Monday, February 23, 2009


Yikes, tempus fugit!

It's more than a year since I last blogged here. (I'd sort of forgotten about it, but might as well keep it going.)
At least one very exciting thing has happened since the last entry - I have become a grandmother! Porscha is absolutely the cutest, best baby in the whole world - and she is now a whole year old! I enjoy her more than I would have thought possible.
On the flip side of that great event, at least one rather stressful thing has occurred. Sherman Indian High School layed off (in the new vernacular - they experienced a reduction in force / a RIF) 34 people and I was one of them. I'm sad, it was a most interesting place to work. But there is good news, I have been hired at Somerset as a Social Studies teacher. Somerset is a non-public school, which means it is actually a corporation that services the most difficult kids. Some are emotionally disturbed and others have been sent by the courts. It will be a challenge. But in this economy having a job is a good thing.

Sunday, December 09, 2007



It's actually Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Patty now.
So I actually did make it, and the kids were the main thing that kept me going.
The high school kids and the environmental activities we did are absolutely my favorite memories. A lovely lady, Sylvia, opened a coffee shop about 9 months before I left and that became my haven. I could go in there and read with a cup of very strong Batangas coffee, it was a life saver. My host family honored me by asking me to be ninang to the new grandson, another great experience. Baby Lawrence is as cute as can be and I intend to keep in contact with him always. The funny - or sad, depending on how you look at it - thing is that just as I was beginning to get that sense of belonging it was time to go.
Readjustment to the US is almost as hard as unadjusting to the 1st world was. I still have a ways to go on that front. But, if learning new things about yourself and fighting to keep your life meaningful and forcing yourself to take chances and stay out of the old age rut, if that is what keeps one young, then I'm just a kid still. A kid with a lot to learn, ' cause what I don't know is alot.

an allegory

An Allegory

A runner needed a pair of shoes, good, supportive, cushioned running shoes for the upcoming marathon. He needed the kind of shoe that makes running enjoyable, the kind of shoe that enhances performance, a shoe that fits. He jogged to the local running center and found a number of others there at the same time, all looking for the very same thing – a good fit. The race was coming and all these dedicated runners wanted to be prepared with proper gear.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, there was a limited supply of shoes. But the salesperson, with the best of intentions, was determined to satisfy the needs of all these customers, and set about fitting these feet with shoes that were not quite perfect fits, and were sometimes even badly matched. The runners needed shoes, they were committed to the race, and they hated to disappoint this well meaning clerk, so they accepted with good grace the recommendations made to them. And, in truth, a few of the runners were lucky enough to find exactly what they needed, but many settled for an ok fit, and others squeezed their feet into Adidas when they performed best in Saucony, or they took a 10 1/2 when they really needed a 10. Our particular runner found himself in just such a situation; he needed Saucony, size 10. This is the shoe that had brought him success on other occasions. Now he was wearing Brooks 9 1/2, they didn’t feel too terrible and the clerk was sure that they had enough flexibility to suit him and that he would adjust to the new fit. So he left the store with some doubts and lots of hope that all would be well.
The marathon day arrived. The runners were ready, more or less. Twenty six and six tenths miles is a long race, it takes commitment and endurance. The beginning of a marathon is almost euphoric. The air is electric with energy and expectation. There are no quitters at the starting line, everyone will finish; and truly, a marathon is primarily about finishing. There are a few who will finish at the front of the crowd, but the vast majority finish in hours - 3, 4, 5 hours. The goal is to finish and to perform at your personal best, whatever that may be.
All the runners from that running center started out with positive attitudes, high hopes, and new shoes – some which fit better than others. A few runners found they were not as prepared for the race as they had thought and dropped out early on. A few determined to make it to the half-way point. Most were committed to finishing no matter the cost. And a very few found out that they were wearing perfect shoes enabling them to run almost effortlessly.
Our runner, in the 9 1/2 Brooks, ran. He ran through the pain of the first blisters; he ran through the pain of muscles used in strange ways to accommodate his aching feet; he may have stopped about mile 13 to cut the toes out of his shoes and relieve some of the pressure – that would have given him a tremendous sense of relief and renewed energy. He drank his water and his Gatorade and followed all the advice of his seasoned coaches; but he cursed the well-meaning clerk who had sold him the shoes; and cursed himself for not understanding the importance of the perfect fit. However, he was buoyed by the encouragement of the hundreds of onlookers and supporters, “You’re doing great.” “Keep it up, you’re looking good,” “Looking good, looking good, have some water.” It is amazing how much strength he drew from those well-wishers. It got him through the worst times. Whenever he really considered sitting down on the curb and removing the shoes, joining the cheering crowds, someone looked him right in the eye and said, “You’re doing great! Hang in there! I'm proud of you,” and he kept on going. Thus he was able to finish, not in glory, just finish.
Maybe some of those supporters drew strength or encouragement from HIS determination. Maybe some learned a lesson about the nobility of commitment.
Our runner will never know about those things; he will know something more about himself though. Maybe that is what it is all about.

Peace Corps?

Monday, July 18, 2005


Tuesday, June 28, 2005



Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Homesick as hell!

Ever since I arrived here I have been complaining and moaning about being homesick. And I knew going in that it would be so, but now that I am at site, with no one to talk to, it is really hard. And I am sick to boot, which just magnifies the homesickness.
My host family worries about me and it makes me uncomfortable. The teachers all want to help and it makes me nervous. My supervisor is solicitous and it makes me frustrated. I can't find a good place to go and sit and be happy in my solitude, like a nice park or a beach to walk on. I can go up to my room, and I do, but it is hot and confining up there. If I sit in the kitchen or living room the host family feels like they have to do something for me and finally say you go up to your room and study. They need a break from me.
At school I sit in the library and study Tagalog or read, or plan a lesson of one kind or another. The library is not used by anyone at school except me; the books are so old and mouldy and dusty it is no wonder. It is really quite a nice place to be,it receives a little shade and it is big and airy. The windows fill two walls and are slatted wooden shutters. Picture giant venitian blinds, when the slats are open the birds, bugs, etc. can come in, but so does the air. So this room stays relatively cool with the fan going. It is a nice place to be but it is also at school, so I can't very well go in there and hide out.
Today the kids started coming in. The first few days the boys would come up to me when I was outside during recess and say something to me, then run away. If they actually tried to talk to me it usually was to introduce one of their friends, they let someone else introduce them. The girls have been very shy. Every morning 4 kids are in there dusting, finally, today they told me their names. That seemed to uncork something because at recess they came back and talked to me and I asked them to help me with Tagalog, which tickled them. Then at lunch time the kids came in droves, telling each other's names, teaching me Tagalog words, and laughing at my pronunciation, then slowly repeating the word for me to say correctly. If I succeed in this venture it will be the kids that get me through.

Homesick as hell!

Sunday, June 19, 2005


It's about schools

Hi everyone,
School has started here, for me on Tuesday 6/14, and for the kids on Mon 6/6.
Tuesday morning I arrived bright and early at 7:00 and most of the kids were already there and busy cleaning the school! They were washing, sweeping, watering, and dusting, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves all the while. At about 7:15 the whole student body assembled in the courtyard for some patriotic singing, pledge, songs of exercise/dance. Even though it was early it was already hot and I was hoping they would let everyone get out of the sun. Kids and teachers did not seem to mind, but I was dripping. There is something about seeing all those kids in their blue and white uniforms singing the national anthem that really is stirring. I think all schools should do it.

All the teachers are conducting preliminary testing for these first two or three weeks, then they will administer the same test in March a few weeks before the end of the year to see if they have made progress. The tests come in a variety of forms, some were teacher made, some looked like some form of standarized test. There are no answer sheets the kids just number their paper and list the letter of their selection. Then they grade them together and read out their score to the teacher. Since students sit 2 or 3 to a desk it is pretty clear that they help each other, but no one seems to mind. Teachers put a lot of stock in these tests. And there are the same kind of standards and such that we have, only it is on a national scale. The president says education is a priority, but, like our wonderful president, doesn't fund it. Teachers are spending their own money, and they don't make that much, on supplies and snacks for the poorest kids. All sounds too familiar.

I have been observing in different levels, so far 3rd, 4th, 5th. There are anywhere from 45 to 52 kids in the class. They must provide all their own materials, and some kids can't afford them, so they have nothing to write on or with. The materials of choice are stacks of small notebooks, about 5x7 and ball point pens. Some kids have crayons, ruler, scissor, most do not. They fill the note books with copying from the board and they don't waste any paper, writing on both sides and on every line. There are 5 classes at each level with section 1 being the high achievers and section 5 the lowest. Teachers make no bones about it when they talk to me - in front of the kids - that this is the lowest section, the kids who can't learn. Age range can be pretty significant with some 11 and 12 year olds in 4th grade. I was watching the 4th grade, section 5 yesterday. They are not in a classroom, but in a room that used to be an auditorium, so at least it is big. But they don't have desks and about 15 kids were still working on the test so she had given a spelling lesson in English to the rest of the class. One kid had been segregated from the group because 'he is different from the rest and he fights with his classmates.' Naturally I tried talking to him and he clearly struggles, unfortunately he doesn't stand a snowballs chance in hell of learning anything. They were looking for words with 'ze' as the final sound and could use their dictionary. There were only a few dictionaries so they worked together, and they worked quietly. When she had kids come up and list the words they had found, the first one was cheeze. Then another child put up squeeze, but he made the q backward and was reprimanded for having a word that was not in the dictionary. So I can see why they want help with English instruction.
Today I observed a Science lesson in 5th grade, 'The Human Reproductive System' We would never be allowed to teach such a graphic lesson without a huge parent outcry - and it was graphic. The kids had to share books and there was a smallish chart on the board for reference. For the most part the kids were on task, and there were 47 in there with only two fans, the teacher had them repeat things many times, they used very explicit vocabulary: circumcision, penis, semen, etc - it was only the male today - but there was a minimal amount of reaction from the kids and boys were seated next to girls sharing books. Couldn't help but compare it to our sex education and the caution we use.
The kids get a big kick out of having an American on campus, I go out at recess time and talk to them. The boys are bolder than the girls, coming up and telling me the name of their friend, not their name.
Still don't know exactly what I am doing, but PC says to observe for the first 3 months. I think I want to begin a story hour and read aloud though, figure it will help with their English which is a big focus.
One thing is nice to see and that is that kids are kids everywhere. They are a little bit more respectful here - a good thing given the size of the classes - but I see kids all the time that remind me of one or another of the kids at home. One little boy is the spitting image of a kid I had in intersession, same size, shape, vacuous _expression. I smile everytime I see him.

Hoping all of you are well as you wind down the year. Take your well earned break, sleep in, and don't get sick,

Monday, June 06, 2005


The Real Challenge is About to Begin

June 7, 2005
Training is officially over, we have assembled here at the hubsite in Los Banos for our language interviews and our committment interviews. In Los Banos we stay at LakeView Hotel/Resort, but it is not what you immediately envision. By American standards it might be described as funky or down-at-the-heels, but it has become home to us because it is where we get together to unwind and behave a little like Americans for a few days. That is, we speak English, watch movies on computers, talk about and share our few books, commiserate with one another, and share our successes and failures, our apprehensions, and our hopes. So, with the great diaspora of the 21 volunteers in this section we have to bid this funky little haven good-bye.

As we get closer to being full-fledged volunteers, we have been a bit braver about going out and doing things with or without PC consent. Two weeks ago a group of us, 'the seniors' John, Jean, Ada and I, took a trip up the river to Pagsanjan Falls and had a really good time. It has been a major tourist attraction for a long time, and, up until Boracay became the ultimate tourist destination in the Philippines, people used to flock to this place. My host family said the buses used to come down the highway in droves with German and Japanese tourists. Business has fallen off a lot, which is too bad because so many people rely on it for their livlihood. There are 3,500 boatmen and they rotate the work so everyone gets to earn a little money through the week. Each boat takes two oarsmen and holds up to 4 passengers. But they don't like to take more than two because the work is really hard. They not only row up the river, they literally pull the boats upstream over the white water rapids. It is amazing to see them leap out of the boat, grip rocks with their toes and push/pull the boat over the rocks. They have to leap from one side of the boat to another. When they get through the rapids they pause for a few minutes to catch their breath and then go on. About halfway up all the boats stop for a rest and the boatmen get out and light up cigarettes. They are all relatively small men, but very 'buff' as one of the younger volunteers said after going up.

The river is relatively low at this time of year, so there was no real danger. Nonetheless, I was firmly strapped into my PC approved lifevest. At the falls themselves, we transferred to a bamboo raft and were pulled right through the falling water into a small cave behing the falls. It was pretty neat, and it was a lot of water! The whole trip took about 4 hours, and was well worth the 600peso + 300Peso tip, not quite $20.

This last week a bunch of us walked about 3 or 4 kilometers up Mt. Makiling to the mud springs. That was interesting too. It is a rainforest and felt a lot like Kilimanjaro except there were no monkeys and not very much wildlife of any kind. The mud springs are related to a dormant volcano. You can actually hear the blub, blub, blub as it bubbles up. They are the result of sulphuric acid dissolving the clay soils and they are really hot. According to the sign 80 degrees Centigrade and I'm not sure what that equates to in Fahrenheit, but I know it is hot and they are very acidic. The PH is 2. So no one went over and touched them we just watched from a distance, listened to the blubbing, and observed the fog rising up and nourishing the epiphytes in the trees way high overhead.

I will post pictures as soon as I figure out how to do it.

Now it is on to Manila for swearing in and moving to my permanent site to begin my life as a PCV, no longer a PCT.

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