Saturday, October 31, 2009

With the Trip a No-Go, a Bonus Post!

Well, Typhoon Santi came through and left quickly – with not a lot of rain but strong winds. Boats from Batangas to Mindoro were cancelled on Friday and Saturday. We heard that 700 people were waiting in Batangas pier. Boats were scheduled to run this morning (it’s already Sunday here), but with the rough waves, the holiday travelers, and having to leave early tomorrow to get to the spa, we decided to reschedule Mindoro for the weekend of the 14th (can't wait, but I'll have to!). Instead, yesterday I updated my resume – and I started working on a federal job application. That’s making the most of a “snow” (in this case typhoon) day! Our power was out from 6:30 am until the generator went on at 11:00; the downed power line was repaired by 1:30. Today I called Makati hotels to find day rates – this afternoon we’re going to enjoy this sunny, not-humid day (it might be the nicest day in Manila since I got here!) and go to a pool! I wrote some post-script haiku, so check that entry.

On a more serious note, something I’ve been thinking about – at the Asia-Pacific Housing Forum, then while researching the UNDP, and most recently while reading up on Stairway’s work, I keep running across the Millennium Development Goals. I’ll list them here, so we can all think about how much work there is to be done (and how lucky we are...):

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Halve the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day
- Achieve Employment for Women, Men, and Young People
- Halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
- By 2015, all children can complete a full course of primary schooling, girls and boys
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
- Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
- Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate
Goal 5: Improve maternal health
- Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio
- Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
- Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS
- Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it
- Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
- Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources
- Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss
- Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation
- By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers
Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development
- Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system
- Address the Special Needs of the Least Developed Countries (LDC)
- Address the special needs of landlocked developing countries and small island developing States
- Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries through national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long term

Friday, October 30, 2009

Month Three in Haiku

Disaster Response
Working on the proposal
Some iterations

Soup kitchen – helping
Evacuation center
Toilet build as well

Sending the proposal out
EU, UN too

Mr. Jugo passed
HFHP President
May he rest in peace

Any way I can…
I made my own donation
To help people here

Building target lists
Time-consuming but fun
With baseball playoffs

Brownout – it happens
Pepeng right after Ondoy
Life without A/C

My World-Wise Schools class
Got extra letters this month
They asked good questions

Packing relief bags
Rice, sardines, canned beef, noodles
Trucked up to the north

At the halfway point
Got lots done, lots more to do
Still glad that I’m here

Eggplant-pumpkin sauce
Sometimes instead of mall food
Princeton meeting too

To the pension right away
It was just a drill

Weekend excursions
Again lots done, more to do
See the Philippines!

Greenhills pearl buying
The Chinese cemetery
And Old Manila

Samar – boat ride, cave
Leyte (MacArthur returned)
Imelda showcase

Bata-an – a march
Monument to World War II
Many people died

Embassy Bazaar
Pagsanjan canoe to falls
Mindoro, spa next!


Typhoon Santi - wind
No boats from Batangas
Mindoro next month...

Worked on resume;
Hotel pool in Makati
To sit, read and swim

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Coming Up: Rest and Relaxation

Halloween is for kids here, not so much for adults – the same decorations and costumes you see in the US are available here (I haven’t seen as much candy, but I am told that kids do trick-or-treat). All Saints Day/Day of the Dead, November 1, is a major holiday in the Philippines – families spend the day, with major feasts, at cemeteries, honoring their departed loved ones. If I had a host family, I might have gone with them. When we toured the Chinese cemetery, the guide suggested that we come back for it – until that point, I wasn’t sure if it would be all right to come as an observer as opposed to a guest – but by that point I’d already made plans.

It’s back to Mindoro! Monday is a holiday, so it’ll be nice to be there for a long weekend. Whether there are any Halloween festivities with the boys or All Saints Day participation there remains to be seen. How much hiking we do also remains to be seen – Mary has been getting over an infection in her foot for about two weeks now – but even if we (provided she is healed) just swim and sit on the beach it’ll be great to get away. There was a clear night earlier this week in Manila – I think the first time since I’ve been here that there was a cloudless sky – and I saw a star; quite a contrast from seeing a sky full of stars, including the Milky Way, from Mary’s site! Julie and I are going – she and Mary both served in Macedonia so it will be fun to introduce them to each other! Julie has been here since the second week of September and hasn’t been to the beach yet! Typhoon Santi is on the way…I hope it doesn’t affect our ability to cross the passage.

I’ve reviewed all the Stairway materials in case there’s an opportunity to talk to the founders. They have a great residential program for the boys, but when I met with Lars he mentioned wanting to do more marketing of the advocacy part of their work. They’ve put together a package of animated videos – one of incest, one of pedophilia, and one of sex trafficking – to make it easier to discuss these issues. The award-winning package is a gentle way to approach the subjects – that is, if there is a gentle way. All three of those are so terrible – it amazes me that humans can treat each other this way, especially children. I think it would be fun to get work-related leave to do some consulting with them, or that they could use their own Peace Corps Response Volunteer! I don’t know if I’ll get the chance (I have so much to do with Habitat!) but I’m glad I studied the materials and I’m glad to be able to support Stairway by staying there (the price is a small contribution) and buying some pasalubong from them (you all want dreamcatcher keychains, right?).

After that, I’m going to a spa! There was some boxed text in Lonely Planet that mentioned that spas are a growing business in the Philippines. I asked Mary if she was interested in going to one and she’s coming along (I asked Julie too but she passed)! We frequently text and email, and I’m really looking forward to spending more time with her. Check out - it’s conveniently located between Mindoro and Metro Manila. Our package is called Midweek at the Farm and includes:
• arrival welcome drinks
• 3 days/2 nights stay in a villa suite
• guided walking tour of The Farm
• live blood analysis with a medical doctor
• choice of two 60-minute spa treatments (relaxation massage, reflexology massage, anti-stress facial, little yin yang dry brushing – I haven’t decided on my two yet, but since I haven’t even heard of dry brushing, I might have to do that one!)
• three-course healthy gourmet meals (note – vegan – can it make up for the other 180-odd nights of mall food?)
• use of The Farm facilities: swimming pool, library, gym and meditation lounges/pavilions
• participation in complimentary morning and afternoon yoga sessions
I probably would have gone for a day on my own, just to experience another aspect to the Philippines, but not for the three-day package if not for Mary. I’ll be gone from Saturday morning through Wednesday night. These plans have been in the works for a while and I’m so looking forward to it!
P.S. There’s no time change in the Philippines. Enjoy falling back!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Some Pictures from Week Thirteen



Manila Bay, one month after International Coastal Cleanup Day:

Products made from juice packets:

They know my name at the mango shake place:

Cue "Ride of the Valkyries":

Being paddled - and dragged - up the rapids:

The gorgeous gorge:

Before - five mostly-dry PCRVs about to get very wet:

After - We went on this raft under that waterfall:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

So What Else is New?

My air conditioner became a fan early last week. Air came out, but it wasn’t cold air. It was quite uncomfortable – it made me tired, it was hard to get anything done, I had no energy for yoga. An attempt at repair failed, and I told Hanna that I would pay out of my own pocket to replace it if it couldn’t be fixed – it would be worth it for three months. But then I thought about it again – I didn’t expect to have air conditioning. Most Filipinos don’t have air conditioning. I could go to work every day and not work from home at all. I can go to the mall for air conditioning. I could sleep with just the fan. It’s only three months. This is the Peace Corps, after all – I could live without it. Fortunately, I do not have to – a second attempt to fix it was successful!

I was reminded of more of what I’m living without, though, when I went to one of the fancy restaurants in one of the fancy malls in Makati on Tuesday night, to meet the head of the Princeton Club here and another Princeton alum who is here for a Fulbright. We had a wonderful and intelligent conversation (as would be expected with Princeton alums!) and delicious food. California Pizza Kitchen every so often is a treat for me here, and this food (spicy tuna, shrimp, pasta, salad) was so much better and so much more expensive than that – it had been so long since I had food that good that it was almost a shock to my system. It had also been a long time since I had a conversation that left me so energized – though I don’t feel without it on a regular basis, I think this was just a special evening. In addition, it’s still culture shock to be in Makati – Shangri-La mall is one of the nicest here, as is Rockwell, so I didn’t think I was missing anything, but I was. I went to CPK the next day – not ready to go all the way back – and the next day made another batch of my now-named Shaw Boulevard Pasta Sauce (eggplant, pumpkin, spice blend, onion, garlic, tomato sauce, laughing cow cheese).

When we first arrived in the Philippines in late July and went to the mall near the pension for our cell phones, we encountered a group of current volunteers who were going to the mall for Mexican food. We left them – we couldn’t wait to get out of the mall, and we didn’t have that need for Mexican, preferring to eat in local restaurants (though we ended up with Korean one night and Indian the other, and not Filipino). Well, Friday night when we were back at the pension for the consolidation exercise, there we were, going to the mall for Mexican. I guess we’ve assimilated into the PCV community now! We then went out for drinks. I never did this in Morocco – it was not culturally sensitive, and the bars were loud and smoky. I now realize how much drinking is a part of PCV life (and it’s even more so in the countries where drinking is a big part of the host country culture, such as Eastern Europe). It was kind of fun, I’ll admit it. Really, I had fun in Makati, fun at CPK, fun cooking and fun at the mall and out drinking – expanding my horizons here and taking advantage of what’s here to have a complete experience (such as it is in the big capital city…).

And to add more of the Philippines to the experience – on Sunday a group of us went to nearby (i.e. two hours away) Pagsanjan, for a canoe ride to the falls. Boatmen transported us up the river; when I saw them get out of the boat every time we hit some rapids and drag us upstream, I was no longer disappointed that we didn’t have a chance to paddle. At the top of the river, we boarded a raft and were pulled under the falls – Julie likened it to being blasted with a fire hose – very wet and very fun. The boatmen then expertly guided us through the rapids back downstream, where we had lunch. The wider, gentler part of the river is where they filmed the final scenes of Apocalypse Now. Monkeys can be seen on land, but we didn’t see any. The canyon was deep and lush – quite a contrast to the dry gorges in Morocco but just as beautiful in its own way. Great outing. And then, another big (and rare) treat – I got home and took a nap! After a night of not a lot of sleep in the dorm and getting up early for the road trip, I needed it!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Consolidation Drill

Things were moving right along last week. I finished building the list of Habitat for Humanity USA affiliates – that took much longer than I thought it would, but it’s good that I did it, because it’s possible nobody else would have ever had the time to do it. The list is much bigger than I thought it would be, which is also good. I’m still compiling the list of Filipino-American organizations; this work doesn’t require my full brain wattage, so it’s been perfect to do in the mornings while listening to the baseball playoffs.

I also had a meatier assignment, to help prepare cover letters for the now-ready-to-go funding proposal for the EU (European Union) and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). This required some research into what they fund and how, so that I could target the letters. Even more exciting, I was invited to come with the Co-Chair of Friends of Habitat (the former Miss Universe) to the UNDP presentation.

I was preparing for that when we got the call from our warden – consolidation exercise; drop everything and go to the consolidation point. It was somewhat disruptive (in addition to the UNDP meeting, I had made pasta sauce the night before and hadn’t had time for yoga that morning – in other words, a busy afternoon and evening ahead!) but I take these things seriously – just in the time since I joined Peace Corps, they’ve evacuated several countries – Georgia, Bolivia, Kenya (those volunteers went back), Mauritania, Guinea and maybe others I am not thinking of now.

There are many steps to the Emergency Action Plan, consolidation being the final one before evacuation. We never had a consolidation exercise in Morocco but we had several other tests – cell phone drills and land line drills – and a couple of times I had to call people in my warden group to report a terrorism incident or see if people were all right after flash floods.

If we were really headed for consolidation, we would have packed two weeks’ worth of clothes and everything we would have wanted with us in case we weren’t going back to our sites. For the exercise, I brought clean underwear, my t-shirt-and-shorts PJs, and toiletries. I forgot my passport – the most important thing! – but to my credit I remembered it right away and texted my warden to find out whether I should go back for it or not (she said no, but I probably should have, because I felt that as a former warden I should live up to my own high standards). Our consolidation point was the pension where we stayed when we first arrived – ironically, my second time there in a week; I had come down on Wednesday morning to have breakfast with Travis, who was COSing. I hadn’t seen the PRCV guys in a while so it was nice to spend some time with them; also met some of the current PCVs whom I hadn’t met yet (including the ones who have volunteered for our Habitat for Humanity build week, now rescheduled for the week of November 16!). We had a really good meeting with the Peace Corps staff member who checked us in and the Regional Safety and Security Director. It’s interesting to think about all of the issues involved in keeping volunteers safe.

When we arrived, Mary, Mercedes and I shared the air-conditioned room. Now that we’ve been here a while, no more of that – instead, it was the dorm room, where there are eight sets of bunk beds. It’s not easy for me to sleep with that much karma in the room, but it was nice to take a hot shower!

It actually worked out well that I was at the pension, since I was planning to be in the area the next day. I walked over to the Embassy Bazaar – looking for (and finding) some craft items that might make lovely pasalubong (items that you bring home for people after you travel) and/or lovely things for myself! I also went to the Kultura Filipino store in the Mega Mall to buy some items I had scoped out earlier. I know not to leave all my shopping until the end! I’m not going crazy, though – so far everything I’ve bought will fit in one box.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reflections at the Halfway Point

I knew the time would go by fast – Motasim said six months was just enough time to get there, figure out what you’re doing, do it and say goodbye. This is week 13 out of 26 – a good time to reflect on what I have done so far and what I still hope to do.

Work is definitely front and center in a way that it wasn’t during my service in Morocco. There, I really felt that the technical assignment was but one of three goals, and that experiencing the culture and getting by on a daily basis were central to my service. Here, I spend much more time and energy on work – but that’s one of they key differences between Peace Corps Response and the regular 27-month program. The work has been exciting and rewarding – for a while now I have been saying that I wanted to do marketing for a non-profit and here I am confirming that (at least as one possible direction – government service continues to be another, as does other development work). I now see how marketing - both fundraising and communications – is a vital part of humanitarian aid. I may have gotten more than I bargained for with the typhoon/flooding relief effort, but I feel all the more that I am making a needed contribution and also getting some valuable experience. If I could find a job like this and an organization like this when I am finished here, I would be quite content. In the meantime, I am trying to make the most of it while I am here, because I know it’s a tough market out there and some compromises may be required. What would I give up in order to work on something I feel passionate about – Salary? Location? Leisure time? Responsibility? Organizational culture? I won’t know the answers to that question until I have an actual choice to make, but it’s a welcome experience for me to be passionate about what I am doing and it’s something I’ve hoped for, so I’m not taking this time lightly. I also have a lot of flexibility in my work – something I have also craved and will continue to hope for.

I feel I’ve gotten a lot done so far – solid prospect lists, appeals lists and inroads, with plenty of time left to explore more of the paths I initially came up with when I was brainstorming. At the same time, if the disaster response means that I don’t get as much of my initial plan done as I thought I would, I will have worked on that immediate need, and I will still leave Habitat for Humanity Philippines with some accomplishments and also some avenues to pursue that they may not have considered before.

I’m doing well at seeing the Philippines, too, with my weekend trips and vacations taken and planned. I did do research and I did make a list of what I want to see, but I think I’m a more relaxed traveler after my plan-as-you-go post-Morocco trip. That may also be a function of the nature of the Philippines – with hot weather it’s hard to go-go-go all day, and with beaches and nature, part of the activity is allowing for some inactivity. I still have several major trips planned and the majority of my vacation days yet to take. I haven’t decided on anything yet for post-service – I feel I still have time before I have to decide anything about that.

I don’t feel I have as much time on my hands as I did in Morocco (or Southampton), so I haven’t done all of the reading and writing I brought with me to do, but if it’s because I’m working more, that’s okay – I don’t feel the “you should be doing more” pressure I used to constantly put on myself. I feel both nutritionally-challenged and fitness-challenged, but I am working on both of those. I haven’t done as much language recently as I did when I was first here – I haven’t given up yet, but I have revised my goal down from comprehending most of what’s said around me to having a few solid phrases and being able to make light conversation, and I’m just about there.

I haven’t played a single hand of cards. But I’ve gone out more to restaurants and bars. I’ve spent more time with other volunteers than I have with host country nationals, but I still have some opportunities for cultural exchange. I realized something recently – I baked some brownies for Marilee in Thailand and a chocolate bread pudding for Martha in Los Angeles. After that, I never used the oven in Southampton because it looked a little daunting (and because my sister said she never used it either). I don’t have an oven here – so I could conceivably go an entire year without using an oven!

In the late innings of a lopsided game this week, with the Dodgers down, Vin Scully wondered if there was anyone at all out there listening, and why they would be (I wanted to scream back, “I am, Vin, and it’s because of you!”). I couldn’t help but think of this blog – who is really out there reading it? But I know that there are people out there – those of you who have told me so, and maybe some who haven’t? – and I thank you for reading. And for caring.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some Pictures from Week Twelve

The bus passed flooded fields:

The hike up begins:

In the forest:

View of the peninsula:

Mt. Samat Cross:

Mt. Samat Memorial:

Death March photo:

Packing relief goods:


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

(Not Quite) The Amazing Race

I’ve made it through DVDs of five seasons of “Survivor” and now I’m going through five seasons of “The Amazing Race,” thanks to my friend Gary; I lent him my TiVo while I was away in return for him recording these things for me. I could have used them in Morocco when I had more time on my hands, but they provide relaxation here as well. On Sunday I went to pack relief goods, and at one point I felt that it was like a task in that show. So, with some creative license, I’m going to write this post as if it were an episode (and if I inspire you to watch, don’t tell me what is going on this season!).

Julie and Sharon made their way via MRT and taxi to this warehouse, the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) operations center, near the airport. While there, they had to pack bags of relief goods to be trucked up north the next day. Each bag consisted of three kilos of rice, two cans of sardines, one can of beef, one package of chicken-flavored noodles, and one package of beef-flavored noodles. Using an assembly line, teams had to work quickly to accomplish this task. After packing over 1500 bags, the supervisor gave them their next clue.

Let’s call this Detour Pack It or Putter, and we chose Pack It. Meanwhile, Bill (and pretend he had a race partner) chose Putter. In this task, Bill and fictional partner slept late, read and generally puttered around, but they had to wait for a text message that contained their next clue.

All teams then made their way to Chinatown – Julie and Sharon via taxi, McDonald’s sundaes and LRT, and Team Bill via Quiapo jeepney. Using only the Lonely Planet map and their cell phones, they ended up at the same spot on Ongpin Street, in the heart of Chinatown. Usually a Roadblock is a task that only one person can perform, but since we’re using creative license, all team members ate strange Chinese food. Teams then looked through Chinatown’s streets until they found this shop, the Feng Shui and Good Fortune Gift Shop, where the owner gave them their next clue.

All teams then took the LRT to a tricycle to the Chinese cemetery, where they hired a tour guide, who showed them mausoleums of rich people, the building housing cremated remains, temples, memorials to the Chinese who fought in the war, and more. When finished, the tour guide gave them their next clue. All teams then raced back via LRT and MRT to Shaw Boulevard and then to their respective pit stops for a mandatory rest period. This was a non-elimination round.

Comments from one of the team members: it was fun to pack those relief goods; I’ve done a lot of envelope-stuffing in my time and this was one of the more efficient things of its type – no downtime. We got right to work and everyone worked together and the time flew by. Reinforcements came, so we didn’t feel too bad when we left at the lunch break. Chinatown wasn’t all it was cracked up to be (nor, sadly, was the food), but it was interesting to go back to the cemetery and get the tour this time. And I enjoyed the time with my companions!

Monday, October 19, 2009


The day before the Mt. Princeton climb, we got lost while on a nine-mile hike that ended up being around 13 miles long before we were picked up and brought back to the lodge, some people with blisters and all of us more exhausted than we wanted to be before the big day. At one point someone (it could have been I) referred to it as a Bataan death march. Well, obviously it doesn’t come close; I was eager to go to the memorial in Bataan and see what there was to see.

First of all, the pronunciation – “a” as in adios, each “a” pronounced, so Bata-an. It’s the peninsula at the north end of Manila Bay – but there are no longer ferries, so Bill and I took a bus ride to get to the provincial capital, Balanga (it took about three hours each way). There we met Kate and her friend Romeo, who had a car. We went to a local place for brunch (tapsilog for me) and then on to Mt. Samat, site of fierce fighting and of the memorial. Kate had visited during her PST, and she is COSing in a few weeks, so for her it was a bookend to her experience.

Romeo kept asking me if we wanted to walk (it would have been 7K if we’d taken a jeepney from town – I didn’t know until that morning that we’d have a ride) and I said I felt that we couldn’t commemorate a 100K march by driving all the way to the top, but that since he kept asking I could tell he didn’t want to! He and Kate let us out at the 5K marker and we started up. Bill had done the Taal volcano just last week with Julie and he said this was steeper. And it was really humid. While we were walking, I hummed the theme from “Patton” to myself – wrong theatre of the war, but great music.

Somewhere between the 3K and 2K markers, we encountered Kate and Romeo – they had found a path down from the top. So we left the blacktop and went up an even steeper (but more fun) shortcut through the jungle. At the top is a big cross (same height as the Statue of Liberty, which, I learned, is 46 meters of base and then 46 meters of statue – this was all 92), the bottom of which is sculpted with bas-reliefs of battle scenes. I’m told that on a clear day you can see the cross from Manila, and that it lines up exactly with the Rizal Monument.

We took an elevator to the horizontal part of the cross, where we could see mountains in the distance in both directions (behind the southern one is Corregidor), Manila Bay on one side and the South China Sea on the other, hills and trees all around (replanted with help from the Japanese), farms, towns. We then went down to a second memorial that had the story of the battle, stained glass, plaques for each division that fought there, and a museum with black-and-white photographs, guns and uniforms.

The story of the Death March is pretty gruesome, so if you want lots of details, look for them elsewhere, but the short version is that after Bataan fell, the men who surrendered were marched 100K over the course of five days and then herded onto trains to go to POW camps. Malnourished to begin with and given no provisions, anyone who fell out of line was killed and many others just couldn’t make it – maybe 20,000 of the 75,000 who started perished. Even more died in the camps. Each year on April 9th, thousands go to Mt. Samat on the anniversary (I can’t imagine where they all fit). Bataan was one of the places I most wanted to visit when I knew I was coming here, and I felt awed to be there. I should also note that while I looked this up to confirm my numbers I learned (or re-learned) that the bridge where State Street crosses the Chicago River is called the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Bridge; I shall plan to go there when next in town!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Back to Normal?

It was quieter this week at work than it has been since the flood. The disaster response proposal was being gussied up by the Board, so I worked on developing a list of corporations to send it to. I revised the appeals letters I had been sending earlier to include the floods and therefore create more urgency, and worked on building the email lists for those. I find myself smiling at the diversity of the names of American cities and towns, so I’m having fun (and listening to baseball playoffs and podcasts while I work).

Another low-pressure system (unnamed for most of the week, but today named Ramil here, Lupit internationally) meant heavy rain in the Eastern Visayas – where I just was – and the forecast was for more flooding this week; it is expected to escalate into a typhoon and hit North Luzon next week. I read in the paper over the weekend that two more big typhoons are expected this month, two next month, and one in December. I read in Culture Shock: Philippines that the fatalistic attitude of Catholicism helps people here cope with the frequent disasters. I guess things are returning to normal.

Life goes on, and Habitat goes on after the death of the president last week. He had a heart attack the Monday after the floods and things got worse from there. He was still working on the disaster response from the hospital; he had a chance to see his family. People at work loved him; there’s sadness and there’s confusion as to what’s next. Members of the Board have been in a lot anyway because of Ondoy/Ketsana – they’ve been in even more, working on keeping things going and on finding a successor. I work more or less independently so I don’t know if I will be directly affected by the change, but I do sense the mood. Julie and I went to the wake on Tuesday with my supervisor, the Peace Corps Country Director, and the Peace Corps Response Coordinator. It was nice to be able to pay my respects.

I worked from home on Wednesday – last week was the first week I was in the office all five days. I like working from home one or two days a week. I hope I can find a way to keep doing that! Wednesday was a rainy day – a good day to stay in. And it was cool! I didn’t think it would get cool at all! It’s back to hot now. The building where I live houses a bank, and people have been lined up all week to get calamity loans – it’s sad to see all the people in line, but it’s another reminder that people do what they have to do to keep going.

I made dinner – I hadn’t even cooked eggs since the refrigerator stopped working, opting for peanut-butter-and-apple breakfasts, mangoes and mall food. I couldn’t take it anymore. I bought some eggplant (Filipino eggplants are long and thin) and some pumpkin (that is, kalabasa squash) and some onions and garlic and made a pasta sauce (that also included some spices, tomato sauce and, for old times’ sake, Laughing Cow cheese). It was great! I am going to make it again and again until I am tired of it or until those vegetables go out of season. Maybe I’ll branch out and cook other things too – I still feel limited by logistics (not to mention time) but it is worth it!

Another thing that has been going on involves a job interview back in the States. I’ll spare you the details other than to say that although the interview did not come through, it made me realize how in the moment I have become, especially with the disaster response, and that maybe it was a hint that the search for what’s next might need some attention. I say that I am here for six months, but I am also here for 26 weeks, and this is week 12 – in other words, I’m almost halfway through. I had a hard time looking for a job last fall because I was so focused on finishing up my service in Morocco, and I promised myself that I would start looking while here. After all, it was only a few months ago that I was in job-hunting mode. It seems far away, but I know I have to do it! I’ll see what I can do to add that in to the routine…(and I want to get back to language too – haven’t done much of that since Julie arrived).

Other news – I went to the movies tonight! “Julie and Julia.” Fun to go to a movie theatre! Nice that they have almost-first-run movies here. Also, I’m continuing with World-Wise Schools, partnering with the same class at my nieces’ school that I had in Morocco. I sent a handwritten letter from Morocco every month but I wonder how many letters really got there; I didn’t hear much from them. This time I decided to email and they are asking some insightful and thought-provoking questions! I’ll list them in another post.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Leyte Pictures (from Week Eleven)

Along the river:

The occasional riverbank village:

Compare to May 2 entry:

Sohoton Cave:

Sisters in the cave:

I still look at artisan products!

"I have returned"

Santo Nino Shrine:

The Golden Bear golfed with Marcos:

Imelda diorama:

Imelda's bedroom:

Imelda's bath:

After seeing government buildings in WWII black and white photographs, I saw them the next day, still standing:

MacArthur Landing Memorial:

Red Beach:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Leyte - Part Two

Leyte is where Imelda Marcos hails from, and as a gift she built the Santo Nino shrine, a chapel/palace that nobody ever stayed in or slept in. It’s more a showcase for her collections. There are thirteen guest rooms, each with a different regional or traditional theme, each with some books and photographs of hers, and each with a diorama depicting some aspect of her life or her projects. Downstairs there is a big salon and a big dining room. Upstairs there is an even bigger salon and a bigger dining room, and big bedrooms for each member of the Marcos family and for the bodyguard. It was very interesting – opulent furnishings and beautiful things.

I went to a local café, bought iced coffee and a muffin, and read the Sunday paper – what a treat! I then took a walk around the waterfront – Tacloban is on a peninsula and I went from the gulf side to the wharf side, past some government buildings and some parks. And then I took a tricycle, jeepney and tricycle to Red Beach, site of MacArthur’s return. This wasn’t the purpose of the trip, but I am happy to have seen both the spot from which he said, “I shall return,” and now the one to which he returned! He landed on October 20, 1944 – almost sixty-five years to the day. It’s hard for me to imagine war – and to contrast that with being there the day after Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The landing spot is marked with a larger-than-life sculpture of MacArthur and others wading ashore. I walked over to the beach, too – no sugar-white sand and no surf to speak of – but I didn’t feel compelled to go in the water; the good news is that I didn’t see a lot of trash, either! I had the tricyle take me over to a hill where there had been a lot of fighting; now there’s a small Japanese memorial. And then it was time to go back! The taxi driver on the way home from the Manila airport told me that he was a soldier in Iraq, wounded in the head and the side, driving a taxi while he recovers enough to go back and fight some more. He needs the money to put his children through college. That made me think about WWII again and the peaceful island that saw bloody battles and all of those photographs I saw. In another sixty-five years, will there be peace? WWII, War in Iraq, Peace Prize, Peace Corps.

On another note, I am able to follow and listen to some of the baseball playoffs. Is it my imagination, or have there been more first-round sweeps since I left for the Peace Corps than there were before? I don’t like sweeps – I like as much baseball as possible! It’s hard to think about fall temperatures and even winter temperatures there – it’s just as hot here now as it was when I got here (and it might have been hotter in Leyte than it has been in Manila!).

One more note – the PCVs in Guinea were evacuated to Mali, and Turkmenistan refused to accept volunteers this year – the day before they were scheduled to get on the plane to go there. There’s a lot of instability in the world….

Monday, October 12, 2009

Leyte - Part One

There are 7107 Philippine islands. So far I’ve been to Luzon, Corregidor, Mindoro, Negros, Siquijor…and this past weekend, two more, Leyte and Samar, in the Visayas.

I took an early-morning flight – always rough for me, but nice to have a full day. I landed, took a jeepney into the town of Tacloban and then took another jeepney to Basey, in southern Samar. There, I was quite a novelty – many stares and hellos. I went to the tourist office and arranged a boat ride to their national park – turns out it was eight Sisters and me. Nuns in full habit make for some great photographs! They were very nice, too.

Lonely Planet says that the boat ride is one of the highlights of trip to the park, and I felt that way – going up the river first in a houseboat and then a small boat, past mostly jungle but also the occasional village, was both exciting and relaxing. In high tide you can go to a natural bridge and a swimming hole, but our low-tide destination was Sohoton Cave. We were fitted with headlamps and shown stalagtites and stalagmites of various shapes and sizes. Something different from what I’ve already seen here!

Back in Tacloban, I went out for Mexican food. What is it about Mexican that makes you want it if you can’t get it? I craved it in Morocco too. The owner of the restaurant lived in California and gets all her spices from there. Megan, A PCV on a nearby island, was in town and met me there – it was her idea that I visit in the first place, and it was nice to see her.

The hotel I found was an old colonial home with a new addition containing rooms with air conditioning, hot showers, and a newspaper in the room. On the balcony of the original home, there are cardboard cutouts of Douglas MacArthur and Philippine President Sergio Osmena, below the words, “I have returned.” Of course I had to stay there! The hotel is decorated with lots of WWII photographs, and my evening’s entertainment was looking at all of them. I also started a book – as if WWII history weren’t absorbing enough – Tony Horwitz’s “A Voyage Long and Strange,” about the European explorations of North America before 1492 and between 1492 and 1620 – subtitle: “on the trail of Vikings, Conquistadors and other Adventurers in Early America.” Fun book.

One other note – Pepeng (international name Parma) did not reach Manila, but it did tremendous damage up north, with major floods and landslides, including one in the town near Baguio where I had stayed a couple of weeks ago (the volunteers I met there were both out of town). The road to Baguio was cut off! I almost went north this weekend; I may not be able to go up north for a while.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Some Pictures from Week Ten


Evacuation center:

Bathroom build:

Volunteers digging:

Flood mud and trash:

Not disaster-related but everyday life - public urinals are basically just privacy walls:

Chinese Cemetery mausoleums:

Fort Santiago gate:

Jose Rizal awaiting his execution (note brass footprints):

Manila Cathedral:

St. Augustin Baroque Church:

Casa Manila:

Pearls of the Philippines:

Capiz Shell home decor:

Mountain Province weavings:

Manila Shopping and Exploration

This past weekend I stayed in Manila – there was to be an Embassy bazaar, with artisan products from all over the country; that was postponed because of the flooding and the forecast of a severe storm, but my PCV friend Kate was already in town before they limited non-essential travel, so she came over. Friday night we went to the nearby supermarket (the one around the corner, which is small and has nothing fresh or refrigerated) and stocked up; we ended up eating a quart of ice cream as our dinner – after all, it wasn’t going to stay frozen in the freezer so we had no choice, really.

It’s all right that the Embassy bazaar was rescheduled because I experienced shopping overload anyway! We went to Greenhills, a nearby mall (well, not that near – about an hour’s walk, in the rain, but it seemed like a good idea at the time), which has a flea market on Saturdays. It’s known among PCVs and Lonely Planet readers as the place to get pearls – there are stands and stands of strands and strands (I came up with that one on my own). She had found a stand that she liked and trusted, and I was happy to have her show it to me before she COSes. They have pearls of all shapes, colors and sizes – as I said before, get your requests in! You pick them out and the owner makes jewelry to order – necklaces, bracelets, earrings. While she was making them we looked around at the other stalls – weavings, batik, carvings; I bought a coin from 1944 that had United States on one side and the Philippines on the other. It was fun but exhausting! I have already thought of more people for whom I could buy pearls (or more that I would like for myself), so I’ll go back, but probably not the same day as the Embassy bazaar.

We were troupers, though, and went on to see something she had wanted to see before she leaves – the Chinese cemetery. There are elaborate mausoleums there – some with air conditioning and toilets! I had read about it, but even so was surprised by the opulence. Quite a contrast to the evacuation center I had been to the day before – the dead with conditions much more plush than the living!

On Sunday, Julie and I went to Intramuros, the walled city of Old Manila – it took me a while to get there and it was worth the wait! If you’re ever traveling to the Philippines, you don’t have to spend more than a day in Manila, but this is where you should spend your day! This was where the Spanish lived, keeping the Filipinos (who they called Indios) and Chinese outside the walls (i.e, extramuros). It was all but destroyed in WWII; only the walls and a few other buildings remained. In the 1990s they rebuilt some and made it into a tourist district and did a nice job.

First, we went to Fort Santiago; the gate is one of the parts still standing and it is a grand entrance. Inside the fort is a shrine to Jose Rizal, the national hero – including the cell where he was imprisoned the night before his execution and where he wrote his farewell poem. The shrine had some other artifacts and the fort had warehouses and dungeons and ramparts – all good.

We went on to the Manila Cathedral – I lost track of how many churches were built on the same site and then destroyed in earthquakes and typhoons; the present structure is suitably impressive. From there, we went on to St. Augustin Church, one of the baroque churches that comprise the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the 1500s, it survived the war. It has a wonderful baroque interior and a very comprehensive museum, with religious articles, paintings, furniture, vestments, pottery, a crypt and more. We were there for a while and then took a lunch break – well-timed, as we missed the rain.

We went on to Casa Manila, a replica colonial house with real antiques, built by Imelda Marcos to showcase Spanish colonial life. First floor - salon and business area, with small bedrooms in which to rest or to house a bachelor uncle. Second floor - main salon for entertainment and then bedrooms, dining room, kitchen and bath. The antiques were local, European, Chinese, even some American, carved, elegant, tasteful. No photography allowed inside though!

We had the stamina for one last museum – the Bahay Tsinoy, which showcased the life of the Chinese in the early days and the contribution that Chinese-Filipinos have made in the history of the Philippines (which is substantial). Last but not least was a visit to the best Filipino crafts store I’ve seen here yet, and therefore an opportunity to augment the pearl purchases – with some placemats woven in the mountain provinces and some capiz-shell home décor (I knew it would grow on me…). Intramuros was great – now I wish I were having visitors so I could go back and show it to them! As we used to say on the See the World trips, thumbs up; a 10!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Reality Check

I’m still writing up this past weekend, but I may not finish before the electricity goes out, so I thought I’d write about that instead. Perhaps a transformer blew in Rizal province, or there was trouble bringing Cainta back up (I can’t complain; I think they haven’t had electricity since the flood), but the power in Pasig went out at 9:00 last night. Our building has a generator, so we were up and running within half an hour, but the power has been out all day here (this is the first week where I haven’t been on a field trip or worked from home at least one day – I guess today wasn’t the day anyway!) and the generator has been running all day so that the businesses in the building can run – but the generator is being turned off at 7:00 tonight since it’s only Hanna, Julie and me. I usually go out for a walk soon after I get home, but I’m saving my mall trip for 7:00. Ironically, tonight’s errand is to get a new battery for my computer, which is no longer holding a charge. If it were, I could keep using it without electricity! Luckily, when we were told to stock up on food last weekend because it looked as though Pepeng would hit here, I also checked my flashlight batteries; sure enough, they needed to be replaced. I had read that brownouts were frequent in the Philippines and thought I might be spared since I’m in Metro Manila – but perhaps it was only a matter of time. I may post this week’s pictures first and then the narrative later.

As if that weren’t enough, I got followed this morning. As I was standing on the corner waiting to cross the street, a woman spied me and started staring at me. I told her to go away and she remained uncomfortably close. She followed me across the street, even as I weaved in and out and back and forth. I thought I shook her off but she was right with me, as close as you can get without touching. She followed me onto the bus; I had thought I would lose her there. I told the conductor she was following me – I’m glad he understood English; not all of them do. Another man on the bus told me to sit down and physically prevented her from following me to my seat, and the conductor managed to kick her off. I didn’t feel threatened, but I felt (and continue to feel) really disturbed. The day had gotten off to a bad start as it was with ants in my room; I usually have a killing spree every day when I get home (one to three small bugs meet their maker) but not in the morning. Maybe it’s just as well if there isn’t electricity – when I get back from the mall I can go to sleep and start over tomorrow (there’s an 8:00 am Disaster Response meeting anyway – that’s early for me, and it’s the second one this week – so again, just as well!).

P.S. (Friday morning my time) - more reality - the president of Habitat for Humanity Philippines passed away yesterday. He had a heart attack the Monday after Ondoy and things spiraled downward from there. He was quite a leader. Things have been running while he was in the hospital, but now we'll see what happens....

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Filling in the Blanks

With recent travels and the aftermath of Ondoy, I haven’t written a “regular” entry in a while. So to fill in the blanks, some of my recent doings that I haven’t talked about yet…. I went to the dentist for a cleaning – that went well! I was never sure what I was going to get with the dentist in Fes (though I liked the dentist in Rabat). Many people come to the Philippines for medical tourism; I can’t think of anything I would have done (other than maybe update my eyeglass prescription – I was given a new one in New York but didn’t fill it; heard glasses are cheaper here).

It turned out that I had to type up the notes I took at the conference – I felt as if I was working on a term paper! It took several days to type all of those notes (I guess to make it really feel like a term paper I could have pulled an all-nighter, but since I never did in college, I wasn’t about to do it now). And then I did my monthly report and some other Peace Corps paperwork – I’m glad I got all of that out of the way before the disaster relief kicked in. I haven’t had as much personal time as I had in Morocco or expected to have here – there are reading and writing that I thought I would have more time for, and I also thought I might work on my resume this month so that I could prepare for what comes next. I’ll have to find more balance.

Went out with some current PCVs for a couple of dinners, and met the last of the PCRVs that will arrive this year – I think that in the past couple of weeks I have been out in the evenings more than I’ve been in (which may be the reason why I feel the need to update). I also had a great massage (I thought about going to one of the hotels in Makati and then realized that the EDSA Shangri-La probably had a nice spa, and it did!) and got my hair done (I live behind a salon and Hanna is friends with the people there, so I felt I had to give them a try, and I think they did all right!).

I see real estate ads for high-ceilinged condos with lofts – this is an urban way to replicate the multi-level rural nipa hut. Somewhere between the hut and the condo, the Habitat homes are also high-ceilinged and many families add a sleeping loft – I think it would be fun to have a loft when I get back to the states! Of course, I could sleep on the top bunk of my bed while I’m here….

Wanted to comment on the travel – on the buses (even the city buses when there’s a lot of traffic), people come in and walk down the aisles selling nuts and other snacks, and then they get off. On the one long bus ride I’ve experienced so far, there were short rest stops every couple of hours – as opposed to one long one on the bus rides in Morocco. Did I mention that when the jeepneys load, people sit right next to the door first, so everyone who comes in behind them has to crowd by them? Toilets here often flush, and if they are squat toilets they are a seatless bowl, not a hole in the floor. About half the time, public restrooms have paper (this is stuff you wanted to know, right?) – that is, more often than in Morocco – and there is often soap by the sinks. Another different line mentality in this situation too – people stand in front of a stall that they think will empty, rather than in one queue, so it is not always the case that if you are there first, you get into a stall first.

I’ve been asked a couple of times to compare my experiences and I usually answer that I am having a completely different experience – it’s urban, there’s more work, it’s mostly in English, I have much less downtime (and when I do I often go to a mall), I have only six months. Comparing the countries? Well, both are developing and definitely have issues, but both are beautiful and interesting and worth exploring. Religion is important in both places and so is family. I might give the edge to the culture here and the food there, but I’m still learning. I’m really glad I was there and I’m really glad I’m here.

Last, I’m not sure I’ll so the scuba certification, but Julie wants to arrange a surfing weekend, and I’m definitely up for that!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Disaster Relief

At the beginning of last week I just felt sad about the flooding – perhaps with a combination of survivor’s guilt and a wish to be more hands-on. A couple of productive days of sending out email appeals made me feel better – after all, the rebuilding won’t happen without the funds. I was reminded of a conversation I had with my friend Roberta, in which we talked about the people who work with the community and the people who raise the money so other people can work with the community – you need both kinds of people, and both kinds have different skill sets. More power to the people who work with the community, we said at the time. Serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco made me feel I was where the action was, and early last week I felt sad to be back to being behind the scenes. But by the end of last week I realized I was both and that I could serve an important role. The best use of my skill set is probably being in the office – I was pulled into a board meeting last week and asked to put together a one-pager of fast facts of Habitat’s disaster relief efforts, review a proposal that will go out to prospective donors and answer requests for information – so in the office I now feel on the front lines, working on immediate response. On Monday my responsibilities increased when I was pulled into a meeting with my supervisor, someone from Asia-Pacific who had flown in, and the head of Friends of Habitat and asked to put together a bunch of things for resource mobilization – proposals, budgets, timetables, prospect lists.

What also made me feel good about working on disaster relief in the office is a day I spent in the field. Friday we left at the crack of dawn to get to Marikina, one of the hardest-hit places. Habitat decided that its response would be to build portable bathrooms in the most crowded evacuation centers, filling an immediate need and also providing some sustainability (the evacuation centers chosen were all schools and will use the bathrooms later). We also held a soup kitchen there – to meet an immediate need and also to have some visibility (not sustainable, so not something Habitat would normally do). I had been told about the soup kitchen but not the bathrooms so I didn’t bring work gloves, and after slicing my hand open a couple of times on the metal frames, I hung back a little bit from the build, but I dished out soup (leading me to say, “mud, blood and soup,” which Julie thought should be the title of this entry). I’m glad I spent the day in the field – seeing the people and the mud and the trash and the remains of the houses that were swept away is different from seeing the pictures of the same – but it was somewhat disorganized and there was downtime and I thought about how many emails I could have sent. Now, that said, I would do another day in the field if I were needed, or pack relief supplies, or do whatever would be most helpful. I’m in Peace Corps Response, after all – and now I am responding!

There was a sobering article in Monday’s New York Times, noting that the infrastructure of Manila is particularly unable to handle the disasters – and with 20-25 typhoons a year, disasters are bound to happen. Read it at Fortunately for Manila, Typhoon Pepeng – for which we were told to stock up on food and water and avoid nonessential travel this past weekend – didn’t hit here, though it did cause major damage up north, and it is affected by the track of the next storm, Quedan, so it’s stalled there.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Month Two in Haiku

The American Chamber
Important meetings

Housing Forum – some long days
Of documenting

Housing for the poor
Breakout sessions – disaster
Cutting-edge thinking

Four hundred people
Attended the Forum from
Thirty-five countries

Day trip with big-wigs
Pasig River squatter homes
Then to their new homes

Leadership Conference
HFH in the region
Strategic thinking

Typing conference notes
It felt like a term paper
Now posted to web

Sending out emails
Fundraising appeals
Building contact lists

A big change in my routine
But she’s very nice

Metro Manila big floods
Major disaster

Now an urgent need
Working on relief effort
More storms on the way

Meanwhile, some travel
Corregidor Island trip
Key in World War II

American Cem
etery – nice to go back
And read all the maps

Summer Capital
Baguio – Burnham design
Museum, curry

To the Visayas
Circling Siquijor Island
Swimming, relaxed feel

Hong Kong getaway
City views, great food, good friend
Walked, swam, saw a lot

Now I’m one-third done
Time seems to be going fast
But still a lot left

Some More Hong Kong Pictures (Week Nine)


Vietnamese coffee:

Stanley market:

Chinese lanterns:

Domestic workers' day off:

Government House (was British governor's residence - now Hong Kong chief executive's); tower was added by Japanese in the war:

The Museum of Teaware is in the oldest colonial building:

Mixture of old and new:

Causeway Bay:

Early parade for National Day: