Jody's Peace Corps Experience

Monday, August 07, 2006

Back In One Piece

Well, I made it back to the ‘Pines without any problems! It’s 5am, I can’t sleep anymore and decided I’d get up and get some stuff done since jet lag is deciding when I should and shouldn’t sleep. I hope this gets resolved soon! Now, while I was home, I got several comments from readers of my blog that they weren’t a big fan of my “Books, Books, Books” entry…to you I say, “Too BAD!” Ok, that might have been a little harsh, but at the time I didn’t haven anything else to really write about.

Now I do and this may get to be a pretty long entry. Anyway, I’ll start out with a few of my experiences before I went home…

June 11, 2006-Sagada, Mt. Province
I know it seems like I talk about Sagada a lot. It is one of my favorite places to go, but on this particular trip, I actually went to some of the caves that the little farming community is known for. I’m still a little weary about actually venturing into the most famous cave, Sumaging. A group of volunteers decided to do the Sumaging cave tour so I tagged along until we got to the entrance of the cave. It was amazing to say the least and it was only the entrance.

The other volunteers had about another 45 minutes of walking through bat guano and swimming in icy cold water to look forward to…Rachel (who has done the tour about 3 times now) and I (being a big scaredy cat) decided to do our own little tour of the burial cave, Lumiang.

The hike to Lumiang is pretty easy and the views along the way are amazing too. On the walk, we got to see farmers harvesting rice in some of the terraces. Along the path to Lumiang, there are some great views of the valley. It was a holiday weekend so all of the caves were really busy. As we approached the entrance to the cave, there were about 15 people already in the cave. Now, this is not a huge cave so it was kind of crowded. We were lucky as the others were just leaving and we got the burial cave to ourselves for about 15 minutes.

I have to admit, this was a special experience for me…almost spiritual…for sure something sacred. Wooden coffins fashioned out of whole logs were stacked upon each other, in some places, 6 coffins high! Due to either vandalism or just being old (sometimes it’s hard to tell), some of the coffins had holes in the side, which gave a spooky feeling to the place. I was able to get a pretty good picture of the inside of one of these coffins.

June 18-21, 2006-Lagawe, Ifugao: Ifugao Days Festival
My host mom continues to be such a great host! She invited me to accompany her to Ifugao Days, a celebration of the Ifugao people and their culture. Ifugao is a province in the Cordillera Administrative Region (the region I live in) that has held on to their culture the longest, but due to changing times, is losing more and more of their heritage every year. Ifugao Days is an effort to remind the young and old of their roots.

It was a great experience as my host mom and new friends I met through some of the other volunteers gave insights to what was happening and what it meant. The festival started off with a parade in which my host mom had me walk with Tinoc, her municipality which she is the mayor of. Now I’m known as the Tinoc import.

There was also a lot of native cultural presentations, dramatic performances, and native games. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the search for Ms. Ifugao beauty pageant. Native costumes were everywhere, the men played the gongs all day long, and red stains were everywhere! The red stains came from what’s called Beetle Nut, a chewing tobacco type substance that everyone seems to enjoy chewing, but doesn’t do much for their smiles.

July 11-14, 2006-Mid-Service Conference (MSC)
At the midway point of service, Peace Corps holds a mid-service conference…this year the conference was optional and I decided to attend. What a mistake that was. We just got a new Country Director so he took this opportunity to try and learn about what Peace Corps/Philippines is all about. Too many questions were asked about performance outputs and if the sectors are meeting goals and objectives. Now, I know there is a time and place for this, but MSC shouldn’t be the time or the place in my opinion. I was looking forward to hearing about successes of other volunteers and at least being congratulated for making it to the 1 year mark.

The second part of MSC is to be poked, prodded, and examined. I had to give 2 separate stool samples, give a blood sample, pee in a cup, as well as having my yearly doctor’s check-up and dental visit. I haven’t heard any bad news so I’m assuming I have a clean bill of health and ready to finish up the last year of service!

July 17-August 4, 2006-Visit HOME!
As I said at the beginning of this entry, I made it back to the Philippines. I was home visiting friends and family for about 3 weeks. It was so good to see all the familiar faces I left 15 months ago…and see the one new face that arrived on April 29, 2006, my godson, Collin Jude! You can’t tell I’m a proud Aunt, can you?!

Theresa and Amanda picked me up at the airport and we met Charley, Aaron, Collin, and Francey for supper. My time was filled with visiting friends in Sioux City, watching Baby Collin, attending Collin’s baptism, attending to guest book attendant duties at Amanda and Mike’s wedding, lounging in the pool, helping Francey move up to the cities, enjoying mom and dad’s home cooking, shopping, etc. Thank you so much to Mom and Dad for everything you did for me and with me while I was home. My visit was everything and more I had expected it to be.

I realized that although 2 years is a good chunk of time to be away from those that I love and care about, they are still going to be there. Not too much has really changed in the 15 months I’ve been away, except for one new addition to the family! The sense of familiarity was so comforting and just what I needed. If I didn’t get to see you while I was home, I’ll be back in 10 months!