Daily Life in Rural Philippines

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Rice fields

Roosters sound the 4:00-5:00 AM wake up call for farming and fisher folk families in remote regions of the Philippines. Rural families begin preparing breakfast and doing chores such as fetching water, bathing, and getting the children ready for school. Most chores are done by the women with the children helping out. The men tend to have an erratic fishing schedule based upon the season, but will usually go fishing very early in the morning or spend time feeding and tending to their animals.

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Fishing community

The children will usually walk to school, oftentimes a very far distance because their parents cannot afford transportation fare or do not have a motorcycle. Children may miss school if they are sick or need to help out with chores. Missing school is normal. During lunch break, the children will either walk home to eat or a guardian will come to the school to bring them food. Children in the most impoverished regions may be malnourished. It is also normal for rural families to eat some meals consisting of only rice. Depending on the fishing and farming season, an average meal consists of mostly rice and a small portion of vegetables or fish, to only rice, to skipping a meal.

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The women will continue to do chores or part time jobs throughout the day while the children are at school. This includes gathering wood for fuel, fetching water, managing small in-home stores, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, or being hired to do these chores for other families. The children will help with chores when they arrive home from school. The men will fish or farm, upkeep their equipment, or take up odd jobs such as construction. Sometimes the women and children also assist with fishing and farming through gleaning and gathering of mollusks, fruits, and vegetables. At night the families will often watch television, and the men will often drink alcohol and socialize with their friends. Most families sleep by 9:00PM.

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A typical family home

Despite this simple life style and the endless struggle of working to put food on the table. I was walking through a small fishing village with my visiting Canadian friends Nikki and Dave and, without hesitation and with full intention of sharing, a filipino family invited all three of us to join them for lunch. This is the way of the Philippines: sharing what you have with others, even if that means going without tomorrow. Community is strong, even when life is hard.

Summertime

Think back to your favorite parts of summer from your childhood…perhaps a summer cookout, ice cream shops, family trip to the beach, watermelon, swimming pools.

It’s summertime in the Philippines! For the months of April and May school is out and children enjoy playing in the ocean and eating halo-halo (this dessert translates to mean mix-mix and contains a wide variety of ingredients including but not limited to shaved ice, sweet milk, jello, bananas, corn, fruit, ube jam, peanut butter, beans, sweet potato).

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Carabao Island is named after the Philippine water buffalo used in rice fields. Notice the animal’s head drawn on the sign above.

San Jose Island, better known as Carabao Island, launches the summer season with its annual fiesta!

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Parades with street dancers and elaborate costumes are a characteristic part of fiesta.

As an unbiased foreigner, I was asked to serve as a judge for the fiesta competition. We thought we were judging the numerous groups of costume-clad dance teams…really they wanted us to judge the carabao!!

The carabao on the left was my favorite! I also participated in their annual fiesta mountain bike race. Don’t left the beautiful scenary fool you, a beach start over loose sand gave way to mountains so steep all contestants had to get off and walk. And the race started at 2pm in the afternoon (you don’t truly understand the meaning of the phrase ‘heat of the day’ until you have experienced summer in the Philippines and then try to do a bike race in it).

As we raced through each village on Carabao Island all the children came out to cheer us on, particularly me, the only female contestant!

 

Swimming with a Butanding

What is the biggest fish in the ocean?

Sharks are fish too, and the whale shark, reaching 30ft in length, is the biggest of them all. Although their name and size sound intimidating (Imagine swimming next to a fish as big as a school bus!), whale sharks are gentle giants who feed on plankton. They are pelagic, migratory species, but their migrations have become well known in certain areas.

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I took this photo with my gopro with snorkeling in Donsol, Sorsogon.

A visit to Donsol, Sorsogon in the Philippines in March, April and May is a near guarantee to see whale sharks! (Note: nature is unpredictable and there are no guarantees). Furthermore this small little town is a perfect example of successful eco-tourism.

Upon arrival visitors watch a short, entertaining orientation video. Do not touch the butanding (Butanding means whale shark in Tagalog). Do not swim in front of the butanding. Do not feed the butanding (in other areas of the Philippines whale shark feeding is permitted. This is BAD!! Check out this article to learn why.)

Oriented visitors are then assigned a Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO), a boat and driver, and a spotter. These 3 highly trained individuals are your key to seeing a whale shark. Once on board the BIO will give additional instructions to your 6-person boat team.

“When we locate a butanding, I will tell you to prepare your gear. All individuals will sit on the side of the boat with mask, fins and snorkel on. When I say ‘jump now’, you must jump. Do not hesitate. Do not jump until I give the signal. In the water you must follow me.”

Intense. Fast-paced. Exhilarating. I didn’t realize this was about to be the most action-packed snorkel experience of my life. We were the first boat to leave at exactly 7am on March 24. The trip began as a casual boat ride: our spotter scanned the water, while we relaxed (While everyone else relaxed, I was on the edge of my seat scouring the water and praying for whale sharks.) John even set up his camping chair to get comfortable. But with the first, “prepare your gear,” from our BIO, that chair was abandoned and the adventure had begun.

“Jump now!” Sitting on the side of the boat with our masks on and snorkels in our mouths, we all belly flopped into the water at the exact same moment. (If one person hesitates then you enter the water at different times and tend to land on each other. Luckily, we were a group of expert snorkelers and we executed the entrance maneuver in perfect synchrony.)

“Swim with me! Look down now!” There it was: my first whale shark. Check mark on the life list goal as it swam literally exactly below me. Our BIO was an expert.

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Waiting on the side of the boat with our mask, fins and snorkel ready, while our spotter stood at the bow scanning for more whale sharks

Throughout the day we saw maybe 10 whale sharks! You lose count after 5. Some were just babies and others were gigantic. When the BIO says, “Dive!” we faithfully free dove down into the blue abyss and without fail a whale shark would pass by. This first pass is ideal for the head shot, but after we proceeded to sprint alongside the whale shark, keeping pace for a minute or two for some amazing video footage.

Jumping, swimming, diving, sprinting, climbing onto the boat, and doing it again. Seriously, the best whale shark adventure ever!

Bring your A game if you are headed to Donsol. Non-swimmers can also see whale sharks, but you will don a large orange life jacket and be one of the floating masses, scrambling for a fast glimpse of this majestic creature, while you try to avoid the elbows of your disposable-camera-equipped neighbor.

Submarine Expert

Peace Corps Volunteers may be English teachers, but also public health advisors; environmental camp facilitators and also aquaponics specialists. We are often assumed to be an expert in an innumerable amount of fields and our opinions often carry weight in circumstances we would have never expected.

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Most recently I was asked to evaluate the environmental impact of an underwater submarine tour: a new tourist experience offered off Carabao Island in Romblon Province to view the coral reef without even getting wet. Of course this also meant going for a ride in the submarine!

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The view from the window

My evaluation included:

“Benefits of the Experience,” such as tourist education regarding the coral reef ecosystem.

“Areas of Concern,” such as issues of noise pollution or structural damage, both of which were unfounded during this tour experience.

I also highly advised AGAINST fish feeding at this site. Fish feeding disrupts the natural balance of the ecosystem because fish are not eating their natural food. Perhaps more algae will begin to grow if these fish are not grazing on it and soon the reef could shift from beautiful corals to overwhelming algae. Also if need approximately 10 essential amino acids that they cannot make on their own and must get from their diet. Imagine the malnutrition caused in humans and reef fish alike if your diet is solely bread rolls! Finally, fish feeding causes behavior changes in fish populations. While the submarine owner may be excited about schools of fish which readily approach people and the submarine, this may cause them to be easily caught by predators. Or they may display aggressive behavior to other fish or even people as they compete for these free handouts. Therefore my recommendation is always to take only pictures and leave only bubbles when you explore the reef as a scuba diver, snorkeler, or submarine tourist.

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Getting ready to go down below

Lastly, I offered my recommendations for improvement including the possibility of future giant clam farming or providing tourists with red lens glasses to explore the underwater world when red wavelengths of light are added back into your vision or your photos.

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Inside the sub

Although Peace Corps Volunteers may not always be an expert, we are incredibly resourceful and dedicated and oftentimes those two qualities can lead to the possession of expert knowledge.