On the day of my birthday, a Wednesday, my entire office spent the day cooking an elaborate and delicious meal which we then enjoyed at the Fish Ponds, where I frequently help with aquaculture field work.
Linguistics can provide great insight into culture. For example in Tagalog there is no word for snow but many for rice and coconuts. The mature coconut (brown in color) is called ‘niyog,’ while the young coconut (green in color) is called ‘buko’. And buko juice and meat is easily my favorite snack here in the Philippines.
There are an abundance of coconut trees around, approximately 338 million bearing 15.344 billion nuts per year on average and amounting to about 25% of agricultural land according to the Philippine Coconut Authority. And it is considered the tree of life because of its endless uses including food, oil, homes, brooms, baskets, paper, cups, guitars, benches, tables, medicine, dyes…etc. See the Philippines Coconut Authority for more!! http://www.pca.da.gov.ph/tol.html
Buko seems to be in endless supply. All the coconut trees in proximity to homes are equipped with notches running height of the tree and leading to the canopy. A Filipino will then proceed to climb without any rope or harness to the top (maybe even 80 feet high!!) to knock down coconuts. Later, with practiced dexterity, the machete is used to careful chop just the end of the buko off so that you may drink the delicious juice straight from the source. Once the coconut is empty, or you have had enough, it can be chopped in half to reveal the soft, tender white meat inside. Spoons are typically fashioned from the outer scraps of the shell so you can consume the meat immediately. I always cringe when I see people dump extra juice onto the ground so that the buko can be chopped for its flesh. However for Filipinos buko is so abundant, that my own desire to consume every single drop regardless of how full you might already be, is not shared by the native population. Maybe because buko juice is immeasurably better than the coconut water sold in American stores, I still feel the need to savor every single drop!
While buko meat is soft and tender, niyog meat is much more dense and tough. This is the type that can be shaved off into small pieces and then squeezed with water to produce coconut milk, known as ‘gata’ in Tagalog (cow’s milk is ‘gatas’). And vegetables cooked in coconut milk are my favorite Filipino meal!
Fun Facts about Coconuts:
- Coconut water can be used as a substitute for blood plasma and during WWII it was used for emergency transfusions.
- The name ‘coconut’ is from 16th century Portuguese sailors who thought that the 3 small holes on the coconut shell resembled the human face. “Coco” means “grinning face, grin, or grimace.” The word nut was added later on.
- Technically, the coconut is not a nut, but a drupe, similar to peaches, plums, and cherries.
- In 2010, the top coconut producing countries were the Philippines, Indonesia, and India.
- In Thailand and Malaysia, trained pig-tailed macaques (monkeys) are used to harvest coconuts. There are even special training schools for these monkeys and annual competitions for the fastest harvesters.
- And you are more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than a shark (A serious danger too, I’ve been warned not to sit under coconut trees when it is windy).
“Bayang Magiliw…” meaning “beloved country” is the first line of the Philippine National Anthem entitled “Lupang Hinirang”. Any Filipino knows this national anthem by heart and can sing it on a moment’s notice. The anthem is sung at the start of any formal meeting or event and every Monday morning at my office, along with flag raising. Singing of the national anthem is done by the collective group, meaning that everyone actively sings (rather than mouthing ‘watermelon’ in the background like grade school chorus concerts).
This brought to attention some cultural differences during training, when all of us Peace Corps trainees were expected by Filipinos to follow their “Lupang Hinirang” with the Star-Spangled Banner as an honor to America. However, only an estimated 40% of all Americans can recite all of the words. And because our national anthem ranges three octaves it is particularly difficult to sing. Furthermore Filipinos never clap, following their anthem contrary to our American practice.
I have had many conversations in Tagalog where I explain these cultural differences to surprised Filipinos. American citizens do not know the words to their own national anthem?! And it is only sung at sports games!?!!
So for those of you now interested to learn more about our national anthem, here is a program from the Smithsonian Channel (http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/sc/web/show/3407072/a-star-spangled-story-battle-for-america), but feel free to find your own video on YouTube and practice singing to your computer to ensure that you fall within the 40% of anthem-capable Americans. Props to Nikki, my Canadian friend, for being able to sing O Canada on a moment’s notice. Finally, my younger sister Breanna is currently available to anyone requiring a national anthem vocalist at any upcoming parties, events or games!
Check out my newest video with my host family here in Romblon entitled, “Ang Gabi ng Pamilya Famero” which means “An Evening with the Famero Family.” From my experience the most common evening activity in middle class Filipino families is watching TV. Soap operas are very popular as are singing competition shows similar to American Idol. The soap operas are in Tagalog, however many commercials are in English. I asked a Filipino about this and apparently it would take too long to say the same things in Tagalog. Although the TV is always on in my home as well, I have not had any time to partake in the tv dramas. My family seems to share my energy and many evenings we have instead found ourselves ballroom dancing, doing yoga or playing music. I teach yoga in exchange for lessons in swing, cha cha, and other forms of dancing. Watch my youtube video to see our family in action. I also brought some uno cards with me from the States and they have been a big hit for the young kids in my extended family.
Here is the translation for the Tagalog song we play together in the video entitled Bahay Kubo:
My Nepa Hut, even though it’s small
With varied plants around
Turnips and eggplant
Winged beans and peanut
String bean, hyacinth bean, lima bean
White melon, sponge gourd
White pumpkin and squash
And also there is more
Garlic and ginger
And all around are sesame seeds.
This song is extremely appropriate to my life here in the Philippines because I am always eating fresh, delicious, cooked vegetables. Some interesting foods include ampalaya, a very bitter, green vegetable and papaya if cooked before it ripens is served green with other vegetables. I am also a huge fan of malunggay, small green leaves used in teas or soups packed with vitamins and minerals.
Slacklining refers to the activity of walking on a 1-2 inch wide flat rope a few feet off the ground (or higher dependent on personal confidence), utilizing both physical and mental finesse to maintain balance. This past time was first invented in 1979 by a pair of rock climbers. It is quickly becoming popular throughout the US especially within college campuses and among the rock climbing community. Worldwide slacklining is gaining a following and each year the most highly skills athletes come together to compete for the WorldCup title. These slacklining professionals can perform nearly any trick feasible on a trampoline on this 2 inch wide line. Check out the pros in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MdDobR65Oo
My own skills consist of walking on the line, jumping, turning around, and sitting down, however even this takes much practice as most people simply work on standing for more than 5 seconds. This past weekend I introduced slacklining to my host family and it was a huge hit!
If you want to order your own slackline the website theclymb.com generally has discounts but the cost of a Gibbon line generally ranges from $50-$100 depending on length.
Taglish: the combination of Tagalog and English, is my current language of practice. Filipinos begin studying English in elementary school, therefore it is a common second language. My host family speaks very good English as does my work counterpart. However, working in the field with fishermen and traveling throughout Romblon fluency in Tagalog is invaluable. Usually as soon as I say “Magandang umaga” meaning “Good Morning,” Filipinos are impressed and think that I am fluent. I then remind them, “Conti lang Tagalog” meaning “Just a little.”
While I am certain that my own language mistakes are abundant and amusing, (my accent never ceases to bring smiles) in helping Filipinos practice English there are some common errors that are equally amusing for me.
There is no gender differentiation of words in Tagalog. Meaning that the pronoun “siya” can be used as he or she. And your husband or wife is simply introduced as your “asawa.” This causes confusion in English yielding he’s introduced as she’s and vice versa. One occasion that stands out in my mind was when a male gym teacher was introduced: “Sarah, meet the wife of our neighbor.” In the States a husband would likely be offended to be introduced instead as a wife, however here such mistakes often go unnoticed.
The more concerning issue is that in many schools, teachers are also making such grammar errors when modeling English sentences for students. Therefore besides working in Coastal Resource Management and secondary benefit of my working in the Philippines is exposure to grammatically correct English for those Filipinos who cross my path. Even so I consciously alter my English when speaking with Filipinos, taking care to speak slowly, use simple vocabulary, and to carefully enunciate each syllable of each word, a courtesy most Filipinos also take when speaking with me in Tagalog.
My host family here is Romblon is absolutely wonderful! My host mom who coincidentally shares the same name, Jean, as my mother in the States, is a retired school teacher. Together with her husband, Daddy Barry, they have 5 grown children. Two of which live here in Odiongan with their own families.
We had a special dinner last week with three representatives from the Peace Corps office who visited us in our home. Below is a photo of our family and the wonderful feast they prepared for our guests.
Later that evening I had the first showing of a family video entitled, “Ang Gabi ng Pamilya Famero” or “An Evening with the Famero Family.” I have been trying unsuccessfully to load the video to youtube, however a slow internet connection has hindered my progress. Keep watching my blog and hopefully soon!