July and the early parts of August have perhaps been the busiest months of my Peace Corps Service thus far. Words that are not actually words characterizing my feelings during this period include: body-enlivened, deliri-confounded, furry dog-weary, wild-minded, wonder-happy, and dream-juvenated. I think at the end I looked a little like this picture of Frodo.
When people think about building a new home they they often use the metaphor of growing new roots. Like the roots they had previously must be upended, dug up, or cut from the earth so that they may transplant to their new location. There’s a metaphor I like more. Layers. We become such complicated individuals as we gain experience after experience, and I’m beginning to understand more fully how these are layered on top of each other.
Don’t freak. I’m not going to compare people to onions or cakes. I do, however, think that we’re each layered with how we see ourselves. How we see ourselves in our hobbies and homes. Our personal identity. It can get confusing, I see myself as an Oregon native but Montana resident who is living in the Philippines. A ultrarunning mountain-poet that has added scuba to a passions list that also includes chicken caretaking, baking, handstands, and international development work. I didn’t yank my roots free from the soil back “home” in order to grow new roots in the Philippines. My roots simply branched off into a new layer, a deeper soil horizon, new layers on older ones and so on.
In July, in an amazing and even confusing mixing of these layers, some Happy Weinmans visited from the U.S. It was the first time seeing them in over a year and the first time I’d seen Shosh for probably 14 months. Picking them up in Tacloban was a strange experience. I watched them take in scenes from the street, the markets, the crowded terminal, and the bustle of the jeepneys and trykes flying folks back and forth. All things I’ve gotten used to, have taken for granted as a part of my life here in the Philippines. Back on Biliran we visited waterfalls, went island-hopping, walked through organic farms, and ate traditional BBQ along the port in the province’s capital Naval. B and D are working a lot back in the U.S. and Shosh is living an exciting but stressful existence in New York City, so they were also fairly content to relax along our beach on sunny days while reading and eating tropical fruits. I think in the end they managed to sink some teeth into fresh papaya, pineapple, mango, and dragonfruit.
Introducing my family-family to my host family here was a fun but sort of stressful situation. Twas super seeing them both interact, exchange gifts, share food, and just relax on the porch, but it felt like I was also asking myself to blend layers that hadn’t previously interacted. Two parts of my world becoming acquainted. Part of my new self that has grown and learned so much while being in the Philippines being reminded of my previous me from back in the US. Oh to me caught off guard by your own historical self! Even my cousin and his wife were able to visit from their teaching positions in Korea. Maybe the weirdest part was that previously I felt I had come to this rural island in the Philippines and nothing from my pre-PC life would ever find its way to me…nope.
While visiting with my family, I was also preparing for a major CRM project at site. The Manta Tow assessment in May was the first coastal resource data taken in Almeria since 2004, but it didn’t take nearly as long as another 12 years to get more data for our blossoming CRM program. At the end of July LGU-Almeria teamed up with the Bureau for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources for our first Participatory Coastal Resource Assessment (PCRA). A PCRA is an inclusive process for gathering data with various community members, resource users, politicians, educators, and other stakeholders. This local knowledge is critical for gathering information regarding the fishery sector and for assessing coral, mangrove, and seagrass habitats. Peace Corps Volunteers sometimes use methodologies that combine technical expertise with local knowledge, and it’s a great way to merge higher scales of government (regional and provincial) with fisherfolk at the community level. Over the course of four days, BFAR representatives and I engaged almost 70 community members and gathered socioeconomic data for the eight coastal barangays in my municipality.
As with many (all) of my projects here, some components went well and some things were as useful as a boat with a broken motor…and I used that metaphor with a lot of intention. In fact, it’s as useful as one boat with a broken motor and another without fuel…some days are more frustrating than others. That being said, with my site mates’ and BFAR’s amazing contributions we were able to pull of a very Biliran-style PCRA and continue the positive momentum of our projects. After a long year of hard work, confusions, obstacles, stall-outs, broken boats, empty meeting rooms, and too much merienda…Almeria is really starting to look like a community with a CRM program.
Another crazy realization. The new batch, batch 275, has been here in the Philippines for nearly two months. A year is a trip around the sun, and the trip this time around was certainly more sun-filled than most. It’s unreal to think we could already be nearing the halfway mark of our service. I was given a great opportunity to spend a week with the new group of CRM trainees in Morong, Bataan, sharing my experiences as a volunteer and assisting with technical sessions for manta tow assessment and PCRA. Whether they saw through my ill-concealed guise as a PCV with actual wisdom or not is unknown, they were too cheerful and kind to say either way. But returning to the setting of my own community-based training definitely made me realize how much I’ve learned in the last year. I’ve become more comfortable in this country. More confident in my language and my work. More at home with the whole experience.
and now some pictures of this whirlwind whopper of a Habagat season