I arrived in Atillona, Bagac, Philippines on Wednesday, July 23rd. We travelled by bus for five hours from our initial training site. We arrived tired, yet excited, and entered a room full of our soon-to-be host families. The Peace Corps staff gave each family and volunteer one half of a puzzle and to find our host families we had to find the matching piece. It was a fun activity and eased the nerves on both sides. We then headed to our new homes with our families to rest for a few hours. By “rest” I mean meeting the rest of the family, eating more food, and attempting to unpack. Later that day our host mothers took us to meet with the group to pay a courtesy call to the mayor and the barangay captain (a barangay is a village). This turned out to be a much larger event than any of us expected, resulting in 80 people gathered to see us while we introduced ourselves in Tagalog. Ako po si Rachel, taga Kentucky po ako, Peace Corps Trainee po ako. It went really well, though it was a very long day.
In the last few days we have focused on learning the language and organizing a community event that we held on Saturday. We had about 80 people from the community participate in our community assessment and we will have two follow-up sessions the next two Saturdays. The community members are our teachers and are helping us find the strengths and needs of the community. We will analyze the information they have given us, and then help them create a community project for their area.
I am living in a simple, little house with my nanay (mom), tatay (dad), Marvin (brother), Princess and Din Din (sisters). They have two other children but one works in Saudi Arabia and the other works in another part of the Philippines. My room is cute and they have done everything to make it comfortable for me. When I came home for lunch on the first day they had wired a light into the rafters of my room and put nails in the walls for hangers. When I came home later that same day for dinner they had put up my mosquito net and put in a desk, chair, and garbage can. They have been so kind and sweet and I feel truly blessed to be a part of their family for several months. My nanay and tatay speak very little English but the two oldest children speak English fairly well and have been a huge help (even though they aren’t supposed to speak to me in English unless necessary so that I learn the language quicker).
I do not have a ceiling in my room, the house is open to the tin roof. It is beautiful to hear the rain on the tin roof, which happens several times a day because it is rainy season here. The rain comes down so hard that it is often deafening to listen to and you have to stop speaking to each other for a minute until it subsides. The first night I could barely sleep because the rain was so loud – that and I have a million chickens outside of my window that crow and squawk at all hours of the day and night. The day after I got earplugs from a fellow volunteer and they have been wonderful! Now the rain sounds like pleasant ambient noise.
This morning I went to Catholic mass with my family at seven a.m. Apparently the first mass starts at five a.m. but thankfully we did not have to attend that early, probably because of the face I made unconsciously when they told me what time first mass began. The service went well and the priest thoughtfully translated a few main points into English for the few volunteers who were there with their host families. At the end of the service he also took time to have all of the volunteers stand up so that the congregation could see us. He spoke about the Peace Corps and why we are all here, and then he ended by stating “let us help them help us discern what is best for our community.” It was wonderful to hear the encouragement from a clergy in the area – it means a lot to have that support!
The area that we are staying in is one of the poorest regions, but it is absolutely beautiful! We are surrounded by amazing views of the mountains in the background and coconut trees and rice fields in the forefront. I live very close to two other volunteers so that I am able to walk with them to language class and technical trainings. No one walks alone here, everyone has a kasama (companion) wherever they go. Not necessarily because of safety, but because of the communal culture. I walked home alone from the internet café yesterday and texted my nanay before I left – five minutes down the road my tatay and sister came on their trike to pick me up because I had no kasama (a trike is a motorcycle with a passenger side car that is used for most transportation here).
I don’t have awesome internet access here but feel free to ask any questions and I will try to get back to you. I would love to hear from you so that I do not get behind on important news from back home 🙂
Much love everyone!