Monday, August 27, 2007

Wala mo'y ulaw!

The past week was primarily spent giving talks with my co-workers to schoolchildren about the importance of solid waste management and coastal resource management. Between holding the complete attention of a high school, getting frustrated at the incredible amount of side conversations that elementary schoolers partake in while I speak, getting mobbed for autographs and pictures, and stuffing myself full of sweet treats and Coke (Filipino hospitality is on strong display when you visit a school), I also made my most hilarious language blunder yet.

While trying to encourage participation from a quiet group who wasn't shouting out any ideas for why mangroves are important, I tried to say "Don't be shy!", which came out as "Wala mo'y ulaw!". There were some laughs, they got the point, and I moved on with my presentation. Only after, at lunch, was I told that what I had actually said was more along the lines of "You have no shame!" or "Aren't you ashamed of yourselves?". (I should have said Ayaw mo'y kaulaw!) I couldn't stop laughing at the thought that I'd admonished an entire high school for not participating more, especially because to be called shameless is one of the biggest insults you could say to a Filipino.

How did this happen? In the Philippines, even when speaking English, "shy" and "ashamed" mean the same thing. If a child is hiding his eyes from you and not answering your friendly greetings, his mother is likely to say "He is ashamed." Ashamed of what? you wonder. Does he have a third arm hiding behind your leg that he doesn't want me to see? But of course, she just means that the child is shy. Because of this, when I said wala (no, none) instead of ayaw (don't), it became a harsh admonishment instead of a friendly coaxing. They understood what I meant, though, and I picked up a handy new phrase as well,

Friday, August 10, 2007

Please add take away the T, and add the V, thank you.

In case you didn't guess from my cryptic post title, I'm now a Peace Corps Volunteer, instead of a lowly Peace Corps Trainee. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. We finished up training by doing community projects, which I have detailed in the post below. Then we had our final language tests (I passed with Advanced Low, which is pretty good, although I still feel like a 3 year old when I'm talking to a native speaker who isn't my teacher). Unfortunately I got a fever and wasn't feeling very well my last weekend with my training host family, so I spent my last couple nights in San Jose somewhat miserable.

On July 29, we flew to Manila for our counterpart's conference and swearing in. While the Peace Corps in the past may have consisted of 3 months of training somewhere in the US, a plane ride to a destitute country, and being dumped off for 2 years by the Peace Corps Land Rover in a village where you didn't know anybody, it's quite different here and now (at least here, anyway). We spent a week going over expectations and setting plans with our counterpart, who is our primary co-worker and the one expected to continue projects when we leave. Despite my borrowing a sweatshirt for half of it due to the fever (you do not wear sweatshirts here, people thought I was a freak, I joked along that I had adjusted to the climate extremely well), the conference went well and I realized I'm quite lucky to have a counterpart who is extremely motivated and who I work well with.

On August 3, we went for a tour of the Peace Corps office, which is very nice, and then swore in at the US Embassy. The swearing in was quite a grandiose ceremony, apparently much more so than in previous years. Peace Corps Philippines is the 2nd oldest program in the world, and we are the 266th batch to swear in here, so it was pretty special that we got to do this. Numerous dignitaries were in attendance, the news media was there (apparently I got on the national Philippine news a few times, although I didn't see it), there was some fantastic singing and dancing by a Filipino troupe, and some truly inspirational speeches. This was followed by a fancy reception, and I was lucky enough to have my Mayor and Supervisor also fly up to Manila for the ceremony - definitely a good sign of municipal support for my being in town.

The weekend after, almost all the newly sworn volunteers stayed in Manila for a small vacation to celebrate and relax before we headed off to our sites. Despite being stuck in traffic in Manila for many, many hours while going to and from the resorts and airports we'd been in, I came away with a much more positive impression. Intramuros, the old walled city, and Rizal Park were great, to name a couple. The Mall of Asia is also extremely impressive, and unquestionably the nicest, most modern mall I've ever seen. Which is why the Philippines can really fool the casual observer, as most of the people here could never afford to shop there. I also watched the Simpsons in the theater - it was ok.

On Monday, we departed for our permanent sites, which for me meant a return to Negros Oriental. As expected, the first week was slow and I really can't report on much, except that I have a cool desk, and what seems to be an 8-to-5 job. My LGU (Local Goverment Unit) has an unnecessarily high-tech biometric fingerprint scanning machine that all employees use as a time clock. So every morning now, I stand in line, put my finger in the machine, and hear a robotic "GoodMorNingCraig". Not something I expected.

Right now I'm in Dumaguete on an internet binge, as you can probably see below. I've included a description of my mangrove cleanup project, and a story I wrote one night out of high frustration with the transportation here.

A couple of housekeeping items:

For letters, use the following address:

Craig Bosman, PCV
U.S. Peace Corps
P.O. Box 7013
Airmail Distribution Center
N.A.I.A. 1300
Pasay City, Philippines

For larger packages, I will have a new address, so they can be sent directly to my site. I'll email it out later.

Blogger's being slow with the pictures, so I'm going to try and put some new ones up on Flikr... check it out!

Final Training Project

Here are some excerpts from an evaluation I wrote on our final project for training, a mangrove cleanup and poster contest done at a local elementary school. Maybe this can help give you an idea of some of the things I'll be working on here, and some of the issues that we face.

Project Description:
This project will include school children and community members. There will be a short educational session in classrooms at Tapon Norte Elementary School that explains the importance of mangroves in their community and how they are connected to nutrition. In addition there will be a poster making contest that also focuses on how the two are connected. Toward the end of the school day, there will be an organized Mangrove clean up with the help of the other two clusters and local community members. In the evening, there will be a showing of a short educational video about mangroves, prizes for the best posters (as judged by teachers), and a showing of the movie “Finding Nemo”.

Project Goal(s) and Objective(s):
To reinforce the importance of mangroves in the community and the idea of actively caring for the environment. There is already an awareness of the mangroves among both children and adults, but further education and reinforcement will be useful. Another objective is to clean up the mangrove area and further educate about environmental stewardship.

Project Justification: (Why is this a need for your community?)
The majority of residents in Tapon Norte are fisher folk, or rely directly on fishing-related activities as a source of income and food. Mangroves are an important part of the coastal ecosystem, which most residents here realize. However, further education, especially with the future leaders of the community, is always needed. Also, there is currently an unacceptable level of garbage in the mangroves. While mangroves are good at filtering out toxins, having loose rubbish strewn throughout the area poses a number of environmental risks. Having the school children help clean up the area can begin to reinforce that caring for the environment is important, and that they can directly and easily make positive changes.

Continuing to take care of the environment and educate the community is important at any stage of the CRM process. Tapon Norte has already been successful in planting many mangroves and the crucial stakeholders recognize their value. However, as trash builds up, mangroves can have their effectiveness dampened – as well as the other problems litter brings to the environment - and it’s important to continue to educate so that the mangroves are effective in the future.

Impact in the Community:
It’s hard to judge the lasting impact of the event in the community, but we can be pleased that the children were very excited throughout the process, and that they will tell their family and friends about the fun they had and what they learned. Conversations were overheard between the president of the Fisherman’s Peoples Organization and the schoolteachers, where the president was expressing shame and dismay that it took outsiders to spur a cleanup, so we definitely opened up some eyes and showed that the environment was important. The community was also paying close attention to the movies shown – including documentaries about Apo Island’s marine sanctuary and mangroves in Bohol, and Finding Nemo. Particularly with the first two, learning more about success stories on nearby islands could make local residents interested in seeing where they can take their environment.

Sustainability of the Initiative:
The president of the PO was also talking about how he wanted to begin a monthly cleanup of the mangroves and get people to take pride in cleaning and maintaining the mangroves. If this is the case, and the local will is there, this one small event could indeed be the start of a sustainable initiative. Education is also good for sustainability, so the more that students know about their mangroves, the more likely it is that they will take care of them in the future.

Challenges Faced:
· The amount of trash present in the mangroves was underestimated, so our hope of having a stunning visual impact was not realized as we couldn’t really clean everything. We learned that it would take some heavy-duty supplies and a very dedicated, strong workforce to really clean it.
· Some of the key points that we were trying to impart through this activity – such as not littering – clearly did not get through to some participants, as we had to pick up some of the plastic gloves used for trash pick-up off the ground, and there was a lot of litter left on the basketball court after the movie. This was disheartening.
· When the president of the PO was giving his speech, imploring the community to take pride in the mangroves and help keep them clean, he was very hard to hear and multiple people left, including many of the adults present at the time. This was disappointing because his message is what would help make the project more sustainable.

The Quest for 14 Kilometers

After a Saturday session in Zamboangita, a few trainees and I decided to go snorkeling and check out a local coral reef. Located in a tranquil bay with a fine gray sand beach, scenic vistas of mountains, palm trees, and Apo Island, the reef featured a healthy amount of coral and tropical aquatic life. As it approached 6:45 pm, I decided I’d better start the journey back to San Jose, one that would require catching a ride to Dumaguete, then transferring in order to get home. There is no method of transportation save for private vehicles that travels straight through Dumaguete, which always adds to the total travel time. Still, I figured I had more than enough time to take the 40 minute ride to Dumaguete and catch a jeepney before the last one left at some mysterious, non-set time between 8:00 and 8:30. I wanted to get home for a late dinner, and to get a good sleep, because I had my last scuba diving class early the next morning.
A fellow trainee and I walked up to the national highway to the center of town and began waiting for a ride to come by. After a few minutes, it became clear that the jeepneys were no longer running, instead we’d have to catch a Ceres bus, the private bus line that barrels down the highway at ridiculous speeds, honking and weaving through the already crazy traffic. I decided to try a trick – I’d go to the nearby bakery and buy a couple things, and while I was there, a bus would probably come. It almost worked, but the bus that came wasn’t going all the way to Dumaguete. After a few more minutes, a Ceres bus finally came. I jumped out into the road and began wildly waving my arms- I wanted to make sure to be seen in the dark. The bus swerved into the opposite lane to avoid the jeepney parked on the road behind me and continued to race towards the city, without me on it. I cursed my luck and wondered how I was going to get to Dumaguete when the only ride available wouldn’t even consider picking me up. Later I found out that that particular bus was a one-stop only express bus, which made me feel a little better. Finally, an out-of-place easy-ride – which is a small jeepney – pulled up and we got on. To my surprise, 3 of our other Peace Corps friends, who had taken a longer time snorkeling, were also on it. We happily rode on. I was the only one going to Dumaguete, so everybody else got off along the way.

As I approached the city, it was already 8:15 and I felt dubious about my chances of making the easy-ride, so I got off before, at the Ceres terminal. In the evening, there is only one bus per hour, the last one leaving at 10:00. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to wait until the 9:00 bus to get home. Arriving at the terminal, I saw with dismay that the 9:00 bus was already filled to capacity, which does not mean that every seat is full. It means that every seat is beyond full, every possible space for standing is filled, the stairways are crammed, and people have laid claim on the choice spots for hanging off the side already. If I was going to catch this bus, I would have to take a death-wish spot, either on top (there’s a ladder going up the side in case you want to do this), or precariously hanging off the side with no more than a hand gripping a window and half a foot on a stair. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably have to wait until the 10:00 bus to get home. I tend to get irritated with inefficient transportation mechanisms, so at this point frustrated, angry thoughts started going through my head. I wondered: why do the easy-rides stop before demand does? Doesn’t one driver out of the hundreds want to make a 9:00 run and make some extra money? Why would a 170% full bus wait for 45 minutes before leaving, just to maintain an unnecessary schedule? Why doesn’t Ceres run more buses on Saturday night, and why do Filipinos put up with this nonsense?
After a few announcements I didn’t understand because my Cebuano isn’t yet good enough to understand garbled intercom language, I went over to the waiting area and sat down. A few minutes before 9:00, the packed bus left, leaving the rest of us still trying to get north behind. At about 9:15, a new bus pulled up and flipped on the sign indicating it would be traveling north. Determined not to miss it, I ran with the crowd and started to get on. Unfortunately, we were informed that this bus would not be leaving despite all the purposeful indications that it would. Everybody ran to the ticket counter instead, so I grudgingly followed, thoroughly annoyed with the entire country by this time. Filipinos only sort of use lines. It’s more of a blob, and I haven’t yet figured out how to correctly work them. Despite always being the tallest in the line, and probably the most conspicuous, I often have a hard time getting waited on. Eventually, finally, I got near the front of the line, just as the bus was pulling up. I desperately thrust my money directly in front of the ticket-taker’s face, after patience proved to be fruitless, and still found no luck. I realized that if I didn’t leave then, I probably wouldn’t ever get home. I turned and ran toward the bus and forced my way up the stairway. I made it all the way to the top stair – not bad!

The next half hour was spent getting closer than I ever wanted to my host country nationals. Space was made where there was none, and I got slowly pushed into the aisle, eventually getting into a position with my weight awkwardly distributed to one leg, both hands gripping the bar above, a shoulder digging into my left butt cheek. “Very hot!” says an older man with a smile, who forced his way up the stairs and made me feel like I was back at leadership camp trying to fit 20 people on a five-by-five foot board. “Init kaayo”, I agreed, to his delight. I had a short conversation in Cebuano with them, but they quickly lose interest. Sweat began dripping down my arms. I also realized how strange it feels to have sweat dripping down your back, but not be able to do anything about it. We stayed this way for 20 minutes. I began dreaming of comfortable German trains, or at least the worst bus in the King County Metro system. Ten minutes before scheduled departure time, I realized with delight that I was not the only person on this bus who is impatient and extremely anxious to leave when a couple men behind me started banging on the roof. Finally, two minutes ahead of schedule, we mercifully pulled out of the station and begin the journey. Instead of forgetting that brakes or restraint exist, our driver went painfully slow. I couldn’t see out the windows very well, and spent the journey straining to see the lights in front of San Jose that I recognized. Much to my dismay, the conductor caught up with me and I was required to pay my fare – I’d thought in my head this whole time that at least I managed to not pay for this. When we finally arrived, I rapped a coin on the overhead bar, which stops the bus with remarkable efficiency (there aren’t any specified stops on most buses here – you get on and off as you please, provided you are able to persuade the driver to stop). I’m usually one of the first people off the bus – probably because everybody else living around me is smart enough to get home before they have to resort to the Ceres bus. Because of this, it was nearly impossible to get through the mass of people between where I was standing and the door, and getting off required the 8 daredevils in the stairway to hop off as I bullied my way through the crowd. I stood on the side of the road, wiped sweat off my forehead, and waited for the bus to pull away, swearing to myself that it would take an incredibly exciting event to ever keep me in Dumaguete past 8:00 again.