It’s Not “Goodbye,” It’s “See you Soon!”

Today is my last day in Palawan — I will be flying out of Puerto Princesa tonight at 7:30PM, and I can already feel the nostalgia settling in. Bittersweet last day, for sure!

This morning, the staff surprised me with an original “bon voyage” song (sung to the tune of “Happy Birthday”), some delicious muffins, and a lovely Thank You card. Gosh, I am going to miss these people! I think one of the only things that makes leaving not so sad is trusting that I will be back. This summer has marked my life in significant ways, and I can’t imagine not returning here at a later time. In fact, Ami and Marcus were talking this morning about what we could do when I come back (I love that we all assume I will be back)!!

Thank You Letter from ROH Staff

I also want to say thank you to all my friends and family back home who have been following my blog. I loved opening my email every day to a slew of alerts that people had commented on my blog — the support and encouragement from home was definitely appreciated.

I will post again once I am safely back in New Hampshire (can’t wait to see my mom, dad, and brother at the airport, and, of course, Lani, when I get home), which I expect to be late Friday night (August 1st). I think after that, this particular blog will be retired, but this trip has definitely stirred in me the desire to keep adventuring, so who knows when it will be necessary to start up a new blog!

Long Weekends=So Relaxing

This weekend is a long weekend for us due to Eid, a holiday on Tuesday related to Ramadan, so we will return to work on Wednesday.

Yesterday (Sunday), Noelle, Susan, and I babysat Luke and Aliya (Ami and Marcus’ kids) here at Susan’s house so that Ami and Marcus could have a kid-free Sunday afternoon. We had a great time painting pictures, building forts, reading books, etc., but boy, by dinnertime, after an entire afternoon of children, I was exhausted. Clearly, I am not ready for children of my own yet. Anyway, needless to say, Noelle, Susan, and I all went to bed early last night!

Today, I started to pack (yikes!) and then Susan and Noelle and I spent the mid-morning and the early afternoon at a nearby beach. The weather was slightly overcast, but it was hot, so we enjoyed walking the beach and wading in the ocean. This beach was particularly beautiful because of the gnarled mangrove trees that were scattered throughout the water. Also, with the overcast skies matching the color of the water, it literally looked like the world went on forever — the horizon blending right into sky. Noelle remarked that looking at that view, she could understand why centuries ago people thought the earth was flat! Speaking of people who lived centuries ago, the other day I read an article about a Boston woman who just had her 115th birthday! She was born in 1899 — can you imagine that?! Apparently, she is the 5th oldest person in the world. Anyway, I keep remarking on how much things have changed in the last two and a half months, but by golly, this lady has sure seen so much change it is a little absurd! I guess by the time you pass 100 years old you are an expert at adapting!

Tonight will be a low-key night, but I am planning on baking some brownies — I am going to try to make Nutella brownies, which are apparently delicious and only require 3 ingredients (Nutella, flour, eggs). I hope they will be as good as the recipe claims!

Week 9 Updates

Tuesday (7/22): Noelle and I gave a presentation to the staff on collecting and analyzing qualitative data, with an emphasis on how to effectively conduct focus groups. When focus groups are done correctly, they can yield some great data that can demonstrate impact, act as a needs assessment, or bring out important opinions on different relevant topics. Noelle has experience conducting actual focus groups, so she will be assisting as the staff hold their first focus group next weekend with some of the moms from our communities. I am sad I will not be here to see how it goes, but I trust that it will yield useful and important data!

Wednesday (7/23): One of those beautifully ordinary days! Although, my mind was a little preoccupied with thoughts of my brother, who broke his hand in three places and had to have surgery, and I was thankful for the ability to FaceTime. Last night, I got to send my virtual “get well wishes” and talk to him for awhile, which I really appreciated. It is hard to be so far away when someone you love has a bad injury.

Thursday (today, 7/24): This morning I went to one of the high school classes at San Jose High School. Today’s topic was relationships. It was a small class (nearly half the students were at some kind of event for athletes), but it was productive. The kids were earnest and the discussion was great. Last Thursday I went to a different class at a different school and the kids there were bouncing off the walls, so today’s group was a mighty contrast — much calmer and no shouting! The rest of the day was spent doing work in the office. This afternoon, when I got home from work, I spent some time tending to my worms — the amount of vermi-compost they are producing is impressive. I collected a bunch of it and put it on the vertical garden at Susan’s house, which is sprouting bean plants and eggplant plants and some assorted greens. The vermi-compost has such a rich texture, it is no wonder it is so good for the plants! This week, the worms get to snack on carrot peels and eggshells. I hope they will continue to produce their vermi-compost. Tonight, Ami and her family and Charlotte (the British nursing student who is working for Roots of Health for a month) and her family (husband and 2 young children) came for dinner. We had a full house and plenty of kid energy! Indeed, I spent time entertaining the kids by hunting for lizards and singing songs (like “There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly”). Gosh, sometimes I think I would get so much satisfaction out of being a kindergarten or lower elementary school teacher!

Quote for my last week: As my time has dwindled from months to weeks to days, I keep reflecting on how absolutely blessed I was to be invited here. I cannot imagine a better placement for my Albright internship and I am already perusing the Wellesley fellowship page to see what it would take for me to get funding to come back! Anyway, amid all my bittersweet reflection, I stumbled upon the following quote in the Nicholas Sparks’ book I am reading:

“But I am different now than I was then. Just like I was different at the end of the trip than I’d been at the beginning. And I’ll be different tomorrow than I am today. And what that means is that I can never replicate that trip. Even if I went to the same places and met the same people, it wouldn’t be the same. My experience wouldn’t be the same. To me, that’s what traveling should be about. Meeting people, learning to not only appreciate a different culture, but really enjoy it like a local, following whatever impulse strikes you.” (The Choice pg. 120)

So, even as I start thinking about if/when I can come back, I am reminded that even if I do return, the experience I have had these past 10 weeks can never be replicated. And so, it is with this quote in mind that I will do my best to savor all the moments of this last week.

“It’s Wind-ing”

When I was a toddler, I was afraid of the wind. In fact, my parents were forced to hold my 2nd birthday party in the garage on a beautiful sunny August day simply because there was a steady breeze blowing through the trees. Well, I have discovered in the last few days that while I no longer resist going outside when it is windy, the fear I had of the wind all those years ago is still slightly present. We have had several periods of fairly strong wind over the last two days and every time the trees start bending under the pressure of the wind, I feel slightly nervous. Also, when the wind picks up, it knocks these large fruit things off the trees out back and when they fall they make an awful thumping sound, which definitely does not help ease my anxiety (however unfounded it may be).

Anyway, aside from the wind, the last two days have been characterized by long stretches of no power. Oh the woes of the brownout!! While brownouts have been a somewhat common occurrence during my time here, the ones this weekend have been particularly frustrating, mostly because they are lasting several hours at a time. Yesterday afternoon, the power was out for about 7 hours, and then last night, the power was out almost all night. Today, the power was out earlier and then it went out again after coming back for maybe 2ish hours. As I was complaining a little to Noelle, she simply looked at me and said: “Well, it’s not the States, you know.” Ah yes, good reminder for me to limit my frustration and impatience. I am sure some of the outages have been due to the strong winds, but brownouts are frequent here because the electric company is somewhat mismanaged and does not always organize themselves effectively to provide electricity to the city. I think if it was just related to the weather, it would be a little less frustrating. Well, at any rate, Noelle is right — all I can do is sit back and have a little (or a lot) of patience, which is exactly what everyone else has to do too. I do hope the power returns consistently soon though!

Last night, Noelle and I watched “Saving Mr. Banks,” which was an excellent movie about how Walt Disney came to acquire the rights to the story of Mary Poppins. Well, after watching that movie, I felt inspired to rewatch Mary Poppins, and I was able to download it in the few hours we had power last night, so I think I’ll hunker down and watch that. It’s funny, when the wind picks up, one of the dogs, Chica, either runs into the bathroom or scurries under one of the beds — sometimes I think it would be nice if I could follow her, but I think that would be classified as odd behavior, so I’ll refrain, haha.

Also, my visa expires tomorrow, so I went to the local immigration office with Susan this morning to get it extended to cover the rest of my stay. Unfortunately, it is not possible to extend it just for a week and a half, so I had to pay the full price to get it extended for a month. If I wanted to, I could now stay until August 22nd. Besides the cost of changing my plane ticket, it’s a little tempting, but I am just SO, SO excited to see my family next weekend. I do have to say though, I am definitely not looking forward to all that travel. Traveling here, my flights got shorter and shorter, but traveling back, the time on each plane increases. Oh well, all that travel has been more than worthwhile!

Ordinary Days

Well, I realize it has been a few days since I last posted. In my first several weeks here, everything felt (at least somewhat) novel, so I always had things to share, but now, my days have begun to feel completely ordinary (in a nice “I-am-settled-here” kind of way). I have never been one to keep a daily journal, so this the first time ever that I have consistently reported about the events/feelings of my day, but as the ordinariness takes over, it becomes a little more difficult for me to find the motivation to write. Anyway, I will definitely do my best to continue to post for the next 10 days — I know that in a few years’ time, I will want a complete record of my time in Palawan.

Anyway, yesterday morning I went with Marcus and Aika (one of the teachers on the Fin Lit team) to Little Tondo to scope out some potential sites for hosting classes in a structure that is at least covered (providing some protection from the sun/rain). Little Tondo was the only community (of six) that I had yet to visit, so I wanted to go to make sure that I saw all six communities before I left. I have realized that although the six communities are all relatively close together (about a 15-30 minute drive north of our office), each community is geographically distinct. Aplaya is on the beach, the houses built on stilts to avoid being flooded during high tide and/storm; Unang Lahi and Busngol are situated way up in the mountains, isolated from the highway by a winding and bumpy road that snakes through the mountainside; Pulang Lupa is characterized by its red soil (the remnants of an old mercury mine) and the presence of the city landfill; Magsasaka is also mountainous, the view from the hut we teach at a stunning picture of the towering mountains in the distance; and Little Tondo, as I noticed yesterday, is full of greenery and trees. When I first started taking a few pictures when I was out in the communities, I wondered if I would later be able to tell which pictures were taken where, especially among the more mountainous communities, but I quickly realized that each community has a signature characteristic, which makes it perfectly distinct from the others.

Last night, I headed to Ami’s house after work and spent the night there. We had a “Wellesley women” movie night and watched the Dallas Buyer’s Club, which was an intense, but excellent, movie. It is based on a true story about a man in the mid-80’s who is diagnosed with AIDS and his struggle to get the best medicine at a time when the drug trials approved by the FDA seemed to be doing more harm than good. Like I said, a little more intense than we were expecting but thought-provoking nonetheless. Aside from the movie, we talked about Wellesley (of course) and all the connections a place like Wellesley provides you with. For me at least, there is definitely nowhere I would rather go to college.

In a few minutes we are headed out to lunch — its Sunday, so we always eat out instead of in. This afternoon I think I’ll wash out the shirts I bought at the Ukay-Ukay store yesterday (the one across the street from our office got a new shipment of clothes in yesterday, so naturally, Ami and I had to stop by after work) and then maybe watch some TV. Ami and Marcus lent me their DVD’s of the first season of “Homeland” (a show by the producers of 24), so I think I’ll watch an episode or two and see what I think.

Spiders and Rainstorms

Last night, just as I was getting ready for bed, I spotted a huge spider on the towel that was hanging on the back of the bathroom door. I have a real fear of spiders and snakes, so needless to say, I was quite distressed at the sight of that big eight-legged creature! Ew. After debating what to do about the spider while I brushed my teeth, and then texting Mom about its presence (yes, even 10,000 miles away my mom provides such levelheaded advice), I grabbed a pair of shoes and stuck one on my hand and one on my foot and steeled myself to flick the spider off the towel and onto the wall or floor where I could smack it or stomp on it. Unfortunately, my attempts to flick the spider off the towel resulted in the spider scurrying onto the ceiling. So, after ascertaining that Susan was still awake, I asked her if she could help me get rid of the large, unwelcome visitor. She pulled out the insect spray and blasted it a few times and it was dead, thank goodness. It was a distressing few moments for me, mostly because I was afraid if I left it alone it would crawl into my bed in the night. Good thing we got rid of it!

While I did not have any more visits from spiders, last night was a little bit of a restless night because we had a huge storm blow through (we think it was from Typhoon Glenda that struck Manila today). The winds were quite strong and the rain was absolutely pouring down. This morning, we learned that one of our client’s roofs had blown off, which made me immensely thankful for Susan and Oscar’s sturdy house. We had another bout of strong rain and wind in the mid-afternoon today, so hopefully that’s the last of the effects from this storm, although apparently another storm is brewing and might hit us this weekend. Welcome to rainy season!

Other than those two events, the last two days have been relatively uneventful. I have been doing office work — it’s a quieter week, which is nice because last week we were out in communities and high schools quite a bit. Today I started researching and brainstorming ideas for the youth radio program that Roots of Health will be producing for 20 weeks starting in January. There are some groups that are doing really fantastic advocacy and empowerment work via radio broadcasts. I am sure the high school team at Roots of Health will have their own creative ideas for this particular branch of Roots of Health programming.

Monday, Fun Day

Post delayed due to slow night-late wifi. Originally written on Monday, July 14.

Today we spent all morning and some of the afternoon having a lovely girls’ day out. Justine (the Roots of Health board member who was on our sailing trip) has been in the office for the last week and is leaving Puerto tomorrow, so Ami took all of us (Justine, Noelle, and myself) to the spa downtown (Ami and I got pedicures — with a foot spa, which was much needed seeing as so much dead skin came off after they used the pumice-thing on my feet, and Justine and Noelle got massages). Getting pampered is much, much cheaper here than back home! Afterward, we went out to lunch and I decided to go a little rogue and order from the restaurant’s “All-Day Breakfast” menu. I had 3 delicious pieces of cinnamon raisin French toast, a pile of bacon, and a fried egg — yummy! Needless to say, I remained full until dinnertime. We also squeezed in some shopping, and I have now officially made all the requisite souvenir and gift purchases. On the way home, it was quite a downpour and even though it only really poured for a few minutes, some of the streets started to flood a little. Oh my, and to think, there’s a typhoon headed toward the Philippines! The night is still tonight, but the storm is supposed to hit Wednesday I think. Not sure of its exact path, but it looks like we could see a good amount of rain!

And, The Bittersweetness Creeps In

Today dawned with bright blue sky and hot sunshine, perfect weather for Marcus’ birthday party, which was a pool party at a local resort-like place. It was a great celebration — potluck style lunch, so plenty of delicious food (we even had lechon, which is a whole roasted baby pig) and a nice-sized pool with a large wading pool for the kids. It was a large gathering, lots of people and little kids, but the weather cooperated beautifully and everyone had a great time. In fact, tonight we are all wiped out — when the sun is out it’s quite intense and we all had a busy week at work, so I think everyone in our house will be happy to sleep early tonight.

When we got back from the party late this afternoon, I was not feeling motivated to do much, so I put my headphones in and spent about 40 minutes listening to music out on the terrace that overlooks the yard. As I observed the wind quietly rustling the branches and the sky begin to change to its twilight hue, I was suddenly struck by how hard it will be for me to get on that plane in two and a half short weeks. I mean, I am starting to really miss my family like crazy, but at the same time I so enjoy the company of the family I have been blessed to meet here. I remember someone telling me back when I first decided to come that leaving home would be difficult, but returning home would also be difficult. At the time, I just nodded, but now I am starting to understand what she meant. So much about this city and this family and Roots of Health has become familiar to me over the last seven weeks — the dogs and the kids and the detour around the bridge that seems it may never be fixed and the Tuesday-Saturday work week and the stores in Rob’s — oh my, I like it here! Anyway, I feel a tension between wanting time to speed up so I can see my family again and wanting time to halt so that I can remain on this island. I suppose it’s a good thing that I can neither speed up nor slow down time, I just have to consciously work on living in the moment.

A New Nurse and a Surprise Birthday/Goodbye Party

Yesterday, a British nursing student and her family arrived in Puerto. The nurse (Charlotte) is completing a month-long practicum with Roots of Health to fulfill a requirement for her nursing program. Her husband and two young children have tagged along. The children are absolutely adorable and very outgoing — very willing to engage with everyone. Today was Charlotte’s first day in the office and I went out with her and the rest of the clinical team to one of the communities, Aplaya. Today the clinical team was doing their normal distribution of contraceptives, but was also doing a short training for the 8 community health advocates on taking vital signs. I enjoyed being the one to orient Charlotte — hard to believe I have been here 7 weeks! Before we left the office, Marcus was telling Charlotte that I could help answer questions because I had been here a month, to which Ami and I replied it actually been seven weeks. Oh my, time flies by too quickly!!

Anyway, in Aplaya, which is a community right on the beach, the tide was high and it has been raining, so our usual meeting spot was flooded and we had to relocate. The high water was a little bit of a problem for some of the women, as it was difficult for them to reach us. Indeed, we went around in our pickup truck and picked up some women. It was a little bit of a slow start due to the high water and the change in location, but eventually our clients found their way to us. Everyone was in good spirits, even when it started to pour and we had to relocate (again) and move into someone’s house.

After the community visit, we headed to Max’s a restaurant in Rob’s (the mall) where the entire staff met us for a surprise lunch for Marcus (whose birthday is tomorrow) and Amie (who is taking an extended leave to travel around Southeast Asia until September). We had so much food to share and at the end of the meal some of the staff from the restaurant came in and serenaded Marcus with a lovely song — they even had accompaniment from maracas and tambourines. It was great fun as we all started laughing and clapping along!

Tonight, we had Luke here at the house and I enjoyed playing games and reading stories. Kids make me so happy! That’s one thing that certainly has not changed about me since I was a kid myself.

(Accidentally) The Center of Attention

Today we hosted a health fair at one of the local colleges — we set up several booths to provide information about different contraceptive methods and also to let the kids (these were first year students, so they were 16 or 17 years old) ask questions. Susan and I were responsible for overseeing the question booth, which was basically just a table with a “question box” that the kids could drop questions into. We wanted kids to ask questions, so we had a deal that when the kids wrote a question and dropped it into box they would get a little chocolate candy. The kids were so earnest in thinking of questions, but also somewhat sheepish to drop them into the box. Anyway, for the morning group, the question box at our station was a whole lot less interesting than I was. Literally all the kids wanted a photo of/with me! I think my picture ended up on at least half of their phones, if not more (and there were probably 30 kids who swarmed the booth). One kid would come up and politely ask me to pose for a picture and then suddenly I would have 7 kids crowded around me and 6 phones pointed at the group. I also had several kids who wanted personal selfies with me! Oh my! And, several girls kept remarking that I was really pretty. I felt a little uncomfortable with all that attention, especially since I knew that part of the reason I was attracting all the attention was due to the white color of my skin. Here, people want to have whiter skin — hence the umbrellas to keep the sun off and the fact that so many of the beauty products are infused with whitening chemicals. It’s been odd for me to witness this and realize that in so many ways people everywhere are always looking to change something about themselves — hiding from the sun to stay as light as possible vs. sitting in the sun to get a nice tan, wishing you have curly hair when your hair is pin straight and straightening your wavy hair to get rid of the curls. My, we are never satisfied, are we?

Anyway, I suppose it was a good reminder that I am still a foreigner. I have gotten used to the increased attention when we are out, so I don’t feel nearly as aware of my “outsider status” anymore, but I was quite aware of it today! I didn’t mind much though, especially since the kids were so polite about it. All of them thanked me in earnest after they snapped their photos.