Tag Archives: culture

What is the Peace Corps?

“Our mission is to share knowledge and culture with people in other countries, and to bring their cultures back to the U.S. to share with Americans. Fundamentally, we work to build capacity of other peoples to foster sustainable peace.”                                                                                –Sarah Blazucki, Editor of the Peace Corps Time Magazine

Sharing a bit of coke and mentos culture...
Sharing a bit of coke and mentos culture…
Coco launching coke from a tower overlooking our island during a family activity event I coordinated.
Coco launching coke from a tower overlooking our island during a family activity event I coordinated.

I am a Peace Corps*. The official Peace Corps Office in Washington D.C. would call me a “Peace Corps Volunteer” or “PCV” for short. But here at my site in Odiongan, Romblon, Philippines, locals refer to me as their “Peace Corps.” My title is associated with characteristics of diligence, knowledge, and foreign appearance, though I have heard the title mistakenly applied to individuals of several different nationalities including, “She is their Australian Peace Corps” or “We had a Korean Peace Corps.” Others ask how they themselves can become a “Peace Corps.”

I do my best to explain that the official program is the United States Peace Corps and therefore you must be a U.S. citizen to be a “Peace Corps.” Other foreign governments, like Australia, offer different international volunteering programs distinct from the Peace Corps.

Possibly because the term “volunteer” is often omitted from my title, the idea that I have no salary and receive only a living allowance from the U.S. government to cover basic food, housing and transportation expenses is groundbreaking. My host family did not even realize until two weeks ago, when it came up at the dinner table.

My house is just down the block. Walking with fellow volunteers Loren and Drew.
Walking down the national road with fellow volunteers Loren and Drew. My house is just down the block.

Today is my one-year anniversary of becoming a “Peace Corps.” Last year, I was sitting in an airport wearing a bicycle helmet and strumming my ukulele, on my way to begin training, and today I am calmly listening to the sounds of typhoon rains outside my window while I prepare to lead training for the newest batch of Peace Corps Volunteers currently en route to the Philippines.

View from my front door this morning amidst typhoon rains
View from my front door this morning amidst typhoon rains

* “Corps” is properly pronounced like “core” but just as frequently I hear it improperly pronounced by Americans and Filipinos alike as “corpse.”

Balut

Featured on the TV show Fear Factor, balut, or a fertilized chicken egg, boiled and served to eat is the Popeye’s spinach of the Philippines, said to make you grow strong. If balut came with a nutritious facts label it would boast high quantities of protein, alongside a warning: may contain beak or small bits of feathers, hence the tendency for foreign visitors to squirm a little at the thought of consuming an embryonic chicken.

For John’s Despedida, or going away party, eating balut was a rite of passage.

John was really excited about this idea!
John was really excited about this idea!

Step 1: Crack the egg and peel away a bit of the shell so you can suck all of the warm juices out. Arguably the most delicious part!!

Notice Miel in the foreground enthusiastically sucking her balut juice. She was genuinely excited for the snack and hers disappeared before John had even removed the shell.
Notice Miel in the foreground enthusiastically sucking her balut juice. She was genuinely excited for the snack and hers disappeared before John had even removed his shell.

Step 2: Remove the rest of the eggshell and sprinkle salt.

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Step 3: Bon appétit! Eat the white and yellow parts avoid black or any feathered bits.

Delicious!
Delicious! I ate half of it too.

The white tastes similar to a hard-boiled egg but is more dense and tough. For all the apprehension prior to eating, fertilized chicken eggs are a challenge I would gladly accept if I ever find myself on Fear Factor. It was actually pretty tasty!

The remains
The remains

Because I live in the Philippines…

We farm seaweeds.
We farm seaweeds.
Chickens are sold whole, roadside.
Chickens are sold whole, roadside.
Monkeys ride on the backs of goats!
Monkeys ride on the backs of goats!
The cultural equivalent of Popeye's spinach: Balut, a fertilized chicken egg. Watch out for the beak and small feathers when eating!
The cultural equivalent of Popeye’s spinach: Balut, a fertilized chicken egg. Watch out for the beak and small feathers when eating!
Playgrounds are found on the beach.
Playgrounds are found on the beach.
Furniture is made from recycled tires.
Furniture is made from recycled tires.
Free time during Peace Corps training is spent playing underwater hockey. We used a rock for our puck and sawed our own sticks.
Free time during Peace Corps training is spent playing underwater hockey. We used a rock for our puck and sawed our own sticks.
Sunsets are amazing!
Sunsets are amazing!

The National Anthem (Pambansang Awit)

The Philippine flag, flown with blue on top if at peace and with red on top if at war.
The Philippine flag, flown with blue on top if at peace and with red on top if at war.

“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!

Intro to Philippine Culture

Our Peace Corps Batch 273 currently consists of 80 volunteers and we are all living at a training base together for these first two weeks. Below are photos from our cultural day, complete with a performance by a Dance Troupe, demonstrating various traditional festival dances. These performers were incredibly impressive and even managed to balance a glass cup of liquid on their foreheads for the entirety of one dance. I got an opportunity to try a few simple steps after the show. Cultural day also included opportunities to try some of the more exotic Filipino foods including chicken feet (grilled and served on a skewer) and balut (fertilized chicken eggs which depending on the stage of development may even include feathers and a beak). While balut has recently received greater attention due to the show Survivor and/or Fear Factor, this food is commonly fed to children as parents encourage them to grow strong. Balut is a good source of protein, but luckily mine did not contain feathers or a beak. Finally, we learned a version of the game tag traditional to Filipino childhood and some common superstitions including the idea that if you are ever lost, you must turn your clothes inside out to find your way (Filipinos and Americans share similar superstitions about opening umbrellas indoors).

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