Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fiestas!! and photos!

Hi everyone! It's been a crazy few weeks for me, with two fiestas in two weekends!

Two weeks ago, I experienced the Sinulog Festival, here in Kabankalan, and the following weekend I met up with my other Peace Corps friends in Iloilo for the Dinagyang Festival! Both festivals are a tribute to the "Señor Santo Niño," or in other words, the widely celebrated in the Philippines, baby Jesus. In Kabankalan's history, the early Christians in the city were often subject to pirate attacks, and it is believed that the Santo Niño intervened by driving the pirates away with a shining sword. Ever since then, Kabankalan has celebrated the Sinulog with charcoal-covered tribal dancers, parades, drums, and of course, figurines of the Santo Niño. The city residents also like to cover people's faces with charcoal during the highlight of the festival on Sunday. (If you're a foreigner, you get double the charcoal!)

It rained through most of the dancing, and unfortunately I got my cell phone pickpocketed while pushing my way through the crowd. But still, I managed to have fun attending the parade, getting my face covered in charcoal, and eating lots of food with my coworkers in Kabankalan!

The Santo Niño:

And some dancers preparing for the parade:

Some of the costumes were really elaborate!

These girls were the first to get me with some charcoal... don't they look devious?

Some of the dancing in the parade.

And this is what I looked like by the end! It took forever to get it off...

The following weekend, I met with some other Peace Corps Volunteers in Iloilo for the Dinagyang! Also complete with tribal dancing, although I didn't get my face smeared with charcoal that time. It was really nice to visit with some of my friends!

Here's some photos from one of the dance festivals, the Kasadyahan. The dancers came from different towns in the province. Their dances were very good, with really amazing costumes and props. Each dance had a different concept that was related to what the town is known for. Most of them were related to fishing or agriculture. One had to do with the war for independence from Spain.

Finally, here are some older pictures from the camping trip I described in my last blog post. These are from the hike to the waterfall. The pictures are of my students, my coteacher, and myself.   (Told you my students were adorable!)

Ok, tapos na (all done) with the photos.  Take care, hugs and kisses to everyone back home!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Camping, Christmas, and Living the Dream in Kabankalan

Hello, friends and family! I hope all is well with you back in the U.S., or wherever you might be reading this from. It's been about a month and a half since I swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and officially began my two-year stint in Kabankalan, Philippines. My internet access is somewhat limited here (sorry about the lack of blog), but I am getting accustomed to everyday life here, and I'm learning to love it!

My first few weeks here required more adjustment, especially since I had gotten used to having other Americans around me for all of my training in Mandurriao. I was a bit sad to leave my friends behind. In school, I mostly observed English classes at first, and had a few question-and-answer sessions with the students. That was interesting... the students who were less confident in English were pretty quiet, but some classes asked LOTS of questions. Along with the typical questions about my age, family, and hometown, some of the questions started to get pretty personal! Every class asked me if I had a boyfriend, and responded with "Ooooohhh" when I said no! (That's actually one of the first questions people ask each other here. My fellow teachers usually introduce me as 'single and available.') Other common questions from the students included, "Ma'am, how do you find the Philippines?" (meaning to ask if I like it here); "Ma'am Kelsey, what is your favorite song? Will you sing for us?" "Ma'am, do you dance?" "Ma'am, what is the hardest problem you've ever faced?" (That one was the least expected, haha).
Anyway, I really love my students, and I love teaching. Many of them really struggle with English, but I hope I can give them a reason to keep working at it, and help them improve their skills so they'll have more confidence. (Some of them were very shy to speak to me, especially at first). There are many projects and activities I would like to do with this school, and I'm really lucky to have lots of support from my fellow teachers.

Right now, however, I am halfway through my school's Christmas break. At first I was worried about being bored for these two weeks, but I've managed to keep quite busy. Last Saturday I packed a week's worth of clothes and attended the Negros Occidental Boy Scout's encampment with 12 students (4 boys and 8 girls), Mr. Perez, our Boy Scout coordinator, and my co-teacher Rhea. The camping trip was a nice chance for me to get to know some of the students, and even the two other teachers, better. I spent 5 nights and 6 days sleeping in a makeshift tent (made by the scouts out of bamboo logs and a tarp), helping to cook with whatever ingredients we could find at the market, and judging the students' Christmas-tree-making and Christmas-lantern-making contests. The venue for the encampment was a local agricultural college.

It was a really beautiful place, up in the mountains. I really appreciated the clean, cool mountain air. It had a wonderful swimming pool and a nice hiking trail which we took advantage of with the students one day. The trail led to some beautiful waterfalls, where we went swimming before returning to the campsite. (Some of the students were pretty impressed with my ability to swim.) There were also lots of fresh fruits and vegetables there, like sweet potatoes, peppers, papayas, bananas, string beans, and eggplant... I even saw a cacao (chocolate) tree and coffee bean trees! I think seeing the plants, buying food at the market and cooking helped me get even more used to the unusual foods I am eating here... maybe now I can try to eat a little more like a Filipino. I even accompanied Rhea and Mr. Perez in looking for a native chicken to buy and make chicken adobo. We finally found a chicken farm and bought two (live) chickens, and brought them back where Rhea slaughtered and dressed the chickens for our meal the next day. (I have to admit... I was pretty upset at watching the chickens get killed... I guess it was just another cultural experience. Everyone else was surprised that I had never experienced that before.) Anyhow, the camping trip was a fun, but challenging experience for me.

After returning here, I celebrated Christmas with my host family and became a godmother for my host sister's baby daughter. And in just a few days, I will be able to reunite with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers to spend New Year's at a famous beach called Boracay! I'm so excited... and after that it's back to school! I'll try to update you guys more often. Take care until then!
Love and hugs from across the globe,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Hello everyone!  I know- it's been a month since I last updated my blog.  A lot has happened since then.  My group is wrapping up the last few weeks of Pre-Service Training (PST), and I just finished co teaching at my practicum site here in Iloilo.  Tomorrow we will be holding an "English Carnival" there as our final project.  But I really want to tell you guys about my three-day visit to my permanent site- the city of Kabankalan, in Negros Occidental!   During the last week of September, I attended a Peace Corps conference in the city of Bacolod, where we found out our permanent sites and then got to meet our supervisors.  After the conference, the group split up to visit our permanent sites for three nights, so I got to see the school where I'll be working for the next two years, and meet my host family.  These are the posters they put of our permanent sites.  I'm circled in red:

Kabankalan is a small city surrounded by mountains and sugar cane fields.  Although most of the surrounding area is rural, the city has a small shopping center and it is a main stopping point for busses between Bacolod and Dumaguete, the two major cities on opposite sides of the island.  The school where I will be teaching is called Talubangi National High School.  The school is much smaller than the one where I've been co-teaching in Iloilo- it has only about 650 students and 20 teachers.  I feel like there's a lot I'll be able to do there.  My principal and coworkers at the school seem very enthusiastic about new projects and I look forward to working with them!  This is my supervisor and I at the conference:

The site visit was, as I had expected, a rather overwhelming experience.  I had been looking forward to finding out my site for all of Training, but the staff and students at the school and the people in the community had been anticipating Peace Corps American volunteers for years.  The school was on a looooong waiting list before the Peace Corps was able to send a volunteer.  And being the only American in my neighborhood, I got a LOT of attention from my community, school, and host family.  Of course, the kids in the community are adorable.  They were so excited and crowded around to talk to me!

I'm also happy that there will be another volunteer in the city with me.  Meg, from my training group, will be in a different school on the other side of the city.  So we were able to share some of the crazy experiences of the site visit.

As soon as we arrived in the city, I was taken to my school where there was a welcome ceremony for me, complete with dancers and an extremely talented student singing an opera song.  Later, Meg and I were taken to meet politicians and DepEd officials in the city.  In the Philippines, it's important to make courtesy calls to everyone along the hierarchy of your organization.  (i.e. explaining why you are there, making small talk, and eating their food).  We had two days of courtesy calls, and introductions in the community.  I felt a little bit like a politician!  Meg and I were even asked to judge part of a talent competition.

The last day we were there, we were able to visit the Mag Aso waterfall and some of the highlands.  It's gorgeous and I'm so excited to live near mountains!  Meg and I both went with our supervisors at our schools and some of our future coworkers.  It was a great opportunity to bond with them too.  We got to swim in the stream that feeds the waterfall and take lots and LOTS of pictures!  (In true Filipino tradition).  Later, when we visited the highland resort, one of Meg's coworkers taught us some traditional dances!  It was a really enjoyable day, and a nice break from all the courtesy calls.

The next ones are from the mountain resort:

(Yes, I know, Ican also expect two years of towering over EVERYONE.  The women on the left is Ria, one of my co-teachers.)

She's eating sugar cane!

Did I mention it's beautiful?

My host family in Kabankalan is very nice.  It's always an adjustment going to live with a new family, and they don't speak quite as much English as my current host family.  The positive side of this is that it will give me an opportunity to keep practicing Hiligaynon, since I'll mostly be speaking English at school.  My host family there consists of my Nanay, and her son and daughter, who are both older than me.  There is also a cousin and a "helper" who lives with them.  My host sister is married and was very pregnant while I was there.  She actually delivered her baby on the day I left Kabankalan!  I was so suprised to find this out, because when I woke up in the morning they were gone, and I had some communication difficulties trying to ask their helper what happened.  I thought, at first, that it was an emergency!  I later found out via text message that it was a normal delivery, so when I go back there will be a new baby girl in the family.   As much as will miss my host family in Iloilo, they seem like really good people and, with time, I'm sure I'll form just as close of a relationship with them. 

I like my site, despite the craziness of the three-day site visit.  It seems like there's a lot of projects and activities I'll be able to do in my school, and the people in the community are very welcoming.  Of course I'll have my challenges there, but I'd better be ready for them because starting November 13, it'll be my home for two years!  I'm really looking forward to the experience!

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Hello everyone!

I had my first official co-teaching experience on Thursday with a first-year class in Iloilo City National High School.  It went well for the most part, although my co-teacher and I could have used a little bit more time to plan.  We covered the different sounds that can be made with the letter "a" in the English language.  The students seemed to enjoy hearing the words pronounced with an American accent, and for most of them it was a new experience for them to practice English with a native speaker.  At the end of the class period we had the students play a "pass the message" game, which is the same as the game "telephone" in the U.S. In small groups, the students were given messages which they had to whisper down the line until the last group member heard it, and would have to tell everyone what they had heard.  Once the students understood their instructions, they had a lot of fun repeating the sentences, but had a hard time remembering them, and by the time it got to the last person, the message usually was very different from what it had originally been.

The game of "pass the message" is actually a good representation of the way news and gossip spread around communitites in the Philippines.  This concept is called "chika-chika," meaning everyone knows just about everything about each other's lives.  But, like "pass the message," the story tends to change along the way.  And for us Peace Corps Trainees in Iloilo City, the effect is doubled, because we tend to stick out as the only Americans in the neighborhood.  Additionally, most of our host families know each other or are related, and the PCTs are a favorite topic of discussion.  So, I get a lot of questions about my co-trainees and I heard all about how Leanna is a vegetarian and Andrew hadn't done his laundry yet.
Meanwhile, info about me gets passed around too, so when I go to language class on weekday mornings, I hear, "So, Kelsey, my host family tells me how much you looooove milkfish!"

"Um... yeah it's pretty good."

"Well at dinner yesterday the main topic of discussion was how much you love it!"


"Kelsey, I heard your family was coming to visit in about a month! I didn't know the Peace Corps allowed that!"

When in reality I had just mentioned the likelihood of my family visiting at some point during my two-year service.  Of couse, chika-chika doesn't just take place among the host families.  The two education clusters in Iloilo tend to have a LOT of spare time between sessions, which we spend reading, playing cards, playing cell phone games, and discussing other trainees.  Who has gone home already? Who has gotten sick? WHO already has a Filipina girlfriend???  But, you know, it's all just chika-chika! 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Visit to the Farm!

Hello again from Iloilo!  Last Sunday my host family took me, and two other PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) to their family's farm near Lambunao, a smaller town a bit further inland.  It was a 1.5-hour ride through beautiful countryside before we got to the farm.

These are some pictures of the group that went with us, in the jeepney.  My host mom is in the back, with my 5-year old host cousin, Kyle in the middle, and our great-auntie in the front.  She used to live alone in the country house we visited, but has recently been living with us in the city, due to health concerns about her living alone.

My host "uncle," Nonoy, is on the left.  He's Kyle's father and is very friendly and talkative.  Sean, on the right, is another Peace Corps trainee in Iloilo.

On the left is Dart, another "host cousin," and my host brother Michael is on the right.

Me with two other PCT's, Andrew on the left (Dart is his host brother) and Leanna on the right.

The church in Lambunao.  Most of the churches I've seen are Spanish colonial-style, like this one.

The scenery in the countryside is absolutely beautiful.  These are the rice paddies.

Moving forward in a parade of umbrellas.  Many people in the Philippines use umbrellas for shade because the sun is so intense.  Makes sense!  In this picture you can also see that rice paddies have raised dirt pathways that you can walk on.  It was around this time that Sean fell into the rice paddy and got mud all over is feet and hands!  I don't think he'll ever be able to live that one down.  I guess he just wanted to get "up close and personal" with the main food source of the Philippines...

Behind the family's house there was a huge hill covered in forest.  So we decided to climb it...

Turns out it was incredibly steep and slippery!  You can see the guys ahead of us in this picture, which gives you a little more of an idea of how steep it was!  I had to grab on to vines to keep climbing, and I almost fell into Leanna once!  But we all made it!

Baby goats!  They were really cute.  I almost wanted to take one home.

This is a carabao, the Philippine water buffalo.

Here's one more bonus picture of Kyle, sa balay (at home).

I'll update you all again soon!  Until then, halong!  (Take care!)

Friday, September 3, 2010

From Illinois to Iloilo

Maayong aga sa Iloilo City, Pilipinas!!! (Good morning from Iloilo City, Philippines!)

I've been with my host family for just over a week now, and they are wonderful! So nice and welcoming! In fact, just about everyone I've met in the Philippines has been really friendly and hospitable, in true Filipino tradition! There are several extended family members living in the house, including some younger kids. I'm really having fun with them! There's a 5-year old boy here who is really cute- his name is VonKyle. He seems to notice everything about me and is always by my side, wondering what I'm doing. I'm going to miss him when I go to my permanent site! I'm very busy here, between Pre-Service Training and adjusting to the major life changes I'm making here. I'm getting used to hot weather, insects in the house, rice three times a day, washing my clothes by hand, and non-flushing toilets.

Here's an example of an experience in the Philippines. Last night I had a run-in with the biggest spider I have ever seen!!! I was about to take a shower, when I saw a large black CREATURE on the wall. I put my glasses back on, and it turned out to be a spider about twenty times the size of any spider you might find in Frankfort. Seriously, a big spider at home does not even compare with a big spider in the Philippines! My normal strategy of trapping it under a cup wouldn't work because I could never fit the whole spider under a cup! Then it scurried with lightening reflexes under the soap shelf. I was afraid to try and kill it, because... what if it didn't die? It would probably jump at me and attack my face! I decided to use my secondary strategy of avoidance, and proceeded to take my whole shower without going any nearer to the spider than I had to and not taking my eyes off it. After I left the bathroom and came back after a minute to check, it had disappeared. Typical... At least I haven't woken up with a cockroach on my face, like some volunteers. My mosquito net is my friend. :)

Anyway, other than avoiding large insects, I'm also keeping busy with my Pre-Service Training. I am learning to speak Hiligaynon (slowly but surely), and on Tuesday I will start observing an English classroom with my co-teacher, Dexie! I really like her so far. She's close to my age and seems happy to have me there! The following week I will begin co-teaching with her! I'm nervous, but very excited! Wish me luck! I'll update you again soon!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Hello again from the Philippines!  We had our water safety training day today, which consisted of practicing with our life jackets and getting in and out of a small boat while in the water.  Easy and painless.  It was nice to get out of the resort area and see the real Philippines, although the level of poverty we saw on the bus ride brought down the mood a little bit.  We spent the rest of the day at that beach until about 1pm.  Honestly, it was pretty dirty, although I had fun afterwards chatting with other trainees, singing videoke (there was a machine at the beach), playing cards and eating fresh coconut!  It was delicious and nothing like the coconut you buy at an American store.  Here's a few more photos from the resort we've been staying in.

One section of the resort is a 'fishing village,' which is very cool:

The weather changes VERY quickly here.  Usually the morning have been sunnier and we've been getting short, but intense storms later in the afternoon.

The poverty in the Philippines is pretty shocking.  I've only been here for a few days, but the area outside the resort is mostly slums and shantytowns.  You only have to cross a little river to get to them.  This is the other side of the river. I've seen a lot of places like this driving through the Philippines.  I've also seen a lot of large, expensive houses not too far away.

And this is what the other side of the river looks like:

On a lighter note, here's some pictures from some traditional Philippine dancing group that performed at dinner the other day.  One of my favorite dances involved people dancing between bamboo sticks, which other people would tap together.  It would get faster and faster with the music, and the dancers had to be very nimble to keep going!  Sorry the pictures are a little dark.

More to come!  xoxo