Maayong hapon from the Philippines!
I skipped a blog last week (oops) which I could have written because I had more than enough time on my hands as I was in a hotel in Manila binge watching Gilmore Girls while I waited to get sent back to site (I had a little run in with a motorcycle but that’s a story for another time).
Anyways, this blog is about my first days at site and basically what an overwhelming experience that was. The day immediately after swearing in we left to site and as luck would have it we had the 5:40am flight (sense the sarcasm?). We left the hotel at 2:30am after having danced the whole night and not getting even an ounce of sleep. Needless to say, I was exhausted as we made our way through the airport with the volunteers that live on the southern part of my island (Leyte) and our counterparts. It’s all a blur and I passed out as soon as I took my seat on the plane. Upon landing in Tacloban I was met by a wave of heat as we unloaded the airplane. Outside the airport there was a flurry of taxi drivers and van operators offering us their services but luckily for me, my municipality had sent a driver to pick me up. At this point I got to meet my supervisor who had driven all the way there (a 2-hour trip, if you’re lucky) to welcome me. I wish I would have had more energy but I was so exhausted on the drive down I fell asleep the whole time, there was no waking me up. Later on, I would find out falling asleep on the trip from Tacloban to my municipality is a blessing as there’s all sorts of winding roads and I usually just get car sick.
So here I am, in my municipality and as I look back now it was all this rush [to me] of new experiences, new places, new faces, new smells and new sites. And when all of this gets thrown at you in one go it’s extremely overwhelming. As soon as we got to my municipality we went to my office and I met all my new coworkers, we had a late breakfast and picked up a package [for me from me] from the post office. As soon as I had met my coworkers, gotten their names and just as soon forgotten them [don’t worry I know them now] I was being whisked off to meet my host family. I live in a beautiful property in Barangay Santa Cruz. I’m right next to the beach and lucky enough we’re on the west side of the island so I get to watch some awesome sunsets. I have my own little studio-like place next to my host family’s home. I live with just a nanay and tatay who are 76 and 70; they have four children but they are all spread out so I’ve only gotten to meet their daughter (who is here now for the holidays).
One of my first shocks/frustrations when I got to site was when I found out I would be cooking for myself. If anyone knows me, they know I can bake but most certainly not cook, especially not vegetarian. And It’s not just about the cooking it’s about the fact that I want to stay vegetarian, I need to go to the market and talk to people in a foreign language to tell them what I want, I have to figure out where to get a bunch of kitchen utensils and also just how to use local ingredients. Anyways, I was terrified to say the least. I pictured one of three scenarios:
- Withering away and dying of starvation
- Eating pasta, cereal and sandwiches the next two years
- None of the above, and just being fed by people here because let’s face it, Philippinos would never let you starve (they already think I’m too skinny!)
But none of these happened, well 2 and 3 kind of did because I do eat pasta (but not that often) and of course I get fed by others here, even if I have my own food. So let’s face it, I panicked for nothing. However, cooking is now one of the things I appreciate most as I get to control my diet (people eat a lot of meat and rice here so you can see how that wouldn’t be appealing to a vegetarian who only occasionally eats rice back home). Within days of being here my host family had built a small kitchen outside my room, I had furnished it with utensils and met a vendor at the market from which to buy food with our conversations being a mix of Tagalog, Visayan, English and Spanish. After my initial freak out at this news, I asked fellow volunteers for recipes and they all came to my rescue with some awesome, simple recipes – all vegetarian.
My first day at work I spent most of the day getting to know my office mates and meeting, what felt like, hundreds of people. It wasn’t hundreds but more than enough that I definitely did not remember their names. My counterpart took me to many offices and I met people left and right. This was also the moment I started getting excited about cooking since he also walked me through the market and I got to see all the vendors and all the fresh fruits and vegetables I could use. After that day a lot of people knew my name, I on the other hand am still trying to figure out who everyone is (and it’s been three months). The way I see it, I met in one day the amount of people most people meet over years so I’m not being too harsh on myself for not knowing everyone’s names. To make things more difficult people here call each other ate/day or kuya/dodong a lot rather than their real names which basically means sister or brother, repectively.
Looking back on the first day, when I was so disoriented and not knowing left from right in this brand-new place, I can say I have definitely gotten into a rhythm with my life here. I am sure in a few months and in a year I will also look back on this moment and see even more changes, but it’s just funny what a positive disposition can accomplish. I remember the first day being frustrated and not knowing if I would make it, and I let myself [for that day] be frustrated, that’s usually how long I give myself to be negative. But then I say “Dani, your negative attitude is not getting you anywhere and not solving problems”. Life is about looking at the positive side of things and when I learned to embrace here the things I thought were negative I became a lot happier. I have to cook for myself and I don’t know how? Its okay, think of it as a new hobby and you get to eat less rice! You don’t understand what people are saying? Perfect! You’ve been wanting to learn a new language. You are spending a lot of time by yourself and don’t have friends yet? It’s okay, take up hobbies you know you’ve always wanted to take up an instrument. And let’s face it, one day you’ll look back at this time in your life and wish you had this much “alone time” or free time.
So you see, sometimes things may seem gloomy but if you just turn them around, fold them over and flip them you’ll find another side or another angle and you’ll realize that even though something is not ideal or up to your expectations, it can serve as a growing opportunity.
And now how do I feel? I’m pretty happy. Some things haven’t changed, I still don’t understand a lot of what people say, I still have a lot of alone time BUT I now know how to cook and going to the market is one of my favorite things to do!
Hope you enjoyed this insight into my brain and my life! See you [maybe] next week (I’ll be on vacation!)
Salamat again for reading,