Just over one month. It’s amazing to think that we, batch 274, stepped off that plane in Manila over a month ago. We shuffled through customs late at night and plastered tired smiles onto our faces while being directed toward baggage claim. We covered or overnight-travel-smell-selves with our delightfully-smelling sampagita leis. We packed onto buses, and started our 27 months in the Philippines. A month isn’t that long of a time, but in a month’s time of lessons, study, and trial and error, we learn a lot. We either learn how to learn, or least learn what we really need to learn. In this first month we’ve realized the expectations of the Peace Corps, we’ve come to a better understanding of what the coastal resource management position entails and what skills we’ll need, and we’re beginning to try and integrate into the Filipino culture and mindset.
A small handful of our batch has, for a variety of reasons, made the best decision for themselves and returned to their American homes. The simple truth of this commitment is that there are plenty of reasons to end one’s service and return home, and we all know this. For me, patience, diligence, and a sense of humor continue to help me navigate my new home in the Philippines and to continue embracing the many reasons I’ve decided to serve here.
Tagalog is an Austronesian language, spoken as a first language by a quarter of the folks in the Philippines, and then as a second language by the majority. The word Tagalog is derived from taga-ilog or “river-dweller” (taga-”native” or “from” and ilog- “river”). Taglish is widely used, and I often see Taglish used during new reports and on other TV programs. This seems to vary from occasional switching to English words to even just switching languages in the middle of a sentence. If I have trouble coming up with a Tagalog word, I just finish my sentence in English.
It’s not the easiest language I’ve ever tried to learn, but we’re a big group trying to learn it together and we’ve got an amazing language staff and host families helping us along the way. We start with simple words, unsure of ourselves. We take for granted the simple greetings we have in our own homes in America, whether it’s howdy, mornin’, what’s up, or how are you? Eventually words become small phrases, staggering from the mouth like an awkward bird first learning to flap its wings. We practice with our host families and with each other after our daily sessions end. Our phrases become sentences and begin to roll off the tongue with a month’s worth of practice. We’re only a few weeks away from a Language Proficiency Assessment and there’s a lot more practice ahead, but huwag mag-alala (don’t worry), we’re humigina pa (still breathing).
Fall of Bataan, and Bataan Death March
After suffering losses from the Japanese Imperial Army all over Luzon, American and Filipino soldiers made a last stand in the Bataan Province, where I am staying during my community-based training. The fall of Bataan would be the the single largest surrender of US soldiers in history. Thousands of Filipino and hundreds of American prisoners of war died during the 97 km march from Mariveles, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga. These soldiers were given little to no food or water, and many of the deaths were the result of heat and exhaustion. The CRM group visited the Mount Samat National Shrine, a dedication to the Filipino and American fallen during WWII. In all honesty, I wish I could have appreciated this site more. Unfortunately, I spent the day’s field trip battling some sort of sickness, be it food related or other, that had me nauseous, dizzy, and making frequent trips the CR (comfort room). From the top of Mount Samat I tried to visualize the route of the Bataan Death March where American and Fiipino soldiers were forced to march.
My grandma is probably the butiki equivalent. She’s not a pest but always around, sometimes ignored, she’s wrinkly and a lil scaly, sometimes she brings money and visitors. Def not iconic…. But a trip to see one for sure! Fish are more iconic, or dogs, or rats.
What are some difficulties you’ve had in adjusting to eating new food? Any tips on how to eat in the Philippines?
Well you see Dov, when I eat rice with my hands I ball it up tight and try to get it all in my mouth. Sometimes successful other times not so much. Adding soy sauce to the rice makes it more delicious but much harder to eat by hand. Thus far into the journey I haven’t had much luck in de-boning fish. It’s a challenge, even if I think I’ve gotten all the bones I still have to chew the fish into mush and pull the little ones out.
- Spread a little amount of rice over a large area on plate, it breaks up clumps and increases rice surface area,
- Cover a small portion of rice with larger portion of other food. The overall food appearance is enlarged but the individual dish portion seems manageable.
- Kindly explain to your nanay/tita/ate that you do like rice but that your pallet hasn’t quite adjusted to eating rice for breakfast with your kape (coffee).
- In an emergency (i.e. rice is being served in alarming quantities) seek out a trustworthy kasama and distribute rice accordingly.
- Joke lang!
What is a kasama and why are they important? What makes a good kasama?
A kasama is a walking companion, but they are much more than that. A kasama is one of the most important people in the Philippines, they are someone who has your back when the bangka is moving smoothly and when you’re out on the ocean without a snorkel. They are your go to person when you just want to get out, get some fresh air and let your brain kick it into neutral. Now you’re going to need the key ingredients. You have to have a great sense of humor, it doesn’t matter if it’s outside out the box, sick and twisted, or maybe a little bit of both, just as long as you can laugh at situations and each other.
A couple of things frequently seen: misty-sunrises, mangos, milkfish
Some things nowhere to be found: Tagalog attempts where Filipinos understand me perfectly.
Favorite new Tagalog phrase: Basta’t galing sa puso mo (as long as it comes from your heart).