Jody's Peace Corps Experience

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Killing Me Softly

No, this is not another venting entry! This past Saturday night, I was able to observe the whole Pinikpikan (translation=Killing Me Softly) process. My host brother, Juhn, told me that I should watch how it's all done. I've eaten Pinikpikan many times and have seen the birds after they had their feathers burned off, but this time I got to see it all the way through; start to finish. This time was also a unique experience because my lolo (grandfather) performed some sort of prayer ritual. He is a medicine man and often asked to pray over food, people and other things.

So Pinikpikan is a very popular Ilokano dish. I know I've mentioned it in the past and I have even begun to enjoy this dish that takes some getting used to. I like to say it's an acquired taste. Native chickens are most popular although they have begun to use imported chickens now. For the ritual, only native chickens are used. The first step is the "Killing Me Softly" portion. My host brother used the handle of a large knife to beat the chicken. Another guy was hold the chicken by the feet and head while Juhn held a wing and beat it. The reasoning behind this is that the beating breaks the blood vessels and makes the meat taste better.

While the beating was going on, my lolo held the other chicken and said prayers. Since this was a special Pinikpikan meal, only the men could partake in the meal. The women were given a separate dinner. After Juhn was finished beating the wings, he grabbed the bird by the feet and gave the bird a hard thump on the head with the knife handle. When the bird finally stopped convulsing, he pulled out the large wing feathers. All of the beating and thumping and ripping was done in the middle of the sala (living room) while they were watching television. And what else was on, but WWE wrestling! You wouldn't believe how popular that stuff is here.

The birds were then taken into the cocina (kitchen) and dunked in a pot of boiling water. This makes the feathers easier to pull out. There are also some remaining feather bits that cannot be pulled out so Juhn held the birds over the stove fire to burn them off.

After they were rid of all feathers, the chickens were taken back into the sala. Now it was my lolo's turn to be in charge of the process. He and another man prepped the birds for cooking. The other man made several slits, cuts and slices to the carcass. They explained to me that the breast bone is then ripped away from the rest of the body. This must have been the other man's first attempt as my lolo was explaining everything to him. Finally, my lolo just took the bird and ripped away the breastplate himself. Since he is a "holy man," he is able to read the meaning of the arrangement of the organs and tell the future. He then said a final prayer and the birds were cooked.

Men came out of the woodwork when the dish was finished cooking. I'm not exactly who they were or where they came from. I'm pretty sure they were all related to my host family in some way. There was tapuy (rice wine) and of course Red Horse beer to be shared between then all. I went to bed long before they left the house!

I have added photos of the whole process here.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Hello Rainy Season

Well, it's started again. The fresh, cool, afternoon rains have begun again. Everday, around 3:30 p.m., the skies turn a dirty grey and douse the lands with the rain. It seems like the afternoon rains are much heavier than last year and last a little longer. Some days the rain continues into the evening. It's really hard to get clothes dry again. And there seems to be a funny smell in my room when it's damp. But I love the rain...for now. If there is a shelter outside in which I can sit and watch and listen to the rain, I'm content. Yikes! I have until October before we get a full day of sun again. I like it though...for now. I'm sure I'll get on here to write about the rain again in a few months and be praying for it to stop. For now, it's great.

Was able to help out with the training again last week. I talked about working with a Filipino supervisor and I think I gave a realistic description of what it could be like. Back to work and the center, things are better from last week when I wrote last. Yes, I'm frustrated, but I was able to talk to my supervisor and she's with me on writing a grant to start implementing developmental activities into the toddlers' daily schedule. If we get the paperwork done and the trainings completed, this could be an exciting time for the center and possibly all of the RSCCs in the country. At least that's the hope on a large scale! Right now we just are focusing on writing the grant.

Also, one last note, I will be coming home for a visit. YES! I said I'll be HOME for almost 3 weeks. I fly into Sioux Falls on July 17 and head back on August 4. I just couldn't resist not seeing the new addition to the family so I'll attend his baptism as well as a wedding (I guess I'm going to be in it too?) and I hope to see as many people as possible!!! Very excited and will be a nice break. I think I'll be recharged and able to come back and finish up my projects. When I get back, I'll be down to 10 months left and it's going to just fly.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I Need to Vent and I'm Using This Blog as My Outlet

Nothing is going on. Nothing new to report. I almost feel like I'm doing nothing here sometimes. I sit and wait for meetings that never happen. I'm supposed to meet with my supervisor to talk about a really cool curriculum that another volunteer and I are developing for our centers, but I sit and wait.

I make this experience out to be exciting...which it is, but it's soooooooooooo unbelievably frustrating at times. The staff at my center are insanely busy, mostly paper pushing crap and meetings that occur away from our center. I haven't seen my supervisor in almost a month. Granted, I've been putting in only 2-3 day weeks because of other things going on with Peace Corps, but I come in at normal business hours so you would think she would be there for a little bit, but nope.

Other volunteers have voiced their frustrations about the same things while I said that it was kind of nice not having to worry about work so much, but seriously, who am I kidding? I need to do something! I want to feel like I'm making a difference, even if it's a small difference. I have come up with a computer training for the staff and it was going really well, but then one of our babies was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia so the staff I was working with has to be there all the time.

Don't get me started on the conditions in the nursery right now. I was almost to tears yesterday when talking about it with my Regional Manager. She said she would come tomorrow and ask questions. Will this get my supervisor's and social workers' attention? I sure hope so because my center is setting itself up for disaster. RSCC is supposed to be a safe, healthy environment for its clients, but the past four days, the babies have gone without formula. Instead, they get rice water mixed with sugar. I might explode if this continues to happen. There are so many things that need to change and I'm at a loss as to what to do...most of the time, I can't do anything and I think that makes it even worse.

Well, that's how things stand right now. While I'm having a blast traveling, hanging out with other volunteers and spending time with my host family, work is breaking my heart. I love the kids, I love many of the staff I work with, but I feel helpless, which is now turning to hopeless. I think it's just one of those weeks so don't worry, I'm still down with this Peace Corps thing, but it's tough...hence the saying, "The toughest job you'll ever love." Maybe I need a vacation around the end of July (hint, hint), because no matter how much I make it seem like this past year was one big vacation, it never has been. Ok, maybe when Grandma and Francey were here. That was a bit vacation like! Ha! Keep smiling everyone. Even though it seems like I'm not, I really am!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Busy, busy...

First off, I have to let everyone who reads this know that I became an AUNT!!! My sister, Charley, and brother-in-law, Aaron, had their first baby on April 29, 2006. A healthy baby boy, 7 pounds, 6 ounces and 21 inches long. His name is Collin Jude and he is a little cutie!!! Congratulations Charley and Aaron!!!

So, the past 3 weeks have been so incredibly busy. I know it's been so long since I've updated this thing. I've been able to attend quite a few cultural celebrations since I last put in an entry. Since I've been away so long, this is going to be a pretty lengthy entry...but it will be captivating through its entirety.

Kanyao-Malico, Santa Fe, Nueva Viscaya-April 21, 2006
I had often heard about these Kanyao events, but never understood what they were talking about. Basically a Kanyao is a celebration for the community. The host of the event has to save up for many months as 15-20 or more pigs are slaughtered for the "party". In addition to the pigs, cows and carabao and horses are also killed. This particular Kanyao was a three day affair. I traveled with my host mom, some of her family, and Rachel, my PCV friend. We attended the opening "ceremony" I guess you would call it.

All of the local community members were dressed in their native in g-strings and women in their tapis. The elders were in charge of the sacrifice of 3 pigs, a huge male, a medium female and a sickly looking baby. It took several men to drag in the piggy family and get them tied down in the center of the sacrificial area.

They danced, chanted and played the native gongs. The climax came when a slit near the front leg was cut on all of the pigs. Then another man came in with his long wooden stake and started pulverizing the heart. It was brutal and hard to watch, but at the same time I couldn't take my eyes off of what was happening. I've heard many pig squeals since coming to this country, but this was unlike anything I've heard!

We all then sat through several speeches, songs, and prayers before the feast was served. A very unforgettable event!

Ifugao Wedding-Mayoyao, Ifugao-April 22, 2006
We then traveled from Nueva Viscaya to Mayoyao, Ifugao, a place situated in the beautiful rice terraces. I was told that we would be attending a native wedding. Rachel and I figured it would be at the local church in the main town of the municipality. We got into a van and were driven to a house and we were told that we would have to go down. So we followed everyone else. We went down a few steps and got to a clearing where a school was situated...whew, we're here! Not exactly. We had to keep going, and going, and going. It ended up taking us about 30 minutes to go down the mountain and through the terraced rice fields to a house set up with a million plastic tarps.

Rachel and I sat on makeshift benches during the wedding. All through the wedding, men and women were chewing their Moma (a tobacco like habit that people in this area of the Philippines has), and spitting out red, slimey liquid. Another funny thing is that there were little kids selling ice candy (frozen juice) and we bought a couple and ate them during the ceremony. I was amazed at some of the things that I have become accustomed to. Never would we have done anything like that at a wedding in the States.

After the ceremony, the sponsors asked Rachel and I to sit at the main table with them. We had a front row view of the dancing, singing and gong playing. If this sounds a lot like the Kanyao or any other event I've been to, you're right. Anyway, after all of the native dancing, the "modern" dancing began. Of course we were asked to dance right away. Everyone got a kick out of how tall I was compared to the men I was dancing with.

So the dancing was fun for about the first 5 minutes, but then we kept getting asked and asked and asked. But holding drunk, old men up and keeping them from falling over is great only so long. Pretty soon we were begging my host brother and his cousin to find a place where we could go to and not have to dance. We found this halo-halo stand near to the wedding, but far enough away we could hide.

We then decided to head back up the mountain. It took us at least an hour to get up that steep flight of stairs. Along the way, we stopped to talk to some of the locals. It was really fun to use my language and have conversations just in Ilokano. Even if it was only 5 minutes!

Final Vows Ceremony-Tuding, Itogan, Benguet-May 2, 2006
About a month ago, a nun got in contact with me. She was helping in the landslide relief effort down in Southern Leyte. A Peace Corps friend of mine was working with her and gave her my contact info. Anyway, she invited me to a celebration mass for some of the sisters in her convent. The mass was really neat in that they used several different languages used here in the Cordilleras.

After the mass, there was a dinner and of course, dancing and gongs. It was especially fun to see the nuns dressed in their habits and nun garb dancing the native dances! I got to meet a lot of interesting people and hope to keep in touch with this convent.

I do have photos from Mayoyao up so if you want to check them out, go here.