn’t work. They have never been taught that the ball at the bottom of the mouse needs to be rolled.
I decided that the school really needed a computer teacher for the 4th year students, so they may be equip to work and succeed in college. My class will be the basics, saving files, opening documents etc. My hope is to teach Microsoft Word, Excel and end the quarter with a Power Point presentation about any country of their choice in hopes to broaden each student’s ideas about the world they live in. I have spent all my time writing this program, I am no computer whiz, but the basic knowledge of computers really could be influential to the students.
However with only 20 computers and a class full of 55+ I have to split each class into two groups, advance and novice. There are 9 sections of year four, which means 18 classes. I worked with the teachers and we decided the computer class will be once a week, so every year four student will get the chance to work a computer. There are many kinks I still have to work out, for example I still have to find a way to fund internet (1000 pesos a month) and electricity for the additional computer use (I’m not sure how much that will cost yet).
While I was explaining all this, a woman was there threading the teachers eyebrows. It was the head teachers gift to her teachers. Since I was there, they insisted that I have my eyebrows threaded. It was really scary, I mean trusting a stranger with the shape of your eyebrows is really putting yourself out there! Haha!! Everyone watched as my eyes swelled with tears and I denied the pain. Overall it was worth it, my eyebrows turned out to be a great Christmas Present, my most unusual surprise present to date.
I was able to stop by my old host house and bring Sir Seth his present. I gave him a family portrait, and his smile is something I will never forget. Like a little kid he could no wait to open his presents!! It was so amazing to be a part of such pure genuine joy.
IN THE CLASSROOM
Mandurrio is very different than my new school in that the teachers move to each classroom instead of the students switching rooms. For this reason I spent the entire party in just one classroom, with the Year 1, Section 1 class, the brightest of the first year. I got to know a few of the girls from the section fairly well over my first 3 months and really enjoy their confidence in trying to speak with me. I taught them “American” games. Which really meant I couldn’t think of anything so I made things up as best as I could. I had my ipod with me, so I hooked it up to the speaker and taught them the CHA CHA Slide, they loved it. We did it three times. Then I taught them the human knot, and for the grand finale, JIGALOW. Do you remember that one?? I used to do it with my softball team, everyone has to get in a circle and do a dance move. We played the game for over an hour, everyone was forced by their peers to make a dance move. The kids giggled and laughed so hard, it was pure joy to experience it with them.
Then the students taught me Philippino games. The paper dance is my favorite. They take a newspaper sized paper and like musical chairs have to stand on the paper with their partner every time the music stops. After each round the paper is folded in half. Eventually one partner has to lift their partner and stand on his/her tippy toes because the paper is so small. Another is the tomato dance, where they couple must hold the tomato up with just their body parts for as long as they can while dancing. The last was tying an eggplant around the waist and then using the eggplant by swinging the hips to move a match box across a line and back as part of a relay race.
I was really happy to have such a wonderful experience sharing games, and learning Philipino games.
CHRISTMAS AT MY HIGH SCHOOL
Each grade level is separated into wings, and the parties were by grade level. There was so much going on all at once; I can’t believe how quickly the day passed. I was most excited to hand out the gifts I had made for my English teachers. I tricked them into a group picture which I told them was to be emailed home, but really I used it for my Christmas present. I purchased frames, and then gave each teacher one of the pictures. It came out blurry, but they still all really liked it.
I went by every classroom at the school. I played the paper dance game with Year 1 and they were so happy that I knew had to play. I was lucky Mandurrios Christmas party was the day before. The Year 2, Year 3, and Year 4 students just tried to feed me. I took home so much fruit salad to my host family. Due to the fact that I am vegetarian then only food that I can eat at most events is the fruit salad or rice. Fruit salad is nothing like the US, and I have grown to hate it because they force me to eat it in ridiculous proportions. Now I just bring a bag with me, and tell them I will take it home. It’s easier to consume in small dosages.
The school also played many games, but the one that is most popular when discussed with my peer PCVs is a coke bottle game of musical chairs. The girls or boys stand in a circle with coke bottles between their legs. The opposite sex, (so if girls are in the center the boys have the straws and vice versa) has a straw in their mouth and when the music stops they have to get the straw in the coke bottle. As you can imagine, we as Americans can find this wildly inappropriate, however the game exemplifies the nature of the Philipinos naïve purity when it comes to having fun.
While make my rounds, I stopped into a classroom where I was offered a shot of rum by the students. They had a bottle of rum just sitting out on the table with sodas. I didn’t know what to do, they were 13 and 14 year olds with rum on school grounds. I told them to throw it out, and that I didn’t want to see them with it again. I told them it is not okay to drink on school grounds. I then found a teacher and told her what happened, she then explained to me that the students always drink at parties, and that is why the party ends at 1:00 and not when school gets out.
I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t really.
Eventually the parties came to a halt, I said goodbye to the teachers and barrowed the schools copy of Word By Word (which is similar to scrabble) for my entertainment during the break. While walked out a group of 4th year girls pulled me into their classroom and told me I couldn’t leave till I dance with them for one song. One song became five, and many teachers and students joined in. It was a perfect way to end the event, dance party time.
When shopping for my teachers, I had to catch a jeep back to San Miguel. Every jeep was full, so much so that people were riding on the tops and sides. I waited for over 40 minutes, it was dark and the jeepneys would only run for 20 more minutes. I closed my eyes and prayed, ‘please dear God let there be one spot for me in a jeep so I can get home.’ I opened my eyes, and a stranger rolled down their window and recognized me and offered me a ride. I got closer to the car, and recognized the female driver as a town councilor. She saved me. In exchange I signed up to be a judge for the beauty pageant during the towns festival, Pasidungog 2010 (Meaning to Honor) . It was really a miracle that she saw me and gave me a ride. Judging the contest wasn’t so bad, except that I got to the plaza at 7:00pm and didn’t get home around 2:00am. It was really nice to be a part of the community in such a big way.
I have judged other contests and pageants while here, and the judges all wore casual clothes. I dressed casually, and my host family did not approve. They quickly swarmed around me and changed my ensemble. I barrowed a shirt from one of the girls, and they did my hair in a more stylish way. When I got the pageant I was grateful for the fuss over my outfit, every other judge was a Miss something or other. They had crowns on, and were dressed as though they were competing as contestants, not just judging. The most embarrassing part for me wasn’t that I didn’t look like a super model; it was that when the pictures were taken, my shirt became see-through, as exhibited below. I really enjoyed the experience.
High School Night
The first night of the festival was High School night. Jaron came to visit, and we sat front and center as we watched each grade level perform carols and dances. Some were awful and hard to get through; some had bits of hard core talent. The hardest part to get through of course was my star moment when the teachers informed me that I was to sing with them in Philipino (that is another language, not Kinerya or Illongo which I somewhat know).
I had the pleasure of front and center, while I butchered every lyric until I eventually lip synced and smiled. The only thing I successfully contributed to the teachers number was after the song I shouted into the mic “Merry Christmas.” And that’s about all the talent I have. Lets see if I get invited back to sing next year haha, things that won’t be happening.
The night ended with a big dance, where all the students from the school danced in the plaza. It made me really happy to be able to show someone my students and co-teachers. While the students were dancing, Jaron and I walked around the plaza (with our chaperone—we are ‘courting’ and not to be left without a chaperone) looking at the Christmas trees.
Each tree was hand made from recycled ingredients. Each tree was from a different group for the town. The High School won second place, although it was my favorite tree. They saved all the caps from coke bottles and sprite bottles and made garland. They used fruits and leaves to make the branches. It was really an amazing site.
LET IT SNOW LET IT SNOW LET IT SNOW….
It’s hard to believe that only 4 months ago I was getting in at 3:00 am instead of getting ready for mass. That’s right, since December 16th Philippinos across the country go to a 4am mass everyday. The church gets so full people bring their own chairs. I felt exhausted, its been a long time since I was up that early. All the girls in the house piled onto a tryke; all of a sudden I had goose bumps, real live goose bumps eventually joined by teeth chatter. Its 3:30 now, maybe I’m dreaming, could my teeth really be chattering, my leg hairs grow from being so cold?!?!
I wasn’t dreaming, I was cold. I was actually cold. Despite the miserable nature of the ride, it resembled Christmas; the streets were adorned with random bursts of colored lights, and I couldn’t feel my hands.
After the 3:00am mass, we returned around 6:30am. I couldn’t fall straight asleep, but I fell asleep exactly when my entire host family went into the city!! I missed out on the mall, haircuts, and all of the excitement. When they returned it was time to go to church again. They told me to dress really nice, that sometimes they wear gowns. I pulled out my suitcase, I tucked away several clothes that landed up being too dressy for the Philippines and threw on a polkadot dress. When I came out, they all were so excited, that they wanted me to open my Christmas present. I wanted to save it, so I would have something to open, but they insisted.
It was a beautiful pair of shoes, shoes that would have matched my dress perfectly, shoes that meant so much to my host mom as a gift. Sadly, my feet would just not fit. They were hanging out the back by ½ to 1 inch. I put them on and they all insisted that the shoes fit me. I felt so lucky that they would buy me something at all, so I pretended that they fit. I walked around and told them we could head to church, however by the time I reached the front gate I decided I couldn’t pretend. I had to tell my host mom the truth that they didn’t fit, and I felt awful doing it. She walked into the other room; I thought I made her upset. Then she came back awhile later and told me it was okay.
I put on the shoes I brought with me and headed to Christmas Eve Mass. During the morning service people brought chairs because the sanctuary was so full, for Christmas Eve however, there was no place to set the chairs down because so many people filled the church.
The highlight of the service is when a bright star is moved through the building, they call it the lighting of the guiding star. The star begins at the back of the church and makes its final landing above a small nativity scene located at the front of the church. Little kids climbed on top of each other trying to find a small portal to watch the star.
I really tried my best to observe the moment, to learn from my community about their faith and what I learned is that they are extremely dedicated to God. I spent the rest of the service doing my favorite activity, fighting off mosquitoes and biting ants.
CHRISTMAS IN THE PHILIPPINES
After the midnight mass, it was CHRISTMAS. I was suddenly whisked away to a celebration. I sat on a beautiful couch in one of the nicest homes I have ever been to in the Philippines. While there, everyone kept asking me if I was okay. Maybe I wasn’t. It was my first time away from my mom on her birthday, from my sister and my dad at Christmas. I was trying to be a good sport, all my best effort, but apparently they could all tell.
One of the teachers gave me some sparkling cider and popcorn. Someone from America had sent a huge shipment of American food including microwave popcorn and brownie mix. I enjoyed that popcorn so much. While the popcorn served as a distraction, one of the teachers at the school brought down a laptop and turned it on. She called me over and told me to skype my mom for her birthday. I had told everyone that it was my moms birthday on Christmas Eve.
SKPING WITH MY FAMILY
It was the happiest moment I had in a really long time. I successfully surprised my mom, and everyone wished her a happy birthday. Everyone at the party wanted to introduce themselves. When they saw my dad they said, “gwapo” which mean they think that he is handsome (he then removed himself from the vicinity of the camera haha) and they told me my mom looks like my sister. Its really funny because when we look at Philippinos we can never tell how old they are, we all think they look young. Its the same for them, when they look at me, my mom, any pictures or other PCV’s they think we look so young. It was my best Christmas present, being able to talk to my family.
I think my parents thought I was having the time of my life because I was so happy, but the truth was I was just so happy to get to talk to them. I loved how the teachers continued to intrude on the conversation to say hello again.
2:00am. At 2:00am we ate Christmas dinner. By this point I was full from popcorn, and not ready to eat another meal, however I had a tortilla that I had made for my family prior that day. I have had to eat a million things that I absolutely despise since I’ve been here. As a present for my family I made them homemade tortillas. Flour here is super expensive, 500 pesos a bag, which is most of my allowance. I was heart broken as they got cold and nobody even tried them. Apparently when I was gone at the party my family either threw them away or ate them up, because their was only one ½ a piece left. So I ate it. And I was happy. I also had a piece of real cheese. Cheese is too expensive to buy here so its very rare. The sliver that I ate tasted so strong, and so foreign of a taste. I enjoyed it. I had popcorn, tortilla and a slice of real cheese.
I then gave my family the Christmas presents that I had for them. I purchased a fan for each girl with their names embroidered on them, and for the parents a family picture I had framed. Two weeks ago I told them I needed them to dress up so I could post a blog and put their pictures up. I never expected them to dress so nice, and in the picture I am underdressed in comparison, however it really meant a lot to them. She put the pictures up with the other pictures, and when I walk into the room I sometimes see them all staring at it. It makes me happy to see them so happy.
We then went to two family parties, where people constantly asked me if I missed home, which of course made me miss home. They asked so many questions about my family that I suddenly felt grateful to be sick. Due to the constant changing of temperatures, chilly monsoon rains, late night hours, overcrowded churches my body once again delivered an extra special sore throat and cough. My host mom could tell that I was sick, so she let me go to bed early, around 5:30. I spent the rest of Christmas in bed.
IS IT REALLY CHRISTMAS?
Overall, it didn’t really feel like Christmas, I mean how could it? There was no tree in my house, nor my family to spend it. I didn’t attend a service that I understood. And then it hit me, I guess I needed to have this Christmas here in the Philippines, completely different from every Christmas tradition I have at home to remind me the true meaning of Christmas. Its not about the presents, the lights, or the food. Its about God giving his son, Jesus Christ to save us all from our sins, the sins of greediness and selfishness, sins that even though I try and be selfless am constantly committing. In the end, Christmas was Christmas, because even here it has the same meaning, Jesus Christ is our savior, and that really is the best Christmas gift.
Thanks for reading,