This post is really about pictures. My new home is beautiful.
When You Realize You’re Listening to the Sea
After weeks of intense training, language study, and waiting, I am so happy to have finally been sworn in as a volunteer on September 16th at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. The next day after 12 hours of travel, we crossed the bridge from Leyte into the Province of Biliran. It was fully light out when we crossed, but 30 minutes later the sun was down and the storm was full on. After arriving in the province’s biggest city, Naval, my supervisor and I switched to a trike for the remaining eight kilometers to our municipality of Almeria. My right hand cramped from holding down a tarp along the outside of the trike, and in contrast, my left hand gently held two caring gifts of balut (for both strength and I think courage after my long journey from Manila). The storm was full-on at this point and I was rushed into the house to meet family members and fill up on rice (read: balut and rice). I had no idea what the landscape or the town looked like. I set my packs down, finished The Brothers Karamazov (finally!), and listened to the rain pelt the side of the house.
When I woke up, the familiar and repetitive sound of the ocean was right outside the window, no longer blanketed by the sound of thunder and rain. I rushed toward the window and found I was almost literally hanging over the sea. The municipality’s two islands, with more islands off in the distance, call me to explore just as much as the large mountain that sits watching over the city. This mountain looks down at me and rolls with dense forest and beautiful farmland all the way down to the sea. I could not be in a more beautiful location. There are so many future expeditions already “planned”.
Almeria: A Brief History
The first emigrants of Almeria came from Jagna, Bohol. During their trip these people encountered a strong typhoon (typical), so they were forced to find a safe haven and landed at a place unknown to them.
While waiting for better weather they found the place fertile and suitable for farming, they stayed. After seeing this beautiful place I am not surprised. Much later, through the missionary’s representation to the Spanish government, the Governor Militar de Leyte eventually issued a decree naming the place Pueblo de Almeria, in honor of the birthplace of the “discoverer”, a missionary from Almeria, Spain. And so, Almeria became Almeria.
Now, the Municipality of Almeria consists of 13 barangays which includes the Barangay Poblacion, where the Municipal Hall is along with my office in the Department of Agriculture. I live only a few minutes walk from Poblacion and the Municipal Hall, in the coastal barangay of Lo-ok. In 2010 the census had the population of the municipality over 16,400. Almeria is a 5th class municipality (municipalities are ranked from 1-5: with 1st class municipalities having the most funding and income), and the folks here primarily focus on agriculture. People mostly grow rice, corn, and cassava.
Biliran also has it’s own song, and we sing that at the flag raising ceremony on Mondays before work. Note: we are supposed to wear yellow shirts on Monday, I didn’t know this and wore my green Peace Corps polo and it was sort of an accidental Oregon Duck celebration. I may make accidental celebrations happen after U of O football wins. Quack Quack!
Peace Corps Trainees learned Tagalog for almost 10 weeks. Some of the trainees continue to use Tagalog actively at their sites while for others it has been a quick change to learning a new language or dialect . I spent barely two weeks learning Cebuano, and now find myself trying to form words as quickly as possible as I attempt to introduce myself and describe my reasons for moving away from friends, family, and my home. I get my sentences finished for me, get corrected continuously, get laughed at on occasion (read: always), but the people of Biliran also know that I’ve only recently started learning. Sometimes I’m able to whip out a phrase or expression that surprises folks.
Cebuano is mostly referred to as Bisaya or Visayan by most of its speakers. It’s an Austronesian language that’s spoken by about 21 million people in the Philippines (the largest native-language speaking group in the country). It’s closely related to other languages, and most of the municipalities on my island province actually speak Waray-Waray, a different dialect of the Eastern Visayas.
I’ve done introductions with various councils, committees, and in front of the entire Municipal Hall (including the Mayor), and even though it’s sort of a struggle right now I still believe that it doesn’t matter too much basta gikan sa imong kasing-kasing (as long as it comes from your heart). Usually my heart is racing, how do I get new people and coworkers to understand that I’m here to help them do the projects that they want to do? How do I let them know what experiences and knowledge I’m bringing while also hinting that I’m a volunteer, don’t make a salary, and don’t have access to a lot of funds from the U.S? I take a breathe, I talk in my limited Cebuano, then get into more technical, environmental language and talk in Cebuanish (is this a coined term already?), and then when I run out I flip into English. All of a sudden it’s easy, now we’re talking about grassroots organizing, capacity building, marginalized stakeholders. Usually I get big smiles, affirming nods, and then a lot of questions about whether or not we can work on projects related to youth groups, women’s groups, upland farmers, etc.
There are many worthwhile projects that we, as a community, can (need) to work on. Also, I heard that they may be wanting my help with the high school track team ( and the neighboring municipality has a soccer field). There’s a lot of work to do here, but there are also a lot of good people to do it with. For now I’m leaning with the tide and will try to mosabay lang ko sa agos (just go with the flow).