The long awaited, the PCV daydream, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the close of service (COS) trip.
PCVs spend the tougher days of service dreaming about the day PCV turns to RPCV and they finally get a little bit of cash to discover the region they’ve lived in for +2 years. So, upon finishing a scavenger hunt of paperwork to close out my volunteer contract with a few of my batchmates, the daydream was slowly becoming a reality. We got ready to ring the COS bell, a Peace Corps Philippines tradition, but for some reason the excitement of the future was somewhat dulled by the realization that we were all now finding ourselves unemployed and without health insurance…. After the final checks were made, and we all turned into RPCVs we sat in Peace Corps office, wondering what we were supposed to do next.
And after being coxed to leave the IRC by the air con turning off at 5, we wandered back to our hostel and in each other’s company, we pretended we were not freshly unemployed and played volunteer for a while.
But now, almost two weeks since ringing the bell, the dust has settled and I’ve realized that COS trip is a amalgamation of backpacking, job hunting, sightseeing, and attempting to have it all on a shoestring budget (and by have it all, I mean a COS trip, student loan payments, and life starting money for the states). Going from dollars to pesos was exciting! The return is a little nerve-wracking. However, for now I’ve got a few more conversions before I finally find U.S. Dollars in my wallet. My first step, the Indonesian Rupiah.
We had a quick trip in Indonesia, but as with any new place there’s so much to talk about! So, I’ve divided my time in Indonesia into 3 different stories. Island Hopping in Komodo, Diving in Penida, and Temples in Bali, all of which I’ll post through-out the week. Next week I’ll get to this weeks adventures in Malaysia, including diving in Sipadan, renowned as the best dive spot in the world!
There are certain experiences we’ve all had as Peace Corps Volunteers serving in the Philippines.
As I celebrate with my batch mates the closing of our two years of service, I wonder what sort of things we will forget about as we move on to the next chapter of our lives. What are those little things we’ve gotten so used to these past two years? What habits will we find hard to leave behind as we return home?
So here it is, my best approximation of what experiences we’ve all had through-out our time in the Philippines. This isn’t a static list so comment below and tell me what’s one thing you think all volunteers have experienced!
Happy early COS Batch Family!
10. You know FAR too much about your fellow batchmates’ bodily functions.
I don’t think this one qualifies as ‘something you didn’t notice you did here’ because it’s very obvious that we know way too much about each other’s medical history. At home you don’t really know about someone’s medical ailments unless it’s a cold or a flu you’re worried about catching. No one makes casual water cooler talk about the tapeworm they just passed, or the dengue fever they just got over. But here, sitting around a table at Pension, talking about the last time you pooped your pants or passed a parasite is pretty basic conversation, it practically comes right after asking how site is.
PCV 1: How’s site?
PCV 2: Good, did you pass that worm yet?
PCV 1: Yeah! Wanna see a picture?!
PCV 2: YES
9. You can identify a fellow PCV based solely on their water bottle.
PCV1: Did the guys from Leyte arrive yet?
PCV2: yeah I saw their water bottles in the lobby.
8. The couch in the Information Resources Center at the Peace Corps Office is the comfiest couch you’ve ever touched.
I don’t know where this couch came from, it’s probably so comfortable thanks to the generations of Peace Corps Volunteers who have napped on it before us. But it is so very comfortable and you can’t help but fall asleep a little whenever you sink back into it’s soft lumpy cushions.
7. You’re never further than an hour from a jaw-dropping gorgeous once in a lifetime paradise getaway spot…
…but because you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer and you live here, you’ve used the word ‘okay’ to describe this location.
Tourist: The sunsets here are AMAZING!
Jaded PCV: Yeah, tonight’s is okay.
6. You haven’t completely realized how much tagalog has infiltrated your regular speech until you have your first non-PCV visitor.
You: It’s bawal
5. The amount of acronyms you passively understand is a little disturbing.
4. Your proudest Peace Corps accomplishment is your impeccable budots form
Budots is a Filipino dance craze and as a Philippines PCV it is your duty to master the art of budots before you close your service.
3. You’ll never get sick of the double take tryke drivers do when you’re vacationing and you hit them with the local language.
PCV: Magkano ang pamasahe, Kuya?
Them: MAROON ANG (insert local language here)?!
2. The kindness of the Filipino people is some of the most generous kindness you’ve ever experienced.
Whether it’s your host mom sending you with 2 bushels of bananas and 5 avocados for baon, or a stranger offering you their umbrella to shade you from the sun, the generosity here is overflowing and genuine.
1. Whether it’s a tryke, jeepney, or a PCV vacation…
“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.”
– Flora Lewis
After my most recent Language Proficiency Interview, I started thinking about words in Bicol and Tagalog I’ve come to love. I like these words for a variety of reasons, I like how they relate to Filipino culture, I like that some of them have no direct English translation, and others have become such a part of my vocabulary I use them with Filipinos and Peace Corps Volunteers alike.
This means expensive and it’s probably the tagalog word most commonly used between Peace Corps Volunteers. No one knows when it started, but now it has become synonymous with expensive.
Example: I looked into that hostel but it’s mahal so I need to find a different option.
Lang means only or just but it’s used after the subject. So if something is only 20 pesos, it would be ‘20 pesos lang’. It’s a super easy word to just tack on to every day speech and it’s an easy way to ask for clarification.
You: Tag-pira ang pamasahae? (how much is the fare)
Me: 30 pesos
You: 30 pesos lang?
Me: Oo (yes)
This word doesn’t directly translate in English. It’s used to describe the light in your stomach, racing heart feeling. Most people have explained it to me as the way you feel when you see your crush, and I think the closest English translation would be what we call ‘having butterflies in your stomach’. Learning a new language, I’ve realized how much a language says about it’s associated culture and I believe this word is a perfect example. The Philippines loves love, and they have a lot of words to describe feelings of love that we don’t have in English.
Pronounced Ma-si-ram / Ma-sa-ra-p
The first (masiram) is Bicol and the second (masarap) is Tagalog, they both directly translate to delicious. While these words are directly used to describe the taste of food, I love these words because they’re often used to describe things other than food. They’re also used to describe when something is particularly refreshing. When a strong, cool breeze blows through on a hot day, it can be described as masarap or ‘sarap.
“‘sarap ang hangin”
Or when jumping into a cold pool on a hot day, the water can also be described as ‘masarap’
“Masarap ang tubig”
5. Ate, Kuya, Nanay
Pronounced: Ah-tay, Koo-yah, and Nah-n-aye
These words mean older sister, older brother, and mother respectively, but they’re not reserved only for those people. Ate and Kuya apply to everyone and anyone. The kids in my community call me Ate Chelsea, I call tryke drivers and jeep conductors ‘kuya’. It’s used a term to get someone’s attention but it’s more informal than ‘ma’am’. I would say the term ‘nanay’ is used more as a term of endearment. When an elder woman is getting off a jeep and has to walk crouched over to the exit, the jeep conductor might tell her ‘luway luway nanay’ (slowly, slowly, nanay). I like the use of these words because it reflects the closeness of community here. I know I will miss being called Ate Chelsea.
6. Salamat sa Dios
Pronounced: Sa-la-ma-t sah Di-o-s
The first time I heard the direct translation of this phrase was after I first met my counterpart. We took a taxi from our hotel to the bus station to go to my site for the first time. When we arrived safely at the bus station, she turned to me and said ‘Thanks God’. Since then, I’ve heard the tagalog phrase used whenever something favorable happens. For example, when the fans have been off all day because of a power outage and everyone is sweaty and uncomfortable. When the power suddenly flips back on and the fans come to life, people will sigh and say ‘Salamat sa Dios’
This is a small house lizard that I can say with confidence inhabits every home of the Philippines. They skitter across the walls chasing one another and the bugs. They are welcome house guests keeping away the mosquitos and cockroaches. Sometimes they fight with one another and make loud territorial clicking noises. When I still lived at my host family’s house, our cat had a bunch of kittens and when they were big enough they started pouncing on the butiki that skittered across the floor. One time, one of the kittens caught one by the tail and the lizard quickly detached it’s tail and took off. The tail kept wriggling and kept the kitten entertained while the butiki was able to escape! Evolution, one point; Kitten, zero.
I once accidentally confused binuton (a glutinous rice snack) with butiki and my host family still won’t let me live it down because it sounded like I said I wanted to eat lizards.
8. Palay, Bigas, Kanin, Tipo
Prounounced: Pal-aye, Bee-gas, Ka-nin, Tee-po
The Philippines has a bunch of different words for different types and conditions for rice! I like these words because it’s a reflection of how important rice is here. Are there any English words that behave this way? Something Americans use different words to describe different details or conditions of one subject that other languages would just use one word to describe? If you think of one, leave it in the comments!
Palay is unmilled rice
Bigas is milled rice
Kain is cooked rice
Tipo is burnt rice
9. Niyog, Buko, Copra, Nata de coco, Gata, Lambanog
Pronounced: Nee-y-og, Boo-ko, Ko-pra, Na-ta de ko-ko, Gaa-ta, Lam-ba-nog
What do all these words have in common? They’re all words for coconut!
Niyog is a mature coconut.
Buko is green coconut that is not yet fully ripened. At this stage the coconut contains coconut water, or buko juice. Sometimes entire coconuts are sold on the side of the road. A kuya will cut off the top so you can drink all of the buko juice. When you’re finished with the juice, they’ll cut it in half for you and fashion a spoon out of the piece they cut off the top earlier. Then you use the coconut spoon to scrape the sides of the middle for the buko meat. Buko and buko juice is one of the food items I will absolutely miss the most. The coconut water in the USA just CANNOT compare with juice from a fresh coconut!
Copra is dried coconut. Whenever things need drying they’re laid out on the sides of the road in the Philippine sun. So, it’s not uncommon to pass sections of the street covered in copra (usually there is still a narrow lane for vehicles) drying out. You can usually smell these areas before you see them because they have a pungent, somewhat sour, smell. When the copra is done drying the meat is used for coconut oil.
Nata de coco- fermented coconut water (Wikipedia) the coconut water gels together when fermented and creates a jelly that is used in buko salad, a filipino dessert.
Gata is coconut milk which you can get fresh at any filipino market, however it may not come how you expect it to. The inside of the ripe coconut is shredded and put into a bag. You use this to make coconut milk by pouring hot water over it and squeezing the pulp with your hands. Then you drain the milk from the pulp, and viola you have gata!
Lambanog has been explained to me as coconut wine, but I believe it’s closer to a spirit than a wine (EDIT: Lambanog is a distilled coconut spirit, Thanks Kenny!). It’s made of fermented sap from coconut flowers or palms and it is a strong but cheap alcohol, commonly drank in tagay circles on the beach.
This is a style of drinking where people sit in a circle with a bottle of alcohol, wine, or beer, in the middle. They then pass around one cup. The person who has the cup pours a little into the cup, finishes it, and passes it to the next person who repeats the process. In the Philippines this is primarily used to describe this method of drinking, but between my batchmates and I we use it to describe consuming almost anything in this, one serving-pass it on, fashion.
Example: Wanna tagay the last slice of pizza?
What’s your favorite word (in any language!) and why? Post it in the comments below!
I just glanced at my last blog post and it was nearly 5 months ago! I lost my momentum there for a while. Hopefully my plan for the next two months will make up for leaving you all in the dark for so long! Check it out…
Nearly two years ago, we were given this neat little piece of paper that enumerated each part of service. Each one of our conferences was on there with however many months at site sat between them. But no matter how close it drew, Close of Service Conference always seemed like a distant event. The last Peace Corps Philippines Conference I would attend in my service. Even as we pulled up to the same hotel for the last time. The one we were at for our Work Partners Conference in September 2016 and our Mid-Service Training in October 2017, all I could think was ‘there’s no way it’s almost been two whole years!’
Of course, it absolutely has. So, we walked into the same hall for our ‘Welcome Dinner’ and as we looked at the chairs and tables arranged in the center of the room, we noticed how our group had shrunk over the past two years. We went from a group of +70 individuals at our Staging Event in Los Angeles to now just 35 tough cookies** at our last Peace Corps Philippines Conference.
**We had a few interrupted service cookies who had to end their service early for a variety of reasons but would have made it to COS Conference had Peace Corps allowed them to!
While we waited for our Training Director to make his opening remarks, we all peeked over at the dinner buffet. Sir Boni always tries to treat us to some western style food at these gatherings, to give us a little taste of home. Let me tell you we were NOT disappointed by a pizza pie the size of a small child AND a burrito/taco bar.
The next three days were spent eating cheese, discussing the end of service, talking about what life might be like when we return to America, and of course, celebrating having made it to the final countdown. On the last day staff surprised us with confetti cannons and balloons. COS Conference in it’s entirety made me realize this two-year adventure is quickly drawing to a close.
Picture Credit: Jessica Schulte
I’ve spent roughly 700 days in the Philippines up to this point. THE longest amount of time I’ve spent outside the United States in my entire life. When I signed up for this trip just about 2 and a half years ago, that was all I knew I was bound to achieve when it was all over. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, or how to even begin to imagine what I would be like at the end of this experience.
It’s been a long bumpy road getting here and looking back at the stories I’ve chosen to share here with you all, I’ve realized there are plenty of stories I haven’t told. Either due to their passing too quickly, or just accepting them as a part of daily life. So, in my last two months of service, I’d like to retell those stories I’ve omitted. The stories that have slipped through the cracks but are no less important to the wholeness of my time here in the Philippines. Some will be short, and some will be lengthier, but I hope to post about one a week up until my COS date in August.
With Community Based Training coming to a close I have to take a second to appreciate my fellow batchmates. The crazy, kooky, and entertaining, bunch of Bath 275. Thank you for making CBT truly unforgettable and for helping me navigate this unique and challenging experience. There are not many people who are willing to wait almost a month and a half into a two-year commitment to find out exactly where they are going and what they are doing. You all are insane and I’m glad we’re friends. Thank you for laughing with me, laughing at me, keeping me entertained on long jeepney rides and providing perfectly timed moments of comic relief. I picked out one story to share about our entertaining adventures I hope you’ll enjoy:
Our first unsupervised jeepney ride:
The ride to the mall was uneventful. The ride back began uneventfully enough; we packed in like sardines to this tiny jeep, a little kid threw up on the jeepney floor and no one way phased. As we pulled off I imagined what it would be like to bring my friends and family from home on a jeepney. I imagine my sister throwing her elbows out left and right and snapping loudly that strangers were touching her. I imagine my best friend laughing as the Jeepney stops for everyone and we slowly become more and more compacted together. I started to wonder how I’ll feel when I’m to the point of inviting my friends and family to come visit me. How I will have grown and what my life will be like. Then Matt taps me, back to reality:
‘Something just crawled over my foot.’ He said.
I didn’t think much of it because there was a large box sitting in front of us and the plastic hanging off of it had tickled my feet a few times. A few minutes pass by and Nicole jumps and says much more animatedly:
‘Something just crawled over my foot!’
Dani starts to get nervous because she thinks it’s a cockroach or a mouse, I’m not too bothered by cockroaches or mice but for a second I entertain the idea of it being my mother sitting next to me instead of a stranger. I laugh a little imagining the chaotic encounter that would be- my mom hates mice. Then Andrew says ‘I think it’s a spider’ and I feel a wave of instant karma settling in. I HATE spiders. All of a sudden Dani says ‘oh I think it’s a spider too’ and suddenly the jeepney is beginning to feel very very small. I begin to get nervous imagining the giant beasts of spiders that live in the Filipino jungles and I decide to confide in my friends that they should kill it, sacrifice themselves, or otherwise deter the spider from getting to me. I turn to Matt, he wouldn’t let it get me right? Not my buddy, not my GOOD FRIEND MATT.
Me: ‘It can’t be a spider, I hate spiders.’
**Matt laughs unsupportively and is ready to feed me to the spider**
My heart rate increases. There is no easy way to ditch this jeepney. It is now filled with close to 30 people. Some of the passengers are clinging to the metal bars outside the elongated cab. If that spider comes my way, I am stuck. There is no escaping it. I remember the large blue box in front of us.
Me: ‘It won’t come over here with this box in the way’
Matt: ‘I don’t think that is how that works.’
THANKS MATT THANKS
By now my friends are realizing I’m getting a little nervous. They finally find it on someone’s bag…
Dani: ‘oh man it’s huge’
GREAT. I’m starting to panic a little and my friends are laughing. The lady across from Dani is watching the American get skiddish about a spider and says: ‘Maliit, maliit.’ She laughs and holds up her pinky. I begin to breathe again and Dani and Andrew laugh their faces off. They think they’re funny. I calm down, the spider is tiny, we’re safe.
Then Nicole starts shimmying and jumping out of her seat-henceforth known as the spider dance. The women across from us cover their faces trying not to obviously laugh at the ridiculous scene unfolding in front of them. We aren’t as polite and we laugh hysterically at Nicole’s dance moves. Now, this spider has got to be dead. No one could survive a spider dance like that.
Nicole: ‘Oh my god Matt it’s on your back’
Remember, Matt is sitting right next to me. I turn to my left and see a spindly black spider with a large black abdomen staring up at me from the collar of Matt’s shirt. I quickly flick it at Nicole- survival of the most reactive- and for a second we have lost the spider. All of a sudden Nicole looks down and says ‘it’s on me!’ She stretches out her shirt and takes a second to make sure her swat will be deadly enough to kill it once and for all. She smashes the spider and flicks it towards our audience who do not even flinch at the idea of this very scary spider coming their way. At this point, the front of the jeepney has all tuned into the reality show unfolding in front of them and they are roaring; we laugh along at our ridiculous looking behavior. Just as things calm down we pull up to our stop and jump off the jeepney. We recount the event as we walk back to our host families and we ascertain that our audience members retold our story to their families over a dinner of rice and adobo manok.
Now we are all off to go our separate ways! We will see each other periodically throughout service, on vacations, and of course, we’ll all be textmates. But I am headed to Sorsogon, Bikol with two other awesome CRM volunteers and an amazing bunch of volunteers from other sectors as well. I’ll be working in my Municipality’s Municipal Agriculture Office under their Fisheries Unit. I’m living with a host family on a rice farm. They have several sheep, chickens, goats, and dogs. DID I MENTION THEY HAVE GOATS!? Sorsogon is known for its surfing, great hiking and spicy food (that last one I’m going to have to get used to but I’m about it!). So if you’re looking for a great vacation spot and you love goats as much as I do, let me know.
Balay ko an balay mo! (Did I mention I have to learn a second language?)
The moment I received the email inviting me to join the Peace Corps as a Coastal Resource Management Volunteer I knew I was going to say yes. But replying to an email is easy, just a few keystrokes and clicks. There was no way of truly envisioning what I was signing myself up for. All I knew was that I had to find out. Finally, 4 months later, I am beginning to do just that.
I’m finding out that it’s waking up at 6am to enjoy the crisp fresh air before the heat of morning kicks in. It’s embracing that sweaty is no longer something that happens on hot summer days or after a tough work-out, it’s a chronic condition. It’s having merienda at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. And it’s tiny red ants marching in and out of everything you own. It’s videoke, it’s Jolibees, and it’s only just beginning.
Peace Corps Philippines has three different sectors: CYF (Children, Youth and Family), Education, and CRM (Coastal Resource Management). Right now we are all together at initial orientation getting acquainted with each other and the Philippines. This includes dancing at Disco Disco night, and learning Pinoy games and pastimes, including videoke.
Of all the Pinoy games and pastimes, videoke has to be my favorite (so far). Videoke is very different from its American counterpart, karaoke. Videoke actually has absolutely nothing to do with being a good singer, or knowing the lyrics, or even knowing the tune! It is all about your ability to put on a show with confidence. There are thousands of songs to be performed in English, Tag-lish, and Tagalog. We learned a song called Picha Pie (here is the link for your videoke-ing enjoyment). Picha is not a tagalog word, the –za sound in pizza is just difficult for Filipinos to pronounce. So Picha Pie is a song about Pizza and it is sung to the tune of ‘I will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor. I’m not quite sure why this didn’t make it back in America but it is truly a work of art (see full translation here). Also quite different from American karaoke, videoke is not something you just do at parties, or bars. Videoke is a part of the Filipino way of life and almost every household comes equipped with its very own! Family gatherings, office parties, solo, even in department stores, videoke is EVERYWHERE. So I’m looking forward to all of the videoke-ing I will get to partake in over these next 27 months.
Aside from videoke we have started our Tagalog studies, begun learning about the Philippine environment, and internalizing what it means to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. On top of the formal seminars and meetings, every day in this beautiful country is full of learning and full of surprise. I am never quite sure what Filipino habit or daily ritual will emerge in my routine and force me to experience the world in a new way. Whether it is greeting strangers on the sidewalk with ‘Maganadang umaga po’ or growing antsy for mid-morning merienda at 9:45am. My world is changing and it’s only the beginning.