Tuesday, July 25, 2006

One Month Down

A little over a month into training and time has finally started going a little faster. This weekend my training group is moving to La Esperanza for field based training where we actually get to leave the classroom life and get to know the community and do something similar to our future work. The change of environment will be greatly welcomed and perhaps then, things will start to feel a little more like what I signed up for.

Not quite 22. A big reason I´m pretty anxious for change is that I discovered recently that out of a group of 51, the majority of the other trainees are between 22-24 years old. Fresh out of school. So it´s no surprise that I often feel like I´m in spring break or in one big soiree. I´m the second oldest in the group, with the eldest one being over 50 years old. I´m not quite in the level of the fresh grads, but not quite where 50 is, either, so finding someone I can relate to has ben tricky. But thankfully there are some people close to 28 or at least act more mature than most in the group. Nevertheless, it is a surreal feeling being back in an environment where we are treated like kids precisely because some people are acting as such. Restless for partying, pissing away money as if we´re still earning dollars, complaining about cultural differences. Last time I checked, it was the Peace Corps I signed up for, not summer camp, right? I know I´m a kid myself and will stay young forever deep down, but c´mon, there´s a big difference between being child-like and child-ish! But being the more mature person I am, I see and understand where the young-uns coming from so I just try my best not to get distracted by all the juvenile behavior.

Quiet time. As homesick I have been lately, well, people-sick, really, I am thankful for the amount of quiet time I get to have now. Even when I start to get lonely, especially at night, under my mosquito net, I feel good knowing that I didn´t spend my day being stressed over things that used to get to me. Sure the amount of homework and just adjusting in general are exhausting, but bottom line, I go back to the fact that if I wasn´t here, I would just feel lost. It has also been wonderful reconnecting with friends and catching up with life. Even though I don´t get to respond to e-mails right away, I read what I can and go home reflecting on everyone´s letters and get I get to give some more thought on my own answers. I knew life was getting bad in the U.S. when I had all the technology at my fingertips to connect with people in an instant, and yet, I couldn´t keep in touch. It is great hearing from people from all over and feeling closer to them than ever, even when I am here by myself in a different corner of the world.

Seeing more. I´ve said this a lot of times already, but I will keep saying it- this place reminds me of the Philippines so much. Furthermore, I practically feel like I am back in the Philippines. This time, however, living from the perspective of a low-income lifestyle. I have had a chance to see a few more places here and the more I see of people´s lives and learn of the country´s politics and culture, the more it rings of home.

I evaded politics for a good period of time simply out of distaste. Growing up in Manila and seeing what I have, there wasn´t much motivation to have faith in any form of government and realistically expect progress and equality for all. But I always secretly hoped for it. In the U.S., I tried to be a good citizen, at a minimum, by voting and knowing some figures in office (not all Americans can claim these two things!) but politics still wasn´t my cup of latte.

How ironic that I now find myself at the lion´s mouth of government work. Maybe I never did give up hope. I find the opportunity to work in municipal development my chance to get a first hand look on how the wheels of politics run and finally understand it, but more importantly, to get my hand in it. I never found myself eloquent in matters of political discourse at a theoretical level- all that I could really talk about were the realities of poverty, pain and suffering I have seen. I was fortunate to have lived comfortably amidst an impoverished nation and later on experience everything great about America. Nevertheless, I couldn´t escape the reality of the rest of the world and how it made me feel, even as I sipped my four dollar coffee. So here I am .

I have been questioned, even rhetorically, why I´m serving in Honduras instead of the Philippines, where my help is just as badly needed. I don´t have the perfect answer right now, but I do know that everything I do right now is all eventually going to go back to where my heart truly belongs. I figure, with all the similarities between Honduras and Philippines, my time here will be well spent learning and understanding something that was once just confusing and tragic to me.

At a minimum, I am representing well of who a Filipino is and what the Philippines is like- without sugar-coating. I can´t begin to express right now the extent of my love and devotion to my mother land. It may not be evident in my looks, the music I listen to, how well I speak English or what part of the world I am now, but I am as brown as brown can get deep inside. It´s also interesting how I´ve lost the cultural identity issues I used to have when it comes to being simultaneously being Filipino and American. Being here has given me a greater appreciation of what it is to be an American and a better understanding of who one really is. The U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and an immigrant I am indeed- like the rest of the country, at one point in time. Being in Honduras, I am representing the U.S. as an American, and as an American, I am representing Filipinos. There is no conflict. I love every opportunity I´ve gotten to demonstrate that and it has been pretty darn cool.

So I end this by saying, I can´t wait to get past the theory part and start taking my small steps to at least trying to go towards creating progress and development for all. Maybe if I keep reminding myself this, all the raucous of 22-somethings acting like kids during lunch time wouldn´t bother me as much anymore.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

My Life, Thus Far

My everyday routine. Been getting up early and take my time on the stroll up the five semi-hills up to the training center, which is pretty muc like school. It definitely feels like it with a 730-430 schedule and a ton of homework afterwards. At the end of the day I try my luck at the internet cafĂ© and do what I can with usually a half hour slot and head home, if the connectionis running at all. Then I help out with preparing dinner which has become my bonding time with my host mom and a good way to learn how to make the local eats. I linger a bit after dinner to watch some telenovela with the like La Fea Mas Bella or Pasion es Prohibida or some American film dubbed in Spanish. Quality programming, I know. Ideally, I should´ve done my homework at this point, since I do not have a desk in my room and have to do all my studying in their patio-like area which either gets really cold or too bug/mosquito infested after 8 p.m. Any work or reading I do in my room immediately leads to passing out.

My Mosquito Net. All the trainees were required to use mosquito nets which I really appreciated as soon as I started identifying at least three different species of bugs in my room. Whenever I see them crawling on the walls, I feel protected within the safety of my mosquitera- and layers of insect repellant which we are also required to apply on a daily basis.
Weekends. This is when I usually have been doing my laundry (i.e. by hand) and ironing and sometimes meet with trainees for a school project. I have also gone to the campo, which is the gorgeous football field they have situated hillside and having a picturesque view of the surrounding mountains. I only go to watch games and hang out, I haven´t quite desired to turn into Pele or Ronaldinho, not especially after Brazil lost in the World Cup. Painful, painful.

Last weekend I went on a hike with a couple of other people to a national park called La Tigra. I think it was my first time to hike an entire mountain- I wasn´t quite expecting to do that when I was told there was a nice “trail” we could hike on. Seven hours later, drenched from the forest rain, we emerged victorious. I was ecstatic to have survived and would know better next time when somebody invites me for a stroll through the mountains. It was gorgeous, though. As rough the terrain was on the down hill with the rain pouring, at some point it just became peaceful and my mind just wandered in the clouds- which was where we practically were.

Social Life. Surprisingly, I have been able to go out dancing the past three weekends I´ve been here. The first Saturday, the host families put together a welcome party for us held in the school and even had a DJ – complete with strobes and all that good stuff. For some of us, as long as there was music, that was all we needed. Once in a while there is a party held at one of the social centers they have here and of course all the trainees are all over that. There was a smoke machine when we went....ooh. Aside from that, there´s this local dive that all the trainees go to regularly for their cervezas and it occasionally plays music in a back room which we will invade. Apart from that, it was either seeing the football games together (over by now) or just getting together for cafe con leche. We are in a rural area afterall, and until the ban is lifted on going to the capital, it usually is an early night for most of us.

It´s all about the Benjamins. Uh, what Benjamins? Cash here is actually in Lempiras, or limps, as we refer to it. It´s tragic that everything here is pretty dirt cheap ($1=Lps. 18), but then again I don´t have the U.S. dollars to roll with…especially not with the Lps. 50/day we get for our walk around allowance. $2.50. Pitiful, I know. But for now it´s actually sufficient since all my meals are covered by my family anyway. All my extra money goes to this internet place, which thankfully is pretty cheap. Way cheaper than sending snail mail- which will cost Lps. 40 PER letter. Crazy! So my peeps will definitely hear from me the cyber way more than ever, as much as I love writing snail mail. Gotta keep up with the Math whether I like it or not.
It´s not so bad, though, as we´re bound to get more moolah (I hope!) when we get to our actual sites in September. But this early though, I will begin the fundraising for “Buy Leah a Refrigerator Fund” as our move-in allowance definitely will not cover that. It´s usually a luxury that volunteers acquire. But I have a few more months before I worry about that.

Looking Ahead. This weekend we will be doing our Volunteer Visits where each of us are paired with an existing volunteer in the country to see what their life and work are like and gain exposure. Which also means we get to travel! Hooray! My first real trip beyond the confines of training. I was actually paired with another trainee to visit a married couple in Choluteca- which is down south, close to Nicaragua. It should be fun- and educational of course. Then in two weeks, we are to pack up and sort of start over again for our Field Based Training, which will be in La Esperanza. We will be there for a month to put our theory training into practice, basically. I will be staying with another host family but eventually go back to Santa Lucia for a few more weeks before we get sworn in. September 8 is the big date, baby. When it all becomes official.

For now I´m just taking things one day at a time, living off on mail and phonecalls to stay connected to home and taking in the new things that everyday brings. Nothing too exciting, I know, but so far, so good.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Giving Thanks

People I know have always had an impression of me as being very independent and brave and all that good stuff. I wouldn´t argue with that but now that I have more time on my hands to reflect on things both trivial (Should I put the layer of insect repellant first or the sunblock?) and profound (Will I really make a positive effect?), I have come to realize that the road to where I am was an independent decision but getting here was made possible by an entire village.

I find it interesting and admirable that more than half the people whom I have told that I was going to join the Peace Corps responded with something like, “I, too, want/ed to do something like that.” I, too, was one of the people who used to say that to others, and now I feel privileged to have crossed the line and to be finally doing something I always wanted to do.

I have been especially overwhelmed over the past few weeks with all the help I have received to get me to where I am. People often tell me they admire me for being able to do whatever I want and having the courage, when they don´t have any idea that I never really do things on my own. It is the people I have been surrounded with who have planted seed after seed and nurtured them, and I, more than anything, just followed through. We, as people, really have the ability to be affected by other people´s slightest acts and fewest words – and it is in our power as well to decide whether to be affected by the negative or the positive ones. Guess which road I have chosen.

This is to acknowledge all the people who have shaped me – ranging from those I have known all my life to acquaintances who touched or inspired me anyway by sharing a good word or pointing me to the right direction.

The past few months, up to the day of my departure, exemplifies how there was always someone helping me with each step to get to the next. Starting with those who supported my decision to apply for the Peace Corps from the beginning and didn´t have to ask why; those who didn´t understand why, but supported me anyway; those who always knew I´d make it when I wasn´t so sure myself. Then there are those who helped me financially without even being asked- people coming out of the woodworks left and right pledging and blessing me with what they have such that I don´t have to worry about the school loan I continually have to pay the next two years even without an income. I can´t get over the fact how ultimately I didn´t have to borrow another loan to pay for a different one, and the amount I ended up getting was just enough to cover the school payments for the next couple of years. Am I blessed or what? And then there are those who took me under their wings whether as a visitor in their homes or as a nomad and shared their time and their warmth whether for a couple of hours or a few weeks. Those who wrote me kind words and gave me things to bring with me so I would always have a piece of home and my life with me. Those who constantly prayed for and still are praying for me. Those who didn´t say much but made me feel their love and support regardless.

And throughout my life, I acknowledge the people who molded me slowly be giving me a piece of themselves and their time- those who trusted me with their thoughts, shared their art, writings and music. Those who encouraged every pursuit I had from going for everything I can ever have to suddenly giving them all up. Those who drew me closer to God, through their words and by their example; for further opening my eyes and reassuring me that the road to faith isn´t an easy one, but a path where I can be myself the most and find the most peace. Those who accepted me for who I was and allowed me to keep on growing to find my true self. Those who have moved on to another life but whose memories of their love and generosity live on in my heart and soul. Those who treated me like a sister and daughter regardless of our ties and just gave and gave of themselves. Those who held my hand and my heart when there was nothing else that could be done.

Those who saw further into my future and more in me than I ever could.

For some, saying thank you has become a lost art or a lost cause altogether, but not for me. I can never repay all the kindness I received my entire life but I will remain grateful each and every day and try my best to show to others the same kindness and generosity I received.

Be still, my heart, how fortunate and loved I am. I thank the heavens for all the special people in my life, may they know what a blessing they have been to me and may they always feel the love and gratefulness I have for them.