One thing you quickly learn about the Peace Corps when applying is that a lot of patience and a lot of flexibility is required. To that end, I basically stopped even trying to anticipate what will happen with my assignment, etc. a while ago and have just been going with whatever is announced to me. Still, I was surprised to learn that I'd be going to the Visayas only a week after arriving in Manila. Initial orientation was overall pretty good, we got to meet a lot of the people involved in Peace Corps Philippines administration and familiarized with policies, procedures, etc. I also got really scared and anxious when we went over the showering/bathroom techniques (but it's ok: the dipper shower isn't really bad at all, and my host family has toilet paper). Of course, the most important thing about the initial orientation was getting to know my fellow trainees, which especially happened because we were sequestered on our compound.
Still, after a week, we were ripped away from everybody and it's the summer camp syndrome all over again: you get close with a group of people and spend every day with them, but after a week you hardly see each other again. Except in the Peace Corps case it's slightly different. Our group of 65 was split into three different groups, one learning Tagalog, one learning Ilokano, and one learning Cebuano (that's me). The Cebuano group is all CRM people and we're all on Negros Oriental, a province in the Visayas, centered around Dumaguete. There are 16 of us down here, and we're broken up into three clusters of 5-6 people who are living and training in the same city. In my group there's a 26 year old guy from Tennessee, a married couple in their late 20s from California, and a woman in her 50s from Massachusetts. It can make for some interesting group dynamics at times but overall I'm glad to have good companionship and feel that the struggles will make my experience richer - plus there's really cute kids in my host family.
I'll definitely try to post pictures of my house soon, but I wanted to spend the first couple weeks not acting like a tourist. I'm living with a 68-year old widower on a family compound. It's definitely family style here, especially in my barangay (neighborhood). My 38-year old host brother lives right next door and hangs out at the house most of the time, with his 2 year old son. The mother is an overseas worker in Hong Kong (which is extremely common for Filipinos. It seems like everybody has a relative working in North America, the Middle East, Africa, or a rich Asian city. Typically they are maids, household help, or professionals like nurses, etc.) In addition to the actual residents, there are always brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews around. A lot of things are different than the typical American house: open air at all times (why bother sealing the house when it's always 75 degrees +), house lizards, mosquito nets necessary, drinking mineral water, and the noise! Roosters start at 3am and basically go nuts for the rest of the day. Neighbors blast music starting at 6 (I woke up to Don't Stop Believin' by Journey the other day). I also ate breakfast with the uncensored version of 50 Cent blasting in my ears. My host mother laughed and said "Disco". If she only knew what he was actually saying.
Training itself is pretty interesting. We'll be placed in a municipality with at least some degree of CRM planning going on, or at least we'll have a defined job when we get there. The new country director really stresses that, and from what I understand, not having anything to do upon arrival at site has been a major frustration for many Volunteers in the past, so I'm excited about that (assuming it actually works that way). Cebuano isn't super hard so far grammatically and there are a decent amount of words shared with Spanish. I think the major challenge for me is going to be understanding what people are saying to me! The technical training seems pretty interesting so far, as well. None of us really have experience with the tropical coastal ecosystem (reefs, seagrass, mangroves) but hopefully I'll learn.
It's been a bit rough chronicling my experience so far. There isn't any internet access in my town, and I'm in Dumaguete no more than once or twice a week, so it's hard to update this. But, I hope as this goes on I'll figure out a better system. Please look forward to posts on: basketball, songs, swimming, and some pictures.