Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Onwards to the Horizon

So. This is it. It all comes to an end. I'm currently sitting at a computer at the Peace Corps office in Manila. I have just finished all of my closing paperwork and am merely waiting on my medical approval. As of tomorrow morning I will be a RPCV (returned Peace Corps volunteer), even if I am yet to return to America. I will also be a "tourist" again, at least according to my visa. I'm feeling such a mixture of strong emotions at the moment its hard to express them all in words. I'm excited for my travels to come, I'm so sad to be leaving such amazing friends and family, I'm so excited that I will soon see other amazing friends and family that I have missed so dearly over the past years, I'm nervous about the uncertainty of my future regarding work/school/finances, and I'm proud of the work and goals I have accomplished in the passed 33 months. It’s all overwhelming!

Quickly approaching, if not all ready arrived, is the one of those "transition" periods in life. They involve so much, evoke such emotions, and its so exciting and scary at the same time. I love these periods. I feel most alive during them. I hope to open myself up to it and accept and prepare for the next challenges in life.

Before I embark on this transition stage however I want to take a moment to thank each and everyone of you that are reading this. If it wasn't for your support and friendship over this past 3 years I never would have made it into the Peace Corps, let alone have made it through it in such an positive manner. Each of you has been amazing, from packages, to cards, to emails, to text messages, to phone calls, to visits. It’s showed me how incomprehensively lucky I am to know and have such brilliant, giving, and supportive people in my life. I love you all and owe you each a debt of gratitude. May the sun always shine on each of you!

To my Filipino friends that read this, salamat gid sa tanan. Paglakat na ko, mahidlaw ko gid sang mga lugar sa Filipinas, pero pila ka hidlaw ako sang mga tawo sa Filipinas. Salamat gid sa mga bulig nyo, sa mga support nyo, sa mga friendships nyo. Syiempre indi ko manalipat ang Philippines, sa Philippines may mga amigo ko kag may mga family ko. Syeimpre mabalik ako so lugar nyo. Grabi gid kamo tanan!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Who and where am I?

This past weekend I traveled to my first host family’s house, which is located on the other side of the Panay Island, in the province of Capiz. This was the beginning of the end for my Peace Corps service. It was the first of many good byes I will be saying over the coming weeks. Upon arriving on Friday afternoon I found myself alone, standing outside, looking out over the surrounding area. I found myself in a reflective state, thinking back to April 2005 when I had first arrived to that spot, after only 8 days in the Philippines. I remembered being nervous, scared, excited, and completely unknowing of what the future would bring my way. It was the last time I remember thinking about "why" I had joined the Peace Corps. That was the moment when the "click click click" of going up a roller coaster stopped and the rush of going down started. Now, 32 months later, the ride is nearly over.

Before I left for the Peace Corps I was consistently asked why I had joined. This is no easy question. There are multitudes of answers, all of them are just as true as the next; to make a difference, explore the world, learn about myself, for the adventure, to change the world, the experience, etc. However I found myself falling back and giving one response more than any other. I want to make myself a better person, and in turn make the world a better place.

While standing in the front of my first host families house I thought back to the first time I had stood there and the intensity of it all; all my expectations, the unknown adventure that lay just ahead of me. Now standing their again I began to process. Somehow throughout it all, over the last 2 1/2 years, I had failed to take stock of what was happening to me, to realize if I was changing. Before I new it, as I have mentioned many times on this blog and to many of you, my life in the Philippines became just life. Nothing extraordinary, yet extraordinary in the since that it was my life. For the first time since starting my new life here I began to analyze what had taken place. What had happened? Who I was now versus who I was then.

Answer: I am completely clueless. Since stirring these questions awake I have yet to get a full night sleep, not from anxiety but just from deep down curiosity. This type of reflection is very healthy and I enjoy it very much, but I do not expect answers to come easily. That is okay though, there is no rush. I have time.

I did realize some things of immense importance to myself. I still wake up each morning and look at myself in the mirror and I am happy with who I see. Not in a narcissistic way, but in a analytical way. I look myself in my own eyes and I ask myself "is that a good person standing in front of me?" No one else on this planet can look in your eyes and really see the true answers to that question except yourself. Even then the true answers can still try and hide. This act of looking at myself in a mirror I have done since I was in high school. It is a lesson that my Father taught me. I have found great amounts of solace in. I am my own judge in this world, often I am the toughest, and I am the only one who’s opinion matters in the end.

I don't know if I'm a better person as a result of the last 2 1/2 years, but I do know I am still proud of what I see in the mirror. Perhaps this would mean very little to the me of nearly 3 years ago; perhaps this is how I grew. To the present me this as important to life as water. It matters not if I am lucky or unlucky, rich or poor, single or otherwise, blessed or cursed. I can honestly say that I would choose the lesser of all the previous if it meant I still found the person standing in front of me, the person looking deep inside my eyes, the person in the mirror, was still a good person; if I still took pride in being that person.

I do. And I aim to keep it that way. As long as I accomplish that small, immensly important, task I am making the world a better place.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Return of the Family

How lucky am I? Not only do my Mom and Dad travel over 10,000 miles to see me once, but they come back 18 months later to do it a second time. Marvelous! This time around we were missing one key component, my young and accomplished little sister. She is a grown up now, quite the opposite of her older brother. I wished dearly she could have been here but the cards didn't fall as such.

I managed to fully enjoy my time with my Mom and Dad. We did things a bit differ ant than we did the previous year. We visited my home, site, and friends first for 3 nights. As with last year everyone loved spending time with my both my Parents. My Dad was as big a hit as ever with my "Barcada" (drinking circle) in my barangay. After I returned home upon my Mom and Dad returning to America, my friends told me how approachable both my parents were. Due to an unwritten class system here, it is often the opposite for foreigners. I was very proud and happy that my parents did not fall into the norm.

While my parents were at my site my Host Agency through me an "early" going away party. They wanted my parents in attendance for the short program. Throughout the program I was a bit shy, I felt I had worked hard over the past two years but I didn't feel I deserved the unbelievable praise and honor that was being bestowed upon me (read further). My Parents did seem to enjoy hearing a bit more about my work and meeting many of the people I had worked with over the previous 30 months.

After three days at my site we moved onto the other side of the Philippines for a 5 day tour de Bohol. Bohol Island is one of my favorite locations in the Philippines, this was the fourth time I had gone. however it was the first time I stayed at the Bohol Bee Farm. The Bohol Bee farm was an unreal resort, all native with modern amenities and some of the best food I have every come across on this side of the world. Everything they serve is all organic and grown in their own gardens. We even at flower petal salads! After five days of their food I walked away feeling fantastic! They also provided us with vehicles to see the famed Bohol Chocolate hills, to take a slow boat down Loboc Rive, tour very unexpected but delightfully butterfly farm, see the cute Tarsiers (world smallest monkey), and do some incredible snorkeling (and for myself diving).

It was fantastic to spend so much time "just being" with my Mom and Dad. As we have all grown older this kind of time together becomes less and less. Its ironic in a way, seeing that as this type of time together lessons, how much more I treasure it and wish I had more. I guess I try to hold it like a bit of water in cupped hands. You can not hold it to tight or you will loose the water, and not tight enough and the water will drip away. How new agey does that sound? But it is how I feel about my time with my parents. I miss them dearly already and I can't wait till next May when I will get to see them again.

Eric the Rain God

Better late than never. At least that's what I'm telling all of you to make myself feel better. So here it is, some pictures of Mr. Eric Persha's time visiting me this past September. He came on late notice, too late for me to appeal to the sun gods to be kind to us. Eric did manage to make the farmers here very happy, upon his arrival he ended a very long dry streak of the wet season. For his short 1 1/2 weeks here it managed to rain every day, most days all day. We still managed to have a fantastic time.

Of all my friends that I wanted to see the Philippines, Eric was atop the list. Not for my own ego of wanting to show off the wonderful place I live, Eric and I live vicariously through one another; I envying his crazy adventures and he mine. I wanted Eric to see the Philippines because from the moment I took my first hike through rice paddies, my first ride on a local banca boat, my first ride through the mountains on a bike, and the first time I scuba dived, I had always known that he would absolutely love it here. While Eric was here I managed to show him a bit of all the pre-mentioned things, and a bit more.

The bit more included the usual must see Filipino stuff, such as; cock fights, local drinking circles, cheap massages, etc. Mostly while doing it all, I felt a bit in repeat mode. I have been very lucky while living here, I have had 8 people from the States and 4 from Europe come to visit me. So showing off the beauty of my Island was something I was already well practiced at.
Yet it was just nice to have 10 days with one of my best friends to relax, talk, and enjoy.

On Eric's last day we decided to throw a "despadida" party. This is a local going away party, and we did it "Barrio" style. We bought a goat, killed it, and made it into one of mine, and Eric's most recent, favorite dishes. Calderata Kanding. Above is the before and below is the after.

I think this was the first vacation that the two of us took together that we weren't both more exhausted after it than before it. Perhaps were growing up, or if not growing up, than growing older.