Friday, May 27, 2005


I've arrived safely

Mabuhay everyone,
After 19 hours of flying we landed in Manila at 10:45PM on Thursday, March 31. At breakfast today - 8:30 Friday - we figured it was 4:30 Thursday in Riverside. I have to make sure about the time difference.
Flying over the Northwest Territory and Alaska was really something to see, very white, icy, mountainous, cold. So many lakes, some of them huge, I could hardly believe my eyes. And, of course, there were lots of pipelines crisscrossing the ground. On one river, we could see the trail of snowmobilers going down the center. Everything was frozen solid. Flying over Japan was rather like looking down on our Calif. mountains. Now we are burning up, it is HOT and HUMID. They have taken us to a hotel on the bay, and right across the way you can see the reason Peace Corps comes to the Philippines, great poverty exists here. At midnight last night as the bus brought us in, the streets were very busy with street vendors, and traffic all bustling about. We have spent all morning filling out forms, (Joe, you would go crazy.) and our official address is LONG: c/o U.S. Peace Corps,6th Floor Bayside, PNB Financial Center, Diosdado Macapagal Ave, Pasay City, Philippines - we had to write that at least 8 times, maybe more, I have writers cramp.
Our group has 80 people in it, 5 married couples, 4 people doing a second stint, 5 people older than me. It is a nice bunch, all very friendly.
This particular connection to the internet is costing me quite a bit, so I promise to write more later on.
Take care,
Ms. Verwiel


Dear all,
This is my first trip to an internet cafe. We took a jeepney in to the mall, two other teachers and myself. The jeepney trip was interesting, the lady in front of me was putting together small bags of dried fish to sell somewhere. I keep hearing that the people of the Philippines work at a slower pace, but watching someone use up their bus riding time to make things to sell seems very industrious to me. The mall is a big 3 story building, very noisy, crowded. One lady, Ada, needed a pair of sandals so we went into McJim department store. There are clerks everywhere! They all dress in uniforms, too. We found some Merrell sandals for 3,800 pesos which works out to be in the neighborhood of $75-$80. Then found some Fila for P999, about $20.
Still cannot find a battery for my camera, and am a little afraid to plug in the computer until I know for sure that the electricity is safe. I'm looking for a good adapter and a surge protector.
Training is intense, we will be at this resort until next Wed. Island Cove, Cavite, just outside Manila. It reminds me of Jamaica, and is not as nice as the hotel in Arusha.
Katie, your e-mail has been returned to me, someone please give me another address.
The teachers are ready to go, so I will sign off.
Take care,

Hi kids,
In Tagalog it is "Magandang umaga" for good morning.
The Philippines is very different from the US but in some ways it is surprisingly similar.
School is out right now, since summer is beginning here, summer vacation began about two weeks ago for elementary schools and high schools are having graduations this week. They get two months off and begin again in June. Classes sometimes have 50 or 60 kids in them, it is very crowded. And President Arroyo has just decided that instruction in Math and Science will be in English. This is a problem because most of the kids don't speak English and the teachers only have a limited ability.
I am staying with a family right now, they have what is called a compound where about 6 different families all live together. Four sisters one brother and one son with all their children all live in this compound. It is a very busy place. They have lots of dogs and chickens and roosters. You would not like to see the animals, Kelsey, they are not cared for very well. One dog was hit by a bus a long time ago, his leg healed, but it is bent behind him and he walks on 3 legs. The roosters are kept for cock fighting. There are lots and lots of feral dogs and cats roaming around and they all look very skinny and mangy.
The house or compound where I live is right on a highway. There are two main ways to get from place to place. One way is a jeepney, which is like a stretch jeep without windows and everyone crams inside on benches, some people hang onto the back. The other way is a tricycle, which is a motorcycle with a sidecar. You sometimes see a trike with 5 people stuffed into or on the sidecar. It is dangerous because the traffic is crazy, and little kids are walking right next to the street.
Food is good, lots of rice and fish and vegetables. Sadly, no good coffee.
Please tell all the kids in class hello for me, they can write to me at and I will add them to my list. Also, I will write a letter and send it soon.
Hope everything is going well at Rivera and you are doing your best to learn all the things you need to know.
Your old teacher and friend,
Ms. Verwiel

Hello to everyone,
Today was the first big rainstorm we have had since I got here, it really poured for about 2 hours. I asked if the rainy season is beginning and they assured me it was still the dry season, but sometimes they get rain even in the dry season. We had to come into Santa Cruz for lunch and the streets were a lot cleaner, but the gutters were full of water.
I have been here for about two weeks, there is so much to tell.
People are very friendly and helpful, always smiling; except for the jeepney drivers. I have yet to see one of them smiling, but just watching the stress of their work I am not surprised. A jeepney is a bit like a stretch jeep without windows, there are benches down either side and anywhere from 10 to 15 people cram inside with all their packages and bags, then someone (usually a young man) will 'back ride'; they stand on a little rail and hang on. John, one of the volunteers in my barangay (neighborhood) was riding with all of us on a jeepney and an older lady tried to pick his pocket. I never expected it to be a woman doing such a thing - and an older one to boot. But the jeepney drivers are not smiling because they are contending with incredible traffic, collecting fares, watching for passengers flagging them down, making change, honking their horns; it is amazing and scary. I got on a jeepney that was hired by Peace Corps to take us to our neighborhood and the tires were totally bald - I don't think they make much money for all the work they do. Jeepneys seem to run all hours of the day and night. I know this because the house of my host family is right on the highway, and they seem to be always there.
Now cycle drivers are a slightly different story, they often are smiling - not always, but often. In the bigger towns the competition is intense so they are less friendly, but in the neighborhood they will talk to you as they take you along. A cycle is a Yamaha or Honda cycle with a sidecar attached. And they cram a lot of people into those sidecars too. Jeepneys and cycles are all decorated and painted with names and sayings, they are extremely colorful. Most of the jeepneys have phrases painted on like 'Jesus save us' or God protect us' and with the traffic and the tires and the craziness of the drivers, you need all the help you can get.
The best way to travel is a pedicab. That is a bicycle with a sidecar. It is quiet. (You cannot imagine how much I miss quiet.) The drivers will often talk to you and you can really see the countryside as you go along. Of course the pedicabs are just for very short trips. The Filipinos all take cabs everywhere, even just a few blocks. So there are little tricycle stations every few blocks up and down the road. They just go out to the street and yell for a cab and one of them pulls up, you climb in, and off you go.
I live in a house that is about 1 mile from the school I have to go to, so I have been walking, they think I am nuts. But we have been getting no exercise and they feed you incredible amounts of food, so I said I must walk. People all along the road call out good morning, they think it is interesting to see an American walking down the road with a backpack. Sometimes they call out 'hey, Joe' All Americans are Joe.
Yesterday I got to school a little early and went into the rest house to study. This is a little nipa hut with built in benches. I was working on my Tagalog when a little old man came in and asked what I was doing. Thinking he was a janitor or in some way connected with the school, I began explaining myself, he spoke good English. He started right in with questions like; how old are you? Are you married? etc. personal questions. When he found out my husband was dead he suggested I marry him, it would be a good thing, I should think about it. I got my books together and headed for the classroom as quickly as I could, he followed me right along, where was I going? Like I said, they are a very friendly people, but that is a bit more friendly than is good.
We have had to interview local officials as part of our cultural training. We have met the mayor, the assistant governor, the school superintendent, district supervisor, and police chief. The police chief was like a stereotypical small town cop from a movie, it was rather surreal. Would only tell us his first name, Roberto. He was pot bellied, wore sunglasses, and gave us the suspicious what do you want stare. Everyone tell us that corruption is the number one problem in the Philippines, maybe that is why he is was suspicious. Are we Americans investigating something?
Literally everyone names corruption as a huge problem, from the pedicab driver to the ambassador. But no one does anything about it, it is just accepted.
My time is up at the internet cafe. I have not proof read this e-mail, so if there are errors please forgive them. I meant to give you my mail address, but forgot to bring it with me, so I will do that next time. In the meantime I love getting e-mails, even though I can only get them once in awhile.
Take care,
(take care of the country too, I have no idea what is going on over there, I am quite literally in another world)
Mom / Patty / Ms. Verwiel

April 23, 2005
Hi to all,
Last Thursday they told us where our actual living site will be. I am going to San Juan, Batangas. It is sort of in the middle of the Philippines, but on Tayabas Bay so it is coastal and is supposed to have some lovely white sand beaches as well as some mountains with hiking trails. It sounds very pretty. It is home to the world's lowest volcano, which erupted in the not too distant past. I will be working with an elementary school on English, Math and Science and maybe some ICT which would most likely be teaching basic WORD skills.

Also last Thursday we had water safety. They took all 21 of the Southern Luzon people to a resort on Manila Bay called Puerto Azul, it was very nice. We had to get on a boat with our life jackets on (as if I would ever get on a boat without one) and jump off, then we had to swim out to another boat and back to the first boat and get back in. There were no ladders or ropes to help and the sides of the boat were about 3' over my head. So you have to hang on, jump up and climb in. I have some significant black and blue bruises on my legs where I threw them over the side while hanging on. But I got in - with a little help. The people who felt they were competent swimmers had the option of helping turn over a capsized boat, and they managed to do it after several tries. I would have been a greater hindrance than help for sure. On the drive to this Puerto Azul we passed the world's lowest volcano. Had a great view of it, it sits in the middle of a lake, and we were told you can hike up the volcano and swim in the lake that is inside the crater. One of the PCVs with us had done this and there were warning posted the next day that the volcano was unsafe as it was showing signs of activity. So when I get ready to do the hike I will have to check the Philippine Volcano website.

We spent Wed, Thur, Fri, and Sat doing training at the Lakeview Hotel in Los Banos. The training is very repititous and everyone is getting extremely tired of it. We had to come back to our host families on Saturday. My host family is very nice, but the truth be told, I wish I could just go to my site and go to the host family there and start getting used to the place where I am going to live.

Sundays the son in law takes me to church in Santa Cruz, he has a tricycle - the scooter with a sidecar - and he sings in the choir. This church is also open-air, like the one in Manila, Our Lady of Fatima. This one is The Immaculate Conception. It has a beautiful, high-ceilinged nave (is that the right word for the long center aisle?) with high arches on the sides. There is more seating on the other side of the arches and beyond that it is wide open. The birds fly in and out. The altar is very elaborate, carved, gold, and all the statues are dressed in clothes and robes. After mass people go to all the statues and rub the hands or feet and hang garlands of sampaguita flowers on them. Ronnie takes me to the 7:30 mass because that is the one the choir sings at and because it is in English.

Today, after mass, he needed to run some errands so I went along with him. We went to his father's house/compound in a nearby neighborhood. The streets are narrow, barely room for 2 trikes to pass, and the houses come right down to within 3 feet of the street proper. We went through the gates of the compound and into a nice garden. They had pet rabbits that they raise for sale, two turtledoves, some other birds in cages. I waited in his brother's house which has 3 stories, the kids were doing laundry and they took me up to the third floor where they hang the clothes. It is like a rooftop garden with a view of the town and the lake. I asked if there was any way to walk on the lakeshore. They looked rather surprised and said, "No, too muddy." So there is a lake right here that I have never been to, and it looks like I may never get there either.

I don't know if I have given you all my mailing address, so here it is - perhaps again: (sounds like I want mail, doesn't it?)
Patricia Verwiel PCT
U.S. Peace Corps
P.O. Box 7013
Airmail Exchange Office
N.A.I.A. 1301
Pasay City, Philippines

and my e-mail address is:

Hope everyone is well. I heard we got a new pope, but that is about all I have heard. Don't know what Bush / Cheney / etal are up to, maybe it is just as well.

Take care, Love,
Mom, Patty, Ms. Verwiel

Magandang umaga everyone, (I am making slow but steady progress in Tagalog)
Baseball in the Philippines! Yes! I was under the impression that they only played basketball here and so was a little bummed. But we met with the barangay captain the other day and were talking about activities available for the kids and he invited us to come watch a basketball game the next day at 2:00. So at 1:45 we walked through the sweltering heat and humidity to the barangay hall. (It is really hot here. I have always said it can't get too hot for me, but the heat is really getting to me here. Actually, it isn't the heat as much as the humidity. I'd give anything for a nice dry Santa Ana). Anyway the captain, Dante, piles us into his jeep - and this must be a luxury because most people have a cycle or a bicycle or nothing) but we all pile in. He takes us to a field where they are playing baseball!! Actually, fast pitch softball, boys about 14 years old. The field was one corner of a large area where caribou (water buffalo) were grazing, and other kids were flying kites. It was a wonderful sight, the rough infield, knee high grass in the outfield and caribou in deep center. They played a lot like our family games, lots of errors, lots of laughing, sharing gloves and equipment. I asked why they played in the hottest part of the day and Dante just laughed. Made me think of Mom talking about us in Tucson. How we sort of lolled for the first month or so and then, wham! we never gave the heat another thought.
After the game they gave us a tour of the barangay livilihood project. The barangay purchased 18 sewing machines which they let out to families. Then the families use them to sew purses and bags which are sold to a buyer in Manila, mostly Chinese he said. The family can make about 200P per gross of bags (144 bags), about $4.00. But it is better than nothing. Poverty is a very serious problem here.
On the way home he took us the long way through a couple of different neighborhoods and through 'squatters town'. It is an approved area for anyone to build a shack and live. The truly poor live here, there is a common water pump and many, many children. The captain said that is the thing they do best, make children.
It was a very interesting day.
Take care, love and miss you all,

May 18, 2005

Hello to all,
It has been awhile since writing because I went on my site visit and was unable to get to the internet. San Juan is internet-challenged; I will probably only get to go online once a week by going into Batangas City, about an hour / hour and a half away by bus.
Here's an update for you all.
Monday, May 9 I shared a van with 3 other volunteers to Batangas City where our individual supervisors met us and took us off to our respective sites. My supervisor is Betty Gonoon, the principal of Central West School. Right off the bat I was nervous because she had us stop for lunch at a turo-turo store. (Did I get the name right, Susan?) It is like a small roadside stand selling food that I was not too sure about, so I got a pepsi (always safe) some rice and the crisipiest stick of meat I could see, ate about half, drank all the pepsi, and did not get a bit sick. Then we rode the bus to San Juan, it seemed like we were going through some low mountains, but when I asked her she said no. I have yet to see a topo map of the area, so I am not sure what the hills were. I did see a sign for the Philippine Grand Prix track or something, Alex. They must have auto racing here. No sign of any beaches, I was bummed.

We arrived at the school, it is in the center of town, built by the Americans in 1946, pretty rickety now, but nice trees and plants and such. I met some of the teachers working on various reports since school is out for summer until June 6. The reports are voluminous and either hand written or typed on an old fashioned typewriter. Compilations of statistics and scores - they are totally into testing.

The teacher who is to be my counterpart, Juliet Dimaculangang, is my age and about twice as wide as me, very energetic. Suddenly she states in no uncertain terms, "You will come home with me, you will sleep with me, I will show you the beach in the morning." Nervous again, I send a text message to PC asking about this. I mean aren't I supposed to go to a host family that has been checked out? They text me back, "It's up to your supervisor." Off we go in a tricycle that comfortably holds me and maybe tiny little Eva - it was not a comfortable ride.
Her house is in a barangay that is closer to the eastern part of the town and there are beaches to the east. However, as we arrive, she tells me that there will be a lot of people there since it is her husband's birthday. And boy are they celebrating! Keyboard, microphone, gunshots, food, etc. I am trying to keep a low profile, impossible for an American in the Philippines, everyone wants to have a look at me. And everyone is really friendly and nice, but I am really hot, sticky, and tired.

Finally the daughter asks if I'd like to take a shower, you better believe it. Bathroom is less than basic and I shared it with a giant flying cockroach, but at least I am not sticky anymore. The party has quieted down and we are sitting out on the porch / terrace where all the men keep wandering in to talk to us, they have been having a 'barcada' and are pretty drunk. When it is late enough that everyone wants to go to sleep I am completely taken by surprise when told that half the bed is for me. I took my malong ( a long tube of cloth, open at both ends) and climbed inside, pulled my feet in and pulled my head in and made myself go to sleep. My supervisor was not fazed at all, I peeked out during the night and, sure enough, she was sleeping on 'her side'. She informed me that ahe and her husband have not shared a bed for 5 years. TMI

The next day I went off - roading in that same tricycle, stuffed in with that same supervisor, over rocky, dirt roads to the beach. This was an undeveloped beach where fisherman live in nipa huts and their boats are pulled up on the sand. Sadly the water was dirty, filled with algae, and there was trash there too. They told me the pollution of Quezon province comes into this small cove. Kids were swimming in the water, but I didn't think it was a good idea.

At last they took me to my host family house. It is a big house, but still has bathroom that use the bucket bath and toilets that you must flush with a bucket. My room is big, but since I had no mosquito net with me (big mistake) I got lots of bites, I made sure to take my malaria medicine. The family is a mother and father whose kids are grown, two sons work in Italy, one son in Manila and a daughter that was a nurse in Saipan but committed suicide last year over a love affair. A niece lives there and Ate Rory, the mother, said the niece takes the place of her daughter and I take the place of her sister who died last month. Kuya Tito is the father and he hardly ever says anything just chuckles everytime he sees me. Analyn is the niece and she is the quietest girl I have ever met, she just graduated from high school and has agreed to be my language tutor when I go back. The family raises pigs, chickens, owns 4 jeepneys, rice farms and mango grove. They are pretty well to do. Since it is May and they are Catholic they took me to the little roadside chapel across from the house where the neighborhood women gather to say a novena to San Juan and a Rosary. It is all in Tagalog but I pretend I know what I am doing. She took me to 6:00 mass on Friday, the day I was leaving and introduced me to everyone, Billy would love this place for all the introductions.

Wednesday I went up into the mountains with a mobile teacher. I had hoped to watch her literacy project in action, but since they had a visitor - me - they cancelled classes and had a big get together at one of the learners houses. I got to help them make cassava. We peeled it - it looks rather like sweet potatoes, it's a root, but the skin is very thick - then it was boiled, then it was mashed in a big hollowed out palm trunk with a long, heavy masher - it was about 5 feet long and maybe 4 or 5 inched in diameter. It was tiring and people kept taking turns with the mashing. They added a mixture of buko juice and buko (coconut water and coconut meat from green coconuts) and peanut butter, sugar, and condensed milk. You got a thick paste and people took great gobs, spread margarine on it and seemed to love it. I tried it and it was OK.

My last adventure at site was a trip to the pretty beach. The nice resort beaches are in the south and they are clean and pretty, no waves though. The resorts are way expensive, the vast majority of Filipinos will never get to go there.

I left for Batangas City Friday morning, met Mary - another volunteer - at the National Bookstore. We were so excited to find a real bookstore we could hardly contain ourselves - seriously; they not only don't have coffee, they don't have bookstores. I mean to tell you I am hurting here. Then we headed back to Lakeview, where we went awol (sort of) because PC wants you to always be with your host family. But we were in complete agreement that we were not going back yet, and Erin - another volunteer arrived and also agreed. So we stayed in Los Banos at our own expense and acted like normal people for two days. No community entry activities, no Tagalog, no PC oversight. It was great. We even went into Manila (that is really on the down low) on Saturday and met some of Mary's family, went to a mall where I bought an umbrella, got back by 6:00. We had dinner at this nice little restaurant on the lake and - hold your hats - I drank 3 beers. I've been joking that I will come home a Tagalog speaking alcoholic.

Now I am back in Bubukal and we are working on our community project. The four of us have decided to put together a 'make n take' workshop for the teachers at our school. We just started working on it today and we have to pull it off on May 30. Wish us luck.

So that was my site visit. Not terribly exciting. I met lots and lots of people. The town is not very big, it has no internet, no McDonald's, no coffee, no books (the library has fewer books than I have stored in my beautiful 'little house in the back yard' - but the librarian is very nice), no drug store. It is pretty rural, main street is the highway and it is narrow and pot-holed. So it is not a pretty place. There are some old houses here, but I haven't had a chance to really explore anything except the central square area. I still hope to find some place with a view of the beach and build a nipa hut, we'll see. I am sure I can make it work, but am not looking forward to starting over. I have just gotten used to Bubukal / Santa Cruz and now have to learn a new place all by myself, no fellow volunteers within 2 hours of me. So I am a little low, but this too shall pass.

There are two web sites you can go to to see some pictures of us: and
you have to sign up for an account for Anthony and Katie Yvanovich's but it is free, they send you a password and it fills a requirement for PC so they can post anything they want. Mary's does not require it, I don't think.
I am going to set up one myself one of these days.

Hope all is well with everyone.
Happy Birthday to Joseph. I don't have your e-mail address Joe.
Happy Birthday to Lori, too. You must be getting pretty big now.
Happy Birthday, Carl and Susie.
I need Paul's e-mail.
School's almost out there and about to begin here, have a good 3 day rest before you start over.
I must get off this now.
Take care. Miss you all a lot.

May 30, 2005
Hi everyone,
As I write this, it is Monday afternoon here, so you are still sound asleep resting up for the big Memorial Day softball game. I will definitely be thinking "Centerfield" for you all.

I did have fun yesterday! A few of us, 3 other volunteers and me, sort of went AWOL and went to Pagsanjan Falls. I don't have my camera with me, but will definitely post those pictures to my blog (which is almost ready for people to view) and you can see for yourself what it was like. You can also go to a couple websites with that name and see some pictures.
Peace Corps has been very weird about us going to these falls, and everyone has been more than a little annoyed about it. They don't seem to have a good reason, just don't want us to go. So yesterday we went without permission and had a great time.
It is a boat ride up river and over 16 white water rapids, boatmen actually pull/push the boat through the rapids, over and around the rocks. In places they have placed poles horizontally and roll the boat over these poles. At this time of year the water is relatively low so the trip is not dangerous, nonetheless I had my big, yellow, PC issue lifejacket firmly attached to me.
When you reach the falls themselves, it is very pretty, not anything like Niagara of course, but there is a lot of water coming down about 50 feet overhead. The canyon walls are maybe 200 ft. high, and you can know exactly what it looks like by watching "Apocolypse Now," it was filmed there. At the falls we transferred to a bamboo raft and the boatmen pulled the raft right through the falls into the cave behind them. It was pretty neat.
The river reminded me a lot of the Black River in Jamaica, except no mangroves or crocodiles. Crocodiles are in trouble in this country, there are only an extimated 100 pairs in the wild. At least that is one statistic I read somewhere.
Watching these boatmen in action was a fascinating trip in itself. They are as I imagine the Sherpa are in Nepal, small and very tough and when they stop to take a break they all have a cigarette. They paddle the boats up river and as they approach rough water they leap out gripping rocks with their toes and push or shove or pull the boats along. They reminded me of Gollum, clinging to rocks with their legs bent in weird angles to handle the boat.
As you can see we survived with no problem other than a slight sunburn, but we have not actually told our PC supervisors about our adventure.

Today we presented our 'make n take' workshop for teachers at our school, it went well and we are glad it is done. Now we can concentrate on getting ready to go to our permanent sites.

Hope all are well and you have a wonderful ball game. Enjoy your hotdogs and hamburgers and beer and pepsi. If I can manage it I will go have a beer in honor of the day.
Take care, love and miss you all, Patty
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