Sunday, June 21, 2015

Enough is enough

It is unfortunate how it sometimes takes death to remind us to cherish life. While certainly not an isolated incident, the nine lives taken in Charleston, SC on the night of July 17, 2015 are a vivid reminder of the inner problems we as individuals and as a country still face. Despite the words we write or conversations we have, little change has occurred as many of the same issues we've dealt with for centuries are repeatedly slapping us in the face. Will we continue to hide, sticking with the status quo and anxiously expecting someone else to fix them? Or will we proactively seek solutions on an individual and societal level, thereby putting the interests of humanity before our own?

Either way, it's time for a serious self-examination. We cannot continue to label ourselves by race, sex, religion, or political affiliation. While all of these help to define us and in some way strive to unite, more often they end up tearing us apart, creating arguments where there should be dialogues. Instead, we can utilize our intellect and gifts as human beings (i.e. communication, education, critical and rational thinking, love, respect, empathy) to facilitate change and recognize that we are all equal. We are ONE. That knowledge is more powerful and unifying than anything.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Simplicity

We live in a busy world. High speed, high intensity. High stress. It seems everything is go, go, go 24/7/365, leaving us little time to "sit back and smell the roses." Taking a break might mean someone else jumping in front of you, whether that be at the supermarket, at your job, or on the court. I've grown accustomed to this life as it is what I grew up in. Consciously or subconsciously, social and cultural norms are affecting our day-to-day thoughts and actions. And they are constantly evolving as we ourselves are. Beautiful, yet at times, terrifying.

Take a look at TV commercials for example. An advertisement by Coca-Cola or Coors may entice us to go to the fridge and grab one. Same is true for movies and popcorn, two words that go hand-in-hand. Even if we're not at the theater, we often feel the need to make popcorn when watching a movie from the comforts of our own home.

While I do appreciate the busyness, I have had a few moments since returning to the US where I long for Peace Corps simplicity. As an outsider, I was originally unaware of many Philippine social and cultural norms and in some cases, they didn't apply. This may sound strange, but there is a sense of freedom that you have as a foreigner. I was oblivious to this freedom in the moment, but I recognize it now that I have returned to the US. The freedom from your own norms and from the restrictions we place on ourselves. The removal of these norms and distractions allowed me to focus on what I value and craft my own personal ideology that I can turn to amidst the busyness.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

All you need is LOVE

The past month has been...well...slightly chaotic to put it best. Between the holiday season, family get togethers (and sickness), the passing of a loved one, New Years, and a move down south, my life has been GO GO GO (I haven't had time to stop to collect my $200). But in the middle of the chaos, I found peace with one imagine. One moment that I will have forever.

The passing of my grandfather on December 30th brought both sadness and joy to my life. It is never easy to say goodbye to a loved one, but it is made easier by remembering the ways in which they touched your life. And by celebrating theirs. 

I am so thankful for the time I had with my grandfather throughout the years, but perhaps the best time we had together was since I've returned from the Philippines these past few months. The most precious moments to us are often defined by the unseen. No one else can witness a moment exactly from our vantage point. That's what makes them so special and unique. Because they are our own.

The love my grandparents have for one another is well-known. But seeing them continue to live through one another, in sickness and in health, is beyond words. Their love is the epitome of what love is, and I will always try to live by their example. 

Genuine. Expressive. Emotional. Unwavering. Unconditional. 

Love. Share it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Returned (R)

September 29, 2014 approx. 11:00 PM EST - My feet were once again firmly planted on US soil. I still might have been speaking Tagalog (due to some of our new Fil-Am friends on the plane), but as I ventured through the San Francisco airport, I was overwhelmed with happiness. Verizon signal returned. English was ringing in my ears. But the first thing that completely blew my mind: drinking fountains!

For nearly two months, my post-Close of Service (COS) travels took me to remote spots in the Philippines (the adventurous island of Siargao and the rugged Cordillera mountain provinces; I can now say I have two additional tattoos this year, both tribal) and an American cross-country BROad trip with two of my closest friends. I've been able to see many family and friends since my return, sharing countless stories and pictures. But to be completely honest (and maybe you could tell from my last post), I had not planned on continuing this blog. It wasn't until I became a dependent again (for two months) and holed myself up at my parents' home that I realized the profound effect my writing had on me and others since I began in June 2012. I was never sure where to begin, but the freedom of expression transformed itself as I put finger to keyboard.

The title of this blog, Finding My Camino, is indicative of something that doesn't end, but evolves and adapts. And such is life. A never-ending road of twists and turns. We are continually finding ourselves. So as I returned home after close to two and a half years, I need to heed the words that I wrote in my last post: "My road isn't ending...only continuing." I hope to demonstrate that through everyday action, but also by sharing my ongoing growth process with you through words.


This entry itself has been evolving for weeks. I've had so many thoughts and emotions running through me as I transition back into US life that it was hard to know where to begin. The mind often becomes overexerted (causing me to overthink), but at the same time, I have found that this is a tremendous time in my life for new knowledge and mental expansion. Perhaps that is just the transitional point I now find myself in though: the so-to-speak "real world" awaits in the next few months.

On the plus side, I never found myself completely overwhelmed after returning. Despite hearing stories about going into COSTCO or Wal-Mart again and being blown away, it was more of the little things I never thought to think about before that struck me (i.e. drinking fountains; free access to safe drinking water!!??). Living in the Philippines gave me a broader perspective on the world we live in and taught me how to get by with less. To see the accessibility and consumptive practices we have here is incredible. I walked into Pottery Barn the other day and thought to myself, "who really needs a new set of dishes with Rudolph on them? Are you ever going to use them any other time of year?" Now, obviously some people feel compelled to buy such things, but the question I am now asking myself is DO I REALLY NEED THAT?

One of the most challenging things for me has been trying to get back in touch and familiarize myself with people again. Connecting through Skype, Facebook, emails, etc. while overseas isn't the same as face-to-face interaction. Just as many friends or family may pick up on changes in me, in some ways it feels like I am just meeting them all over again. That's often relieving though because it makes the conversation real. We commonly engage in small-talk, whether it be at a holiday party or family reunion, asking the same questions over and over. But do we really care about the answers? Or are the conversations superficial, ones that simply act as a time-fillers or nice gestures? I acknowledge that this depends from person-to-person. Comfortability is key. I'm not going to divulge the same amount of detail on a particular topic with a new acquaintance as maybe I would with my mother. But I also feel that we shouldn't need to hide behind masks instead of being our true selves. Don't be afraid to speak your mind or have an in-depth conversation. Good and bad timing is fickle. If the opportunity presents itself and you feel comfortable, go for it.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Freedom

It has been a pleasure being able to put my thoughts to keyboard and sharing them with you, my readers, these past 27 months. I struggled with journaling in the past, never really seeing the point. But through journaling and blogging throughout my Peace Corps tenure, I have found a new way of expressing myself, releasing stress, and sharing my vantage point with the world.

I've spent the past few minutes rereading through some of my old posts (making sure I don't restate previous thoughts :), prompting further reflection of my PC experience. I have loved this "era" of my life because it has allowed me to do something different. To be someone different. I never thought of myself as crazy or mad before, but that is essentially an unwritten requirement for Peace Corps. Being comfortable with yourself to take the "road less traveled," and defy conventional wisdom.

So thank you for reading these words. I would love to believe that I have led to a new understanding and appreciation of Filipino culture, Peace Corps, or life in general through my writings. That is, after all, one of the Peace Corps goals: to promote a better understanding of Filipinos on the part of Americans. But I like to think that I have awakened a new part of myself, a sense of freedom... of expression... emotion... free to explore life. My road isn't ending...only continuing. See you soon!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Staying in the moment

Wrapping up service causes volunteers to think about what life will be like back home, what questions we will be asked, how things have changed (both internally and externally) over 2 years, how people have changed, etc. Emotional for sure and difficult to put into words. Two years is long no matter where you are, and so much happens within that time. I do not expect each person to express interest in every detail of my service, just as I probably won't want to hear every bit about their past two years, because everyone is different. That isn't meant to project negativity but reality. So in writing this post, I want to share some of my most important observations because I believe they correspond to more than just my experience, but transcend life in general.

Stay in the moment. If there is one thing I have learned throughout my Peace Corps service, this would be it. I have said it time and time again throughout this blog, but it has become even more noticeable for me as my service comes to a close. There is so much to look forward to in the next few months: travel plans, my ongoing reunion with family and friends, home cooked meals, Chipotle burritos, craft beers, falling leaves, snow, holidays, the smell of a bonfire or Christmas tree. I could go on and on. As I think of these things combined with the emotions that seem to be inescapable upon return, I try and remind myself that I am still here in the Philippines. That I still have 3 weeks left before my COS. If we are in a rush to move on to future activities, we will never be able to appreciate those in front of us. Enjoy the moments, or as I recently heard "let the moments seize you."

Observing changes through a screen. Though I haven't had a face-to-face connection with friends and family (aside from my parents) in over 2 years, it has been amazing to see their changes through a computer screen. Whether it's a Facebook message, pictures, employment updates, or a Skype call, I've been able to be a part of a life-changing event (i.e. wedding announcement), vacation, new job, or just personal maturation. These moments have allowed me to stay connected while observing from a far. A truly unique and invaluable perspective.

Planning isn't everywhere. The Philippines has forced me to live and plan on a day-to-day basis (outside of my personal travel). Filipinos think on a daily or monthly basis, not annually. When asking someone how much they make, a response might be "10,000 pesos/month," not "120,000 pesos/year." This principal carries over into all facets of living and stands in stark contrast to how we operate in America. The concept of planning ahead isn't seen as important because in many cases, people are trying to make ends meet daily.

Stay open minded. Part of being a Peace Corps volunteer is sharing American culture with locals, while also learning about theirs and sharing it with the world (what I hope I have done through this blog). As someone who has had the opportunity to travel, interact with locals and form relationships, and see some incredible sights, it's extremely difficult not to generalize. It's natural to gauge an outsider's perceptions of your country by asking "what do you think of (i.e. the Philippines, America)?" On the flip side, sharing your own perceptions of your country with an outsider is just as hard because of the diversity that exists in our world. I can share my thoughts and experiences of America with Filipinos, but they are commonly understood as "this is what Americans are like," not "this is what (i.e. Rochester, New York, South Carolina) is like." The same applies to the Philippines. I have spent the majority of my time here in the Bicol region, so naturally, most of my observations are related to the people/my experiences there, not the country as a whole. Being able to hold back judgement while continuing to observe and engage is key, especially when finding yourself in a foreign environment.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Whirlwind...literally!

My time grows thin here in the Philippines. Close of Service (COS) is upon us, with our wrap-up conference next week in Bohol and my COS date set for September 12. And as of yesterday, my stateside arrival is set for September 29! Apologizes for not writing these past few months. My free time/internet availability has been limited, and my mind has been preoccupied elsewhere. But after a wonderful trip up to Northern Luzon, a Special Olympics event...cut short by...Typhoon Glenda, COS Medical, and a bro trip to Ilocos, I find myself in the friendly, air-conditioned confines of the Peace Corps office with ample electricity and internet at my disposal.

To bring you up to speed, June once again marked the start of the rainy season, and in Tabaco, it also marks fiesta season. This year I was a bit more involved as my office invited me to partake in the cultural night, where each LGU office presents a dance number. I was more than happy to join, knowing of course that this meant daily dance practice. As a seasoned veteran, I knew very well that fiesta season means limited trabaho ("work"), so at least I had something else to occupy my time at the office.

A few of my coworkers and I before our dance routine

This is not to say my June was a vacation (just wait til I get to July...). Our Save the Rivers, Save the Sea Program was in full swing and we managed to fine tune our needs assessment questionnaire and organize a pre-test before the students surveyed almost 300 participants in 3 barangays. The data encoding process is currently taking place.

The commencement of fiesta coincided with the conclusion of my online economics course. So naturally, relaxation set in...up north :) My new favorite spot in the Philippines, the mountainous provinces of Ifagao, Mountain Province, and Benguet offer a reprieve from the hot and muggy lowlands. Pine trees and rice terraces dot the landscape, and beef and organic produce abound. It was a magical week, even despite the spontaneous rain showers and treacherous bus rides through the mountains.

Jackie and I at the famous rice terraces of Batad

Myself, Jackie, and our tour guide

Jackie and I inside the "Big Cave" in Sagada. The sandstone formations, shown, allowed us to walk barefoot for part of the time

Surrounded by the lush green of the rice paddies

Just last week, I was able to conclude my travel around the Philippines with a mancation to the far north and the province of Ilocos Norte. Russ, Zac, and Josh brought the laughs, and the 4 of us had a great time celebrating the Camel's 26th birthday while reminiscing about our experiences and making new ones. Highlights included an organic dragonfruit farm, beach lounging and paddle-boarding, and off-road sand duning.

Myself, Russ, Zac, and Josh at the La Paz Sand Dunes

July also brought about the biggest PC event I have ever been a part of. 3 PCVs in Legazpi organized a Special Olympics event for the province featuring close to 300 athletes and over 150 volunteers, including over 40 PCVs! It was a two-day event held at Bicol University, which attracted so much attention that even the U.S. Ambassador made an appearance. For more info and pictures, check out the Facebook page at the link below: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Special-Olympics-Albay/256499864559786.

Sadly, the event was cut short by yet another natural disaster (it seems like they've been never ending since I arrived!). Typhoon Glenda struck around 5 P.M. Tuesday night, bringing heavy rain and strong winds. All volunteers were consolidated once again to hotels in Legazpi. Unfortunately for the Bicol Region, we weren't so fortunate this year. The next day, as we ventured out of the hotel to assess the damage, we were greeted by hundreds of uprooted trees, toppled power lines, and flattened homes. I was fortunate to receive minimal damage to my home, but many others weren't as fortunate. Luckily, few casualties occurred. At this time, we remain without power in Tabaco and current timetables for return vary (lots of tsika-tsika, or "gossip"). The streets are pitch black at night, while the steady hum of a few generators can be heard in the distance. During these times, Filipinos resort to candles, prayer, and  for some, a good ol' tagay ("drinking circle"). Even in the darkness, sleep is limited as I can feel the sweat slowly trickle down my spine.

Still playing 'ball



It is in these times that I have learned to temper my expectations. My service might conclude in September without power. Some of my projects may be incomplete. That's only reality, and in the developing world, it is important to take everything with a grain of salt and roll with the punches. Situations I previously would have called chaotic or unique now seem normal.

I was reminded last night that my Peace Corps placement here in the Philippines highlighted my strengths and catered to my lifestyle. I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve in a singing, dancing, scuba diving, basketball-loving country whose people welcome you with a smile (and maybe a "Hey Joe..."), a plate full of food, and a conversation in their best English (even though you insist you know Tagalog). Even the day after a typhoon.

With a smile :)