I celebrated my Christmas holiday with a wedding! Sugar Famero, my host sister, lives and works in Singapore but is home for the holidays and with enough time for a wedding. The newly wed couple met while mountain climbing in Malaysia.
Lechon, or roasted pig, is a Filipino food traditional too large celebrations and so this pig’s head found its way to our table for a post-wedding and Christmas feast! Two days before I remember opening the refrigerator door and finding pig’s hooves in the freezer.
The day after the wedding our entire family piled into a van and we rode to Binocot Beach for swimming, picnic and games.
I ride my bike to this beach (about an hour’s ride) nearly once every week or two for work. And so the repetition made the sight familiar and less exciting. I loved driving there with my host family who are lucky to visit this place once a year. Their oooos and ahhhhh as we crossed a picturesque river and first glimpsed the beautiful sandy beach and crystal clear water brought back all of its magic!
It’s funny how sometimes the visitors to a place end up seeing more of the sites than the locals. I mentioned to my family that I have never been to New York City and they were shocked.
City parks and green space have been shown to improve the physical and psychological health of local residents, reduce crime, build community stewardship, and increase the value of a given location. Luckily, I am surrounded by green spaces!
Natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Antarctic Ice Shelves are threaten by pollution, deforestation, but mostly the cascading effects of climate change. Coral bleaches when ocean temperatures rise, which destroys both animal and habitat for over 25% of marine fish.
So seek out natural wonders close to home and enjoy them! But in doing so don’t forget the connection: your connection…
My greatest disappointment is when I can show someone their first sea star (I explain how it actually extrudes its stomach to feed, secreting juices which break down its prey before it slurps it up, how it has photosensors on the tips of its 5 legs to sense light, and how it can regrow injured limbs. And I witness the awe and wonder in this person’s eyes), only to have that person walk away and toss their trash into the sea beside the seastar. Or maybe they hop on an air-polluting motor bike rather than walking the short distance down the road to their destination. This contrast is so obvious to me but sometimes people may fail to make the connection.
Look for it. Those ways you can make a difference to keep natural wonders alive. I try my best to consume items which are also environmentally friendly, but I’m not perfect. So challenge others to also seek out nature and realize their connection.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” -John Muir
How long does it take for trash to breakdown? Here are the estimates I tell school children when teaching about solid waste management:
Apple core (1-2 weeks)
Paper (2-4 weeks)
Clothing (1-5 months)
Wooden furniture (1-4 years)
Tin/Steel Can (100 years)
Aluminum can (200-500 years)
Plastic bottle (500-1000 years)
Glass jar (over 1000 years or never)
Reduce, reuse, and recycle! Some great practices are in place here already, such as a plastic ban at our local market, requiring that shoppers bring their own reusable shopping bags. However this policy depends on which stand you go to because some vendors will place your vegetables in plastic even while telling you that it is bawal (illegal).
The greatest success I have seen is in recycling of glass bottles. All local corner stores require that if they sell you a gatorade (yes, I buy gatorade in a glass bottle here!) you return that very bottle back to their store. The merchant must then return the bottles to the stocking company which refills them time and time again. Cash incentives for this bottle return mean that some merchants will even knock on your door asking for the bottle back if you do not follow through.
The biggest problem with solid waste management is an omnipresent mindset that trash can just be thrown on the ground, in the gutter, or out the window. Most recently, I was riding on a small banka (boat) and noticed a fellow passenger’s snack wrapper floating off into the waves. “Sayang” (“What a pity!”) I said.
“No it’s okay,” he replied. “It was empty.”
This mentality is really hard to break. When you see chips bags and styrofoam containers lying on the ground already, trying to convince someone to instead look for the sometimes scarce trash can to toss their empty candy wrapper seems impossible. And yet we environmental volunteers try. This summer (March-May is summer in the Philippines) I will be assisting with a kids camp designed to teach proper trash disposal, composting, and the 3Rs. The camp will coincide with new waste disposal bins and a community coastal clean up.
Finding places to put our waste is a global problem. (Last year I heard on the news that Canada was exporting its trash to the Philippines sparking local Filipino outrage.) Reduce, reuse, recycle is the best solution! Where can you apply the 3Rs in your daily life?
There is no Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and if not for the small meal prepared with a few other Peace Corps volunteers my Thanksgiving might have passed by unnoticed. Stories of pilgrims and Indians and the combination of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy are completely unheard of here in the Philippines.
But the lack of large Snoopy balloons is easily made up for in the excitement of traditional Filipino fiestas. I recently attended the MIMAROPA festival which is a regional event (one step below the Super Bowl for fiestas comparatively). The displays of costumes and dancing could rival cirque du soleil!!!
After watching this parade through the streets we filled into an outdoor stadium and watched each team’s elaborate dance routine. Romblon’s presentation began with a marble quarrying enactment to the intimating booms of traditional drum accompaniment. Other provinces showed history of Spanish arrival or daily practices like catching fish or growing corn.
Best of all, I didn’t even realize the festival was happening or was such a big deal until the day of (I had traveled to Calapan City for a work conference). Not Macy’s or football but definitely an incredible display of talent – costumes, dance, and drums!
SJ Byce as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. And Intern at CIEE Bonaire '17