Indonesia is the largest island nation in the world with over 13,000 islands. This is just about +6,000 more than found in the Philippines. So no matter how much of Indonesia we could squeeze into our short trip, we would only see a handful of islands.
To give you an overview of our travels, we started off on Java, to Flores, to Kelor island, Padar island, Komodo island, Gili Laba, and Moyo Island, to Lombok, and finally to Bali. While we hopped around quite a bit we only visited 11 of the +13,000 islands! The beginning of our trip was island hopping with Wanua adventure for 4 days. During these 4 days our schedule was hike and snorkel, read and nap, eat, and repeat.
The most exciting of the islands was Komodo island.
As the name implies, Komodo is home to the Komodo dragon. These are the largest, and heaviest, reptiles in the world. The biggest Komodo dragon ever caught was 3.63 meters (10.3 feet) long, weighing 166 kilograms (366 pounds). They use their tongue to smell the air and hunt prey. After the Komodo dragon ambushes it’s prey it only needs to bite it once. Even if the animal escapes anyways, the venom in it’s saliva will kill the animal in about 4 days. The Komodo dragon can smell rotting flesh from 4 kilometers away (2.5 miles), so after the animal dies, the Komodo dragon only needs to get there before the other Komodo dragons to secure it’s meal. (Smithsonian National Zoo). Komodo dragons are endemic to only a few Indonesian islands. With Wanua adventure, we got to visit one of these islands.
Upon arrival we already spotted one Komodo dragon lazily sitting on the beach, basking in the sun. Since they are cold blooded animals, they have to sit in the sun to aide their digestion. Otherwise, their meal ends up rotting in their stomach and can cause a lethal infection. We met our guides and our group was led into the forest. As we’re walking and looking around Dani notices the three guides are distributed through-out the group and they’re carrying long forked wooden walking sticks.
Dani: “What do you think those sticks are for?”
Me: “I’m pretty sure those are for the Komodo dragons”
Shout out to Dani for the amazing close ups!
We walked into a clearing and saw the infamous Komodo dragon, lazily laying in the sun, not the slightest bit concerned with his visitors. We walked down one of the pathways and saw another Komodo dragon, not far from the first laying across the pathway. Suddenly the first one got up from it’s comfortable sunny spot and walked after us down the pathway. Finding ourselves between the two Komodo dragons, I determined that there were enough of us that I probably wouldn’t end up as Komodo dragon lunch.
Still not concerned with the people at all the one began slowly walking towards the second. They are extremely territorial animals and so the larger first one chased the second one away from the path and back into the woods. After that we walked through the rest of the park without much other excitement. A few deer, who would probably later become Komodo food, and some time on the beach.
After our 4 days of boating were over, we arrived in Lombok and traveled 7 hours to our next destination, Bali.
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!
Similar many other traditions in filipino culture, this is a fun and light-hearted activity that takes place at many family reunions, and fiestas.
The Boodle Fight is a style of eating. As a Philippine Military Academy tradition, cadets would gather around a long table of foods arranged on top of banana leaves and eat together ‘kamayan’ or with your hands. This tradition is said to perpetuate oneness, and equality, as soldiers of different ranks would partake in one boodle fight. Haphazardly, a boodle fight is also every person for themselves as the food is ‘fought’ over until not a grain of rice remains!
So how does one survive a boodle fight? Having participated in three this past week, consider me your personal spirit guide on all things boodle fight related.
First things first, battle field preparation
The table arrangement is very important. The table must be long enough to accommodate an entire platoon of family and friends, but also must be wide enough to hold plenty of rice, ulam (main dish), soups, sauces, and fruits.
Once you are content with your table arrangement, all of the tables must be dressed with banana leaves. Don’t worry about not having enough to cover the table, there’s always a nearby banana tree with some leaves to spare if you’re running short.
Second, What’s a Boodle Fight Without Food?
Of course you MUST have food. Be sure to cook plenty of rice as this will run down the table in two thick lines. Have plenty of rice on reserve to replenish throughout the boodle.
Most of the boodle fight food is prepared on a grill over charcoal. The grill requires two Ates. While one person grills, the other fans the coals and the chefs because the Philippine summer is MAINIT-ON (the hottest). Of course not all of the ulams are prepared over the grill, a stew or two is usually on the table as well. Be sure to have plenty of ulam options, but also be wary of your table’s carrying capacity.
FINALLY, THE SET-UP
Each ‘section’ of the boodle fight table must have equal reachability to all the different types of ulam. This gets particularly tricky when you have to fit 6 different ulams, as well as sauces and fruits, all within the reachability margin. But don’t despair, it is possible. It may take a few rounds of rearranging, but it is possible to fit various ulams, soups, sauces, and fruits between the two rows of rice.
TIPS: BOODLE FIGHT ETIQUETTE
There are a few ‘do’s and don’ts’ that go along with boodle fighting.
First, do not start early.
The food may look delicious, but you must not start a second before the person in charge says so. Keep those hands ‘taas-on an kamay!’ (hands up high!)
Second, do not switch spots.
This is highly frowned upon (and why it’s so important that all the different ulams are equally reachable from every spot).
Third, when you’re finished clear out!
Move out the way for the next round of hungry fighters!
Finally, have fun and stuff your face!
No one leaves a boodle fight ‘gutom’ (hungry).
To my Filipino readers, post in the comments section any steps, tips, or tricks, I may have missed!
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.