Saturday, January 23, 2010

Month Six in Haiku

Really just three weeks
It’s exactly twenty-six
And it went by fast

Birthday tradition
You buy food for the office
Pepperoni ‘za

Hot water heater
Not too late to enjoy it
I like hot showers!

Under the weather
Cold, achey, coughing and such
Really, first time here

Final status rep
Marketing strategy too
Tying up loose ends

Visiting Bajaus
Small business consultation
Displaced sea gypsies

Said they’d donate – that’s good news
Packing my big box

Mindoro weekend
Stairway stage, waterfall hike
Nice Mangyan baskets

Talk with founder Lars
There’s consulting potential
Princeton interviews

COS process
Paperwork, reports
Still other work too

Final report, PN-VS-CA
DOS, more forms

Making the food rounds
Pizza, sushi, other faves
Miss most? Mango shakes!

Last Habitat build
We moved dirt and had fun
Oh – Jackie Chan too!

Tayabas Ayta
After a fast 5K run
Interesting culture

Exit conferences
Tony/Milo, PN-VS-CA
New Habitat pres

Country Director
Milo again, dental, med
Lots of signatures

Goodbyes and farewells
Hard to believe it’s over
Mt. Pinatubo

Glad that I’ll come back
Before I take off for good
Will it hit me then?

I’ve had a great time
Loved the work and the country
And the friends I’ve made

Some Pictures from Week Twenty-Six

The box:

Me, Mary, Mercedes:

The gang at the pension:

I'm a Returned Peace Corps Response Volunteer:

Capas (Tarlac) Shrine:

From the 4x4:

Pinatubo hike:

Pinatubo crater:


Back in August in the middle of the rainy season, some foreign tourists on Mt. Pinatubo were caught in a landslide and killed, and the Safety and Security Director put trekking there off-limits to Peace Corps volunteers. I had seen Kate’s pictures and really wanted to go; he told me I could go when I was no longer a PCRV. So I saved January 23 for it. But I still didn’t want to go if it wasn’t safe! So I kept calling him; after all, it hasn’t rained for a while (flash floods are the danger there). This week, he called to tell me it was okay to go, and as of yesterday, the restriction was lifted.

Mt. Pinatubo was quiet for centuries until a violent eruption in 1991. The volcano lost 300 meters in height, the ash and rock column went 40 meters into the air, ash and rock covered Angeles, Clark and Subic Bay. At the time a typhoon raged, turning the ash into volcanic mud, which rerouted rivers and buries villages. If I recall, world-wide temperatures were cooler that summer because fine ash particles blew all the way across the Pacific

It meant getting up early again – lots of staying up late and getting up early these past couple of weeks; I can rest when I get back (maybe?). But I didn’t (and couldn’t) get there early enough; I had to wait for a few hours until the first 4X4s returned so I could be in the second wave. I shared the trip with two pairs of Germans, all of whom walked at a brisk pace! The 4X4 drive was along a riverbed (I could see the flash flood potential) lined with eroded lahar (volcanic mudflow). Some vegetation is coming back, and we passed some grazing carabao and cows and a couple of small Aeta settlements. From the end of the 4X4 ride there was a 45-minute hike to the crater, first passing some dramatic formations and then narrowing to a forested path that crossed the stream several times. I didn’t realize how big or how beautiful the crater and its lake would be; it was definitely worth it!

On the way to Pinatubo, I stopped at a shrine that marked the final point of the Bataan death march, on the site of the concentration camp where so many died. I had heard about this monument and thought it would be a nice way to cap off my WWII visits, but I didn’t realize that it was right on the way to Pinatubo until my (ex!) supervisor mentioned it earlier this week – I’m glad I went! There’s a big obelisk – its three parts represent the Philippines, the U.S. and Japan – and then a wall of names.

Would I have gone to Pinatubo anyway when no longer a PCV? Probably; that’s why I had the date in my head. That’s not to say I didn’t break any rules during my service. Last year when after I COSed I confessed to some of my violations – so I guess in keeping with this tradition, let me say that I may have ridden on the back of a motorcycle in Siquijor (honestly, I think I had a memory lapse and I thought only driving one was a violation; I got back and realized that merely being on one is – oops!). I may have ridden on the top of a full jeepney between Bontoc and Banaue, twisting through the mountains (line of the year – Me: Are we about to do something illegal? Bill: I think we’re doing something fun!) and I may have ridden on the top of a full bus in Bohol (and then on another motorcycle when even the top of the bus back was too full). I may have returned my life vest early and then taken boat rides without it (including one to the Caramoan peninsula when the boat also didn’t have any life vests – all the time watching the shoreline and reassuring myself that I could swim that far). But then again, I may not have done any of those things. Hey, I’m glad the Pinatubo restriction was lifted! A number of people suggested that I go to Mindanao (which has safe, beautiful parts) when no longer a PCV and subject to those restrictions – instead, it will go on the list of possible places to visit in a return to the Philippines.

Now it’s off to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – which will be chronicled in travelsinthe (eventually). In two and a half weeks, I come back here for a few more days – an overnight at the Farm and a last surfing weekend. I’ll be staying at the pension every other night while in Manila. They need my room here in Pasig! I’d gladly have stayed, but part of me likes the closure of staying in the pension where it all began. I’m glad I’m not saying goodbye to the Philippines just yet.

Side Notes

With the holiday billboards and ads over, now political ads are popping up everywhere. The elections this spring are going to be very interesting; I’ll have to follow from afar. Some of the volunteers, who are in spots where there could be some unrest, are going to be evacuated from their sites for about two weeks; I think there may be travel restrictions on everyone. This country has a lot going for it but it also has so many issues….

As does Haiti – several people at work thought I would go there next. Peace Corps was in Haiti but has not been there for years; there are about 500 RPCVs from Haiti. The Peace Corps networks are abuzz with ideas though, and it seems likely that there will be some Peace Corps Response effort there – after all, that’s what Peace Corps Response is all about. I don’t know when they’d need someone of my background – but maybe by the time they figure out a role, it might be more along the lines of what I can offer than of immediate relief; many agencies do that well already. I would guess that French and/or Creole might be required, so I am not packing my bags (that is, I am not keeping my bags packed!), but if I could help, I would go!

The Country Director is of Haitian descent and her husband is Haitian. He’s a doctor who works for a big international agency, so after the earthquake he offered to help, and he was on a plane the next day. That also enabled him to look for loved ones. The more I read and hear, the more overwhelming it sounds. Poor Haiti.

Beryl, the PCRV who started the week after we did, is COSing next week, and Michael, the last PCRV to arrive, is med-sepping next week. It would have been nice to see them; if there is a celebration I will be there in spirit!

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Last Week as a PCRV - Part Two

On Wednesday morning I had a last coffee with the Wharton alum I’ve had a few coffees with – he added a dimension to my time here. And then Charlie and I took the MRT to PNVSCA, the Philippines National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency, for an exit interview. When we had gone there during orientation the van ride took forever in the traffic; it was an easy MRT ride! Manila seemed so big and overwhelming then – it still is, but we know it now. The exit interview was good – the concept behind PNVSCA, coordinating the efforts of all of the international volunteers here (as well as those of Filipino volunteers who serve abroad), is good. It seems bureaucratic to us, but the exit interview made me feel that there are people who are genuinely concerned.

Charlie and I had sushi lunch at the mall (and I had a mango shake) and then I went back to Habitat. I know, I had said my farewells, but the new president (he started at the beginning of the month) wanted to have an exit interview as well. My supervisor had given him a copy of my final status report and my final report to Peace Corps and he had gone through them line by line and had questions. Then he asked my opinion of things in general and what I would do if I were he; he also told me some of the immediate things he is dealing with (the Philippines is the only Habitat country that does the medium-rises, and International brought in a team to make sure the design was earthquake-resistant – turns out it may not be. And Manila had an earthquake, magnitude 4.0, just the other week (I didn’t feel it)). I didn’t realize how good it would feel to have someone go through my report in detail and ask for my thoughts and observations. And this from the new president of the organization, no less. I’ll have to keep in touch to see what new directions Habitat for Humanity Philippines takes!

Yesterday, I brought my big box to the Peace Corps office for mailing. How nice that they help you get your things home! My box was overweight (no surprise) so I had to split it into two boxes. This was fine, actually – I had only gotten the big box because that’s what the store had. Inside the big box was a smaller box, all taped up and ready to go, of things that can wait until I get to the imaginary studio apartment. Everything else, I just put back in the big box; the mailroom man will cut it to size and air-mail it, while the things that can wait will go by boat! I’m not going to say how much it cost to mail everything back. At least it was only one big box’s worth of stuff.

I had my exit interview with the Country Director that afternoon. She’s very low-key and the interview wasn’t structured, so I felt I rambled. I didn’t have an agenda per se, but I think I managed to tell her everything I meant to tell her. I felt good afterwards. Then Mary and I met at Starbucks and after coffee we went over to the pension; I’d had dinner there last week with Lynn, one of the PCVs I met at the build. The food is good and it’s nice to sit at one of the outdoor tables, so I proposed an all-PCRV dinner there. For a while it was just Mary, Mercedes and me, and eventually everyone came. Really nice to sit and talk and relax. Usually Peace Corps Response volunteers come and go one at a time, but it’s been nice to have this group, this community. I came up with a fun idea – the DOS (Description of Service) document is a template where you fill in the blanks with the particulars of your service; I proposed DOS Mad Libs, and everyone at dinner contributed a sentence.

This morning I took my big suitcase to the pension, where they’ll store it while I am inVietnam. That will probably be overweight too, but I am getting rid of some clothes, and I did budget my toiletries well. Then I had an exit interview with Milo. I had a chance to tell him about some of the dynamics at Habitat that I have only hinted at in my monthly reports and haven’t said much about here either – overall I am very pleased with the organization, with the independence I had, and with what I accomplished and what I leave them with, but, as one of the people I worked with said, maybe they could have used me better; I thought Milo should know.

Milo then took the group out for lunch (a Peace Corps Philippines tradition – not so in Morocco – but Morocco had the “stamping out” that was a sweet little ceremony, providing some closure). I got all of my signatures but I’m not technically done – the Description of Service and Certificate of Health weren’t signed by the Country Director, so they’ll be waiting for me at the pension when I come back here. It was good to say goodbye and thank you but not farewell. Tonight there’s a party at the guys’ house – the PRCVs and some of the current PCVs, who are in town for a meeting, will be there. Maybe the finality will sink in and I’ll feel more of an impact when I leave the Philippines in February – or maybe I’m just living in the moment and going with the flow.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Last Week as a PCRV - Part One

I knew that even with only a few appointments on the schedule that it would be a whirlwind week, and I was right! The whole six months has gone by fast, but this week more than most.

Monday was my last day in the office, and it was a busy one. I sent out thank-you notes for and pictures from the build, followed up on things from the exit conference, wrote to my World-Wise Schools class, dotted the is and crossed the t’s, wrote a nice farewell note to everyone at Habitat, and at the end of the day I walked around and said goodbye and hugged people. That’s it, no fanfare, no cake, no speeches. It’s a quiet office and I didn’t want a big deal and I didn’t get one.

It rained on Monday – after saying that it wasn’t going to rain anymore. And the electricity went out at home – I had given my candles away but at least I kept my flashlight handy. It did come back on at a reasonable hour, but I thought that wasn’t going to happen anymore either. I taped up my huge box and took the maps off the wall.

And then Tuesday the medical began. Dental first – no cavities. I walked to the Peace Corps office – nice along Manila Bay but then long and desolate after that. Got some of the administrative signatures and had a pretty thorough physical. Samples and tests of all sorts – they have an in-house lab and analysis, so no rushing samples to the lab as we did in Morocco. Totals for the week: no TB, no parasites, no extra pounds (but none lost, either). H1N1 shot, seasonal flu shot, voucher for a mammogram when I get back, malarial pills for my trip and then fourteen days of post-malaria pills to take when I get back to the states. With all the vaccinations in the past three years, I’m on a second WHO card.

Mary came back to the ‘hood with me. She experienced the MRT and then the walk over to my home – I had told her that I was walking while she was swimming every day, and she had a chance to experience my world. We walked back and ate at Shangri-La mall – a delightful dinner! I had debated moving to the pension to spend more time with Mary and Mercedes vs. staying in my own place until it was time to go. When we arrived we had an air-conditioned room to ourselves; at COS they put you in the fan-cooled dorm. I did not sleep well there during consolidation – and I decided I wouldn’t see much of Mary and Mercedes while we were sleeping anyway – so I decided to stay put.

Charlie is COSing this week too, so the four of us have been crossing paths. Drew left early, last month, and Jonathan is balancing him out by staying another month. Mary’s going to Vietnam for a week and a half (we’ll overlap for a day in Hanoi and maybe see each other). Charlie is traveling in the Philippines for a few weeks and leaves February 16 (I told him if he left on the 15th we could have quality time together on the way to Tokyo, but he was not swayed). Mercedes is the only person who didn’t change the flight Peace Corps gave us all – she’s leaving Saturday morning and going straight home.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some Pictures from Week Twenty-Five

Jackie Chan:

The first building is move-in ready:

Ready to dish some dirt:

The build PCVs:

The Stock Exchange bell:

After the run:

Bridge to the Ayta village:

Ayta house:

Rice fields - and the ever-present basketball court:

Ayta members:

A nice outing with Tony and his family: