Unfortunately, Filipino children do not know the excitement of running amuck in one’s neighborhood clad in witch, zombie or vampire costumes and collecting so much candy that you have to sort through a personal mountain in your home living room, while fending off siblings who want to steal all the snickers bars from your loot!
Halloween is celebrated on November 1st in the Philippines as All Saint’s Day. Tradition here is to visit the cemetery with your family to respect the graves of deceased relatives.
I promised the Famero children a Halloween celebration. Although I could not rope all the neighbors into handing out candy, we made paper lanterns and had a toilet paper mummy costume competition. Still a successful holiday!
“My kid likes to eat rice!” “Mine plays basketball!!” “Her birthday is tomorrow!!!”
These were just some of the joyous exclamations of American 3rd grade students as they opened letters written by an international Filipino pen pal. Others came to me with questions, “What is ‘ma-bu-hey’?” And soon all students were scrambling to their desks with paper and pens to write a reply.
Once I explained that “Mabuhay” pronounced, “mah-boo-high” is a greeting of welcome in Filipino language, several American students began their own letters with this Filipino word and even signed “ingat” or “take care” before their name to close the letter.
Soon the Filipino student participants will be opening these American replies that I carried in my suitcase on my flight back. I am expecting another flurry of excitement and questions when I deliver this set of letters.
Some of my favorite quotes from the letters are below:
“Hi Leo, My name is Leo too!”
“I think you will be a nice friend. Please write back.”
“We play that slipper game in America too, we call it dodgeball.” – After I showed a video clip of Filipino students throwing flip flops (which they call slippers) at each other in the school yard.
I also read two of the letters aloud in the White House for my presentation themed “Let Girls Learn.” Check out the video if you have not already seen it:
Coco, Maxine, Miel, Andrea and several additional neighbors learned the parts and placement of human internal anatomy during our blindfolded body building activity. Even the adults put on a blindfold, did a few spins and gave it a try!
Human babies are born with over 300 bones, but as bones shift and fuse with growth a human adult has a grand total of 206 bones. Cumulatively, the Famero household had roughly 3,648 bones in attendance of this family activity night. Although our skeleton initially suffered from eviscerated intestines and largely displaced jaw, by the night’s end (and with great encouragement from the peanut gallery) all of his body parts were restored to their proper position.
During my Peace Corps training I read a book entitled, You Know You’re a Filipino If by Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz. For example “You know you’re a Filipino if you give directions with your lips.” Or “You know you’re a Filipino if you eat rice with every meal.” Or “You know you’re a Filipino if you have 30+ godchildren.” I shared this book with my host family and they were laughing hysterically with each turn of the page.
Now one year later I still cannot help noticing several ‘You know you’re a Filipino if’s’ in my own daily life. For instance, I have been collaborating with another Peace Corps Volunteer to share ecological principles and marine science lessons with his community in conjunction with an ocean mural painting. Check out our progress and take note of the Philippine cultural idiosyncrasies…
First, I taught the kids a lesson on fish anatomy. How are the fish in Finding Nemo able to give Marlin directions and swim in tightly packed schools? Fish have a lateral line of sensory hair cells that runs down their backs allowing them to sense micro-changes in water movement patterns and thereby swim together in unison.
You must be in the Philippines if the town museum, the site of our fish lesson, features an “Under the Sea” photo booth.
You know you are in the Philippines if each mural painter has a designated umbrella holder to provide shade from the hot sun.
You know you’re a Filipino if your mid-painting snack is fresh coconut juice and jack fruit (a sweet, yellow fruit that reminds me of cotton candy flavor).
You must be in the Philippines if you can see the ocean down the road from where you are painting!
The mural is nearly finished now! Notice the Ocean Creed in the center:
Several months ago a huge box (large enough to fit me instead!) arrived at the Libertad Daycare in Odiongan, Romblon Philippines. It felt like Christmas as 400 storybooks including Dr. Suess, Goodnight Moon and Itsy Bitsy Spider were unpacked and placed on the brand new book shelf installed in the new reading corner of the day care.
Our Santa Claus was Pinoy Reading Buddies or PRB, an initiative that promotes engaged reading and spreading literacy through a buddy mentoring system. They generously mailed us a shipment of storybooks for beginning readers. Check out there website and get involved!!
This past Friday, I visited the daycare for a read-a-loud storytelling. The 15 preschoolers, who made it to class despite the heavy rain and soggy roads of the rainy season, learned about the life cycle of a sea turtle in One Tiny Turtle by Nicole Davies.
I even brought a pretend baby turtle to demonstrate what it is like inside a sea turtle egg!
Now I am hoping to make story time a regular activity with a different theme each week!
I believe that the ocean harbors life – life that I must protect.
I believe that the ocean is mankind’s greatest common heritage.
I believe that the diversity of the ocean is important to sustaining human life.
I believe that I am part of but one ocean, and that everything I do affects the delicate balance of life on Earth.
I believe that it is my duty to protect the ocean.
I believe that by protecting the ocean I help to protect the future.
Therefore, I pledge to always live in harmony with the ocean.
Last week I gave my family a challenge: each member received a small piece of a photo I had taken from the other side of the globe, along with a blank piece of white paper. Each individual was to redraw their photo piece to the size of the white paper, but in secret! Once everyone finished we would assemble the drawing and discover the contents of the photo.
The photo was taken during my semester in the Turks and Caicos Islands. We discovered an injured flamingo, subsequently dubbed Jerome, near the island airport. We suspected Jerome had been attacked by one of the many feral dogs on South Caicos Island. Taped and nursed back to health from the comforts of our groundskeeper’s shower, Jerome made a full recovery and was released back to his flock. Although one leg was an unfortunate lost casualty of the art project, I currently have a lifesize version of Jerome hanging on my bedroom door.
Flamingos are found in Central and South American and some parts of Africa, which is why even once the photo was pieced together many mistook it for an ostrich, a more familiar bird. Unlike the heavy, solitary ostrich, flamingos are hugely loyal to their flock and also capable of flying. The pink hue of their feathers comes from pigments in brine shrimp that the birds scoop up with their hooked bills. Bristles inside the bill allow them to filter these small crustaceans as well as other mollusks, insects, and some plants from the water. The male and female flamingos both contribute to feeding the young, whose favorite meal is crop milk, rich in fat and protein this milk is produced in the adult digestive tract and regurgitated into the mouth of a chick.
This project was a lesson in art and zoology, but not without reward. The participants each received one US dollar for participation. This novel prize is equivalent to 44 Philippine pesos, enough to purchase lunch from the local Filipino cantina.
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.
How do you reuse waste and also benefit the community? Before leaving Sabang, we helped to improve the community park including adding a tetherball, painting the swings and playground, and building two park benches. These benches contain a total of 153 plastic bottles stuffed with approximately 45,900 pieces of trash including newspaper, cardboard, plastic wrappers, magazines, shampoo wrappers, even a shoe. The bottles were collected by the community and trash was both donated from households and collected off of the beach. Local school children worked hard to stuff all of the bottles, while adult community members assisted with the building of the benches. Everyone enjoyed stamping their handprints on our finished product. Consider building a bottle bench in your own community!
SJ Byce as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. And Intern at CIEE Bonaire '17