Tuesday, August 30, 2011


My host family's house.

The street I live on. The tannish rectangle on the road is rice drying- very common when the sun is out.

The host family's transportation, a tricycle. I usually ride these to get to and from the city. Imagine that tiny thing with at least 9 people!

Toto, she lives at my house.

My bike! I don't get to ride it everyday, but everyone in my house has started riding it, as well as several kids from the neighborhood.

My really fancy "washing machine."

My "shower."

Three of the kittens! George, Kito and Murphy Brown.
This is the large spider that lives in my bathroom. He just kind of hangs out on the wall. Occasionally he moves to inside the toilet paper roll-it can be a bit of a shock when he pops out.

One Year!

Typhoon season is supposedly coming to an end. I’ll be glad to have hot sunny days back. It was nice for a few weeks that the rain kept the heat down, but after three months of gloomy days, I can’t wait for continuous sunshine. All the sunshine will certainly make laundry much better. Because of all the rain recently my clothes have been taking a long time to time. My host family has an area to hang up clothes over the pigsty (luckily we don’t have any pigs), so they are kept dry from the rain. However, because they don’t get any sun, it can take a week for them to dry. And by the time they are dry, they sometimes have a not so delightful mildew smell; I wear them anyway. I’ve been trying to re-wear clothes as much as possible to cut down on the amount of laundry I need to do, but this too presents a problem. The clothes I don’t wear are left in my dresser to fester. Everything in my room is damp, so the clothes left in my dresser become moldy. So in the end I need to wash the clothes in my dresser as well. Either I was my clothes and they’re mildewy or I don’t and they’re moldy. Which is worse?

The last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time working on the remedial reading program, or trying to at least. We’ve decided to call it a reading enhancement program so that the students that will be enrolled won’t feel so stigmatized. It’s a slow going process. It looks like the students, between 5-7 from each class, will have at least two sessions during the regular English class hour, and then additional tutoring after school. I’ll be teaching the hours during the school day, and most of the teachers volunteered to help with tutoring after school (yeah!). I think we’re going to try and start a peer-mentoring program as well. Hopefully we will be able to start holding classes beginning mid-September.

I’ve also been working on fixing up the library. There are a few organizations in the US that donate books to libraries and schools overseas. My counterpart and I have contacted a couple and have already received confirmation of a few shipments of books! The school is excited; hopefully the books will be able to fit our needs.

I’m also going to start having biweekly seminars for the teachers at my school, and maybe even a few from the neighboring high school. Earlier this week the teachers completed a needs assessment survey about what type of trainings they are interested in, and specifically what topics they would like covered. Every single teacher was interested in a seminar about remedial reading and general reading comprehension strategies. When I got their surveys back I was elated that they all felt that way. It’s always awesome to recognize a need, but then to have the community recognize the same need!

From all the above paragraphs it sounds like I’m really busy- I’m not. I have a lot of free time. I’ve been reading a lot of books, luckily my mom has been sending a lot, and I have a bunch that I borrowed from the Peace Corps office when I was there in July. I’ve also been spending a lot of time with the four kittens. They are adorable, and take up a lot of my attention. My host family needs to give them away before I become too attached to them!

I don’t spend a lot of time seeing other PCVs. Occasionally I have lunch or a dinner with a couple who live near me. But most weekends I spend my time at my house, playing with the kids. It’s so different from Kyrgyzstan. There I spent a lot of time with other volunteers. Every weekend we would all hang out, plus lunch on an almost daily basis. Some days I miss having that camaraderie, but other days I love that I spend so much time with my awesome host family!

Earlier this month, my host mother’s and counterpart’s mother died. The last month has been filled with traditional Filipino death observances. First there was the wake, across the street at my counterpart’s house, in the week leading up to the burial. Every night I trooped across the street and sat while families from all over the neighborhood came and prayed and sang.

The night after the funeral, all the kids rubbed used motor oil on their skin to they would blend in with the darkness of night so that the ghost would pass them by. It turned into a bit of a slap fight as all the kids ran around trying to rub oil on everyone. The next night, many of the older women from the community returned and after saying the rosary, they played games. One game involved everyone sitting in a circle holding hands, with one person standing in the middle. While they sang a song, they moved their hands rhythmically and tried to pass a stone around the circle without breaking their hands. The person in the center would try and guess where the stone was. If the stone made it all the way around the circle without being found, then the circle won. If, however, the person in the middle found the stone then the person who was holding it as the time had to say a joke. It was fascinating to watch. The funeral was over two weeks ago, and still every night we congregate at my counterpart’s house to hold vigil and say the rosary (I mostly watch, and eat the snacks after).

Last week I celebrated the one year anniversary of my arrival in the Philippines! There wasn’t really much celebrating, but the event prompted me to reflect on not only my last year in the Philippines, but also my last three years as a volunteer. I still can’t believe that I’ve been doing this for three years, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. But I’m happy to say that knowing what I know now, if I went back to three years ago, I would still make the decision to be a volunteer. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

When Spot Chases a Chicken

I’ve been trying to grow cilantro; it’s not going very well. I have a small terracotta pot sitting in my windowsill. Every morning I get up and faithfully water it. About a month ago, the first shoot appeared. It grew steadily upward to a height of two inches. I was getting ready to transplant it when I host brother discovered the green plant. Bimboy is only six years old, he couldn’t resist playing with it, and he managed to kill it. Obviously, I was upset, but not deterred. I planted a few additional seeds. And once again it began sprouting.

I made sure that the tiny plant got some sunshine everyday, sometimes this meant putting it outside or in another corner of the house (it’s hard to guarantee sunlight in the rainy season). The plant was doing alright, until about a week ago, in an incident involving a chicken.

Spot, my host family’s dog, chased a chicken into my room. Why there was a chicken in the house- I am not sure. The chicken was visibly frightened, Spot is easily six times her size, and she frantically beat her wings trying to find a way out. Sunlight was streaming through the window and she thought she had found a way out. It would have been a way out, if my window didn’t have a screen. Not really wanting to touch or grab the chicken I attempted to shoo her out the door, using the end of an umbrella. I would just get her to the door, when Spot would appear from nowhere and chase her back in! At this point, the chicken had pooped all over my floor, run all over the top my bed, including a brief moment of cowering between my pillows. She repeatedly tried to get out through the window, I continued to guide her towards the door, and Spot persistently chased her back in. This cycle continued for about five minutes, until I screamed loudly at Spot to desist (his English comprehension is getting quite good- I wish I could say the same of my students). Finally, the chicken made it outside, and Spot continued to chase her through the yard, but the damage had been done to my dear cilantro plant. With all that scrambling by the chicken on my windowsill, the little plant had been uprooted and shredded. I guess it’s time to replant, again.

Yesterday, my host family came into my room early to wake me up. It was time to go potting! They were very excited, and as they were telling me, I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant by potting. I quickly readied myself and soon the whole family was off. We headed to the city, where my family is part of a farming cooperative. At the co-op we pulled up to a large pile of dirt. Suddenly I understood what they meant by potting. We spent the next couple of hours putting soil into 1000+ pots. I left for lunch with other PCVs before they got around to planting fruit tree seeds, dirt deeply embedded under my fingernails and my fingers stained a slight greenish mustard color.

I’m taking a break from school for the next couple of weeks and helping out with training for the new volunteers that arrive later today in the Philippines. I’ll be up in Manila facilitating many technical training sessions on everything from classroom management, creating lesson plans to encourage critical thinking, and differentiation (using a variety of teaching strategies to meet the learning needs of all of your students). I’m excited to meet all the new volunteers, and our new country director, who also arrives today. I’ll also get a chance to sit in on the teaching remedial reading technical sessions, and hopefully I’ll learn a few new things to incorporate in my own school’s program.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

See Spot Run

My host family’s dog, Spot, follows me everywhere. He follows me to school, and sits in the classroom waiting for me to go home. He tries to follow me to the city, running behind the tricycle until he can go no longer keep up. And the other day I rode my bicycle into town and he ran alongside- for 12 km! I’m not sure why I kindle such devotion and loyalty from him. He’s become a joke around my barangay and everyone now knows him. Students at school have finally learned to ignore him, as he site on the floor near my desk.

Occasionally, Spot wanders over to one of my host siblings’ classes and they both get slightly embarrassed when he comes in. My six-year-old host brother, who’s in the first grade, was downright mortified that Spot intruded upon his class.

I’ve tried locking him in the house when we go to school, but he always manages to find a way out and he comes bounding down the street after us.

Right now, at school, three classrooms, mine included are under repair. So, my class, the kindergarten, and grade four are all sharing one big classroom in an abandoned building at out school. It’s distracting. Three classes in one room- so much noise! My counterpart and I have been giving our classes mostly reading assignments to help keep the noise level down. Although, almost all of the students read out loud and not silently to themselves as they should. That’s going to be a skill for us to work on.

My school principal really wants a remedial reading program, which our school really does need, so I’ve been working, by myself, on it. It’s a massive undertaking. About half of every class needs additional instruction in reading, that’s about 200 students. There’s no way I can possibly do that all by myself. We also have zero books for them to read. And it’s not really that sustainable if I do all the work myself- what happens when I leave? Unfortunately, the principal is difficult to speak with because she’s not usually at school- I think she does work at the division office in San Jose.

Rainy season has started (the Philippines has two seasons- dry and wet). It rains almost every afternoon, and some mornings. It’s also typhoon season. My province doesn’t typically get the full force of the typhoon, but we usually get rain bands and wind. I miss sunshine, but I do like that it’s not sweltering hot, less sweating for me. And the thunder of rain on the tin roof at night is soothing, it drowns out the family’s TV, the kittens’ screeching, the roosters, the dogs, and innumerable other sounds that typically awake me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer Pictures

All camp photo- with wacky faces.

Alex, my counterpart, and another fellow teacher.

Campers at camp. After learning about keeping the environment clean, they decided to clean the fish pond so the fish would have oxygen and clean water.

Cute neighbors. The girl always says: "Hello, ma'am Sarah. Good afternoon," when i walk by, regardless of the time of day. Adorable.

PCVs who helped at camp.

Third graders at camp.

Pretending to be an octopus at camp.

Apparently I made this face a lot while teaching at NOMET.
Mimi, and one of her kittens. So cute.

My awesome color-coded schedule for camp.

campers dancing!

Torrential downpour during a typhoon. Kept us from going home after camp finished.

Mindi and I in Sipalay.

Sunset in Sipalay.

Kesa and I walking down the non-crowded beach in Sipalay.

Awesome hut that we slept in on our vacation.

Enjoying the hammock in Sipalay.

Summer Time

The rest of the world is gearing up for summer; school has ended or is finishing up, days are getting longer, the weather is warming up. Here, however, is different. Summer is over. Rainy season has arrived, driving away hot dusty days. The rice paddies are being plowed by carabaos. And school is back in session.

It’s crazy that summer has already come and gone. At a mere seven weeks it felt rather short. Despite its short length, however, I managed to squeeze a number of activities in- in fact, I hardly had a break.

Graduation, on April 7, signaled go and was the beginning of my marathon summer. Just after graduation, I went to manila for a week. Thus far in my service, it’s been my only trip to the capital. I didn’t get to see much, other than a huge discrepancy between rich and poor, because I was there for the meeting of the PC Philippines Grants Committee.

After a week in Manila, I flew back down to my island and on my way back to site I stopped at the Mango festival on Guimaras island. The sweetest, tastiest mangoes in the Philippines are grown on Guimaras and every year they commemorate their claim to fame with a festival devoted to the delicious fruit. Unfortunately I didn’t get to enjoy any of these mangoes at the festival as there was a shortage. But I did get to hang out with a bunch of PCVs, so it was worth it.

After the mango festival it was Holy Week. I escaped the crowds by traveling to Sipalay for some beach time with two other PCVs. It was very relaxing! We could actually swim in our bathing suits and didn’t need to wear shorts and a t-shirt. There was hardly anyone there, so we enjoyed a nearly empty and very beautiful beach. The place we stayed at is owned by a German man, and everything on the menu was deliciously Western. I ate at least four BLTs.

I went straight from my short vacation to a teacher training seminar held by a PCV near my site. After facilitating sessions on teaching writing, I rushed back to site to hold my own teacher training seminar for the teachers from my district. The training was successful, and it was fun to meet teachers from other schools in the area.

After one day off it was time for IST/PDM (In-Service Training/ Project Design and Management), another PC training. My counterpart was also invited and we learned about project planning and even started planning a project for our school. It wasn’t all work- there was a very memorable night of videoke!

I returned to site with three other PCVs, just in time for my barangay fiesta (it’s festival/fiesta season around here). We danced in the plaza, aka a small basketball court, and ate lunch at several different houses. There was just enough time to prepare for summer camp, which started the following day.

Camp was so much fun! It was day camp for 100 students from grades 3-6. Campers came from all over the nearby area, so we had campers from a bunch of different schools. There was a lot of fun and screaming, all things the kids don’t normally get to enjoy. In the morning we had life skills oriented sessions, and in the afternoon campers could select a given track for the whole week. Most campers went to dance, art, sports or photography. I think everyone enjoyed themselves, including the 8 PCVs who helped out. I’m already excited for next year!

I had one day to recover and then I was off again for a two week teacher training extravaganza. I helped out, along with twenty-six other PCVs at the Negros Occidental Mobile Education Training (NOMET). I facilitated a session on differentiation and multiple intelligences. We traveled to four different schools and gave a two-day teacher training to approximentely 500 teachers at each school. It was an exhausting two weeks, but was fun to hang out with volunteers I don’t get to see very often, as well as work with teachers excited about becoming better teachers.

And that brings me to my last week of summer break. I spent all of last week taking a rest. I read, watched movies, hung out with my host family. I even squeezed in a little laundry. And now school has started. This year I am teaching grades five and six, as well as handling English Club for grades 3-6. I’m excited school as started again! I’m looking forward to learning more about my students, Filipino culture, and working on some fun projects.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


more Boracay

My student who was a TOPS awardee is in yellow. And my counterpart's daughter is in brown.

My 'gown.'
My counterpart and I.

All the kids.

Classic family photo. My host sister is pulling my host mother's hair.

Me and my host mom.

My host father on the left, and his awesome sister in the middle.

A fellow Californian! My host father's aunt came for a visit from CA.

My host brother is adorable. His school class was the USA for an event they had at his school.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bicycles, Black-Tie, and Boracay

It’s crazy how I will go weeks without doing anything exciting, and then I do a bunch of new/ fun things in one week; last week for example. It started out like any other- I struggled to get out of bed on Monday. But I pulled myself together and ran to school. Once there, my day continued like usual. However, after my last afternoon class I had a special errand to run. So I ran home, quickly changed clothes, put on shoes (this was only the 7th time I’ve done that since getting here in August), and hopped on my new bike. I rode into San Jose, which is the city closest to me. It’s not too far, and I’ve gotten my time down to about a half hour.

Once there I met my host mother and we went shopping for fabric. I needed to buy fabric to have a gown made for an event I attended Friday. A friend of hers designed it, and we just had to pick up fabric and a few other things and head to a tailor. It didn’t take long. Soon after, I was back on my bike and riding towards home. I made it about two kilometers before I had a bit of an accident avoiding a large rock in the road. I tumbled off my bike and rolled into the middle of the highway. I am really lucky, and I’m mean really lucky, that there was a not a car coming the opposite direction. I jumped up as quickly as possible and scrambled back to the side of the road. My brand new bike wasn’t damaged, but I was a bit scraped up. I had hit the cement road with my left shoulder and knee, and my right hand. Shoulder and knee ok, except for bruising. But I’ve been wearing a sling on my right arm ever since. I had to go to the hospital Tuesday in Iloilo for x-rays, but thankfully nothing broken.

Thursday was a fun day. A relative in of my host family lives in the next barangay over, and it was her barangay festival that day, so she invited everyone over for dinner. We all piled into my counterpart’s van (my cp is also my host mother’s sister), and drove two minutes down the road. There were a bunch of kids and we just had fun dancing and playing outside all night in the dark. And thankfully I didn’t hear Shakira’s ‘Waka Waka,’ which typically plays on repeat here.

Despite my bum arm, I got my gown made, in a traditional Filipino way, called a Filipiniana. The sleeves are big, but not puffy, and stand up about two inches from my shoulder. I wore the dress Friday afternoon to the province’s TOPS awards. The awards were for the Ten Outstanding Pupils and Students of Antique Province. One my students was an awardee, so I got to go. It was kind of fun being at a black tie event, Filipino style. And I my ‘future husband’ (as my host mother refers to him), aka the Congressman, was there, so I met him again. I even had my hair and make-up done!

On Saturday I finally went to Boracay (you should take the time to google that). Everytime I meet someone new, they inevitably ask me if I have been yet. It’s tropical paradise, and it’s only a four hour bus ride away. So very early on Saturday morning I headed out with two fellow PCVs for a short weekend of sun. It was amazing. It’s very touristy; it was weird to see so many non-Filipinos, and to see so much skin! Usually when I go swimming here it’s in shorts and a t-shirt, but in Boracay everyone was in their tiny bathing suits. And because of all the tourists there are restaurants of every variety, so I got to enjoy some non-Filipino food. I had a delicious bacon cheese burger, with real ketchup! The real ketchup was amazing. Most of the available ketchup here is banana ketchup, made from bananas, not tomatoes! It’s amazingly not too far a departure from tomato ketchup, but it’s still not quite the same.

Monday, January 24, 2011

This last week has certainly been interesting. Monday started early. My alarm beeped wrenched me out my sleep at three am. I dressed according to precise instructions given to me by my counterpart, and was waiting out on the street for my ride by 3:45. This being the Philippines, and me having yet mastered Filipino time, I waited for a good twenty minutes in the dark. Finally, the jeepney arrived with the other teachers from my school and we were off to the capital of our province, San Jose. Our destination was the house of the province’s congressman; it was his birthday.

They have a unique tradition here in which people go to the house of someone important on their birthday early in the morning (or in my opinion, in the middle of the night), and sing songs to the person. It was a rather big affair, no surprise, it being the congressman’s birthday. The teachers of the province started out the morning serenading the congressman. Supposedly other government agencies and employees were in charge of other parts of the day of celebration.

I should mention that the congressman here was celebration his 30th birthday. Not only is he young, but also, apparently, he is single. Therefore, many people, including my host mother, have decided to try to set us up. That is probably why I was given precise instructions as to what clothing to wear.

On Tuesday, my municipality began celebrating a three-day fiesta. Tuesday was “Teacher’s Night.” All the teachers from the elementary schools performed, by school, different Filipino folk dances. Originally, I was supposed to be part of our school’s troupe, but I guess I’m freakishly tall (at not even 5’6”), and none of the other teachers were tall enough to partner with me; so I just watched from the audience. It was actually quite entertaining to see such a variety of native folk dances. I also thought my school’s teachers were the best, not that I’m biased or anything. After the performances, there was a live band, and I lived up to my new reputation for being a good dancer by dancing with various government officials, the mayor included.

Thursday was the parade for the fiesta. All teachers reported, and we all wore a blue Dept Ed shirt with a bright colored sash, and a beaded type necklace. I was expecting to walk with my teachers, sort of in the middle of the crowd, but my district supervisor had other plans. I held the Dept Ed banner and walked at the front of all the teachers from our district. Along the route, the district supervisor stopped every twenty feet to introduce me to someone new. When we finally reached the end, they forced me onstage! Although I guess it’s not really force if I acquiesce so quickly. I sat up there watching the rest of the parade, and stayed for various performances by the high school drum and lyre groups (lyres being glockenspiels in this case).

My internet project(s) have been put on a standstill. I was misled into believing it was possible to install internet at the school. My counterpart and I inquired last week, but the cable has yet to reach as far as our barangay, perhaps next month of the month after. So it will have to wait until the next school year, which starts in June (this school year ending end of March). Thanks to everyone who agreed to be an email pen pal! I’ll send out another query in a few months.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I’ve now been at my permanent site for close to two months, and Icouldn’t be happier with my placement. My host family is amazing. Ihave two host siblings; Deo (aka Bimboy)- age six, and Clarisse- agenine; there is also a niece that lives with us who is 13. My hostfather works for the governor, and my host mother works for the Dept.of Environment and Natural Resources doing a lot of agro-forestry andwatershed management projects. From what I’ve seen, it’s uncommon tohave such a complete family here in the Philippines. Usually, at leastone member is off working abroad.

My school is small, and all of the teachers are nice and have gone outof their way to make me feel welcome. Everyday someone on staff bringssome sort of Philippine delicacy for me to try. So I’ve tried allsorts of things made with very very sticky rice, and other delicioussweet pastry type things.

I have figured out my schedule, I will be teaching both sections ofgrades 4 and 5, in their English subject. I taught a couple of classesbefore the Christmas break, but I will start teaching full time thisweek. Also, I have resurrected the school’s, non-functioning, Englishclub. So twice week I’ll be teaching English club, starting tomorrow.

Celebrating Christmas here was both what I thought it would be, andalso a bit different than I was expecting. Christmas spirit had beenbuilding for months by the time December finally arrived. And then Iattended several Christmas parties throughout the month of December.The Christmas parties were not quite what I expected. There is alwaysa program, people get up and perform- either singing or dancing, andeach act is interspersed with games. And of course Christmas presentsare exchanged. There were all kinds of sales, and exchanging ofChristmas gifts, so naturally I assumed that my family would beexchanging gifts as well. So I went out, to the mall (yes there’s amall), and bought them all gifts. But alas, on Christmas, no giftgiving. But I think they appreciated it anyway that I gave them gifts.

My host family and my counterpart (who is my host mother’s sister)have been great about taking me along to birthday parties, toweddings, and to see various places of interest. I feel like I’vealready seen more of culture in the Philippines than I did in my firstyear in Kyrgyzstan. It also sort of feels like I’m going throughtraining now, because I’m doing and learning all the things I shouldhave learned during PST but didn’t get to do.

Hopefully I will have a bike sometime in the next two weeks, so I willbe able to go out and explore the area around my house a bit moreeasily. As it is right now, it’s almost impossible for me to go to thecenter of my town as there is no transportation going that way.Really, the only place I can get to is San Jose, which is the capitalof the province I am living in. This is fine most of the time, becauseI can get almost anything I would want in San Jose. This Peace Corps experience is so different than in Kyrgyzstan. First of all, as I already mentioned, there is a mall only twenty minutes from me. At thesupermarket there, yes the supermarket, I can find almost anything Iwould at an American supermarket- including spices, cranberry juice,and peanut butter. The only thing lacking is cheese. My family hascable, half of which are channels in English, many of them American channels.

That’s it for now. The internet I have access to is too slow to postpictures, so those will have to wait until this weekend when I go intothe city. Happy New Year!