Friday, April 12, 2013

Perfectly Chaotic.

April 13th, 2013:

It all started when Micah and Wyatt arrived. They are both Peace Corps Volunteers. They came to Marinduque for Holy Week to see the Moriones Festival and I think they wanted to see me, too. Marinduque has a lot to offer and the Holy Week festivities just added more options. We watched the Morion parade, observed the crucifixion and self- flogging, hiked to the summit of Mt. Malingdig, reached the center of the Philippines (Luzon Datum), found a perfect spot to watch the sunset on multiple occasions, and created a bond that is going to last a lifetime. Most morning Wyatt and I would wake up and complete an insanity workout, it was borderline insane. Micah might be more addicted to coffee than I which added more treat to morning life. Having them brought constant thoughts of wanting Joe by my side, more moments in life where I wish he was with me. I can definitely see the four of us seeing parts of the world together.

Morion Festival 2013. Moriones can be seen walking around town for the entire week. 

Family Dinner.

Rice fields in my front yard. Great place to relax and watch the day end.

Mt. Malingdig- the steady steep upward climb.  The first 5k was through coconut trees with amazing fews of the island. We could actually see water on both sides. The second 5k was a jungle. We swung on vines coming down, slipping and laughing the entire way. 

I was giddy as I reached my first summit. 

Looking back at the Mt. we climbed! 

This has officially been named the Gina shot. Everywhere I go I need a picture like this. Me, looking at  wherever my like has taken me, feeling completely lucky to be living.

At the bottom again. Time to replenish with Buko.

The eye holes were really small.

This is the new beach resort in my backyard. The owner, Nory, just arrived home from working in a diamond mind in Tanzania. He was blooming with excitement at how successful his first week open was. His place was fully booked and the talk of the town. Nory told me his hopes of being able to stay in Marinduque with his family. 

Holy Friday crucifixion. 

A few days before Micah and Wyatt left, Stacey arrived! Stacey and I spent Easter Sunday together because Wyatt and Micah went to Maniwaya for the night. The day began with the Gasang-Gasang street dancing festival. After, if that was not enough excitement for one day, we competed in the first Aquathon ever in Marinduque. Oh, I should probably mention that we ate lunch at a German restaurant. The menu has bratwurst and that is all I really have to say about that. The first week in April was definitely filled with all things that I could tack on the adjective NEW to. New friends, new restaurants  new resorts, new food, new adventures, just a whole collection of moments. 
Gasan Street Dancing Festival. Easter Sunday. This is one of 100 photos. When we woke up, I had no idea what we were going to watch. Excitement quickly filled my body at first site of the vibrant costumes. These street dancing parades are my favorite cultural masterpieces. The colors, the smiles, the moves, the audience, the act of people, coming together to cheer, everything really is like real life magic.

Let's face it, it would only be appropriate for us to race while on vacation. We were the only females. I took my shirt off for the swim portion and I am still not sure why. Two years ago, I would have never taken my shirt off on this island. I blame race day excitement.  

At the geographical center point of the Philippines. Bathing in sweat and still smiling.

Thanks for helping my through my Peace Corps journey and then flying to be a memorable slice of it.  I could not have completed this challenge without you. Thanks for the e-mails, the calls, the packages of love, the encouragement, the jokes, the understanding and the list could go on and on. Beans for life!
Puerto Galera, Mindoro. After a four hr boat ride, one hour van ride, and one hour thrill jeepney ride, we reached  Mindoro and Karen. 
After a day in the sun, we went out to the floating bar to watch the sunset and  swoosh down slides. 
I have quite the collection of Gina shots now.

The hardest part of a loving adventure is hugging and saying, "See you soon." I could not have imagined a better beginning to the end of my Peace Corps journey. And, in addition to everything happening on this side of the world. My family was busy celebrating the life of my niece who changed us all with her spunky attitude and angelic personality, Alikah. Happy Birthday, young lady. My sister also told me that she is thinking studying abroad, again adding more kinds of smiles to the mix. So, this is just a glimpse of what happened at the beginning of April. And no that is not a typo I really mean it, just a glimpse. I would rather run then sit and to write everything would require far to many hours of sitting. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

From Nightmare to Dream

March 24th, 2013:

The past two weeks have been two completely different stories- one, like a nightmare and one, like a grand dream.

The nightmare started with a fever. At first, I thought it was a simple virus, I mean I am around a bunch of kids all the time; it is only natural that I would feel sick from time to time. I came home from school that Friday and went to bed. This never happens. My friend Angel always tells me I am like a bata, child, because I am constantly moving around and never get tired. I stayed in bed for 24 hours. My feelings went something like this- fever, chills, fever, chills, intense body aches, fever, chills, intense body aches… over and over again. I thought then that this must be more than just a common virus. I contacted Peace Corps medical (pcmo) to inform them of my situation because I wanted to see a doctor. My co-teacher took me to see a local doctor; however, he could not do much for me because it was Saturday and his medical technician had already gone home. PCMO wanted me to have a blood test to see if I had dengue, a tropical disease that volunteers sometimes get from mosquitoes. The doctor told me to proceed to the local Emergency Room. Well, the local emergency room was more like a slaughter house from a horror movie so I decided to just go back to bed. The next day I went to Manila.

Monday morning I went to PCMO office and I tested positive for dengue. Finally, I knew what was causing my misery. The entire week I stayed in bed. Each day I would go for a blood test so they could monitor my platelets and white blood cells. I had no energy to do anything else. No Energy. No appetite. No life. Luckily for me I was able to stay at the pension house and did not have to transfer to the hospital. There were other volunteers staying there too so I clung tight to the conversations I was having as they were my source of happiness.

After a week I started to feel like myself again. I wanted to run but had no running shoes. I finally wanted to eat. It was an annoyance to be a surrounded my food that I often crave at site and NOT want to eat any of it. My feelings reminded me of back when to when I got my invitation letter to join Peace Corps because I just wanted to jump and scream and everything in me was filled with joy. For someone who is a mover in this world, lying in bed for a week is really a nightmare. For some, this is a luxury. For me, it is the exact opposite. I mean the first few days were manageable because I felt so sick that the only thing I could do was relax. However, the moment I started to feel the slightest bit normal, the pressure to continue to do nothing was intense. Then, I went to the mall to buy a few things and felt exhausted. I really was sick. I wanted to receive a package of goodies from my mother, I kept thinking about how she would know exactly what to give me. I have never been sick like that before, never.

My energy slowly came back. Then, I got a rash. The doctors told me this would happen. It was probably the only time in my life where I found myself praying for a rash. Who would do that? I wanted it so badly because I was determined to get home in time to see my students graduate. To see the people walk across stages and get their diplomas who changed my life. They were my motivation. After the rash, the dream began.

Standing on the boat looking at Marinduque always creates excitement running through my veins, but this time is was more powerful than normal. I was home. I had survived my first tropical disease. I was thankful for my strong body. The first wave of humor came due to all of the stories as to why I got sick: 1) it was because I had too many banana trees at my house, 2) because I have white skin, 3) it was not possible that I had dengue because you can only get dengue if you are under the age of ten, 4) it was because I workout too much…

I went back to school the day of graduation. I made it. The entire time I had to fight not to let tears race down my cheeks. This was the kind of feeling that makes every muscle in your face hurt, trying not to cry couple with endless smiles is a facial muscle workout. As I looked at my students smiling and crying and singing and shaking hands, I realized in that moment why they meant so much to me. I realized that they were the reason why I survived my first year as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Every one of them impacted my life in such a positive way, whether it was singing to me, telling me a joke, walking with me, writing me a letter, smiling at me, listening to me. Youth are amazing that way.

The dream continued as I finalized everything for our Sports Summer Camp. Kim, Emmerson, and I had to visit the nearby elementary schools to invite them to out camp. Every principal seemed thrilled by the idea. Our visit was random but we were welcomed with more than open arms. We were welcomed with enthusiasm and pure excitement. The conversations were never short. After talking about the sports camp, the conversation took a turn to questions like, “Ma’am Gina when are you going to get married?” I kept thinking in my head that I wished I would have started to build this community relationship sooner. We were invited 10 pupils from each school but the principals always asked if there could be more. Our small camp could have easily turned into a gigantic amusement park like extravaganza. But, we chose to stick to our plan of small. One school had lined their entire courtyard with bottle bricks. We had done bottle bricks at my school as a simple way to decrease environmental impact. I had no idea that our project had branched further into the community, an added spark to the day. I had a thirty minute conversation in Tagalog. Honestly, I have stopped studying the language. I simply learn through living. It was neat for me to know that I can have a conversation like that. I am still far from fluent, I will probably never be fluent, I am not the linguistic type. But, I can still feel satisfied knowing that I can communicate. So, Summer Camp is happening. I have spent so many hours picturing the event in my head. I am ready to know what unfolds in reality. Will it be like my own creation? What will happen?

Now, I am waiting for my visitors. There are a handful of Peace Corps volunteers coming. Stacey is coming. It is going to be a good couple of weeks. I was challenged. But I recognize now how thankful I am for my mobility. I am so thankful I am not lazy. I am happy knowing that I can bounce back into motion after being knocked off my feet. This is going to be such a great way to start summer vacation. Unbelievable! 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A bike and a Juicer

March Three, 2013:

Yesterday, I threw a few things into a shoulder bag and road my not so reliable bike to the beach. The days are not getting any cooler here and I was craving a gust of wind that only the seashore can provide. One thing I wanted to do was write in my journal, a journal that has very few blank pages left. Whenever I write in my journal it is as if my hand cannot print the words fast enough on page. I forget to write things that appear in my mind. But now, I sit here, wondering and wondering what the heck I should write about. What can I write that is okay for the world to see? I am not sure how I feel about this, the fact that at this point in my life I have more to say that I don’t intend on having other people see. Now, I am not saying that this means there are a lot of bad things happening. If you know me even a little bit you know by now that I tend to leave out the bad things. I think it just means that my thoughts are too personal right now.

So, what can I share?

Well, last week I watched Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. This documentary did two things for me: 1) I now want to buy a juicer and 2) it made me realize how badly I am addicted to coffee. If you need any motivation to up the natural ingredients you put into the only body you get in your life, watch the movie. I probably eat more natural foods than the average person, but it still left me wanting to sprint to the market and buy as many green, red, and orange goods I could carry. Those thoughts lead me to think further. Now, on my list of things to buy for myself during my transition bad into American civilization are two things- a road bike and a juicer. Also, I really thought about what my addictions are. I think I have four- coffee, chocolate, working out, and Chap Stick. It probably is not a fluke that one thing that Peace Corps has not changed about me are my addictions. I found myself wondering why that was. I can imagine my life without many things, and I probably have the courage to try and live without most things, but my life without the things I am addicted to? Well, I am not so sure I am ready to go down that path. So, I will probably never faithfully complete a juice fast like the character in Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead did, but I will buy a juicer.

Tomorrow I am going to bring envelopes full of letters to school with me. These letters are not ordinary letters. At the end of the year last year I had my students write a letter to the future them. I told them that I would not be reading them; I would just keep them tucked in a safe place and return them the following year. Now, after frantically rummaging around my room, I have them all ready to bring to school. I thought I had lost them. Then I thought that they were in the suitcase I had Joe bring back to America. What good would they do me or my students if they were in America? I am happy that question does not have to be answered. I am excited to see their reaction. I feel like Santa Claus and I am not completely sure why, maybe I think the letters are more special than they do. So, tomorrow at school I am going to deliver a present from the past. A present that I trust will spark memories and give my former students the opportunity to think about how they changed, and how they had not changed, for better or for worst.

Thank you Peace Corps.
I was thrilled the other day when I finally made normal looking pancakes.
I was thrilled when I got to use waxed floss.
I was thrilled when my sister left her American toothpaste.
I was thrilled when found a new pair of socks at the bottom of my drawer.
I was thrilled to drink chocolate milk.
A lot thrills me these days.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Someone special to me once told me, "stay young as long as you can!"

February 17th, 2013:

             “The best feeling of happiness is when you’ve made somebody else happy.”

            Another Peace Corps Volunteer just shared her story of how she rides her bike to elementary schools in her community and sings with the youngsters. Spreading music, spreading laughs, spreading love, she wrote beautifully about how she missed spending time with young children (pre-school age) so she took on a new challenge to add something to her life that satisfied her desire. This got me thinking.
            When I first received my assignment to work with high school students I was completely bummed. However, determined to start my journey on a positive note with a jump of enthusiasm in my step, I brain washed myself into thinking that it was not going to be that bad working with high school students. Thinking of my own high school experience, this exercise to create positive thoughts almost failed. But, something, some spark told me that working with high school students here in the Philippines might be different. Being different is part of my way of life so I was not afraid anymore. Rather than being afraid of changing hormones, afraid of “I am a bad ass high school student” mischief, I just kept walking.
            Walking quickly turned into laughing and singing and dancing and an experience that closely resembled my memories of elementary school, not high school. I don’t know why but I do know. You have read my stories; many of my favorite moments (aka the ones I write about) embrace a touch of silliness. When my students are feeling sleepy, we sing. When it is a holiday, we make a huge mess in our classroom and take funny pictures. When it is time to be serious and learn, we pack up our giggles and open our minds.
            Then I thought about when I was emailing Betty Halliwell from Books for Peace. I requested children’s book for my high school students. Seems odd. But, to a 13-year-old who has never seen a book filled with glossy imaginative characters and places, children’s books might be awesome. My hypothesis was correct. After receiving our second box of books, after creating a mini-library in our English room, it did not take my students long to surround the shelves. As 10 of them crowded around I Spy… I smiled knowing that they did think it was remarkable. Now, there is always a student sitting crisscross apple sauce in the corner of our book nook, gripping a book as if the dazzling pictures were coming to life.
            So, much like my fellow Peace Corps friend is making her elementary kiddos smile with songs and silliness, I feel proud knowing that I am too. My kids may not wear size 1 shoes or beginning to learn the alphabet, but they do enjoy playing. Maybe we all need to play a little more. Whoever your kids may be, get out and play. My kids may not be kids at all but they sure act like they are sometimes. I just used this quote, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Well, I am glad to say that those words do not describe my environment. 

We work together.

We jump.

We always try our best.

We read.

Happy Valentine's Day. We take funny pictures.

I walked into my classroom one day to find this. 

My Valentine's Day gift

We make our classroom a mess.

Reasons #one thousand something why I love my Valentine.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Maybe I Really Am Crazy

February 2nd, 2013: 

Initially I was going to copy my sister’s idea of jotting some highlights from the previous year. However, after writing for a little while I realized that my successes do not paint pretty pictures in the life of imagination as well as weddings and babies do. Stories about killing my first cockroach, eating ants and sea urchin, and successfully learning how to flush the toilet after going #2 will surely not make readers say, “Aw.”

Seven months. Seven months. Seven months. Seven months are the two words that rapidly flash in my mind when I think about the future. At month 14, the finish line was far. At month 16, the finish line was far. At month 19 the finish line was far. At month 20, the finish line is a few steps away. This is what it feels like (really similar to the thought pattern I had when I ran a marathon). When I studied abroad for 6 months I was saying, “Holy cow I am going to be away for so long, 6 months, omg…, can I do it?” Now my heart is beating fast thinking about how short of a time frame I have left. February I will see hearts. March I will see balloons and graduation, and probably tears. April and May I will see sports equipment. June and July I will see Joe and more tears. That’s it!

What’s happening now? The new sports equipment marked a new bullet point on the list of Sports Club Accomplishments. Before school and during recess students are now able to check out equipment. The empty spaces of school campus are now filled with students, some shooting hoops, some volleying in a small circle, and some spread out allowing themselves to let the Frisbee sore as far as possible. One teacher said to me, “Ma’am, it is so great because my students who were late for first period after lunch are now rushing back to school early so they can play!” One student said to me, “Ma’am I am meeting with Emmerson (the captain of the Frisbee team) after school so he can teach me a new way to throw the Frisbee.” I am positive Emmerson’s activity could be categorized as youth volunteerism. Guess that is a new bullet point too. The members of sports club are now voluntarily allotting time in their day so that they can teach others about what they have learned from sports club. My counterpart said to me, “Ma’am Gina, I really see it now, I really see the benefits of Sports Club. I am going to make sure this continues after you leave.”

I have a student named Dale (pseudonym is used). You can find him in the crowd because he is the only boy with curly hair. His hair is short enough so that you can see the curl but it does not quite curl into a ringlet. He sits with his hands freely crossed in his lap, with his eyes constantly watching whoever is talking. His presence is a bit mysterious. He is eager to learn but not aggressive. Whenever he is called on his answer includes one word only. When we are doing assignments in class he can commonly by found working strongly with another student who helps him translate his Tagalog words. Yesterday, the students had to present their work individually. The day prior they listened to a description of a place, a seashore, and they had to draw what they saw in their imagination. It was Dale’s turn. He did not appear as nervous as normal; there was even a bounce in his step as he took center stage. His drawing looked effortlessly perfect. He lived near the sea and was familiar with what it looked like. He even added his own fishing boat to the drawing (even though that was not in the given description). He spoke about his drawing with confidence and then sat down with a smirk on his faced that silently screamed, “I am so proud.” As he left class that day I applauded him for his presentation and drawing. Later on, I used thumb tacks to display it on our student output bulletin. This morning, he smiled at me like he always does but he added, “Good Morning Ma’am.” I have a feeling we might hear more from Dale in English class.

As I am writing this I can see gusts of sand whirling by outside like mini tornados. I have been searching for the best way to express what is happening in my mind right now, and I consider the weather today perfect. It appears calm to the lazy observer (an acquaintance) but to the keen observer (immediate family/ best friend) there is a lot more going on than whatever originally catches the eye. I feel calm. I am running down the home stretch in my service. I have some upcoming events that I am really excited about. But, then there are the sand storms. The bursts of, “I need to do this and this and this and this before I go,” and “Wow, this happened at home, what am I going to do when I can’t run back the Philippines?” and, “I need to do more planning NOW.” Then, another short wave of calmness sets in as I drink a beer with my best friend. Next, the leaves start to dance and another sand storm is rapidly approaching, “Did I forget to do something? Am I going to regret not doing something?” The top sensation that helps me tackle my sand storm of emotions is success. In the past 575 days, a lot has gone wrong but a lot has also gone right. Many things have challenged me and many things have come with ease. A second has made me smile and a second has made me cry. Some ideas have been hidden as deep as possible and some ideas continue to glow. I guess a calm day with a few sand tornadoes is better than a hurricane.

Currently on my list of things to do: 1) Help Mrs. Valdez get books for her own school. She and her husband are the owners of a private high school in my community. She is a student teacher at my school right now and has been secretly watching me work with the new books at our school. She finally got the courage to speak with me about how I might be able to help her and her school too. I have the e-mails sent and books should be on the boat next week! Let the magic begin. 2) I am busy getting the logistics put together for our Just Try It! Summer Sports Camp. 3) Keep trying new work-outs as I have already started to research about competing in a half iron man. Maybe I really am crazy. 

Our Christmas Cards made it to our new friends in America!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

2013 Begins

January 2013:

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward” –Martin Luther King Jr.
            Moving forward changes us all. Before I went home to spend Christmas with my family many people told me that it would feel like nothing changed. However, after not seeing them for 1 ½ years, I saw changes.

My heart beat faster than ever as I searched for my love at the airport, love changes things.
I hugged my nephew for the first time, which was a change.
I introduced myself to my newest nephew, which was a change.
I walked up my parent’s driveway with tears in my eyes, change again.
I saw a sister who has grown into a stunning young woman, more change.
I saw a sister who has transformed her life with miracles, made me love the possibilities of change.
I hugged my little brother tighter than ever while wiping tears from his eyes, change.
I saw my pops with the largest smile on his face and he was up past 7p.m., I love change.
I saw my cousin with her husband for the first time, which was a change.
I saw my mother, my best friend, my strength, my motivation, my life teacher, and my eyes filled with even more tears; change helps relationships bloom.
I had many conversations with the curly haired angel who I call my niece; I never wanted them to end.
I saw my family, friends, and neighbors standing in my parent’s garage; ok… some things never change.

I did not want to sleep. I did not even want to eat (only at like 3 a.m. when it was lunch time in the Philippines). I did not want to be involved in drama. I did not want to stop hugging people. I did not want to stop talking to my mother and father. I did not want to stop talking, period. I did not want to close my eyes. I wanted to soak up everything. Then I passed out for 20 hours. I realized who really matters in my life. I did not want to go shopping. I was content just being around my family. Truthfully, I did not really want to leave my parent’s house. Everything I needed was inside, or outside if I mention the snowy hills. I know exactly who will be with me in the next steps of my life. And the “who” in my life story matters most.

“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” – Earl Nightingale
            I used to dream about watching my Sports Club kids all throwing balls at the same time. Thanks to a bighearted coach and gym teacher who made a donation, I got to stand on the stage of my school and stare out at 20+ balls/ frisbees flying in the air. Sports Club is more than an after school Sports Club now. My students check out equipment during their lunch recess. They are eager for more games, more ways they can play, more time they can play. After 1 ½ years of being stared at in my little nook in the world, I am the one doing the staring now. It feels really good.

“I’ve seen better days, but I’ve also seen worse. I don’t have everything that I want, but I do have all I need. I woke up with some aches and pains, but I woke up. My life may not be perfect but I am blessed.”
            I am blessed. A lot has happened over the past month, too much for me to process and display for the world to see. The other day I woke up with a heart ache from saying goodbye to my sister and my boyfriend. I have woken up happier. Now that I am back in Marinduque, I feel a bit better, the blurriness of tears has come and gone, and I am ready to run happily to the finish line of my service. I am blessed.

@home. from new bond to fabulous bond. 

love snow and siblings

the families newest miracle

"always by your side"


The kids of Sports Club... waiting...

Some of the excitement after seeing the new equipment *more photos to come soon*

I hope we never take a completely normal family Christmas picture. 

The kids I nanny for in America made 200+ bags of stickers for me to give my students. These shiny gems can be seen all over campus now! What a neat little way to brighter someones life.

Hard decision.

It's more fun in the Philippines.

Perfect place to end any day.

Our Filipina Mommy.