For my first story let’s go back to the beginning…
The beginning of service can be A LOT. Every day is a neurological overload because, whether you notice it or not, culture completely saturates every aspect of our lives. I didn’t realize this until long after I went through the overwhelming days of culture shock. But everything we do, from your reaction to someone sneezing, the way you get someone’s attention, to your reflexive action to pick up a certain utensil to eat your breakfast with, it’s all rooted in your cultural background.
I spent every day having my reactive behaviors being picked apart. I spent the other half of the day trying to figure out the inner workings of what would be my home for the next 2+ years. On top of that, I was simultaneously trying to pick out words I recognized from the conversations occurring around me and attempting to participate without completely embarrassing myself. Some of the jokes made in those first couple weeks, I didn’t understand until a full YEAR later. Which brings me to my first story.
When you first arrive at site you have to do a bunch of ‘courtesy calls’. These are basic introductions to the important people in your new community. I did courtesy calls with my counterpart to my mayor, SB (Sangguniang Bayan), Home barangay Capitan and council, among others. During each of these, I used these basic lines of my local language:
Marhay na Aga. [Good Morning]
Ako po si Chelsea [I am Chelsea]
Peace Corps Volunteer ako [I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer]
Nagta-trabaho ako ni coastal resource management [I work in coastal resource management]
Baynte-dos anyos na ako [I’m twenty-two]
Taga-New York ako [I’m from New York]
Nakaistar ako sa Trece Martirez [I live in Trece Martirez]
Then I would be asked a few follow up questions I didn’t understand, would wrap it up with a strong ‘Salamat po’ [Thank you] and head out. My counterpart would talk to my officemates and tease me for my language skills, I couldn’t understand most of it, but she would focus on the way I pronounced ‘ako’. I didn’t really hear the difference but I also wasn’t brave enough to ask. So, I let it go and quietly studied language, tediously watching what I would choose to voice out-loud.
Fast forward a year later, I was a resource volunteer for the new batch of volunteers.
This meant I got to attend their community-based training. This is where new volunteers live in a community with host families and attend daily classes that focus on a range of topics such as language, culture, coastal resource management, safety and security, and medical. During one of the technical coastal resource management sessions we took a trip to a neighboring municipality to visit a fisherfolk organization. At this meeting they got to practice that beloved introduction they would learn to recite on command at their permanent sites.
I had gone through similar training and so I just sat back and watched the new trainees practice their language skills…that was when I heard it.
A-cōōōō p-ō [ako po] click here to hear the correct pronunciation
Na-ka-tēē-ra [nakatira] click here to hear the correct pronunciation
The harsher longer vowel sounds, where the vowel says its own name, are more common in American dialects. These don’t exist in Filipinos dialects. The letter ‘a’ is more commonly pronounced as ‘ă’ rather than ‘ā’. However, as a fresh little volunteer stubbornly sticking to my American accent, I was still using the harsher longer ‘ā’ sound in my introductions when I first got to site. Which, as a resource volunteer with a year of service under my belt, I will admit sounds very funny.
But wow, talk about a delayed reaction!