Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Field Assessments

For part of our job, we have to actually assess the coastal resources in our community. From a biological standpoint, this means mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs. Today we learned how to do a seagrass assessment (plop down a box and count, essentially), but I took the time to don a mask and snorkel. I went snorkeling once in Hawaii in 8th grade, but that's it. I'm not the most confident swimmer in the world, and so I was a little nervous about it. But it's AWESOME! We were in an area with only a couple little patches of coral, but I still saw a few clown fish (Nemo), a puffer fish, crazy urchins, and many other fish I recognize from the aquarium. Saturday we are learning how to assess coral reefs by slowly snorkeling behind a boat. I am sure there are going to be challenges, but honestly, my job seems pretty sweet. As soon as I can, I'm going to buy a mask, snorkel, and fins and make snorkeling a regular hobby of mine. Soon we're going to Apo Island and it's going to blow my mind.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Laundry By Hand

I didn't really start doing laundry until I got to college, and of course I only used a washing machine, with dryer. Put in your clothes, make 2-3 quick trips back to the laundry room over the course of a couple hours, and continue on with your day, all while doing something better than actually scrubbing things.

In the Philippines, most people don't have automatic washers. I think I could have my laundry done by my host family, but I decided I'd like to give it a go by hand, so I told my host mother and started getting my things. It was a complete spectacle. No less than six children and three grown women were watching me, laughing, coaching, and incredulously confirming that I'd never washed clothes by hand. There was also a completely wasted man who expressed an interest (this was 1 pm on a Sunday) in it, but scolded the 15-year old girl who was mostly coaching me for speaking to me in English. It's been somewhat of a fishbowl existence here, but nothing has compared to this so far. I stuck with it but I don't think I did it right. My hands and arms got really irritated with the soap, and I'm pretty sure my clothes aren't clean. They also took at least 24 hours to dry. For all I know, they still aren't dry.

To most people in the world, this is the way of life. The interesting thing about the Peace Corps is that I could make it my way of life too, or I could probably easily pay somebody to do my laundry for me, even on my Volunteer salary. As much as we want to integrate into the community, the fact of the matter will always remain that I'm a plane ride and job offer away from a life of comparative luxury, and it will continue to be this way throughout my service here. It will always separate me from most people here, and it will be a continual temptation to take the easy way out. Most Volunteers seem to pay somebody for their laundry, and I'll probably end up doing the same. In a lot of ways so far, it seems like being a Volunteer here presents a different set of challenges than say, The Gambia or Mali. Of course, I'll have to see how it goes when I actually get to my site..

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Initial Orientation and The Beginning of Training

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.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

It Begins!

After literally years of anticipation and months of serious preparation, being prodded and poked by dentists and doctors, probably being psychoanalyzed on my interview answers and essays, and jumping through countless bureaucratic hoops, I have arrived in the Philippines to begin my Peace Corps service. My reasons for joining are many, but the most overwhelming reasons that really led me to do this are a desire to do something I feel is truly worthwhile and helpful with this part of my life, the desire to fully experience a new culture in order to gain perspective on my own life and culture, and the desire to travel and experience new things.

I began applying about a year and a half ago, targeting the Environmental and Water Resources program, because it was the only program offered that listed Civil Engineering as a good background to have. I initially thought I'd be going to Africa, since I had loved South Africa and just sort of always pictured myself going there. But when that program was full, I decided to not go to Africa and teach but rather wait for this program in Asia in March 2007. March got delayed to May, and I ended up in the Philippines.

My job assignment is called Coastal Resources Management. Another time, I'll explain what my specific duties are more closely, but that will have to wait as I'm still finding out. Essentially, there are very bad environmental problems in this country and the government has identified this and enacted great laws to protect resources, but the reality on the ground is slightly different. There are problems with mangrove deforestation, coral reef degredation (brought on by dynamite and cyanide fishing), trash, lack of recycling, etc. I will be working on some or all of these issues, probably. I'm still waiting to see what part of the country I'll be assigned to, but it looks like there's about a 92% chance I'll be assigned in the Vasayas, which are islands in the middle portion of the country. The major city in this area is Cebu.

This is my second day in Manila and we're staying at a resort of sorts while undergoing our initial orientation, after a 2-day stateside orientation in Los Angeles. There are 65 people in my training class, Philippines Batch 266. They don't want us to be out in Manila for this week since there's a congressional election going on and they can get violent - although there have never been any foreigners targeted in such times. At the end of this week, we will be separated into three groups for a 12-week training period. We'll go to three different areas of the country for language, cultural, and technical training, and live at homestays. After that three months, we'll go to our actual job sites where we'll be spending 2 years. We have homestays for the initial months of that, as well.

I'm excited for this blog, even though I don't have a lot of musings or even information right now. Right now I have a high-speed wireless connection but I'm not sure what kind of internet access I'll have in the later weeks and months, although I'm told it's likely that I'll be near an internet cafe (I didn't bring a laptop). I imagine I will use it as half a mechanism to update family and friends on what I've generally been up to, and half as a way to share some of my observations, thoughts, and learning processes. Please feel free to comment away as this blog goes on.

Also! If you want to send me stuff (of course you do) for the first couple months, the address is as follows:

(for letters)
Craig Bosman, PCT
U.S. Peace Corps
P.O. Box 7013
Airmail Distribution Center
N.A.I.A. 1300
Pasay City, Philippines

(for packages)
Craig Bosman, PCT
c/o the Peace Corps Office
6/F PNB Financial Center
Macapagal Avenue
Pasay City, Philippines 1308