PUBLISHED: Camotes computer classroom launch!

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For the first time since my arrival back in SA, I am sitting down at my computer at a coffee shop overlooking the ocean and did my little happy dance in the middle of the cafe when I came across an article published by the Philstar.com.

PLEASE read the article by clicking on the link!
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=790064&publicationSubCategoryId=107

I hope that this article will be another boost for the community in the Camotes to receive further funding and donations. Mayor Rama is determined to mimic this project across all elementary schools. I wish them the best and hope to continue helping in these endeavors…even though I am so far away.

If you would be so kind, PLEASE forward this link to all your international contacts – on facebook too! Check out A Camotes Volunteer on facebook.

From Cape Town, South Africa.

Ari Nako (See you later)

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I fail to express my gratitude to the people of the Camotes for my five months spent here. I have fallen in love with the Camotes and all its people.

The Dalaguit family takes my breath away with their hospitality and generosity. “Real people” as Mindy would describe.

Thank you to Ondu, Flora, Sister Charmel, Sister Ann Ann and Christiaan for hosting me so lovingly. Saying goodbye to you has been especially hard and seeing tears in your eyes broke my heart! So there is no goodbye, only “see you later”.

The week went so well. Besides having a cold and being bed-ridden for most part, the Soli Soli festival turned out to be fun.

Most importantly, we managed to launch the computer classroom on Wednesday. I’ll let the pictures do the talking – it was a beautiful event. Mayor Rama guaranteed maintenance and support to the school and to roll out the project to other schools. My fingers are crossed. The Freeman newspaper has asked for pictures, so I hope that some exposure will bring more assistance to the school and the island as a whole.

My fairwell was held at Vall Hall last night with the Dalaguit family, Mindy and some precious neighbours in Mercedes.

Today, I said my final goodbyes to most and just had my last supper at Vall Hall with the girls, Felix and some of the neighbourhood boys.

Reality seems far away right now and I am still, like the day I arrived, waiting to wake up from a dream.

With so many goodbyes today, I do not think I can manage saying goodbye yet on this blog. My possible last entry will have to wait until I am settled back in South Africa.

❤ Camotes, thank you for your warm heart and loving people, may we meet again soon.

Clowning around

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Clowning around

What a beautiful week!

I have been avoiding writing my blog because I have been so sad and negative about having to leave the island. Oh yes, Qatar no longer flies the route I booked and I have no choice but to take the last flight out on the 24th of March (long stories).

However, I had the most beautiful week thus far and am happy to be writing from a positive Camotes heart!

Computer training has come to a sweet end. All the teachers (aka, my students) wrote their exam on Monday, Tuesday and, finally, Wednesday and they all passed! I am very impressed with what they have learnt in two months’ time and they are super chuffed with their results! I managed to buy a printer with the donations I received too! It did break the first day and forced me to choose between traveling to Southern Leyte or to Cebu to exchange it. Sigh…I exchanged it and now the school can print 🙂 Better yet, they can accept work from the community and charge a small fee which will go towards maintenance in the classroom. Big smiles all round!

So now, I will hand out certificates and launch the classroom on the 21st as part of a small celebration with the teachers, mayor, district supervisor, etc… Exciting!

Last week, Ondu had a fantastic, brilliant, out of this world good idea… That I should plant my own mango tree. Long story short – he has a small tree which he hadnt found a permanent spot for. On Monday, in between exams, Ondu called me to plant my very own mango tree. He prepared a hole and I had the honor of planting my very own living, fruit bearing (I hope) tree in the Camotes. “One day, when you come back, maybe you can eat your own mangoes”. I love this man like a father! I feel like part of the family. Ronell Dalaguit


In the evening, after the afternoon exam session, Ma’am Flora informed me that San Fran shipped in fair rides and had set up a small fair in the town!! Ondu, Flora, Yoly (friend), little Ann-Ann and I went on a family outing. I honestly cannot remember any family outings with both my parents, so this was even more special! We rode the ferris wheel (which, btw, is powered by an OLD tractor!!!), went on the carousel, the caterpillar and played games. What an exceptional night!

Tuesday evening, I slept over at the family’s. I loved being “home”. In the morning, I prepared a Thai curry for lunch and we ate like kings. Ondu slaughtered his own, native chicken and prepared coconut milk from his own batch of coconuts. Yum! What a lovely day and night.

Ondu has also helped me pick cacao pods, ferment the beans and dry them. They are ready for processing into chocolate but this will have to wait until I am back in SA, where I may have access to the right equipment!

On Wednesday, when I got back to the resort, Christy (manager) informed me that there is a couple from Belgium staying at the resort and that they are CLOWNS!!! Nathalie and Andrew are friends and both french-speaking, successful business folk in Belgium. They are part of a foundation “Clowns and Magicians without borders” and travel to entertain when they can both find a suitable time away from work and obligations. In the evening, Andrew taught me how to rock and roll dance and had me in stitches all night! He mentioned that they would be performing in a school in San Fran on Thursday morning.

Once I told him about my project, they agreed that they would “reschedule” to perform in Mercedes instead!!!! We rocked up unannounced and stole the kids from the classrooms. I honestly think I laughed more than the kids. They are spectacular performers and beyond funny! The kids LOVED the entertainment and I believe that this show brought a whole heap of happiness into their lives! And in all honesty, in mine too. They are a joy!

I spent the rest of the day with my new friends…clowning around. We had messy mochas in town, Nathalie and I spent ages trying to figure out the technology to download all the videos they have taken. In the afternoon, we drove back to Poro for a swim on the deserted beach of Mactang. Perfect.

Mindy invited me to attend a dinner with the mayor on Friday night…better put on my Sunday best for this one!

The weekend is Soli Soli festival in San Fran, so I predict a colourful last weekend in the Philippines.

This is not my last blog…that one will be filled with tears as I say goodbye. I’m not prepared for that.

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Where is my February?

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Where is my February?

When did March happen?

Im going to try my best to catch myself up to the past few weeks’ events and I’ll stick to the most memorable (translated: what I can most clearly remember).

Somewhere in February it hit me – I need to go home. The reasons were threefold (mainly)
1) My money is running out!
2) Every day I stay makes me want to stay longer.
3) Winter is approaching in SA…flying back in the middle of winter would be flying into certain depression. No jokes.

So here is where my bucket list began. The Camotes is relatively small, but also relatively big. I have been told that I would need at least six months to explore South America. The Camotes is minute in comparison and I have thus far managed to scratch it’s surface in over four months! The amount of time required to travel is not measured by distance, it is measured by depth of integration into your surroundings.

The more I learn about the Camotes, the more I want to learn.

In a recent conversation with Felix, I explained to him that I do not want to be a tourist anymore. I want to explore the islands the way he would – as a local.

SNORKELING IN SAN ISIDRO
Boating to San Isidro
Long before short, we rode our motorbikes to San Isidro – a nearby Barangay which was also nominated the cleanest Barangay on San Fran island. (side note: San Fran is the cleanest town in this province and the vice mayor even attended COP17 in Durban as a speaker…more on this later). San Isidro plays host to a beautifully managed marine sanctuary. The locals took us out on a small boat to the nearest coral “rocks” in the sanctuary for a snorkel. The corals seem very healthy in this area and there are plenty of fish to be seen 🙂
Afterwards, we had a beer at the local shop before heading back.
Felix invited me to a church event which had finished by the time we got there, and so we headed to the town bbq for some grub – great way to end that day.

SUROY-SUROY IN THE MOUNTAINS

Both Poro and San Fran islands have tarred roads which circle the islands. It takes a good hour or more to circle an island by motorbike and the drive is spectacular. However, in the middle of this circle are mountains, and on these mountains are houses, people, farms, caves, trees, animals…and whatever else I was about to discover.
On a day off, I mentioned to Felix that I would take a drive into the mountains, hoping that I could borrow the XRM (motorbike) instead of driving the fancy city scooter. He offered to drive with me and we would take both motorbikes – in case. I drove the scooter. Believe me when I say I was scared! The roads are washed away and for most part, your drive over rocks on steep hills…and down again. An intense ride to say the least! Those little wheels weren’t made for driving over big rocks and loose gravel.

We started on top the highest peak on San Fran where the communication towers are located. We stopped at a local house, were welcomed inside and had a chat with the residents for a minute or two. We continued over rough terrain on to the mayor’s “resting house”. This is what we would call a “lapa” overlooking the island where the mayor entertains, holds meetings, etc.

Felix recommended that we head over to the adjoining island of Poro and explore another mountain “range”. Starting in Pagsa, we continued east through a few Barangays, stopping here and there to see some of the land owned by Felix. We eventually visited the church of Christ where I had a long chat with their Minister about Christian belief and different denominations. We discussed biblical matters and faith in general for about an HOUR! I always count myself lucky when I can sit down with a theologian and connect as brother and sister in Christ. Refreshing… We drove on for quite some time and came to a stop even further off the beaten track. Here, we parked and proceeded to walk further until we reached a house. Friends of Felix!
This household is exactly the description of Camotes living. Town is far and thus they are, in most part, self reliant. The family prepared a lunch of lechon (spitbraai) chicken and maize. Delicious!
After this lovely rest, we ventured further, followed by two of the boys to another random bamboo hut. This lot is also owned by Felix, and so, the boys climbed a coconut tree and opened it for us to drink its sweet juice. They then fashioned a spoon-like scraper from the shell and we used it to scrape out the coconut meat as our after-lunch snack.
I LOVED this day. Thank you Felix!

BOATING

Mindy (bless her) has a boat! A small pump boat with two paddles… Since moving to Vall Hall, I am staying on the water (south side of San Fran island). Mindy lives on the water on the south side of Poro island. Quite some time ago, we pondered the possibility of rowing from her house to mine, and back again. Last weekend we decided, “it shall be so”.
I made my way over to Mindy’s on Saturday, parked my motorbike and we set off into the big blue with her boat at around 3pm – each with a paddle in hand.
Most boats, I thought, adhered to simple physics. Paddle left – turn right, paddle right – turn left. Not this boat. We paddled as straight as the footpath of an Irish alcoholic on St Patties Day. We even made a few circles before attempting to go in the direction of my house. But we did it! It took all of two and a half hours, but we did it. We successfully paddled from Mindy’s to mine by boat! We reached Vall Hall at sunset and the view was the perfect frame for such an awesome experience. Thank you Mindy!
The adventure was not over though – that boat had to go home the next day. On Sunday, after breakfast and some networking (more on that later), we got back into the boat and this time ventured a far less curvy route back to Mindy’s in one and a half hours.

SLIDING
There is a slide at Vall Hall which leads straight into the ocean. The trick is of course to wait for high tide before attempting to slide. On Monday, just before sunset, the tide was up and I was feeling adventurous. It was scary! The slide is really high up and once you’re in a sitting, “sliding” position, it’s hard to adjust before hitting the water. What this means is that you end up falling far and hard…on your thighs / bum. It was intense and I was too frightened to enjoy the first attempt, so I tried again. Exhilarating! Many veins in my left thigh burst and I am left with little blue spots all over, but it was totally worth it.

Next on the adventure bucket list: Snorkel / dive in Southern Leyte. Mindy and I will hopefully make it to Southern Leyte this weekend for a dive and a snorkel. I have heard that this area is extremely beautiful and worth seeing so I hope I get to see it before I leave the Philippines.

Welcome to my hood

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I woke up, determined to connect with the locals, get a sense of true backyard island living.  I got a good dose.

Before I could venture on foot beyond the gates of Vall Hall, Felix convinced me to explore a cave on his property that has not yet been explored by guests.  In fact, it is so unexplored that Felix gave it the name “Virgin Caves”.  After pointing out how he broke down some rocks at the entrance of the cave for easier access, he agreed that we may indeed need to rename it.

The cave was pitch dark and leaves a narrow space for exploration, just over a half a meter.  In most places, we had to crawl, or even leopard crawl through.  There are sparkling stalagmites and stalactites everywhere as we inspected with the flashlight.  The only other light was produces by the flash of my camera – see pics 😉

So I eventually got to walk through my neighborhood.  Given more time, I would have just loved to produce a coffee table book of pictures and short stories about the people that one encounters on such an exploration.  As an example – one family came out of their nipa hut (small, native bamboo house) when they saw me taking pictures. The man of the house offered to make me a small guitar from a coconut shell and some string.  I need to return to pick this up.

Another fascinating event was when I bent down next to a boy sitting in the road.  I gave him half of my orange, which he happily accepted.  I then reached for my camera to capture this lonesome boy.  At the sight of this silver contraption, the boy FREAKED!  Screamed, cried and ran as fast as his tiny legs could carry him – to safety.  Safety from, uhm, the white lady’s weapon?  I cannot imagine what he was thinking, but as I walked away, I could hear him cry hysterically for about another 5 minutes.   Oops!?

The rest can be told only through my lens.  I really wished that I had a better camera, better photography skills and better Photoshop skills.  It could really help in capturing emotion in these images.  When I look at them on the screen, they seem flat and lifeless.

Final thought:  The inevitable happened last night.  A frog jumped up against my foot.  It was huge.

anam-anam (little by little)

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The classroom has been transformed and the teachers are making great headway with basic computer literacy. They do love reminding me that they only seem clever because I am there to tell them what to do – step by step. When I mentioned the possibility of a test this week, Ma’am Tita simply stated “I will be absent on that day”. Lucky for them, I have been too lazy to devise a test but I can see how vital it is to learning.

If you walk past the classroom of any Camotes elementary school (and this may be true for others in the Philippines too), you will hear an entire classroom reciting their work – all in synch. It is Mindy’s (Peace Crops) observation that the educational system in these parts promotes a “following” culture, instead of a “thinking, opinionated” culture. Ask any student his or her opinion, and see the panic in his or her eyes.

I can only assume this has something to do with the way the teachers in the classroom are learning too. I tell them what to do, step by step. If I don’t, well, most of them wont take the chance to just try do what they think is correct.

That test will have to be administered, and soon.

Another disruption has been the lack of computers. With four functioning computers (three with Microsoft Office) and six teachers per class, I have been forced to group them into two groups consisting of three teachers per every two computers. This leads to “friends” sitting together and the most competent left to the work while the other watch, convinced that this is also a way of learning… Lucky for me, the technician showed up yesterday to perform some repairs! After an entire day of taking apart equipment and testing, I now have five functioning computers and all of them are running Microsoft Office. PHEW!

In today’s class, I made each teacher choose a number as they entered and they were forced to sit at corresponding computer. Mixin’ it up a bit and it seems to keep them slightly more focused.

As there is an inspection at the school today (Monday), most classrooms were busy on Sunday performing repairs to their classroom and prettifying the grounds. Yoly (my friend and Grade V teacher) is next door to my class. Yesterday, her and her brother spent the entire day painting her classroom. Yoly is a new teacher here and lives in Ondu’s mother’s old house on their property. She is also computer literate and so I hope that she will be able to carry on with training and assistance to the teachers and students once I have left.

All the learners were tasked with making “mushrooms” for the school grounds. These are sticks with halved coconut shells on top. They have been painted and stuck in the ground all along the pathway around the school.

As I waited a bit long for the computer technician to show up (it had been three weeks since his last visit), I had no option but to visit Mayor Rama and ask for further assistance. It is in this meeting that we agreed that this project needs to be rolled out to other schools. Mayor Rama is aiming to set up a similar classroom in each of the four major schools in the Poro district and, eventually, across all 17 schools.
My challenges are to:

  1. Try access the relevant hardware and software donations through a government organization and not an NGO; or to establish a close enough relationship with an NGO willing to act on behalf of the municipality and the schools.
  2. Complete all the paperwork required for these kinds of partnerships.
  3. Devise a rollout plan and work with the municipality to appoint a local project manager within the municipality.
  4. Try establishing a relationship with learning institutes in Cebu who may be willing to assist in training programs on the island.
  5. Try and establish an agreement of sorts with a reliable computer technician(s) who can be on call for repairs and maintenance.
  6. Ensure that the classrooms are equipped to train elementary students (i.e. relevant educational software installed). This is after all the main goal and I would rather achieve this is in one classroom than to roll out to others and it not being of benefit to the learners.

All this needs to be completed in the next two months. I won’t lie, it is rather unrealistic / ambitious and I will do what I can while I am here, especially as I do not yet know whether the municipality would be eligible to apply for donations, etc.
Step one is to launch the computer classroom and create a bit more awareness around the intentions for creating opportunities across the islands for the greater good of its people.

All shook up – earthquake hits the Visayas

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Yesterday, 6 February, at 12pm the earth shook.

I’ve said this before, I’m no writer (I was trying to think of the name of a good author there…evidence of how well read I am).

Point is, I can’t describe an event with such emotion and description that you could relive it all through your own imagination. I can only relay my experience of it…factually.

Yesterday was an overcast day. Ok, I was trying to set the scene but it’s irrelevant.

I headed to Mercedes, Poro to get ready for my class. I half-prepped my lesson and returned to the house (family Dalaguit’s) for my lunch, right before class would start.

I finished my last bite and remained seated, chatting to Ondu and little Ann-Ann when I realised that my chair was being nudged. Confused, I looked around the chair and nothing. “Am I drunk?” I thought. Ondu looked at my confusion and, as we all lifted our heads, we realised “earthquake”. We would later learn that we were experiencing an intensity 5.6 quake in the Camotes. Minor disruption compared to the destructive 7 in its centre in Negros. This lasted for four minutes.

I wasn’t quite sure how to react. I’ve never experienced an earthquake and wasn’t quite sure whether I should be freaking out or just continuing on my daily routine. Following suite meant “laugh and move on”? Seems that the culture here is “what’s the use in stressing about it?” So I continued to class but agreed with Ondu that my head was “drunk”. A condition that occurs from the imbalance…bla bla bla. So I proceeded to the classroom and tried my best to focus on the lesson but my mind was not cooperating. Soon after, we had a brown-out. This was a precaution to the after-shock. Classes halted and news (word of mouth) started pouring in about a tsunami warning. Seems people started paying a bit more attention.

I couldn’t access any news sources and relied on my South African friend to send me news via email to my phone.

The family insisted that I stay with them for the night, I in turn insisted that Mindy came to stay there too as her house is on the sea.

By the time we were having dinner (6:10 PM), Charmel came out of her room with a big smile “another earthquake! The bed just moved!”. Mindy and I both winked and said, she is probably experiencing the “hangover” effect from the afternoon. However, soon thereafter, emails came through of another quake at 6:10 PM, another at 7:33 PM and the last at 7:40 PM. The last two weren’t felt in the Camotes.

School was cancelled and so was my afternoon class. We spent the day in a passive state at the house with a “woah” feeling.

We were lucky not to get the blow that was experienced at the centre. 43 died due to this natural disaster in Negros Oriental – east of Cebu.

This was no life changing experience but one does look up to the sky and pray in gratitude for protection.

A more technical report can be read online.

Like a Japanese Beaver!

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Computer training is in full swing. I am officially a working girl again and it feels great! There is an odd incentive that motivates someone who doesn’t work for money. Money is normally represented by authority in the working world. A “We pay you, so we own you” mentality. My ex-colleagues as well as many of you could empathize with this common feeling of modern slavery.

My incentives does contain all the mushy stuff, yes. Seeing the progress of the teachers. The cutest kids in the world hanging around the classroom every time I am there without fail. The possibility of creating a better future.

What’s more rewarding for me, personally, is an opportunity to do things my way. I have no “owner” because I have no income. This is of course 100% selfish, but I like to do things my way. I’m sure most of you know that about me. In this case however, I’m seeing success! What motivates more than success!? No amount of money.

Classes are scheduled on MWF (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) from 12pm – 1pm and another session of the same lesson at 4pm – 5pm. The school has 12 teachers in total, meaning that I teach six per session. After the technician visited two weeks ago, we had seven functional computers. At our very first official lesson, only four was working and the techie couldn’t make it last Sunday. So for two weeks, I have had the teachers work in teams of three, rotating activities. I cannot wait for the other computers to be permanently fixed!

It’s not all moonshine and flowers either. Standard session dialogue like this is on repeat:
Student: “Ma’am, how do I do this one”
Me (Ma’am): “select the word first, so highlight it, like we just did before”
*student slowly moves the cursor from one end to another
Me: “Dili (no), click first, hold it and drag over the word, like before”
Student: “Now Ma’am, how to delete this one”
Me: “Ok, take the cursor there, click and delete it”
*student presses delete
Me: “Dili, remember, backspace eats the letters before, delete eats the letters in front”
Student: “But how ma’am.
Me: “Same like before”
Student: “Oh ma’am, I forget this one”

Me: “Before you leave the room today, stop at the door and say “file, save as, and make sure you save in your brains everything that you learn here today, so next time, you will know”.

As much frustration that exists in teaching basic computer skills, the frustration of learning this skill for the very first time can be overwhelming. So far, in five lessons, we have learnt to turn on the computer, use the mouse for navigation (this is by far the hardest part to this day), open a document, type (change fonts, underline, bold, align text), save a document and reopen it, and finally, shut down the computer. I have managed to download typing software too which teaches the “correct” manner of typing.

The idea is to educate the teachers to such a point where they are comfortable in navigating the computer drives and files, understands the difference between documents and programmes, understands how to operate a program and how to save work done in a systematical fashion and recall previous work. Phew. And then some. This way, they will be able to assist the learners at the school to use the software designed for young learners!

As classes were progressing beautifully, the poorly painted yellow walls and red counters really started getting to me. The walls are built with rough plywood that hadn’t been sanded down and then coated with only one layer of the ugliest yellow paint. I had enough. I discussed my plan with Ondo and he offered to meet me at San Fran’s hardware store. Ondo chose the paint (aqua blue, my favourite) and we bought plastic sheeting to cover the tables for easy cleaning! Ondo lightly sanded down each board by hand and I proceeded to paint the walls. We finished both layers of paint and plastic covering in one day!

The room is transformed and, with the help of the technician, we will be able to officially launch the first computer classroom in a Camotes Elementary School by the second week in Feb! The principle is working out a programme and Mayor Rama will deliver a speech. It does feel like I am back in government but I guess this is why I have the experience I have and am grateful for it here.

It seems that, even while a lot of things had been challenging here on the island, everything is slowly making sense and things are working out very well. I feel blessed and taken care of and totally content that I can place my faith and fortune in a higher power. A dear friend (Janninan) was even kind enough to raise funds for my projects – R2000! This amounts to P11 000!! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!

That said, this is a notification to all that my current visa runs out at the end of this month. I hope that you (may you be a friend, foe or family) can understand that this doesn’t leave much time and that I will be extending my visa.

If I can achieve this, I will be assisting the Mayor in applying for international computer aid to equip all Elementary Schools with a computer classroom. Simultaneously, I will assist in developing a training programme and maintenance plan for implementation across the board. If anyone has any expertise in this field of computer-based elementary school education, PLEASE drop a comment!

Santo Nino! Fiesta time in Camotes

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Cebu’s largest annual festival, the “Sinulog” is the feast of Santo Nino (the Christ Child). The word “sinulog” is a Visayan term for a dance that imitates the rythm of the river and through conversion to Christianity, it is danced in honour of the image of Santo Nino.

The Sinulog took place on the 15th in Cebu City. The fiesta draws thousands of people and becomes crowded.

Lucky for me, the Camotes brings the festival home and Poro Town hosts their own fiesta in honour of Santo Nino! The fiesta lasts for almost a week and the streets are filled with food stalls, balloons, flags, and of course, people!

Once Christmas and New Year celebrations were complete, the preparations for the fiesta continued. Dances were choreographed and practiced to no end. Costumes were designed in bright collours. All adding to the festive feeling that is a Camotes Fiesta!

My first attendance was of the teachers’ night, held in the town gym (a large enclosed auditorium). Each school from Poro was tasked with representing an international country. Mercedes Elementary (where I train) invited me to sit at their table for the show. From 9pm till after midnight, teachers performed in spectacular outfits and LOUD music! Mayor Rama even thanked me in his speech to address the teachers and other authorities. *blush

I slept over at the Dalaguits after teachers night and woke up to the massive squealing of a pig being slaughtered! I don’t know how this is done normally, but these guys wrap the pig in a bag (like a large flour bag). A few men hold it down and one pushes a blade into its throat. I have never heard a sound like that before. The pig screams LOUDLY for quite some time before enough blood has left its veins and it finally goes to “sleep”. The pig is cooked same day for fiesta – I aint no butcher but no rigor mortis period? Hmmm?

Thursday, Mindy extended an invitation from Melissa (a friend of Mindy’s and also mine – her husband is the computer technician too!) to have early dinner there for fiesta. Melissa’s house is quite a hike up the mountain – through wildly grown tropical flora. Melissa, like any other family who can afford it, had prepared HEAPS of food and invited anyone who would attend. You can get invited to multiple houses in one fiesta night and it is considered rude not to go or eat. Each host prepared Lechon Babui (whole “spitbraai” pig). Mindy and I ate, and ate again when more guests arrived. BY this time, I was already stuffed!

Mindy had another invite, so we headed down to another host where we had another plate of food. Have you ever felt drunk from eating too much? We walked into town to see a fireworks display and bumped into another one of Mindy’s friends. Yes, we were invited to eat some more. We opted for dessert only and finished off the night with a bit of beer and some karaoke! Total fun.

Today (Friday) was TAGBO day! This is the finale of the Santo Nino Fiesta where different Barangays compete through dance and performance. What starts as a street festival continues down the road to the nearest school yard where to entire town gathers to watch Tagbo dancing. The costumes and set design are amazing. There is a specific “Tagbo” song too which all performances are danced to. No kidding, this is the ONLY song that gets played throughout.

We couldn’t find a spot with a good view and managed to climb onto the roof of the school! It was such a hot day and the few naughty boys on the roof picked leaves for us to use as an umbrella. Resourceful! Luckily we climbed down way before an “adult” noticed the kids and chased them off!

The show was fantastic. The costumes were bright and beautiful, the dances were so well executed and the sets were beautifully painted (see pics).

Back at home, I have managed to remove nine more crown-of-thorn starfish in a small area. I might rope in Mindy for some help.

Note: Did I mention that I gave up Zee? He treated me well and I have the “remembrance” from his exhaust on my leg. I am renting a bike from the resort instead. A Honda “XRM” and it is way sturdier on the road – a lovely ride but a kick-start. So not lady like.

Super Fun Happy Slide!

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7 – 18 January 2012

So the New Year clearly got me lazy to write and so much has been happening!

A significant change took place here in the Camotes (for me). On my trip in the city, I discussed with Felix my consideration to move out of Ondu’s house and find my own accommodation. Hardly missing a beat, Felix offered that I stay at Vall Hall resort at the same cost.

This may seem like an obvious choice for most, but I was torn. Staying with the Dalaguits have been such an amazing experience of humility, appreciation, friendship, joyful simplicity and family! They have defined my experience in the Camotes thus far. Leaving the house, for me, meant leaving this behind too. After pondering and seeking advice from people who understands my situation, the consensus was that I would stay at the resort and, on the days I need to train at the school, I would have lunch at the Dalaguit’s and sometimes even stay over there.

At the same time, I get to stay at the resort where I have 24 hour wifi access. No longer would I have to drive all the way to San Fran town and sit on the floor with no place to plug in!

So, on 10 January I moved. My new home is exceptional. Vall Hall Resort is built on the rocks, on the ocean. All rooms are separate and scattered around and in between rocks and all sorts of tropical plants and trees. My “home” is completely separated from all other buildings. The outside is all bamboo. My patio has bamboo seats and overlooks the ocean. The resort faces South, so we get a peep at the sunrise and sunset 🙂 It is beyond words.

Steps lead down the rocks and onto a small bridge and joins a bamboo hut, built on top of a rock in the ocean. It is from here that I start my daily snorkel. Since I have been getting to know the sea, I realised that there is a huge outbreak of crown-of-thorn starfish (the kind that eat coral). A healthy amount of starfish is 1 – 15 per hectare (dependent on amount of food available). In the last week or so, we have extracted a dangerous amount of 37 starfish in an estimated 30m x 15m space. The area has fantastic potential to become a magnificent snorkeling spot but it will require dedicated management. This is my next attempt at a project.

The staff here are like my sisters. Christy is the manager and working with her is two 17 year olds (Yin-Yin and Ca’rin) as well as Gi’an and her husband Te’tien. (Spelling is defo not right). The girls are funny and very entertaining.

My daily routine has changed somewhat (as can be expected). A typical day flows like this:
I get woken up at 05:30 am for a jog to town. Felix joined us too this morning! We stop in town to buy food from the market and the group walks back while I jog. A total distance of 4km might be an ambitious estimate? I’m sticking to it anyway.

I jump in the sea to cool down and lay floating for a few minutes, with a huge smile on my face.

Breakfast is served – normally an omelette with sausages or spring rolls. Delish.

The morning is spent tidying my room, maybe doing some washing or doing work-related admin in town.

If I have class, I try to get to the Dalaguits by 11am for lunch. Class starts at 12 noon and lasts for an hour. An additional 4pm – 5pm session will be added next week.

Hereafter, I try to arrange and tidy the classroom and spend an hour or so with the family before I head back to my new home.

I like to spend the afternoons removing starfish with a spear and finding new fishies! I discovered a beautiful sea slug (black and green) and two kinds of pipefish (one is brown and the other black and white with a purple tail). I also spotted a starfish I had never seen before – orange!

The evenings are spent with my laptop on the internet doing “work”. I haven’t gotten my head around getting support from local NGOs or companies but I know I will have a breakthrough soon!

Dinner is served at around 18:30.

I get handed coconuts to drink from and the milk gets sweetened and also handed to be in a glass.

We eat fresh fish – normally blue marlin, and pork, vegetable soup, etc. Yesterday we had Kinilau (raw tuna with coconut milk, ginger, onion, tomato). It’s the local sushi and delicious.

Every staff member here have been trained to give massages. It is not uncommon for someone to grab a foot or arm and massage me! Just the other night, I had one person per limb and one massaging my back – just because!

When Felix’s wife was still here, we celebrated her 50th birthday. Celebrations here would be nothing without Videoke (karaoke with videos of sexy girls in bikinis as a background). We sang the night away and the girls keep on choosing Beatles songs for me to sing. Sigh 😉 In between the singing, you can expect a back rub, foot massage, etc.

God is certainly spoiling me.

On another, more work related note:
The computer classes have been going very well. My first rule was “English only”. The teachers LOVE talking and they are apparently skilled at the art of listening while talking. They have been quite good in class thus far. There is so much to learn and very little time left! We have started with the absolute basics but everyone seems to catch on fast! PS: solitare is a great way to get comfortable with the mouse. The Mayor of Poro, Mayor Rama has agreed to provide support for the computer classroom. Step one was providing a technician to fix more computers so that I could increase the size of the classes and thus reducing the amount of “sessions” per lesson.

Classes have been paused until next week as the annual sinulog (fiesta) is taking place this week and tonight is teacher’s night! Each school is participating, representing different countries. I have a special seat with Mercedes Elementary School. The fiesta continues until Friday when the main street festival takes place. Participants are judged by costumes and dancing.

I have two homes in the Camotes now and it feels great. Either way, I am spoilt and totally taken care of by the people around me.

I will frequent this blog more often now that I am settled into my new environment.

Final thought: Felix filled up on of the pools, next to a slide that slides right into the ocean. Whaaat!!!

Wait a minute! I seriously nearly forgot! Before I left the Dalaguits, I noticed a mouse in my room. Then I noticed smaller mice following the bigger mouse…my conclusion: a nest with babies. Ondu believes that, if you get “angry” with the mouse, it will start to chew your stuff. If you stay its friend, it wont. I decided to be its friend instead…until one morning I was sitting on my bed and I heard a loud rattling noise. The sound of something that had gotten stuck. Not cool ok, my friends wouldn’t purposely freak me out (ok, debatable). Ondu came to have a look and promised to search for the nest.
I left the house for this event only to return with Ondu sitting on my bed with a Panga and a rod, slapping at a huge tail! My first reaction was RAT!!! Rat would have been better. My noisy roommate was no other than a SNAKE IN MY CUPBOARD!!!! Ondu eventually killed it. WTF!!! Ondu also found the mouse nest…with no mice. We assume the the snake had eaten all of them, and, when he ran out of food, he tried to digest a shoelace! I can only imagine this is why it was making such a noise, the shoelace must been lodged in its “throat”. *shiver.