Friday, July 31, 2009

The Plane Ride

The night before I left, there were guests at the guest house – a friend of my niece’s and her mother, for a sleepover. After a busy day, the kids were in the guesthouse watching TV and the adults were in the dining room, reading the newspaper. The mom asked me how I was so calm the night before I was leaving. I replied that being on hold had become the norm, so that it almost didn’t seem real…and then I said I would miss everyone…and then I started to get emotional. The mom took her daughter and left (they had stayed the night before so it wasn’t as if the sleepover was cut short) and I spent a little time with my nieces; Valerie got up early the next day to play Careers with me, and the late-sleepers in the house all got up! I went on an early bike ride – I may not get to ride a bike again for a while (Metro Manila is not the place for one – people keep telling me not to even walk, because of dangerous traffic and pollution). My sister and brother-in-law drove me to the 9:30 jitney, and then I was off. Easy travel – the jitney has an airport connection stop, and Tony picked me up and brought me to JFK.

I checked in and was told to weigh my luggage – too heavy. I was prepared for that, and prepared to pay the overweight charge, but I was still over and had to take things out of my bag. If I had known, I’d have brought the extra bag I bought in Bali when the same thing happened! I pulled over to the side and started to figure out what to take out when I saw someone else doing the same thing. He looked like the picture that he had emailed, and I said, “you must be Charlie,” the other PCRV on my flight. Love at first sight – he’s great. He went to buy extra bags for us while I waited with the luggage and then he brought them over to be shrink-wrapped into little cocoons. I will definitely have to lighten the load on the way back – if not part with the green suitcase entirely and buy something smaller. Off to a good start already in terms of the unanticipated! The bag had a broken zipper (so did his) brand-new – but nothing to be done about it (mine arrived with everything else, at least – his arrived just as we were leaving to go to our sites three days later).

The 2:00 pm 13 1/2-hour flight was long but tolerable – as I suspected, travel in Morocco made it seem not so bad. I didn’t sleep much. I read some of Culture Shock, but I felt a little brain-dead. I was on a 777, with an individual screen on the back of the seat in front of me, and I found Bejeweled, a video game that I played over and over. There was an empty seat next to me, and Charlie came over and we talked for a couple of hours (I further became enchanted when he mentioned that on the screen next to him there was a reality show that took place in one of his favorite places, Mohonk. One of mine too!). We were fed lunch (or maybe it was dinner), snack and then breakfast. And then we were in Tokyo!

We went over to our new gate for the layover and were joined by Mary, from New York but flying from Los Angeles, and Mercedes, flying from San Francisco – their flights from the West Coast to Toyko were almost as long as ours, and they didn’t have the nice 777 touch screen! Hm. The 4 ½ hour flight to Manila left around 7:00 pm. I read Mary’s Culture Smart Philippines (I am going to switch from Culture Shock to Culture Smart if I am in this situation again – similar info but more concise and readable) and the rest of Culture Shock (and am now prepared to share interesting cultural tidbits). We were picked up by some of the Peace Corps staff, who herded us through immigration, baggage claim and customs and brought us to the pension in downtown Manila where the PCVs all stay when they are in town. They stay in a dorm room with bathrooms down the hallway – we had two air-conditioned rooms with ensuite bathroom – with hot shower. At the airport we had been joined by Jonathan, who flew in with a different connection, and at the pension we met Drew, who had arrived earlier. We all got soft drinks and sat and talked for a while. And sometime in the early morning – afternoon according to our body clocks (12-hour time difference from EDT) – we tried to get some sleep.

Philippines in the News

This morning, Corazon Aquino passed away. She had been ill for a while; since we have been here, yellow ribbons for her were tied to lampposts, office computers – anything that can have something tied to it. The first woman president of the Philippines, she was associated with People Power, the spontaneous movement into the streets after Marcos stole the 1986 election – which was three years after Aquino’s husband was assassinated upon arrival at the airport. She was much beloved.

The second woman president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is the daughter of a previous president. She came to power after a second People Power deposed her predecessor. She is known as GMA – there are lots of acronyms here. Yesterday, she visited President Obama in Washington. By law, she cannot run again, but the person whose term she finished is talking about campaigning. Election time here can be one of unrest – last time, the some of the PCVs were on lockdown. I will be gone by election time in 2010.

Right now, Tropical Storm Jolina is hitting the islands. There are heavy winds where some of the other PCRVs went, but here it is just rain – heavy rain last night and rain all day today. It didn’t stop me from getting some items for my abode – mostly kitchen and cleaning supplies. The budget-busters (I was given a small settling-in allowance and have already overspent – and I still want to get a lamp and maybe an inexpensive but comfy reading chair) were a non-stick pan and a blender. I came home and gave everything a good scrubbing and I feel much better. I haven’t bought any food yet though so I am not quite good to go, but it will be nice to stop eating out and to start cooking for myself.

My First Day at the Office

There’s lots to tell, but I’ll start with today first, and then I’ll fill in the blanks with short entries over the weekend, bahala na (the Filipino version of inshallah – though they don’t say it as often as I have been using it, and I have been thinking it even more often than that).

First day at the office – in about four years. I didn’t really think about the fact that I’d be working in an office. I don’t have to go in every day, and my Peace Corps shirts and skirts are acceptable attire (so for those who got my panicked text asking for button-down shirts, I’m calling off the APB), but I was in an office, in a short-walled cubicle, from about ten in the morning until five in the afternoon. What culture shock! I guess it’s good – I kept saying that I was dreading the thought of going to an office again – so maybe this is a good way to ease back into it. Sir Tony (I think he’s the boss of my supervisor, or maybe my boss’s boss’s boss) told me that I can come and go as I please as long as I get my work done. He said they’re not so concerned with time here as they are with doing the job. I’ve been waiting for all these years to be treated like a professional instead of a kindergartener and finally someone said the words I wanted to hear!

I brought my own computer (reason enough not to go in every day – it’s heavy, and today I didn’t do much walking – if I can get a computer there, as the Peace Corps job description stated, I can walk half an hour to get the bus), got into the wi-fi system, and spent about five hours doing email. That old feeling of guilt while doing email at the office came back to me – though I thought if anyone asked, I could easily say I had to catch up on email without feeling ashamed. At about 11:00, someone brought me a tuna sandwich – crusts cut off and all. It turns out that there was a meeting today and food had been brought in and there was extra, but at around 1:30 I noticed that people were coming back from lunch and I realized I hadn’t gone and didn’t know where to go. Later, I met with Sir Tony (sign of respect – he told me to call him Tony but since everyone else calls him Sir Tony I feel I can do that, at least here!) he told me there’s a canteen on the eighth floor and I can eat lunch around 10:30-11 (I get hungry for elevenses anyway, so that was great news).

Alice gave me a bunch of marketing materials and presentations to look at, and someone else (will I ever learn all of their names and what they do? Okay, don’t panic, it was only the first day) gave me a list of current donors, and then I met with Sir Tony for a couple of hours – my chance to ask questions about what they do, have done, want to have done, want me to do. I still don’t know all of the answers, but I think next week I will work on a proposed timetable and list of ideas. Given what I read in Culture Shock: Philippines, I may have been too direct, and probably should have spent more of the meeting talking about backgrounds and families, but Sir Tony seems eager to get to business (actually, he seems to want me to raise all of the needed money by next week!).

The day went quickly, and then two people were assigned to accompany me home on public transportation so I can learn how to do it for myself (Sir Tony had picked me up in the morning). The office isn’t far from the light rail, but everyone told me to take the bus, which is closer (I may take light rail sometimes anyway – always my preference over the bus). The buses don’t have any stops per se – they come along in designated bus lanes, slow down and honk – or you have to wave them down. A regular bus is eight pesos, an air-conditioned one eleven (and supposedly safer). We took an air-conditioned one, and my companion pointed out landmarks along the way so I can recognize where to disembark. We then switched to the jeepney – which may need its own entry! – for the rest of the trip. Both Sir Tony and my supervisor (who was out today) are going to be out of the office on Monday and Tuesday, so I’m going to work from home – but going to the office was actually quite nice!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's a Long Way - to Itinerary

Yesterday afternoon I received the confirmation that my visa and passport were picked up and they, along with my travel documents, are on the way to me via FedEx. The email included the itinerary - it’s a 14-hour flight to Tokyo, a 2 ½-hour layover in Tokyo, and a 4 ½-hour flight to Manila. That will be a long day. I plan to change the ticket so that I return to Los Angeles (most likely after some travel-to-be-named-later), but if I weren’t, interestingly, the return would be 4-hour flight, 3-hour layover, 12 ½-hour flight – still long, but significantly shorter! I wonder if the plane travel will seem easier after traveling in Morocco. It’s hard to believe that I am actually leaving in a few days – I feel I’ve been in a holding pattern for so many weeks now that it’s become my natural state.

I expected friends or family to be here with me this entire week, so I had some late nights last week writing and packing and organizing. The friend agendas changed, so I have extra time to myself! It’s still nice to be this ready, but it’s strange to have this open time. I have treated the writeup of my trip as a real assignment, and it is weird not to have that to work on (not that it’s done, but I won’t be able to finish Hawaii this week, so I don’t want to start). I’m now working on sweptashore and on Princeton class business, so I’m not completely carefree (though I also went on long bike rides and took a walk in the village). I’ve been calling some friends so we can talk before I go, but I know I won’t have time to talk to everyone I want to talk to – I’ll just have to get myself back in the phone habit more quickly and more regularly next time than I did this time. I thought I had seen the last of New York City, but I’m going back in again, which is good. I haven’t read any of Culture Shock: Philippines in about a week now – I’d like to make more of a dent in it. It’s raining today (which reminds me – I should add rain to my list of immediate expectations) so I might just do that.

One of the things I read mentioned frequent outages of electricity – I said in the comment section that I don’t want to get there and immediately say, “I have to buy shampoo,” but I do have an immediate need – an adaptor/surge protector/whatever they call it (the thing I read said to buy it there – though if it’s the same as the one I use here I may wish I had packed the one I use here!), so that I can use my computer (and surf-noise machine). In other words, I don’t know how soon I will be able to write when I get there, or how soon I will be able to post. But I’ll be back!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Packing List

Well, now it seems as though I’m bringing a lot more than I need to. But I have these things – I may as well bring them! The good news is that I will leave some behind and have room for things I buy there or afterwards. Nice T-shirts – three from Morocco and three I’ve acquired since and have been wearing. The T-shirt from the 5K I ran here and shorts to use as pajamas, and another pajama-intended T-shirt set. Two pairs of Moroccan pants and three skirts I wore in Morocco. Two quick-dri capris I wore in Morocco and a nicer pair that I’ve acquired since. A windbreaker I rescued from the storage space and a lightweight sweater I bought this week (I am not expecting air-conditioning where I live or work, but maybe I can use it on the plane – and maybe I will use it a lot more than I think). One fun gauzy shirt and one long-sleeved blouse.

Undies, bras, socks – all worn in Morocco (when I come back I may get all-new! Or maybe while I am in the Philippines!). An old bathing suit and a new one that I bought this spring. Running shoes and running clothes – I was wavering about these but am glad I decided to bring them. Tevas for everyday wear and Merrell thongs to wear around the living quarters. Several bags – in addition to the big suitcase, the rolling bag and the backpack (and the aforementioned ski lock) – a fanny pack for running, a reusable bag, a money pouch to hide under clothes, plus my pocketbook.

Books that aren’t in the mail – Culture Shock Philippines, Lonely Planet Philippines, one pleasure book, a couple of crossword books. Books that are – Rough Guide to Southeast Asia, a couple of other travel books, a pleasure book. Tagalog dictionary and a good map of the Philippines. I won’t detail the toiletries and cosmetics other than to mention my discovery of 2009 – the neti pot. How did I live without one for so long?

A few magazines – New Yorker and Real Simple. A lot of DVDs – my friend Gary TiVoed every Survivor and Amazing Race episode while I was away. I really could have used them in Morocco, but he didn’t transfer them to DVD until I got back. So I probably won’t have time to watch them at all! But I’d like to. The Amtrak cross-country schedule, so I can think about my trip home.

A couple of hats. An umbrella. My spare pairs of eyeglasses. “Don’t care if I lose it” jewelry, as the Philippines Welcome Book put it. Camera, computer, USB drive, address book, calendar, some pens and paper. Decks of cards and teeny-tiny Boggle. A Circle Line souvenir picture of my nieces and me that was left behind when my sister and her family moved to a new apartment. And last but not least, my ultra-soft pillow.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Moving Right Along

The time seems to be flying now, and it will be flying even more with family and friends here from today until the day I depart – so since I was still alone in the house this past week, I decided to do the majority of the packing, even though a) I was planning to wait until I got the plane ticket and b) I really didn’t have much more packing to do. Now, all I have to do is put the clothes I’m wearing this coming week into the suitcase and decide which of the things I’m carrying onto the plane go into the rolling bag and which go into the backpack. And tape up the boxes that are remaining behind. That’s it!

Yesterday I called the credit card and ATM banks and told them not to cut me off when they see transactions in the Philippines. I made sure my cell phone will work there (I don’t plan to use it much; I’ll get a cell phone when I get there for in-country use) – I think it’s $1.99 a minute and 50 cents a text back to the States. That doesn’t sound like a lot! But I remember from Morocco that the minutes add up – so after a couple of long phone calls I cut down on my phone use. I called Corps Care (the Peace Corps version of COBRA) and suspended my coverage as of the end of the month. I backed up my computer. I’ll review my to-do list one more time, but I think I have everything covered.

Having finished the writeup of the Southeast Asia portion of my post-COS travels, I moved the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia to my suitcase – and all of a sudden, though not full (this time I know to leave room for Peace Corps manuals and the medical kit!), it seemed heavy. So I decided to send some things on ahead – that book and a couple of others, and some of the toiletries that I can wait for, find substitutes for, or plain old live without if need be. I don’t think I needed to send the package, but it felt good to do it – and it wasn’t too expensive. For those who don’t know about the USPS flat-rate box, let me be the one to tell you – it’s all the rage among PCVs (or, more accurately, their families and friends)!

The postal clerk processing the box, as it turns out, is from the Philippines! She’s from Quezon City, which is also near Manila. I asked her if she was going to visit in the next six months; she just came back from there. She described Makati City as like Manhattan and Taguig City as more rural, but as busy.

So what are my expectations? I’ve been thinking about that. I expect that when I get off the plane I will be hit with a wave of heat and humidity so brutal that I will question my decision to go – but that I will (a common Peace Corps Morocco saying) get used to it. I expect to be so jet-lagged from the longest flight I’ve ever been on and the 12-hour time difference that I won’t be able to process things for days. I expect Manila to look like a big, modern city and at the same time look different from anyplace I have ever been. And that’s as far as I will go with expectations. For everything beyond first impressions, I am keeping an open mind.

Well, that’s not entirely the case. I also expect to learn about another culture by living there, to make some friends (I still can’t believe that before I left for Morocco I thought I might not) and I expect to make a positive contribution to the country, Habitat for Humanity Philippines and to the Peace Corps! Before the two-year assignments, Peace Corps invitees have to write aspiration statements. I’ve wanted to refer back to mine, but it is on my other computer. If I were to write one now, I wonder how different it would be, now that I have been through the experience.

If you look at the comments section you will see that I have an interesting perspective from a former Philippines PCV. Between her comment and my response, it’s as if there were another blog entry!

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Personalized Welcome Letter

On Monday I emailed the Peace Corps Response recruiter just to see how things were going – she said she would be picking up the visas today and then will email us Monday. Then on Wednesday I received (via email) a Welcome Letter from the Peace Corps Response Program Coordinator in the Philippines – first we have heard from the staff in-country. He mentioned meeting our flight in Manila on July 27; I took that as a sign that I could mail my change-of-address cards. A big step (or maybe it is a small step and getting the plane ticket will be a giant leap?)!

Other things of note from the letter (in addition to expected mention of Peace Corps policies, that is – and additional words of support and welcome):
- the Peace Corps Response program is relatively new in the Philippines. The last PRCVs there have already completed their assignments, and for this fiscal year there will be a total of eleven new PCRVs at seven partner organizations.
- no vacation first 30 days or last 30 days (I predicted this).
- a big shopping mall where I may want to unwind and relax (his words – or am I just assuming he’s a he?) is 30 minutes from where I will be living and working.
- since I will be living in Metro Manila I should be able to get most, if not all, essential items (again, predicted). He said to come prepared with rain gear (I do have a raincoat and an umbrella….is that enough?) as well as proper protection from sun exposure (ironically, this is something I had not stocked up on, because the PCMO in Morocco gave us great sunblock) and adequate supplies of mosquito repellent (ditto – so I went into town and bought some mosquito repellents at the health food store; however, I don’t know what adequate means in this context, so more may need to be sent). I will receive malaria prophylaxis, though there is not a high incidence of malaria in my area. I wonder if we get mosquito nets? We did in Morocco – I cut mine up and made it into window screens (that is, Youssef did it for me!).
- laptop will be useful in the Philippines (already planning to take it) – there are internet cafes in the neighborhood and nice coffee shops in the mall that have wifi (I wonder if this means I will not have access in my room at the conference center where I'm staying - or in the office where I'll be working?).
- I will be taking a Volunteer oath (I had been wondering about that!). And then he will endorse (does that mean take? or send?) me to the Habitat for Humanity Philippines office.

For the first time in a while, I feel as if I am really going! I’m excited! But I don't want to get my hopes up too high in case it changes again. And scared – and relaxed – and anxious – and overwhelmed - and moving right along - and happy – and I already miss everyone. All of those things!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Carmelita, Mary and Miscellaneous

I have said a couple of times that my 2005 trip to South Africa ultimately led me to the Peace Corps (if only I had blogged then…were there even blogs then?). One of the people I met there was Carmelita, a co-worker of my host there. When she traveled to the U.S., he suggested that I host her, and since he had hosted me for an extended period of time, I didn’t feel I could refuse, even though I didn’t know her well. Now that I have been in the Peace Corps/expat world, I realize that this is what people do. And she turned out to be a wonderful guest and sweet person, and we are still in touch. Well, she has some relatives in the Philippines and is going to introduce me to one who works in Makati City, the next city over from mine. That’ll be nice!

And speaking of introductions – I was in New York City earlier this week and I met one of the other people who is going to the Philippines with Peace Corps Response. I had sent her a photo so she could find me, and she wrote back, “I sense a kindred spirit!” She sent her pic and I sensed it too. Her name is Mary and she was an architect and she served in Eastern Europe and she seems fun and interesting. She’ll be three hours away and I hope I see her! At least we can text.... I get the sense I won’t interact much with the regular PCVs, so we PCRVs will need each other. She’s going to visit friends during her extra time here, so she’ll no longer be flying from JFK, but it was nice to make the contact.

And I just want to go on the record as saying that I didn’t see the Times special section about the 1969 moon landing until after I made the astronaut reference (nor had I seen the Endeavour liftoff). But I had already read that Casey Kacem had broadcast his last show – countdowns will never be the same.

As I was reading Culture Shock: Philippines (so far a lot of history and a lot on family relationships and gender roles – but not a lot to write about; I think I’ll keep reading and then discuss when it relates to my actual experience), I realized that I did more to prepare for Morocco than I’d mentioned. I read a book about living abroad and one called Understanding Arabs and maybe another book or two that were recommended by my Peace Corps recruiter, and I skimmed Culture Matters, the Peace Corps workbook about cultural sensitivity (while watching the Air and Water Show…).

And I had met the woman who worked on the Casablanca-Chicago Sister Cities committee – so I looked up Sister Cities. Taguig City appears not to have any; it was incorporated only in 2004. Makati City has several other sister cities in the Philippines (is that allowed?), Los Angeles, and Ramapo, New Jersey (who knew?). Manila has four designated by Sister Cities International – Sacramento, San Francisco, Maui County, and Honolulu City and County, and also Santa Barbara, Winnipeg and Taipei!

I also wanted to note that after 27 months without baseball, I didn’t think I would be here this long, but I made it to the All-Star break! The NHL (watched a lot of hockey) and NBA (watched a little) playoffs are long over. And I saw some of the French Open and Wimbledon (though I viewed a lot of tennis in Morocco, with Abdou), golf’s U.S. Open and now the British Open. Plus, the Tour de France ends on the day I leave! I’m not spending as much time or energy on sports as I did before I left, but it’s one of the ways I mark time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Counting Down

I told someone today that I wouldn’t really begin the countdown until I get my plane ticket, but I did hear from the recruiter that she is picking up the visas on Friday and she’ll send an email next Monday. So I don’t really have much time left before I go!

When the departure date was postponed, I thought there might be an opportunity to join the Southampton Writers Conference. I’ll detail the saga in – although I thought about posting or cross-posting it here. Both of my narratives have intersected! For here, suffice it to say I’m not going. Instead, extra time enjoying the summer here is good – more time outside (walking, biking, swimming, sitting), some exploration, a little travel, and a visitor or two. And I’m working on – who knows, maybe that will develop into something; for now; it’s rewarding in and of itself.

I started putting things in the suitcase this weekend, just to see. It’s nice putting things in the suitcase that I know won’t be coming back with me – I think that’s yet another difference between then and now. These include a yoga mat, a big fluffy towel, a sheet, and the two casual suits I rescued from storage. I haven’t finalized my toiletry selection yet, but I am planning to take big sizes of everything – once I determine what I can get there and what needs to be sent, things will be more manageable, but either way, I’ll plan to lighten the toiletry load for any post-service traveling. Toiletries are heavy!

Other things I packed because I’m not using them now: raincoat, bathrobe, sweatshirt, sarong, coverup, microfiber towel, white noise machine (I had to jettison my old, heavy one in Rabat; when I returned I got a light, dual-voltage travel one. It’s actually surf noise, not white noise. A couple of weeks ago it finally warmed up enough here for me to keep the sliding door to my room open at night, so I can hear actual surf noise! Before that I was using it here). I also packed a pair of nice sandals and my flip flops.

That’s about it so far. It won’t take long to do the rest and to tape up the boxes of things I’m leaving here. It didn’t take long to do what I did so far, either – I did it more for my emotional state than for my physical one. I also finally started Culture Shock: Philippines. I don’t remember my astronaut terminology so I hope I’m putting it right when I say that I haven’t begun the countdown, but I guess I have begun the pre-launch sequence.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Then and Now

So, before I left for Morocco did I do what I am doing now to prepare? Well, yes and no. Both then and now I read everything that Peace Corps sent – country-specific Welcome Book, Handbook, paperwork. For Morocco there were also.mp3 language lessons to listen to – not the case this time. Then, I also bought a short-term subscription to Rosetta Stone French so that I could have a grounding there too – here, I bought a Tagalog phrase book, but I haven’t looked at it yet. Then, I packed for two years, not six months, and for varying weather conditions, not just 80 degrees and humid, so that was more involved. Then, I also had my entire closet from which to choose! Now, I have my summertime Morocco clothes and will supplement them with a couple of extra blouses and with two lightweight casual suits that I took from the storage unit and otherwise would have donated to charity. Then, I formalized power of attorney and other arrangements for all of my financial stuff - all of that is still in place, so there are just a few phone calls to make now – and I’ll make those after I have my plane ticket. Then, I didn't search for much other info about the country or culture because I figured I would have three months of training! And I had bought several Morocco books that I brought with me. Now, I have been searching more because I won’t have as much training, because I already had a Southeast Asia book, and because I am not going to get as many tour books – just Culture Shock and Lonely Planet. Then, I didn't write as much before I left because I had never blogged before and hadn’t gotten into the rhythm of it the way I have now. Then, moving out of the Chicago apartment I had lived in for nineteen years took a lot of energy. Now, going through the storage space this spring was liberating and not nearly as traumatic – and I haven’t accumulated a lot here that has to be put away (though there are a few boxes’ worth, somehow). Then, I had a lot of farewells – this time, I feel I’ve just said hello to people and am turning right around! This echoes a recent comment I left on – I mentioned that while the Big Trip was the key celebration of a previous milestone birthday, as it was this time, I also augmented that last one by having mini-get-togethers with friends around the country. While I did see a lot of people this time on the Drive Across America, I feel I didn’t have the same level of birthday celebration, so I want to spend more time with friends and may therefore have to extend the milestone beyond this year! I do know that then I did what I could to enjoy the summer before I left – with my departure delayed, I am getting a chance to do that now as well!

P.S. Remembered another big difference – the computer! The Morocco Welcome Book said that it’s dusty and there’s no support so they recommended against bringing a computer. I didn’t have a laptop so it wasn’t a matter of leaving it home. Well, it didn’t take me long to realize a computer was a necessity for Small Business Development (if not for all of Peace Corps in the internet age!) – by the end of PST (Pre-Service Training) I had one. Instead of dust in the Philippines there’s humidity, so the Philippines Welcome Book has warnings about bringing them as well, but there is no doubt I am bringing mine!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Burnham and the Philippines

My friend Helen sent me a link that ultimately led me to this, from the Newberry Library site:
Burnham in the Philippines: Plans for Manila and Baguio City
June 1, 2009 to July 15, 2009
In conjunction with the Chicago-wide celebration of the 1909 Plan of Chicago, the Newberry will draw upon its extensive collection on the history of the Philippines to create a free gallery exhibition that will place Burnham's 1904-1905 trip to the new American colony, and his plans for Manila and the new summer capital of Baguio City, in historical context. The small display will include sources in Spanish and Tagalog about the Filipino nationalist and revolutionary movements before and after the United States' 1898 war with Spain; John T. McCutcheon's illustrated reports on the Filipino-American war; contemporary debate about United States' imperialism; early American photographs of Manila and the surrounding provinces; and copies of Burnham's Plans of Manila and Baguio City, as well as photographs of how his plans were implemented in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Who knew? I couldn’t find much more about it on the internet, but I’ll keep looking. I won’t be in Chicago to see the exhibit but I urge those who are there to do so – it sounds interesting. And I’ll have to put Baguio City on my list!

And I’ve been wondering about the Peace Corps Volunteers in Honduras, with the coup there. Since I joined the Peace Corps, several countries have evacuated their PCVs. I am glad I served without incident and inshallah that will be the case this time too! I read that their new stage is spending its first three weeks in the Dominican Republic, but there hasn’t been a press release about the current volunteers. I hope all is well.

And more on the new date – my original Peace Corps departure was supposed to be July 27, 2005 – this is when I was nominated for the Caribbean. So even though the Morocco date was more or less solid once I had it, I interviewed in summer 2004, was nominated for summer 2005 and left in September 2006! As my friend Joy says, “Welcome to the development business! If you don't learn to cope with endless changes of plan, you won't survive.” July 27 was my father’s birthday – that was one of the things I liked about my original original departure date. So to arrive in the Philippines on his birthday, four years to the day (I think I do that, over the date line) will be nice!

Friday, July 3, 2009

More on the New Date

I will admit I had the feeling that something might happen to change the July 12 date. I didn’t get my Morocco plane ticket until a couple of days before I left, so it wasn’t that I hadn’t gotten my ticket yet. I don’t know what it was. When I saw the email I had to laugh – and then I felt a little dissonance. Maybe I should look for something else? That feeling came and went though – I still feel committed to going and I feel that Peace Corps is committed to sending me.

I think what took me aback more was my new end date – January 23. Why, though? Because I thought I was going to start something new in the new year? Because now the resume gap seems long? Because I have work to do for Princeton’s next major reunion? Because I wanted to be vacationing for the holidays and not still working? Because I want to come back to the northern hemisphere for winter? I finally realized it was because of the possibility of people (either current Morocco PCVs who will COS in November or other friends) traveling with me. But then I realized that they still can! I have vacation days. Once I identified that, I relaxed. Inshallah, again. Besides, now my new end date means I can put “2009-2010” on my resume. So then I started thinking about what I could do with my newfound extra time.

For example, it's about time for a haircut. Should I get one before I go or leave it be, since I'm about to have Peace Corps hair anyway? Now that I have more time, I should probably get one. I haven’t started Culture Shock: Philippines yet; was waiting until my departure got closer. Maybe I will start it now. But more, now I might be able to visit some friends or do more volunteering or attend a conference that looks interesting. So far, I am just exploring options…and I’m going away for the weekend (a getaway from the getaway!), so I’ll put further thinking aside for a few days.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

New New Departure Date July 26

In Morocco, the phrase was “inshallah” – God willing. Nothing is ever definite. I’ll see you tomorrow – inshallah. You just don’t know! Sometimes, inshallah is used when you don’t want to say a direct no but it’s something you don’t want to do – I’ll have tea with you next week, inshallah. But even if you want to go, have every intention of going, plan to go, think it’s definite – it may not happen.

I still find myself saying it (or, more often, thinking it). It’s true – you just don’t know. So when I told people my departure date was July 12, I always added a mental “inshallah.” I’ve done a lot to get ready, but there are things I am holding off on until I have a plane ticket – actual packing, calling the insurance, bank, credit card and cell phone companies, mailing my change-of-address postcards, buying travel books for a post-service trip (actually, that last one was kind of waiting for the packing, but now I am in the mood to get some books anyway).

So I can’t say I was surprised to get the email yesterday with the new departure date of July 26. But I still had to process it – there’s an element of Charlie Brown with the football. I get ready to kick it, and Lucy keeps taking it away. Here’s what the PCRV coordinator in the Philippines sent to the recruiter:

“We clearly understand the dilemma you are in, hoping for earlier visa cable receipts and PCRV departures to avoid possible PCRV pull-out from the assignment-position, which we hope will not happen. Much as we would like to have the PCRVs arrive earlier or as you have proposed, the period of processing security clearance at the National Intelligence Agency (NICA) and the Visa application with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is no longer within our control. We are left to only constantly coordinate with the Phil. Nat'l. Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA) to somehow fast track these rigid processes. We hope for the best and shall keep you updated on the progress. Thanks much...”

The recruiter sent to six of us – does that mean one person already dropped out? She also sent us each other’s contact info, and I wrote a quick hello to everyone. One of the New Yorkers proposed a get-together – we’ll see if we can make that happen (inshallah). Otherwise, we’ll see each other soon enough (inshallah!).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Well, I thought about it when I wrote about UNESCO World Heritage sites in, and then I mentioned it a couple of posts ago, so here is the list of World Heritage Sites in the Philippines. The state- and ballpark-visitor in me wants to see all of them, but we’ll see. More if and when I do, of course, but for now, just the list, with some explanation excerpted from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre web site:

Baroque Churches of the Philippines – one of these is in Manila, the other three elsewhere (I need to learn my Philippine geography!) - their unique architectural style is a reinterpretation of European Baroque by Chinese and Philippine craftsmen. There are five more Baroque churches on the tentative list (along with more than 25 other places – those I won’t list unless I visit, but they include marine, mountain, archeological, other churches and colonial sites, and mummy burial caves!).

Historic Town of Vigan - Established in the 16th century, Vigan is the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia. Its architecture reflects the coming together of cultural elements from elsewhere in the Philippines, from China and from Europe, resulting in a culture and townscape that have no parallel anywhere in East and South-East Asia. This is on the same island as Manila, so it’s within reach.

Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park - This park features a spectacular limestone karst landscape with an underground river. One of the river's distinguishing features is that it emerges directly into the sea, and its lower portion is subject to tidal influences. The area also represents a significant habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a full 'mountain-to-sea' ecosystem and has some of the most important forests in Asia. Not especially near where I will be but this sounds interesting (I just can’t go in the fresh water!).

Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras - The Ifugao Rice Terraces are the priceless contribution of Philippine ancestors to humanity. Built 2000 years ago, reaching a higher altitude and being built on steeper slopes than many other terraces, the Ifugao complex of stone or mud walls and the careful carving of the natural contours of hills and mountains to make terraced pond fields, coupled with the development of intricate irrigation systems, harvesting water from the forests of the mountain tops, and an elaborate farming system, reflect a mastery of engineering that is appreciated to the present [sic]. Also on the same island as Manila; I loved seeing the rice terraces in Indonesia so I think I would like this too!

Tubbataha Reef Marine Park - It is a unique example of an atoll reef with a very high density of marine species, with a nesting site for birds and marine turtles. An excellent example of a pristine coral reef. This one I may not be able to get to, unless I take up diving – and right now I feel more inclined to pursue a yoga class.