Tag Archives: Philippines

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.

2015 Video Highlights

Here’s some more info about the best clips in my video:

  • I spent my 26th birthday at 9 Waves Resort in Manila for our Peace Corps mid-service training seminar. Therefore my ‘happy birthday’ was multiple rides down the double loop waterslide!
  • Scuba diving in Apo Island featured the most extensive coral coverage I have ever seen! Contact Harolds Dive Center or Liquid Dumaguete. There are also great muck dives near Dumaguete, which is where I found the seahorse featured.
  • Most of the marine life was seen while diving off of Tablas Island, particularly in Ferrol, Romblon with First Buddy Tablas, the new local dive shop.
  • Wreck diving in Subic Bay had mediocre visibility, but exciting WWII ships to explore. My favorite was a submerged air pocket in one of the wrecks. We also saw an octopus. Contact Mark Walton at Camayan Divers for more info.
  • In December a Spinner Dolphin stranded in Odiongan Bay. Here you can see the footage from our rehabilitation efforts at the Marine Breeding and Research Station, including the 4 person process of feeding a fish smoothie via intubation. Thanks to the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network for advising us in this rescue.
  • The music was taken from our government Employee’s Day dance routine (I also performed but was on the left side and outside the video frame). Imagine if American government offices had annual, compulsory, choreographed dance competitions?!!? We practiced for 3 weeks for this performance and handmade all costumes and props. Thanks to our choreographer Shakira for all the help!
  • Lastly, these two waterfalls are my favorites! Just a short bike ride from my home in Odiongan. Thanks to Kalen for trying to teach me how to dive, luckily my diving skills have improved substantially from this first attempt featured in the video.

Life is Epic!

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Who has more spindle neurons: the dolphin or the human??

Cetaceans have a 3xs greater concentration of these brain cells than humans! Any guesses on the purpose of these valuable brain cells???

Spindle neurons are our social cells. They are the emotion processors of the brain and allow us to both feel love and know suffering. Dolphin songs and shrieks or the contagious nature of a human smile 🙂 Thanks to spindle neurons my blog can serve a purpose. And you can understand the story.

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Here’s a video link to my Epic in the Philippines thus far. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGnYTM3tkX0

Life is epic! But it is also simple and whether you are American, Filipino, orca or humpback we share this planet so put those spindle neurons to use and find a cause you are passionate about. Did you know we receive greater happiness from giving than receiving?!

Me and my supervisor Nanay Rita at the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Conference in 2014
Me and my supervisor Nanay Rita at the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Conference in 2014

Love the Ocean Creed

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.

Scuba diving with sea turtles off Apo Island protected area established 1982
Scuba diving with sea turtles off Apo Island protected area established 1982

Notice the amazing coral coverage on this pristine reef! Can you find the turtle?
Notice the amazing coral coverage on this pristine reef! Can you find the turtle?

"I'm ready for my photo shoot!" This turtle loved the spotlight and permitted us to swim close for a multi-angle shot.
“I’m ready for my photo shoot!” This turtle loved the spotlight and permitted us to swim close for a multi-angle shot.

Oops!

The following are some holiday haikus that I wrote just before Christmas. I also wrote Tagalog versions of each poem, printed them out on nice holiday paper and distributed them as a Christmas present with some small candies to my various friends here in the Philippines. This present also served as a lesson in American and Japanese culture as people here are unfamiliar with the haiku tradition. However I made a humorous language error when I mailed these poems to my former host family:

I included a small note with the poems explaining the nature of the haiku poem. In the note I said, “Para sa reglas ng Haiku…” meaning to say “according to the rules of the Haiku…” I only later found out that the word ‘regla’, which means ‘rule’ or plural ‘rules’ in Spanish, translates to “menstruation” in Tagalog. I am hoping that my host family will find humor in this error, however I have not yet heard anything back from them.

Below are the English versions of my Haikus. Feel free to comment with Haikus of your own and bonus points to the person who can incorporate holidays and menstruation in a single haiku!

In the Philippines
Simbang gabi and singing
We eat together

In America
Cookies and snow, presents too
Santa Claus will come

Whether Pasko here
Or a Merry Christmas there
We will celebrate

Maligayang Pasko
&
Merry Christmas to all

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!

Rice (Oryza sativa)

There is an elementary Tagalog song that begins, “Planting rice is never fun…” and goes on to say, “cannot sit or stand,” in reference to the back-breaking work of a day spent bent over in the rice field.
There is an elementary Tagalog song that begins, “Planting rice is never fun…” and goes on to say, “cannot sit or stand,” in reference to the back-breaking work of a day spent bent over in the rice field.

There are 3 different words for rice in Tagalog: kanin (cooked rice), bigas (unhusked, uncooked rice), palay (rice plant). Furthermore “ulam” literally means “food eaten with rice” and is a general term for everything else. And the word “kain” means “to eat.”

American food culture revolves around bread as the major source of carbohydrates, while Filipinos eat rice with every meal (so much so that a meal without rice is not a meal and a Filipino will likely want to eat again a short while later). Which is better? Bread and rice offer similar nutritional content, especially when eating white bread or white rice, which generally lack the vitamins and minerals found in their brown counterparts. Rice deals a higher dose of carbohydrates per serving, which may or may not be advantageous depending on your specific dietary requirements. Wheat bread and brown rice differ more significantly in the amount of micronutrients: brown rice has more magnesium, used to make lipids and DNA, regulate hormone balance and support cell communication; wheat bread has more iron needed to transport and store oxygen; both contain similar amounts of fiber.What about gluten?! Read this article and decide for yourself whether choosing rice is preferable merely because it is gluten-free: http://toitangata.co.nz/uploads/files/Gluten-free_Julia_Buhs-Catterall.pdf

Be it production or texture, America is more of a bread culture, but the Philippines is very much a rice culture. In an attempt to more fully understand rice culture, I recently visited a rice field and learned to harvest rice alongside Filipinos.

Harvesting my first few stalks of rice!
Harvesting my first few stalks of rice!
The labor intensive process: after cutting the stalks with a sickle-like blade, they are passed through this machine to separate the rice grains, which then need to be laid out to dry.
The labor intensive process: after cutting the stalks with a sickle-like blade, they are passed through this machine to separate the rice grains, which then need to be laid out to dry.

While living in the Philippines has not completely cured me of my tendency toward bread, I do eat rice (at least a little) for lunch and dinner everyday. To explore another carbohydrate option, I have found corn to be available, cheaper, and more nutritious than rice. So why does rice account for 85% of Filipino cereal consumption, while corn is a meager 10%?* Corn is generally considered ‘poor man’s food,’ while rice is historically associated with the elite. In pre-colonial times2:

  1. Rice was a prestige food, produced in limited quantities by labor-intensive means.
  2. Rice was given as tribute to chiefs and overlords.
  3. Rice was consumed in large quantities in postharvest feasting.
  4. Rice was an article of trade.

*Note that the remaining 5% is bread and pastas. Some traditions may be engrained in culture, however in urbanized areas, like Metro Manila, a much higher proportion of bread, noodles, biscuits…etc. are consumed regularly.2

I got to try! Be careful, the machine sucks stocks so fast it wanted to take my hand too.
I got to try! Be careful, the machine sucks stocks so fast it wanted to take my hand too.

Sources:

  1. http://www.livestrong.com/article/448451-rice-vs-bread/
  2. Aguilar, F.V. (2005) “Rice in the Filipino Diet and Culture.” Philippine Institute for Development Studies. Discussion Paper Series No 2005-15. http://scholar.googleusercontent.com/scholar?q=cache:ew0S16d60EYJ:scholar.google.com/+philippine+diet+rice&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5.

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!

Welcome to Odiongan, Romblon!

The first site of our future home! With other volunteers Kendra (education), ME (Coastal Resource Management), Loren (education), Ata (CRM), Drew (CRM), and Kalen (education)
The first site of our future home! With other volunteers Kendra (education), ME (Coastal Resource Management), Loren (education), Ata (CRM), Drew (CRM), and Kalen (education)
Biggest boat I've ever ridden on for the ~6hr journey to Romblon. There were beds to sleep, a restaurant, and of course videoke aka karaoke.
Biggest boat I’ve ever ridden on for the ~6hr journey to Romblon. There were beds to sleep, a restaurant, and of course videoke aka karaoke.
My office and the huge welcome banner they had waiting for me, complete with my photo.
My office and the huge welcome banner they had waiting for me, complete with my photo.

It has been a busy first week here in Odiongan, Romblon. I think that the entire community already knows who I am because they see me running every morning. Since arriving I have assisted in the care of an injured green sea turtle, visited local fish ponds, helped collect and transfer tilapia at a fish hatchery, met with the governor, the mayor, and various school officials, and even done zumba with the Odiongan police force. I have the fortune of 5 other Peace Corps volunteers from Batch 273 also placed on my island including Kendra who is a short walk away, Ata, Loren and Kalen, who are within an 1hr and 30mins run from my site (Loren’s host dad was extremely surprised when I actually did run this distance my second day at site and stopped by for a glass of water and a picture to prove I made it), and Drew, who is a few hours drive to the north. Because I work for the provincial government, I will be traveling extensively throughout the 17 municipalities over the next two years. This could not be a more ideal place to spend the next two years: wonderful host family, supportive office staff, numerous potential work projects, and gorgeous mountains and ocean!

First snorkel experience with my Filipino friend Rolanie, a high school student
First snorkel experience with my Filipino friend Rolanie, a high school student
Various species of butterflyfish and surgeonfish at a local marine protected area (MPA)
Various species of butterflyfish and surgeonfish at a local marine protected area (MPA)

Swearing In

Swearing in at the US Embassy in Manila
Swearing in at the US Embassy in Manila
Celebrating on the stage with fellow volunteer Loren (an elementary school teacher also placed in Romblon) and Lauren (also a teacher and my roommate from training)
Celebrating on the stage with fellow volunteer Loren (an elementary school teacher also placed in Romblon) and Lauren (also a teacher and my roommate from training)

I am now an official Peace Corps Volunteer!!! The Peace Corps was started in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy to promote world peace and friendship. Since then over 210,000 volunteers have served in 139 different countries, however the Philippines is the second country volunteers were ever sent to. I have now joined this force and am one of the 273rd batch of volunteers trained to serve here in the Philippines.

The Peace Corps Philippines Headquarters in Manila
The Peace Corps Philippines Headquarters in Manila