One of the hardest things about my Peace Corps service has been the inability to express myself consistently in the way that I wish to be understood. Between the three or four different languages spoken in my province and the wide chasm of cultural difference, there are days when I feel like the Philippines’ 7,642nd island—isolated by the shores of my foreignness.
With 38 days left (!!) as a Peace Corps volunteer, now is the time for quantifying the last twenty seven months. I am up to my ears in paperwork, monitoring, and evaluation; it feels incredibly validating to reflect on how I’ve contributed to some amazing projects working alongside local counterparts and other volunteers. The metrics of my service astound me–I am not fishing for compliments here, but it’s pretty wild to know that I’ve helped train well over 1,000 young people in essential life skills!
Reckoning with the raw data of my service is dizzying, but the thrill is not enough to convert me to being a numbers person. What has mattered most to me throughout the past two years is the poetry. And the love–or lab, as it is colloquially known–I have received.
Every day, I am humbled by the unrelenting kindness of the families, co-workers, and country who have accepted me as one of their own. It is no easy task to take on the responsibility of caring for an adult baby (aka me)—someone who cannot complete the simplest of tasks (knowing which jeep to take, dancing the native dance, cooking a chicken with its feathers still on, etc.) and whose command of the language is limited to one syllable responses.
The people of the Philippines have given me food, shelter, rides, clothing, and compassion without asking for anything in return. We have fallen asleep on each other’s shoulders while riding crowded public transportation and have scored ‘100’ by singing corny ’80s love ballads together on videoke. There is always someone rushing over to tell me when my backpack is unzipped or to invite me to share snacks or a selfie. Most importantly, we have laughed. Oh, how we have laughed.
There are many types of love: romantic love, familial love, the love we have for our pets where their cuteness makes us clench our teeth. But the love I’ve experienced here is somehow different. The love I’ve felt over the past two years has never been contingent upon my worth or beauty or the degree to which I’ve ‘earned’ it. If anything, it is a love that has seen my absolute WORST parts and yet still calls out to me with one of my favorite Filipino phrases: “never mind”. This isn’t the American usage of “never mind”, a favorite utterance of surly teenagers trying to avoid talking to their parents. In the Philippines, “never mind” means just that—never mind how ridiculous, unknowing, sweaty, and incompetent you are. Never mind that, because anyways—we lab yu. We love you.
As I’ve asked myself often over the past two years, WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS LIFE?!
Thanks as always for checking in and now, enough poetry! Look at this laundry list of all the cool things that have happened in the past few months:
- Conducted an ~~amazing~~ creative writing summer camp for twelve high school students with my ride-or-die site mate, Chelsea. We had no budget and no plan, except for our shared love of young adult novels and a burning desire to teach students about the mystery genre so we could re-create a crime scene.
- Contracted measles…again. Most people never contract measles, but I am lucky enough to have had it twice—this time with the added bonus of half of my body going numb for a week following my rash and fever. After an MRI and a week recovering in Manila, the mystery paralysis was never solved, but I’m back to 100%
- Hung out with friends who are like family. The daughter of the lady I rent my apartment from comes down to visit me nearly every day. I’ve shared with her my childhood love of Sailor Moon and My Neighbor Totoro and we spend a lot of time coloring and singing songs. Together, we visited the homestead of my landlady where her elderly mother still lives alone out among the rice fields.
- Conducted two S.M.A.R.T. Girls Activities
- As part of my grant project, I conducted two multi-day seminars for 46 female highschool and college students aimed at helping them become S.M.A.R.T. Girls who stay in school (Self Aware and Confident, Moneywise Mature Leaders, Able to Make Good Choices, Responsible Students, and Totally Dedicated to a Better Future). We had so much fun making crafts, learning about important topics like bullying and budgeting, and just hanging out and sharing our experiences as strong and powerful women!
- Attended C.O.S. Conference
- C.O.S, or Close of Service, Conference is the last big event that brings all of the Batch 274 Peace Corps volunteers together. Starting from a group of 88, I think our ranks were nearly cut in half due to early terminations/administrative separations (aka people getting kicked out) from our cohort. Despite our shrunken size, it was a great opportunity to catch up, eat some delicious food, and start the conversation about heading home soon. While I may not be super close to every single volunteer in my batch, it was a heartwarming sensation to feel a shared sense of purpose and experience with a big group of people. I look forward to a reunion stateside!
- Girls’ Trip to Puerto Galera
- After COS conference, my two site mates and I went to a beach town famous with Filipino tourists. Aside from the treacherous wooden motor boat ride to and from the beach, it was an amazing few days spent with two of the most important members of my support system over the past two years. We got matching henna tattoos (and matching sunburns), snorkeled over giant clams, and ate pizza that was almost as good as pizza from home.
- My friend and counterpart was accepted to teach Filipino and our native dialect during the pre-service training of Batch 276 after my sitemate and I recommended her for the job! She is already in the thick of her work and I am so proud that she took this opportunity to develop her skills.
- Conducted seven site visits to assess sites for future volunteers! These site visits involved A LOT of travelling and negotiating unfamiliar landscapes alone; I am proud of myself for managing to get myself around by using the local language (and by looking pathetic/attaching myself to families). All of the awesome counterparts I met made the long and tiring trip worthwhile. These new volunteers have some amazing sites and counterparts to look forward to…