Sometimes life goes by too quickly, but what if we took the time to realize the value of each day.
Telling My family I was medically Separated from Peace Corps:
After a night of not sleeping and staring at the clock waiting for a reasonable time to call my parents, the 6 o’clock hour of California the US finally came. This was a common problem for me as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) anyways, the Philippines is a ½ day ahead. My family is from California, and my nights were their days and vice versa.
When I heard my mothers voice, I only heard that of a cry, I couldn’t understand her words. I can’t imagine how it feels to hear that your daughter is medically separated, they knew I had already been in the hospital several times but had not been sent home, so in their minds they thought I was dying. I didn’t have answers for them, as Peace Corps Medical Office (PCMO) said they would answer my questions when I arrived in their Manila office.
My dad took the phone away from my mom and was able to speak. I found comfort in their desire to have me home and safe. That morning I was about to disappoint my community, so to find some joy knowing returning home would give my parents a bit of peace and happiness was what I needed before I went to school. I don’t think I will ever stop needing the encouragement of my family, my family is my heart. Finding the courage to go to the school for my morning meeting took all my energy. I repeated words over and over in my head of what exactly I was going to say.
When I arrived in the principals office I had prepared a speech in my mind to give to the staff, but my principal explained to me that she needed to explain the situation and that I should go home and pack.
My first attempt at saying goodbye to some students
With all the teachers in meetings, I decided to roam the school. I decided to start with the 1st year students and tell them goodbye. The first classroom I had was Year 1 Section 6. Explaining that I was sick and had to go back to America was something that was not communicated. They all said, “It’s okay Ma’am Davis, you will just come back when you are better,” its hard to tell someone you are never going to see them again. Many of the other classes didn’t have a reaction, they didn’t understand. Other students cried. Many feared taking a picture with me, and others couldn’t wait for our last picture together.
I went around to about 8 classrooms and decided that it was too depressing. Instead I went to my International Day speaking engagement in the Plaza. In honor of International Month, the local pre-school had a day to honor other cultures. They paraded their costumes around the plaza, and it gave me a chance to take some final goodbye pictures of the place I called home.
International Day in the Plaza
Finally the event started. It was on Philipino time which means about an 1hr late! It will be hard to forget the students in their costumes, their costumes were made with heavy materials and in the unbearable heat their mothers had to fan them in order to keep the kids from fainting. I was the “keynote” speaker, and I didn’t know what to say to a group of 3-5 year olds and their parents.
If it hadn’t been my last speech in the plaza, I would have just done it all in English, but because it was my last chance to try the language I had worked so hard at (and still didn’t ever fully grasp it) publicly. I had overcome a huge battle of mine, I have always been afraid to speak Kina-raya publicly, but I had no choice, it was now or never.
I started with Kina-raya and spoke for about 1.5 minutes off the top of my head. Who knows if I was coherent, but that 1.5 minutes seemed like 5 minutes of conversation! Then I switched to English, and that was a lot easier.
I then had made a poster and taught the students a Jack Johnson/ Ben Harper song, with my terrible singing voice I lead in song and made small hand gestures. Its not the first time I have used that song at a Speaking event, I always find it inspiring, that each of us can change the world with our own two hands.
After the International Day event, I saw some familiar faces resting under the small amount of shade I had been helping coach the girls softball team and had really become close to a few of the girls. While waiting for the event to start I found a few of them lounging on the grass. I told them that I would be going home, and they all requested that I send them new equipment. Saying goodbye to them was difficult, many of them wanted to be my favorite, and they would always ask me who it was, thus they didn’t want me to leave until I answered! Haha! Not something I expected, I told them, “Being on a team is like being in a family, you can’t love your mom more than your dad, or your anything sister less than you, you are like my family so I love each of you the same, and thus you are each my favorite.” They laughed because they probably didn’t understand what I had said and then hugged me.
Typically they play in the mud, in the rain and in the heat with no shoes or equipment. They have one broken helmet, but its too hot to wear it anyways. Their softballs are repaired with tape, and their bases with rice sacks. Spending time with these girls was a true highlight of my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I had played softball since age 5 through high school and never expected that one day I would get to act as a coach. I just want to throw out a quick thanks to all the coaches in my life you were able to catch a ball, throw it, and bat it and make it look easy—because I never could! Haha! Really I just would throw up fly balls or have to throw down grounders. The biggest lesson that these girls showed me is love for a game. Even when the weather was a monsoon, or so hot you could taste the heat, they never complained, they never asked to stop playing, the game was theirs to play, and that’s all that mattered.
In life I feel like its easy to make excuses not to do something because everything in life has an obstacle, but these girls not only taught me to enjoy the additional challenges, but to embrace them. Standing out in a mud “field” holding an umbrella during the pouring Philippine rain deep into the “outfield” and watching those girls light up will truly be something that I will never forget.
The Peace Corps has been something on my bucket list and was kind of the last tangible thing that I really ever wanted to do in life. Saying goodbye to the softball girls helped me create a new goal, to one day be a coach of some sort, in order to teach the lessons I have learned through sports, and to be reminded that you never stop learning from those younger than you.
My next blog will be about one of the most amazing moments in time that I have ever experienced. I don’t think the world or people could have been any kinder, or a person could have felt more honored. It has taken me so long to write it because I don’t know really how to capture it all in words.
Thanks for reading,
For my parents, community and friends in Peace Corps, being Medically Separated from Peace Corps came as a large surprise, as my symptoms the day PCMO called where really no different than they had been since the 3rd day I arrived in the Philippines. Many people have asked and emailed about the process of exactly what is Medical Separation and how it is determined, and how much control you have over it. I don’t have all the answers, but I can only share my case, Peace Corps Medical Office Washington DC looked over my Medical File in the Philippines, upon looking at my file and seeing that I had been the hospital several times and that my symptoms had not improved they decided it was in my best interest to return to America.
Medical Separation happens very quickly, I could have been back in American about 4 days from packing my room to the plane; however I had two events I had planned in my town so the Peace Corps let me stay longer. I’m not sure this is normal, but I only spent one day in the Philippines Headquarters office to get my paperwork done and then flew back.
When I found out I was medically separated, I didn’t even know what day I would be flying back to America. When they called, I didn’t know specifically what I was being sent home for, and my imagination went wild with worry about the possibilities they might have found during my last hospital visit; a visit I had kept from my family. My sister was about to have a baby and I didn’t want to stress my family out knowing I was in the hospital. (Shout out to Jaron—we spent our 1year anniversary in the hospital—the same place we were almost a year ago when I was in the hospital the first time, funny that we ended up in the same place, a true anniversary).
At that time the doctors told me they didn’t really know what was wrong, that I have/had extreme exhaustion. They told me to take a break from my work, but at that time I was really busy with my HIV/AIDS Grant and some projects at the school I was working on; it’s really hard on my nature to take a break, but I rested in my room for about 5 days after the hospital.
I waited a week more and then I texted PCMO and asked them if they can give me anymore vitamins that I’m not already taking, because two weeks after my hospital visit I am still feeling awful. Apparently this text message was the tipping point. PCMO realized that there was nothing more they could do for me, and they sent my files to Washington causing Washington D.C. to make their final decision.
It is sad to say, but staying in the Philippineswas a battle of heart against my body. From the 3rd day I was in thePhilippines my symptoms never really disappeared. I had my own complex about not being a good volunteer because I had never been camping or was much of an outdoor person. I thought the reason I was sick and everyone else was healthy was because of my lack of outdoor training. I was fearful of being labelled as high maintenance because I was in my own opinion very different from the other volunteers. I didn’t complain to PCMO about my symptoms and tried to function without medical help. My Peace Corps Language Trainer was the one who first recommended for me to go the doctor in October of last year, upon going to the doctor I was immediately admitted to the hospital, this was the same case that happened a few weeks ago. However, no one could ever really figure out what was wrong with me.
During my 14 1/2 months I had to endure other severe medical dilemmas, I had a case of sore eyes where I went blind in one eye, and the doctor told me that it was going to be for 3 weeks, luckily that didn’t happen and recovered fully after 11 days. I also developed a heart condition in which my heart was beating at an extremely low number of 30-40 beats instead of normal healthy heart beat of 60-100. I thought I could be sent home for each of those, and was prepared to be medically separated in June, however I tried my best to stick it out.
In truth I am extremely grateful to PCMO for making the decision to send me home, I didn’t really know how sick I was or what I was doing to my body until I returned home. Although I am still exhausted, I feel 100% better in ways I didn’t even know I was sick. Now that I am away from the Philippines, and not dedicated to my work I realize how much sickness I was suppressing. It’s nice to be honest about how I really feel, because before I was trying to cover it up so I could do my job.
For those of you who are Peace Corps Volunteers and are worried about Medical Separation, it took many illnesses and the ultimate realization that staying in the Philippines and being sick every single day was too much for my body to handle. You can also reapply in 45 days if you are better, however I think in cases like mine that would be really difficult as I have many tests to run and doctors to see and I am only on appointment #1.
My advice, if you feel like your body is under severe stress, speak up, while I loved my work and the people around me, its hard to make the decision for yourself because you want to stay and help so badly. What I learned about myself through this experience, I don’t want to limit my ability to serve others to 27 months in Peace Corps, but a healthy long life of loving and finding ways to serve elsewhere. While going home was not something I expected, my community, friends and all my families have been extremely supportive, because the people around you always want what best, and all of them could see that I was sick.
I have to trust God on this one. I had no idea I was going to be separated and I have no idea what to do now, but I know when doors close, windows open so I’m going to get healthy and then look for windows.
Thanks for reading,
P.s. I am very determined person which means when I put my mind something it consumes me. I was really determined to make the most of my time in Peace Corps even if it meant suffering, every week I thought to myself, I can make it through, just one more day or one more week. I think many of my successes in Peace Corps was due to my sickness, since I felt so bad all the time I wanted to do as much work as possible so the suffering would be worth it. I would have never made the decision to return home on my own, although the people who knew me best were always supportive of putting my health first, and to all those people, OKAY YOU WERE RIGHT! Haha!! And now you can really say, “I told you so.’ Haha. Thank you for loving me despite my ambitions.
Top Ten Places I need to go out eat still….
- TacoBell—For those of you who know me… can you believe I haven’t done that yet?!?
- Margaritas and Happy Hour at Chevys
- Movie Theatre Popcorn
- Coldstone Ice cream
- Jamba Juice
- Fresh Choice
- Baja Fresh
- Any Chinese Food—which is weird that I crave that because I didn’t really like Chinese Food too much.
Any takers?!??! Any recommendations!??!
Haha…now I’m going to go to bed hungry!
Also with all that food– who wants to join me at the gym!! haha
Thanks for reading,
* I wrote this blog before I heard the news today. I did a 50th Anniversary celebration that you will read about below, sadly earlier today 4 of the kids drowned in the same river we played in earlier, I don’t know which ones, but spending time with them, playing with them in that same water, its just so tragic. Please pray for their families.
50 Years of Peace Corps
At a young age I took an interest in politics, thus I ran for many student government positions. My junior year of High school I ran for Junior Class President. I modeled my speech after JFK, because I admired his words. I thought I was clever and instead of saying, “Its not what your country can do for you—but what you can do for country,” I said, “Its not what your school can do for you—but what you can do for your school.” I remember the auditorium bursting into laughter, except I wasn’t trying to be funny. I really believe in those words, I really believe that in life we should do things for others.
Committing to something for two years is huge. Before I came to Peace Corps I took my LSAT and was ready to go to Law School, but before I went, I wanted to do something for world; I wanted to be a part of something bigger than me.
I wanted to understand what it means to be poor, hungry, and tired from working too hard. I wanted to invest myself into someone else’s future, as so many have invested into mine. I wanted to be exposed to a different lifestyle, so that no matter what job I do in the future I always can remember what it means to live with little. I don’t think I have shed much light on the lifestyle I live here. Let me paint a picture:
In America I spent more on gas in two weeks getting back and forth to work than I live off for everything, rent, food, transportation, basic needs, etc., in a month.
Imagine the difference.
Gas for 2 weeks =my entire life here
My Peace Corps experience has been all that I wanted, because it has been exactly that, what can I do for my community? As many of you know from blogs, I have had a intense journey, but every time it all feels like too much, I think about the big picture. Two years of my life, to infiltrate a community and do nothing but give yourself to your community in hopes that one day the things you do for them they will be able to do for each other is worth putting my other goals and ambitions on pause.
Being a member of Peace Corps this year in the Philippines has truly been something to celebrate.
Peace Corps is celebrating not only 50 years of service, but 50 years of service in the Philippines. Through these celebrations I have thought a lot about what other PCVs have been like. I watched a video with the first set of PCVs leaving America, and I wondered about what it was like for them. 50 years later we have medical support, materials, resources, phones, emails, trainings, systems, security, an ways to communicate needs. I can’t imagine joining 50 years ago, and to those people, I have the utmost respect.
Due to this milestone, Peace Corps allowed us to throw 50th Anniversary Celebrations. My first 50th celebration took place in May, very far from my site in a place called Banaue. For those of you reading this not from the Philippines, Banaue is one of the most widely famous areas of the Philippines, known as the rice terraces.
My months have been so busy I feared I would never have a chance to share with you one of my best experiences in Peace Corps, my trip to Banaue.
However, two weeks ago we had a celebration of 50 years of Peace Corps in my own area. The celebrations and activities were so different, that waiting to share my experience is actually a blessing because now I have a chance to shed light on the differences of two extreme differences in the Philippines, and what Peace Corps has done in the last 50 years.
50 Years of Peace Corps Ifuego
After being called up to Manila for medical, I was able to join the 50th Anniversary Celebrations in Ifuego. The trip was long and exhausting. The bus ride from Manila to Ifuego was 14 hours, because wait for it… our bus caught on fire. This is the second time in my life I have been on a bus that has caught on fire—not really good odds. By the time we made it to Ifuego we were exhausted, but amazed at how different the climate was. We took a jeep to the rice terraces and I was amazed at its beauty. It was one of the most peaceful moments I have ever had in my life. In this case, you don’t need my words, see for yourself:
We spend the weekend in a farm house, where we had the opportunity to actually harvest rice and do activities at the local school. My biggest fear was that I would find a leech on me, as they warned us that leeches often attach to you when you step in the mud.
The only dismay I found after harvesting rice was that my legs and arms were itchy, like blades for grass that cause microscopic cuts that somehow itch like crazy. The work overall gave me a huge respect for the rice I eat.
Besides the weather being much cooler, a huge difference from Iloilo to Banaue was the students ability to read and speak Engish at their grade level or higher. A group of PCVs planned on reading to the students at the local elementary school, but instead they read to us.
After our weekend in the Rice Terraces, we ventured back to Ifuego for one of my favorite experiences of Peace Corps. We did a native Ifuego dance, in native clothes. It was an amazing opportunity to really feel a part of another culture.
Another event was the HIV/AIDS Fun Run with an educational seminar after the run. I had been to the HIV/AIDS training in Manila a few months prior and it was the first time I was able to help lead HIV/AIDS related activities. It made me nervous to address a large group, in a language different than the one I am familiar with, but the students were able to understand and enjoyed the activities.
Finally the best moment of all, and the main difference between Ifuego and students in Iloilo was how brave the students were. After school some students came to our Peace Corps booth. One of them came up to me and asked right away if I was American. In Iloilo you have to build up the students confidence before you can speak with them, in this case the students wanted to converse. Their English abilities were out of control good. I asked a few of them if they wanted to play a game. I was able to explain the rules just one time and they were able to understand them easily. Soon our group of 5 turned to 10, than 15, than 20. Than I needed some assistance from the other PCVs, Jaron and my friend Mary joined the group. It seemed by the end there were about 30 kids playing a game I randomly made up. It was so fun, and I hated to leave. I loved the ease of making a connection with the students. At my site, you have to work to connect with students, but once you do, its truly magical.
It was a week away from site, but it served as a lifetime of experiences.
50th Anniversary Iloilo Style
During training we had the opportunity to visit an indigenous site. In the 1980s, I PCV was assigned to the area and was able to help the people keep the land. Over 20 years later and the 5 of us from Iloilo wanted to do something for the community we first fell in love with. My favorite picture of Peace Corps so far was taken by another PCV, Amari. She was able to capture a moment that I find the essence of the Peace Corps experience. A baby exploring my face and the difference of someone from a different culture, it constantly amazes me how babies are able to see the differences in those around them. You can see them react to the tone of our voices, and shape of our teeth, but mostly the desire to grab our nose.
Indigenous people here in the Philippines are called Ati. It is similar to that of Native Americans. The Ati were displaced all over Iloilo, they really needed a home. Ati are often found begging for money in the city. They usually have little to no clothes. My host father at my first home called them, “The ones with the Kinky hair.” The Ati are much darker in color than other Pilipinos. They also live naturally off of the land, but there is still much garbage. We decided to do a trash clean up, and a small English style camp.
As always a few of the children stole my heart. The boy pictured to the right loved to be held, and didn’t allow me to put him down. It was very difficult to climb up rocks and down to the river and up hills carrying a baby to pick up trash. I had a new respect for the woman and how hard they had to work carrying their children.
The second child that really made an imprint was one who I had sitting on my lap. All of sudden she realized I was different and she started SCREAMING!!!! I have never scared a little girl so bad. I tried to make it up to her but she was so frightened by me. By the end of the event she was following me around, so I know she wasn’t scared anymore just curious.
When we first arrived at the site, surprise surprise, they weren’t ready for us. We had a presentation and several other things planned but the majority of the people were in church. There were several children whoever, who were not in church. So I tried to teach them how to play “tag.” It didn’t really work, it was just me as a “monster” trying to tag the kids.
It was wonderful to hear so many giggles, but man was that a work out. There was a lot of little kids, a lot of hills and only one me. Still it was fun for all of us.
At the end of our activity we went down to the river to take pictures… the water was beautiful and kids were having so much fun that I had to jump in and take part of the off the beauty.
Just as I thought the day couldn’t get any better…. It did!
I get to check off a major item on my to-do list: PET A MONKEY!
There was a native monkey. And I can’t tell you how honestly scared I was to touch it. While small, it looked mean. Like the children who can tell there is something different about me. Eventually it grabbed onto my finger. WE HELD HANDS <3333 true love status.
All that’s is left on my check list
- Swim with a shark
- Ride and Elephant
- Save the world (haha jk)
As always thanks for letting me share my life with you. While my experiences differ drastically from day to day, the purpose is the same. I can’t believe how much I have learned about others and how much I have been able to share about myself. I look at all the events that shaped my life to bring me to this moment, how I learned games like tag as a child, and how those games help make a connection with others. I guess what I’m saying is that the life events you have now are all experiences that can eventually be shared and valued by someone else, and that is what Peace Corps is to me, a chance to be exactly who you are and to accept others for exactly who they are.
Happy 50 years Peace Corp Philippines!
Thanks for reading,
My Compilation CD that Reflect my 1st year in Peace Corps
InAmerica, any track I listened to was all about the beat. I rarely listened to words, I wanted music give back the energy I put out there. When I’m out for a jog or extremely tired, I still crave those beats, but the music I listen to, that makes me feel better on a bad day, gives me inspiration on a sad day, or reminds me about the worth of life has become even more important to me. So if you’re a fellow PCV, maybe these songs can make you feel better on a down day, or if you’re just a stranger, its amazing how music can really reach the core of who a person is, and I’m sure you will see me in all these songs.
Song 1: Heavens Eyes- Featured In the Motion Picture Prince of Egypt
Favorite Lyric: “A single thread in a tapestry, though its color brightly shines, can never see its purpose in the pattern of the grand design”
PCV Mood: WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING??? What sustainability??
Song 2: Perfect Day by Hoku
Favorite Lyric: “Im in the race but I already won, and getting there can be half the fun, so don’t stop me until I’m good and done, it’s the perfect day. Nothing is going to bring me down.”
PCV Mood: I worked really hard on this project, it is going to work.
Song 3: Dog Days are Over by Florence and the Machine
Favorite Lyric: “Run fast for your mother run fast for your father, Run for your children for your sisters and brothers, Leave all your love and your longing behind you, Can’t carry it with you if you want to survive.”
PCV Mood: There is no turning back, no where to hide, but the worst is over, only 15 more months!
Song 4: High School Never Ends- Bowling for Soup
Lyrics: “The Whole Damn World is just as obsessed, With who‘s the best dressed and (who’s having sex), Who‘s got the money. Who (gets the honeys), Who‘s kinda cute and who‘s just a mess”
PCV Mood: Am I in high school still (in regards to how PCV’s interact, gossip, and exclude/include others)?? But really the whole world is.
Song 5: Mulan- “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”
Lyric: Tranquil as a forest, But on fire within, Once you find your center, You are sure to win, You’re a spineless, pale pathetic lot, And you haven’t got a clue, Somehow I’ll make
a man out of you
PCV Mood: Sometimes you don’t think you are ready for it… but in the end it will work out.
Song 6: Don’t you – Simple Minds
Don’t you forget about me (don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t) , Don’t you forget about me , Would you recognize me? Call my name, or walk on by? Rain keeps falling – rain keeps falling down, down, down, down”
PCV Mood: My friends wont forget me will they?
Song 8: Fat Bottom Girls- Queen
Lyrics: “Fat bottomed girls you make the rockin’ world go round”
PCV Mood: I just was called, fat, big, chubby or large, but really I like what I got.
Song 9:Island in the Sun by Weezer
Favorite Lyric: On an island in the sun, We’ll be playing and having fun, And it makes me feel so fine, I can’t control my brain.”
PCV Mood: I forgot I live on anIsland because all I ever do is hang out in my school, room or plaza.
Song 10: It’s My Life- Bon Jovi
Lyric: “Better stand tall when they are calling you out, don’t’ bend don’t break, don’t back down. I’m not going to live forever, I just want to live while I’m alive.”
PCV Mood: After pooping your pants, throwing up your breakfast, itching from mosquitoes, stuck in bed with a fever even though it’s a million degrees, and people ask you, “Why are you still doing Peace Corp again?”
Song 11: When Love Takes Over by David Guetta
Favorite Lyric: “Look out for you to hold my hand. It feels like I could fall. Now love me right, like I know you can, we could loose it all. When love takes over, you know you can’t deny.
PCV Mood: I’m in a relationship in peace corps, I am more vulnerable, cried more tears, felt more defeated, more empty, but still there is someone to grab your hand. (And for me, that person is Jaron, thank you Jaron.)
Bonus Track: WAKA WAKA- Shakira
Favorite Lyric: Well the lyrics don’t really matter on this song
PCV Mood: I have heard this way way way too many times, but I will include it on my playlist anyways
Shout out Track: Tarzan- You’ll be in my heart
Favorite Lyric: My arms will hold you, Keep you safe and warm, This bond between us, Can’t be broken, I will be here , Don’t you cry
PCV Mood: I miss my mom.
My Year In Numbers
My Year In Numbers
0 Number of Vacation Days Taken—soon to be rectified!
1 Year in Peace Corps (in 6 days)
1.5 Number of liters of water I drink per meal on a hot day
2 Number of Languages I am trying to learn
3 Number of Houses I have lived in
4 Number of Cockroaches that have crawled on me…that I’m aware of…
4.5 Number of inches my hair has grown…aka the longest roots I have ever had before
5 Number of times I have eaten Taco Bell while in thePhilippines, also that amount of schools I have done Teacher Trainings at with other PCV’s
6 Number of days spent in the hospital
My sister is Over 7 months pregnant….looking forward to that one
8 Number of English Teachers I work with
9 Amount of days I have gone without shaving (not as bad as I thought it would be)
10.5 Number of Months I have been dating Jaron, and I feel so blessed, thanks Jaron.
11 Amount of people I consider my immediate family in the Philippines, My first host family, Sir Seth, Ma’am Sol, Grace and Suseth, and my second host family, Nanay Atett, Tatay Nong, Rhea Joy, Merlin, Joleynda, Mary Jane and baby Nikki
12Number of purses given to me since arriving in thePhilippines
14 Number of places I have visited in thePhilippines, Cebu, Leyte, Boracay, Banaue, Sagada,Manila,Bacolod, Antique,Iloilo, Gumerias, Alklan, Bagiao, Ifuego, Sagay, Kabankalan
24 My new age!
26 hours spent playing Bejeweled…sadly that’s the truth
51 Books in my room, 41 to read, 10 read
50 Years of Peace Corps in the Philippines Events took place, for mine, I got to go native
150 pesos, the amount it cost for my favorite meal, a spinach calzone at Sabarro
320 Number of pesos I spend minimum per month on my cell phone
443 emails currently in my inbox from my mother
358 Days since I have missed my family and friends inAmerica
465 gb of Movies, Music and TV shows to keep me entertained at all times (Thanks other PCV’s)
1,939 number of friends on Facebook—most of them being new friends in thePhilippines!
2,040 estimate of students taught so far….and counting
2,384 number of tagged pictures on Facebook
2,600 number of students at my school
7,226 number of hits on my blog since it started on my 23rd birthday (thanks mom haha)
25748 messages sent on my phone sent
And the best number of all of them… 12/16/2011… the day I get to go home and visit my family!
The Too High to Count Numbers
Beads of sweat dripped
Burps witnessed publicly
Pounds of Smog inhaled
Number of days spent sick
Additional members in my family
A Quick Note
I just wanted to say thank you for your support this year. Peace Corps has truly been harder than I could have imagined with tribulations coming in ways I didn’t expect. Nevertheless, I feel extremely blessed by God to be place in the community I live in and surrounded by people far and near who are kinder than I deserve. I am positive about this year, and the projects I’m starting in my community. I’m praying this year that my energies spent will really serve my community well.
Thank you very much for being a part of my life,
And as always thanks for reading,
(p.s. thanks mom and dad for having me :D)
(p.p.s I spent a lot of time lining up the pictures for each number and it didn’t work so now its just a bunch of pictures…but enjoy)
Death is an awful tragic thing, which no one wants to experience. We fear it, and in our American culture we move past it so quickly. When someone dies, we burry them quickly, and we try our best to move on, we fight our tears and we keep busy. Until I came here, I was okay with this, but something has really moved me here, and caused me to change my view of death.
Almost three weeks ago I was at a fiesta (a towns Philippine Party, there is one somewhere in the Philippines everyday). I was enjoying California wine (it was a really fancy party) and peanuts, (both extreme pleasures and rare) when my table suddenly all received the same text. We rushed to St. Pauls, the hospital, a place all to familiar to me, and a place that I frankly despise.
An aunt, who was about to turn 90 years old had fallen and hit her head in a place where she lost her memory and site. The week prior I went over to the Aunts house, she was an Elementary teacher and loved to practice her English with me, and she invited me to her birthday party before the family had even planned it. Many of the older people here love to touch me, and usually fight over holding my forearm. If I go to leave a house, they continue to hold it so I am unable to leave, and this aunt always had the best grip of everyone. No matter who was grabbing my arm, I could always feel her grip. She was strong and healthy, and then she fell.
Being at the hospital was on overwhelming experience, I saw family after family member arrive. I was allowed into the emergency room, and just as I came they were putting in her IV and the last thing I saw of her was blood squirting out on the bed. I cringed not because of the blood, but because of the love each child had for their mother. It was an awful experience.
I waited the rest of the evening outside and befriended a cousin who kept me company and eventually drove me home around 2am. While I slept, I thought about the family and how they wouldn’t be able to sleep, and how hard it is to think that if someone is hurt in my family I won’t be able be there. It’s a scary thought. And I pray it doesn’t happen.
Sadly, two days later, she passed away.
I have been at a funeral where there was an open casket, I remember seeing the body and being fearful. In one of my favorite movies, Home Alone, when the band member is driving the mother home he tells a story of how he left his child at a funeral parlor and it messed his kid up for a while. For these reasons, and American culture in general I have been afraid of dead bodies. Perhaps. I have watched too many scary movies, but to talk about them as I am writing this blog late at night is scaring me.
Yet, after my experience here, I view death so differently. I have been to 4 wakes so far, the body lays in a casket in a central location and
My first day at the wake, they let me sit with the family. Many friends and neighbors sat on the outside of the house praying and participating in mass. When I entered they sat me in the room about 2ft from the body. I tried my best not to look, but eventually I did, I prayed that it was going to be like an episode of truly and she was going to say “help me” and the day would repeat, but no such thing occurred.
The prayers when in Kinarya, my training was in Ilongo, and I really havn’t learned much kinarya so I didn’t understand a thing. It mostly sounded like soft mumbles, chanting of some sort that was in a tone I had never heard before. I fought tears. It was an unforgettable experience, they way her friends and family honored her, and loved God. Although I didn’t understand the words, I understood the love and I felt the dedication.
Filipino families are much like Hispanic families, meaning there are a TON of people. This isn’t difficult for me because my mother is one of seven. When I was young we would get together and have sleepovers, play games and eat food. The same occurred. All the cousins stayed up together sharing secrets, playing card games and spending the ngith together.
I fit right in to the family, well except that I don’t eat meat, but besides that it was lovely. Family came from all over, places PCV’s aren’t allowed to go, and across America. One of the cousins came from San Diego, it was amazing to see how much of the culture I have learned as we compared the differences.
A highlight moment was when the whole family got together to take a group picture. I offered to take the picture because obviously I’m not real family. Then after a few pictures the cousins, aunts and uncles insisted that I join for a few pictures. It wasn’t my host family who called for me to be in the pictures, but the people I had just met, it was an overwhelming feeling of acceptance that I didn’t know I longed for but suddenly felt.
The nieces and nephews who live in San Miguel and I know well told everyone I was their sister, and to everyone else that they could be my cousins. This made me really happy, and I can’t describe to you the joy I found in the countless conversations I had.
The strangest conversation was with a cousin who is writing her thesis on Indigenous cultures and sustainability. She shared with me about traditions in San Miguel. She told me they look for animals/insects to tell when its going to rain. The geckos in the house make a noise, “toca” odd numbers mean its raining, even that its not. If the ants climb up the wall it will rain. Black ants and brown moths mean fortune. It goes on and on. Then she asked me if I have visited a healer, those are people who practice doctor like traditions of the native degree. They put herbs on you and do other things to heal you. I told the cousin I had been sick most of my visit here and she said I needed to go to one, that a volunteer was here in the early 70’s and was sick all the time until she went to the healer.
She also asked me if my host mom had brought me to the back of the house to introduce me. I was really confused, “Introduce me to who?” She said that when visitors come the owners must take the visitor to the back of the house and say, “This is our visitor please do not touch her.” She never really answered who, but I think she meant spirits. I learned so much that evening it was really hard to take in, and I’m not sure what I’m missing. I told her I was having trouble sleeping and she said that is why.
When I got back to the house I told the helpers that I needed to be introduced to the back of the house. They asked me why. I told them I had trouble sleeping. One of them said, “in our culture if you can’t sleep it means that someone is watching you.”
OTHER TRADITIONS THAT AREN’T SO SCARY
- the family is responsible for feeding the EVERY person who comes every meal and snack. ( so for three weeks the family has been supply every meal)
- Prayers and mass are held throughout the day
- The wake lasts as long as it takes for all the family members to say goodbye (it could go for longer than a month)
- You are not to shower during the wake in the house, three days after you go to the ocean and wash
- Gambling- the first few wakes I went to I thought it was rude that people would be playing games and gambling and I didn’t understand how that was respectful it was just explained to me that a portion of the money goes back to the host family from the winnings, so to help pay for the costs friends and neighbors gamble and then kick back some of the money
- Gambling also helps with staying awake, someone is to stay awake with the body 24/7
The morning of the funeral was hotter than most. Around noon my family headed over to the house of the wake. We did another prayer hour. Then the family took turns taking pictures with the open casket. Each family took a turn. I didn’t participate in the picture taking, I’m still not that comfortable with the body situation.
There was a full marching band, the car with the casket, and then the family. Everyone wore black and white. Just as we left the house the day turned from hot to cool, and sprinkle of rain matched the emotions of the family as though the sky was also mourning the loss of such an outstanding person.
How did I know she was an outstanding person?? Almost as many people came to the funeral as did on Christmas. The church was beyond packed, and people brought their own chairs to sit outside. The messages and words of family and friends left me inspired to be a person as faithful and kind as a woman I barely knew, but wanted to be like.
The good news is the cousins from America were complaining how hot it was and sweating up a storm, it didn’t feel that bad to me, I think that means my body is adapting.
The Mass was from around 2pm-5pm. As people began to get up, I thought that was over, in comparison to an American service that was already very long. I was very very wrong. We then walked from the Church to the cemetery. All in all, from what I gathered we walked 3 miles. The walk was beautiful and sad. I looked behind me and saw a sea of people, the family prepared 1,500 food bags for after the service.
We then got to the cemetery and prayed again, they cemented the body into the tomb after friends and family dropped flowers in and said their last goodbyes.
They then dispersed the food, and we were at the cemetery well into the darkness. A gecko ran over my foot, and my legs were eaten up. I had no idea the day would go like that and didn’t put on bug spray. So fellow PCVers in case you are reading this, bring your repellents if you attend a funeral . Inside of the bag was a very special treat….A RECEES PIECES CUP!! I’m still saving it for a really bad day, but it was a really good end to the day despite everything.
Even now, it’s difficult to explain the impact that this experience had on my life. The way I will honor the dead, respect the dead and love the dead will be forever changed. I have never seen a group of people mourn in such a beautiful way. I have slept better knowing that “one of the people starring at me” could be mama opum. I don’t feel afraid, because I feel that the people who live here really love each other and while death is inevitable, life isn’t. It has really helped me focus on making the most of my life because I saw how many people were affected by one tiny woman. She died only a few weeks before her 90th birthday. I can only hope that I can follow in her footsteps and make a fragment of the difference she made into every life she touched.
Thank you mama opum for teaching me about life, and the love that you have shared with so many will forever be reflected through your family and friends.
Thanks for reading,
VOLUNTEER, TEACHER AND …….MAGICIAN
NORMALCY OR SOMETHING LIKE IT…
In my life prior to Peace Corp I would say that my calendar was extremely overbooked, and that is exactly how I like to live. Adjusting to my life here means adjusting to free-time; a concept that I have never made the time to explore. I tried really hard to like it, but I am happiest when I am busy, and I have to find a way to stay busy if I’m going to be true to who I am.
MY FIRST PROJECT
I really took time to assess what was needed at my school. I want to help as many students as possible, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it exactly. For the last quarter I have been co-teaching in all 4 grade levels, in order to expose both the students and myself to each other. I worked with the highest, lowest and even the middle sections. I enjoyed the diversity that each day had to offer, being exposed to all the grade levels gave me great perspective as what it would be like to both be a teacher and a student.
One day I needed to print something out for Peace Corp. I thought I thoroughly examined the campus, and understood that the upstairs building was only offices. I was wrong. There was a computer lab of 24 computers, and a Math teacher who taught one computer class to the first years who ran the lab. 24 computers and only 1 computer class!?!
Margot, the name of the teacher, is brilliant with computers; he set up the entire lab, and spends a great deal of time fixing computer and other components that are constantly breaking. After many visits and conversations I started to work on a proposal. I wrote out a syllabus of things I wanted to teach, and made my first three lesson plans. I sat down with the principle and proposed a computer class. Upon discussion with the other teachers, we decided that the 4th year students could use the class the most, as they may go to College and need to type a paper, or maybe a future job will include some prior knowledge of computers.
They then asked me, “Which sections do you want to teach,” and I of course replied, “All of them.” I didn’t want to be unfair, and just pick the highest sections, I wanted to make sure each child had the chance to learn. What does teaching all the 4th year students mean exactly?? It means the return of the overly booked Lysette Davis, which of course for me means happiness.
The timing of all of this meant that I have one quarter to teach the students all the basics of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. There are 9 sections of year four, and due to the fact that the lab won’t contain all 60 students per section, I have to divide the class into 2, meaning 18 computer classes. On top of my Computer classes I will continue with the English program. I will teach: Year 1 section, 5,8, and 9. Year 2 section 1 and 10. Year 4 section 1. The way the schedule works, I can’t obviously teach that many students at once so I switch classrooms. I adore the 2-1 kids, and bonded with them really well, but the 4-1 class is at the same time. The teachers really want 4-1 to get as much exposure to me as possible, so every other week I will switch classes, the same for the 1-8 and 1-9. Nevertheless, it means that I get to work with over 15 different sections. Each section has about 55-60 kids (however that does not mean they come to school), but that gives me the potential to work with almost 900 students. To type that number I suddenly feel overwhelmed, but excited at the opportunity.
I will never forget how I felt the first time the students walked through the class. Since the class isn’t in the curriculum, it can’t be graded, its not mandatory to come. I was so nervous that they students wouldn’t come, or they wouldn’t like the class, and a million other things. But they came, and they liked it. If you could see my smile as I typed this, I think you would be pleased as well.
ABOUT THE COMUTER CLASS
I thought teaching computers would be easy. Since I’m only teaching the basics, I thoroughly planned lessons, and by now I thought we would be wrapping up Word, and moving on to Excel. That I fear may not happen.
For the majority of the classes, they have never touched a computer. I started the classes by explaining the most used keys on the computer, like backspace and spacebar, and then move into the components. You would think that part of the lesson would be easy, but try explaining backspace when the student has never seen the ‘space’ or understand why you would need to delete something or even what it means to delete. It is much more difficult that I ever could have imagined.
I spent a lot of time on my first lesson, to teach the students how to move the mouse. Margot helped me set up a lesson I made on each computer. When the students filed in, of course it didn’t work, so I changed the lesson and had them practice their mouse skills through the art of Paint. I told them they had to write their name and/or a message to me. There are about 1-3 students in most of the classes who are more familiar with the computer, and I feel awful for boring them to such a degree, but for the others its as thought I’m teaching rocket science.
The first challenge is the language gap, they have no idea what I’m saying, and I don’t have any idea the terms in Kinarya. I just go to each computer one by one and show them over and over again. I have 7 classes on Fridays, you can imagine how exhausting it can get.
The students are known to be late, yet they are usually on time. More boys come to the classes than girls. They are eager to learn, as I am eager to teach.
When I show the students how to change the font, or to cut and copy using the key board controls, I feel like I’m showing them a magic trick. Whenever I change the color of something the students all get excited and simultaneously “OOOOOOO” at the changes. I never would have imagined that such simple things could have an effect, but it’s a really amazing experience.
On Fridays I really get worn out, this last week I was teaching them how to open Word, to make bullet points, change the font, color, size, and to center their name. This meant a lot of explaining and re-explaining. Last week my 4-5 class came 30 minutes late, as it was the class after lunch and most students go home to eat and don’t make it back on time. Only 6 girls came from the section. I felt really tired after lunch, as my class before lunch ran long, I only had 20 minutes to race home, eat and return. I was secretly hoping that the class would be late, and that it would bring in small numbers again. To my surprise about 30 students were there waiting for me, on time.
I suddenly felt extremely selfish; I couldn’t believe that I wanted the kids to come late or to only have a small number. When you watch the students touch the computer for the first time it is the most beautiful experience, and I wanted to deprive them of that so I wouldn’t feel tired. My whole purpose in being here is to help as many students as possible; the experience was a great reminder of that purpose.
As the material gets harder, so does my headaches, but then I remind myself that these students are getting the opportunity to do something that they otherwise would have never had the chance, and I push through. After all, I am happiest when I’m overbooked and working hard, and I can truly say that I am. And that my friends, makes me extremely happy.
Thanks for reading,