Friday, July 27, 2007

Thailand here I come!

It's official, today was our last day in the office. I have completed my work with CFSI. So to celebrate, I'm off to Thailand tomorrow. I won't have access to the internet for a few days, so I'm sorry but you will have to wait a little longer than usual to read my updates. Take care.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Top 10 things I'll miss from the Philippines

Since mine time here is winding down I thought I would reflect on the top 10 things I will miss. (These are in no particular order.)

1. Hearing the giggles of men and women alike.
2. The mangoes.
3. The beautiful beaches.
4. The kindness of the people. Often if we are looking for something or lost, instead of just telling
us where to go, they walk us there themselves. Everyone says hello and are very hospitable.
5. The prices of everything. You are able to purchase things very cheap here, it's great.
6. Of course I am going to miss my friend Kate. It has been so good to be able to spend time
with her, be taught about Filipino culture by her, and reminisce on old times. I have met so
many other great people here also, all of which I am grateful for and will miss.
7. I will miss having someone to clean our apartment, make our beds, and do our laundry. Yes,
our apartment provides those amenities. It has been fabulous.
8. I will miss the locals on the street that say hello to us every morning as we go to work.

9. The hard work ethic of so many Filipinos that I have met will be something that I will always admire and miss having that reminder around me.
10. I will miss the smiles of the people. There smiles are so beautiful and seem so genuine and unrestrained. No matter where we go or how difficult the lives of these people are, they are always smiling. They always have time to find the good things in life and laugh aboutthe other stuff. I hope their example sticks with me forever.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

tastes of the philippines

Those of you that really know me, know that I love food. It seems to bring joy and happiness to my heart and always has. So today I thought I would give a little shout out to my favorite tastes of the Philippines.
  • Mango Shakes- there is not much better than fresh mangoes blended into an icy delight.
  • Pancit- Its a small noodle dish with lots of veggies, soy sauce and pepper. It's just really good and a very popular Filipino dish. I learned how to make it too; this way I can treat myself whenever I want.
  • Pan de Coco- It's a roll with lots of coconut milk and coconut inside. The style is very similar to a cinnamon roll. I can't even tell you how good these are! I had to limit myself to one per week otherwise I would go crazy and eat them constantly.
  • Calamansi- it's a citrus fruit. It kind of tastes like a mix of limes and tangerines. It is so good! They use it in everything and I couldn't be happier about it. I use it on Pancit, in drinks, on pancakes, on rice, etc. They also make calamansi juice and calamansi soda which I am a big fan of also.
  • Philippine Peanut Butter- the peanut butter here is scrumptious. It is homemade and just really good. I don't know how else to describe it.
  • Garlic Rice- Yes, they cook rice and then mix it with chucks of garlic. I love it!
  • Squid- I have always been a seafood fan, but the squid here is better than I have tried anywhere else. It's not too tough or too bland. They even make squid balls out of the meat, I like those too.
  • Sinigang- is a really good soup. They usually put lots of vegetables and fish in it. It has a very citrus-like broth to it. You should try it.
  • Pork Adobo- adobo is one of the first things I think of when I think Filipino food. It is made with every kind of meat and at almost every restaurant. Different people make it different ways, but the adobo is basically a type of sauce. I think it has soy sauce, vinegar, coconut milk, and lots of different spices.
  • Siopao Asada- is a light rice bread-like thing filled with sweet pork and a delicious sauce.

I think that's it, those are my favorite Filipino foods. I'm sure going to miss them. I'll be honest though, I can't wait to have a good salad and Chevy's chips and salsa from the States.

Monday, July 23, 2007

last weekend in manila

I can't believe it, time has gone by so quickly. This last weekend was officially my last weekend in Manila...... and what a great weekend it was. Friday night I went to the Manila Temple with Kate. It was so great to be there and just take it all in. The scenery is absolutely beautiful at night. I ran into a couple that I knew from church back when I was 12 years old. It was so great to see them and even greater to see them in such an unsuspected place.The next day Kate, Jeanette and I went to see Harry Potter at the IMAX. I'm not the worlds biggest Harry Potter fan, but it was really good. About 20-30 minutes of the movie was in 3-D which was really fun. It was just fun to go out with some friends and have a normal Saturday. I was kind of sad thinking about how this last Sunday was my last Sunday here. I have really enjoyed going to church here and meeting the people I have. I will forever be impressed with how friendly and open everyone has been at church. Almost every person in the ward comes up to me to say hello every Sunday. It is so amazing! I will miss the non air conditioned chapel. I will miss straining my ears to decipher if they are speaking English or Tagalog. You see they speak mostly in Tagalog in my ward but they occasionally throw in an English word. So I try my hardest to follow what they are talking about. It's hard to even hear them sometimes because the fans are all going, the kids are playing, and we are located right on a busy street. It has certainly been an experience!

I was treated to two great meals this weekend. A co-worker at my internship last year has family here in the Philippines. Some of them took my to lunch this weekend and I had a great time. They are just so sweet and fun to be around. I even found myself a new crush, Noah.
Isn't he the cutest guy you have ever seen?The executive director from CFSI took the four of us to dinner last night. It was so great to just get to chat with him and recap on our experience here. I didn't mind the great Korean food or the mangoes dipped in chocolate fondue either. I suppose I will be doing lots of recapping this week over my many experience....... so you might need to bear with me.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

a day in my life

So it occurred to me that many of you may not know what a typical day in the Philippines is like for me. I know that most of my entries are full of fun, adventurous vacations that I have taken to various places. That's not how my weeks are though. So here we go.

We wake up around 6:30 and get ready for work. Then we leave our apartment and pretend to speak in Tagalog to the employees at our apartment building. They usually just smile at us and probably whisper "bless their hearts" under their breath as we leave. Occasionally we stop at the bakery on our street for a little breakfast treat. Pan de Coco is the item to buy. It's similar to a cinnamon roll, but instead of the cinnamon and frosting, there is tons of coconut and coconut milk. Oh, they are so delicious. I had to limit myself to only one a week because otherwise I would probably go overboard.

Then we weasel our way on to the insanely crowded train. I'm serious these trains are crowded! It only takes us 20-30 minutes to get to work. The walk from the train to our office is interesting. As soon as I get off the train I trade my handheld fan for my handkerchief. The handkerchief has several purposes: to whip the sweat off my face as we walk, to protect me from the toxic fumes coming from the cars, and to block the awful smell of the local market. We travel past a market where they sell meats, clothes, fresh produce, charcoal, etc. It's interesting to watch the people and see what they are selling; but the smell of it.....whew!

I am working with the Park Avenue Initiative team at CFSI. It consists of Ruth, Arar, and then several volunteers from the community. I spend most of my day on the computer. I have done research on the issues of Pasay City and particularly out of school children and youth. You see, poverty, prostitution, trafficking, child labor, and the drug industry are prominent in this area and so many of the children do not attend school. We work to provide services that allow these children to get out of the streets and into school. We do this by providing a variety of services like livelihood assistance, educational scholarships, policy advocacy, training of local leaders, recreational activities, psychosocial care, etc. So I have been working with the team to redesign the program and to strategically plan the next 3-10 years of the program. Day to day its not the most exciting work, but the purpose of the work is amazing. I'm grateful to be able to make a small contribution.

One things I love about this organization is that everyone is friends with each other. At lunch we all sit in the conference room and eat together. I love it! Then around 6pm our work day is over and we head home. We usually make a little dinner, I shower, read, and then go to bed by 10. I love going to bed so early. And I love being able to read all of the time.

So that's a typical day. Of course there are always funny things that happen or things we see that make it interesting. Like the other day as I was walking down the street an older woman yelled at me "Hey sexy" in her raspy little voice. I couldn't help but laugh out loud immediately. Or another time we saw a family of five on one motorcycle. Or sometimes we will see little naked children just playing catch in the street. My least favorite is seeing grown adults going to the bathroom right in front of everyone on the sidewalk. The streets are lined with street vendors selling food to passers. You see everything: roasted nuts, coconut juice, squid balls, half developed duck eggs, and a plethora of menthol candies.

I hope this provided a little visual into my daily life. It really is a great life.

Things I've learned

So being away from your normal life and separated from almost everything that is familiar to you, can really open your eyes to a lot of things. I have learned a lot about myself these last few months. I'm not as friendly as I wish I was. I'm an emotional eater. I'm not as scared to stick up for myself as I used to be. I like lists and I like accomplishing the things on my lists. My prayers are sometimes weak and not very thoughtful. I like people who laugh at my jokes. I love going to be early. I judge a little too much. I don't know how to respond to passive-aggressive personalities. I love direct communication. I like productive, concise meetings. I have a strong sense of smell. I've also learned that mosquitoes are absolutely in love with me. They can't help themselves! I think I have attracted every mosquito in all of the Philippines. I'm not as computer savvy as I try to convince myself that I am. I'm more qualified for a lot of things that I don't give myself credit for.

Of course there are a million more things that I have learned that are good and not so good about myself. Luckily in life we get experiences like these to reflect and learn. I'm so grateful I get to keep learning and keep improving. I've got lots of it to do!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Say what? Say Boo! Yep, this weekends trip was to Cebu.

Day 1:
We flew into Cebu after work on Friday. There were threats of bad rains from a Typhoon in Japan so our flight was delayed forever. We finally arrived though and stayed at a darling little surfer-type hotel. Jeanette and I had our own beds and we thought we were in heaven.

Day 2:
We woke up, ate a gigantic traditional Filipino breakfast, and jumped on the ferry to Bohol. Bohol is a nearby island with lots of tourist attractions. After arriving from a long ferry ride we took the craziest bus ride i have ever taken. We were crammed into this bus with a million other people and the bus driver was out of control. Seriously he was driving so fast and a lot of it was off-road. I felt like we were pre-running for a Baja race, but in a bus full of people and luggage. I couldn't stop laughing, even though I should have been terrified for my life.

We finally arrived safely to the Chocolate Hills. There are over a thousand small hills that look like mounds of chocolate. However, they were more like mint chocolate hills this time of year. It was still absolutely beautiful. We hired some motorcycles and some guides and road around to see the scenery. It was really cool to see the people out working in their rice fields and farms along the way. We even convinced one farmer to let us ride his Caribou (cow). Good times.

That night we stayed at the Chocolate Hills Resort up on a hill with a great view of the area. The next morning our guides with motorcycles picked us up and took us on a whirlwind tour. We visited the Butterfly Conservation Center, the local underground caves, the logos river, and the Tarzier monkeys. These monkeys are the smallest monkeys in the world. You can see, they are small enough to hold in your hand.

That night we headed back to Cebu.

Day 3:
We spent the day visiting the local markets and walking around the beautiful city. Cebu is the second largest city in the Philippine, next to Manila. We visited a Buddhist Temple, it wasn't the temple we thought we were visiting, but it was still beautiful. We got to the airport that night and saw a postcard of the Taoist Temple we thought we went to, it was definitely a differently temple! Oh well. We also visited the Santo Nino Church and the Magellan's Cross. Cebu is home to the earliest Christians in the Philippines. Magellan was a Spaniard that travelled and spread Christianity among the Philippines. He erected this cross after the conversion of 800 (I think) new Christians.
At last our crazy weekend came to an end. We saw lots of things and met lots of interesting people. I think my favorite thing is just driving around and looking at everything. It's entirely different from anything I've ever experienced in my small little world. It's too difficult to describe everything I saw and felt in this small little blog. There are additional pictures under "My Pictures" though.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

finding high ground

We've been told that the Philippines has two seasons; the dry season and the wet season. Well the wet season started just shortly after we arrived here and will continue for the next couple of months. We have had some rains and thunder storms that have been exciting. We've even been told that there will be flooding, electricity outages, and typhoon warnings while we are here. We have been anxiously awaiting these fun adventures. We purchased candles, watched the thunder and lightening storms from our house, and anxiously awaited the phone call telling us we don't have to work because there is just too much rain. Well none of this has happened yet, but last night was sure fun. Jeanette and I were heading home from dinner and our cab was stopped in traffic. Then our cab driver asked us if he could just drop up off here because there was flooding on the approaching road and cars could not get through. We laughed and then realized he was serious. Flooding there was! We had to cross the road to get to our apartment and so we walked through water well past our ankles. No I realize this seems like nothing to many of you (and I'm sure we will experience worse), but I couldn't help but chuckle as cockroaches floated by. I tried to divert my mind from previous images I've had of the pollution, mounds of trash, human feces and other bodily fluids that I see lining this street on a regular basis. Fun times!

Oh, I forgot to tell you about our adventure a few days previous. It was raining really hard and we had to go to the store, so we decided we would just get a cab. Well every other person in Metro Manila had the same thought and there were no cabs available. We stood in the pouring rain for some time waiting for a cab and just when we were about to give up............ a man with a horse and buggy showed up to save the day. Yes, in Metro Manila with something million people and traffic worse than New York City, we took a horse and buggy to the grocery store!

I'm sure there will be more fun stories to tell like these from our adventures in the rain. So stay tuned.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Jen's Book Club

I’ve turned into somewhat of a bookworm lately. Since being in school for the last one hundred years of my life, I have craved reading books for pleasure as I snuggle up in my bed. So, this is exactly what I have done since I have been here. I have actually gone through all of the books I brought already. I am loving it! I have learned some great things, some of which I want to share with you today.

First, is from the book, To Draw Closer to God by Henry B. Eyring. This book has many great reminders of how we can improve our relationships with God and our ability to be directed by Him. I have often struggled with feeling like I can be everything that I want to be and accomplish everything I desire. It just seems to be overwhelming sometimes. In the end of this book there was a much needed reminder for me. It says, “All of that will come naturally, in time, from the covenants you make and keep as you follow him. And in the process you will experience a mighty change of heart. You may not have seen that mighty change in yourself yet. But it will come as you continue to follow him. You can trust that he will qualify you…..”

Another great book I read was, A long way gone: memoirs of a boy soldier. This book was a gut wrenching story of a young boy who was forced from his family and home, eventually forced into war as a soldier. If you have not read this book, you must. It is unbelievable the things that occurred in this young mans life, and even more unbelievable, who this young man has become. This book opened my mind to several different lessons. Where much is given, much is required. In this situation, this boy was given lots, lots of horrible, life changing, gut wrenching, inhuman experiences that no one should ever have to deal with. He used all that was given to him and has tried to make a difference in the world. We must give what we can. We must share the experiences we have had and the things we have learned with one another. How else are we going to figure out life if we don’t have tales of great triumph and tales of great sorrow. I have much to be grateful for and much to give others.

Another book I read was, Scars That Can Heal by David Louis. This book was given to me by the author at the 16th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect that I attended with my internship this last spring. He knew of my interest in child welfare and wanted me to read this book and share it with others. This book is four hundred pages of this young mans’ experiences in the child welfare system. He was abandoned by his mother, forced in and out of various abusive foster homes and group homes. This book reminded me of how grateful I should be to have been raised by such wonderful parents. My parents have raised me with love and taught me correct principles and values that have greatly influenced my life. This book also reminded me of the work I must do. I set out to be a social worker to change the world, to change the child welfare system and make it better for thousands of children. And that’s what I’m going to do!

So there you go, there are some of the great reads I’ve read this summer. Love you all.

Happy 4th of July!

I just wanted to give a little shout out to the U.S. of A. (I realize this is late for the 4th, but our internet was out all week) Since living in another country for the last few weeks, my gratitude for the United States has grown greatly. I am so grateful for the many freedoms I am provided and the splendor of opportunities available to me. As I study the environment and the people I work with, I am saddened by the many hardships they endure and the politics that often hinder them further. I am grateful to be from a country where I can be anything I want to be.

Our work knew it was a special day for us and so they bought a cake for all of us to celebrate together. The butter cake was not quite the same as watermelon, potato salad, and BBQ, but it certainly did make us happy.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Puerto Gallera

Yes, I am reporting about another amazing weekend vacation. I'm sorry, I can't help it. This place is just too amazing to not share with everyone.
This weekend we went to the island of Mindoro. There is a famous tourist spot Puerto Gallera, with many surrounding beach towns. We got on the 3:30 am bus and headed down to Batangas to catch the ferry. We being, Jeanette, Fatoumata, and my friend Kate. The ferry took us to White Beach. It's a darling beach town with beautiful scenery and plenty of tourists. The second we stepped off the boat we were smothered by people selling trickets and such. I'm not kidding when I say smothered. They hounded us and followed us. Even after we said no, they continued to follow us. Some waited while we ate, others walked far, just to try and convince us. Some of the kids thought it was funny that we kept saying "no thank you" that they started saying it too. So soon we had at least five people following us trying to sell us something and five kids following us saying, "no thank you" every few seconds. We couldn't stop laughing at how they would just not give up.After finally breaking free and placing our stuff in our beach front hotel room (yeah, only $20 for 4 people), we headed out snorkeling. We hired a boat to take us to a popular cove to snorkel. Once there we hired a boat to take us in closer on the reefs. The current is really strong and so you just hold onto a rope and watch the fish as the boat takes you all over. It was the best! It's amazing to me how different and even more beautiful these reefs were compared to others we have seen.
We spent the rest of our day eating great seafood and traveling to the different beach towns on the island. This island is famous for the diving and the pearls. We didn't go diving, but I certainly spent plenty of money on pearls. (So if you want some, you might want to start being extra nice.) We even went to get some mango shakes at a popular restaurant and had some quality entertainment from some hilarious Drag Queens. I was dying at how funny they were, and how talented too.
As if our day wasn't good enough, we ended it by getting an hour, full body massage. Yeap! In our beach front hotel, we laid down, listening to the waves, and got full body massages with homemade coconut oil. I'm telling you, this is the life!

The next day we just spent relaxing on the gorgeous beaches and watching other people be followed by the people selling their goodies. It was a great weekend.

a bit of perspective

On Friday our French friends came to visit our organization and to discuss some volunteer opportunities. We had a fun time catching up with them and giving each other new travel tips. We decided to show them around the Barangays we work with. As we walked the streets I was reminded of the importance of the work I am doing here. These people are humble and hard working individuals. As I look into the faces of the children I want so badly to be able to offer them everything I have. I want so badly to whisper in their ear that everything will be okay and then bundle them up and take them home with me. Many of these children do not have an opportunity to obtain an education. Many of them work 16 hour days in order to survive. Other children, walk the streets begging or stealing whatever they can, sleeping in the train station, and sniffing glue to get a high. Many of the children you see in these pictures will be forced into the sex or drug industry, because that's all they know.

Friday started out really rough for me. I seemed to be frustrated by many things and found lots to complain about. But sure enough, God knew I needed a little lesson. As I walked around these Barangays He was able to gently show me that I needed to change my perspective. It's amazing to me how God (or whatever higher power or force you believe in) knows exactly what we need and then shows us. Gently or powerfully, He shows us.