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,