Lets catch up.

Posted: August 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

To my dear friends, family, and strangers who have been so faithful to my blog despite my extended neglect and unsatisfactory updates, my most sincere apology.  As I am certain you all know, life is not always sunshine and roses (figuratively).  In fact, it is currently pouring rain outside my window (literally).  Despite that, I am alive, breathing and have been inspired lately by those of you who have pestered me (in an awesome way :] ) about whats going on in my life.  Here’s the story…

Since my awesome vacation up north  I have hunkered down here at site trying desperately to make myself useful in some regard to my organization, community and/or church before the time runs out on my little journey across the big ocean.  Several opportunities have come up as a result.

Ultimate Ninja! Ice breakers are everyones favorite part of seminars.

First, we revived a plan my counterpart and I had laid out to create a Life Skills Manual.  What does THAT mean?  Do we teach our kids how to walk, talk, eat and breath?  Not exactly but close in ways, far in others.  The goal of the manual is to develop self awareness, communication, decision making, goal setting, and leadership skills in our high school boys  before they  graduate and  head off into the “real world” of work and/or higher education.  After several weeks of collecting material, a couple more of revisions to make it fit our center and the last few tossing drafts back and forth, we have the product of our labor!  It’s a 70 page document packed full of exciting, introspective and analytical games and activities focused on achieving the above stated goal.  Currently we are working on the implementation process which includes the eldest high school boys becoming facilitators.  So far so good.


Computer literacy with children from the community.

Another purpose I have found here is teaching computer lessons.  In the Philippines the vast majority does not have a laptop, netbook or tablet. Surprise, surprise…  They do, however, have access to peso computer labs.  Whats that?  Well, they come in various forms but commonly they are a room off of someone’s house that has several computers hooked up to the internet.  Mostly they are used by kids who should probably be in class.  The charge is 1peso (about 2 cents) per 5 minutes of time to explore the World Wide Web!  What a great opportunity right? …  :/ …  Unfortunately, the only websites many children use are facebook and y8 (a gaming site).   My supervisor, therefore, encouraged me to attempt broadening their horizons of computer use to include Microsoft Office programs and a typing program, along with internet uses like news, research, email, job search, finding college requirements, etc.  This also has been fairly rewarding as I have been able to watch them grow in their ability to navigate a computer and word process.  The next step is finding someone to replace me when I go… Thats an ongoing project.

Arts and crafts with the children’s ministry. This picture makes it seem very calm and organized.

Outside of my work life, I have also had the pleasure of serving a local church in a few ways.  For the last several months I have been able to help out in the Children’s Ministry on Sundays by being an extra hand and eye in a room of 15, 4-5 year olds.  Although we only have about 2 hours with them, it seems to take 4+ hours of energy to keep up.  It has been a great growing experience for me.  Most recently I was provided the opportunity to grow in my leadership skills through a small group of people who meet weekly to discuss topics from the Bible and share their lives. I have grown quite close to these individuals and am finding it difficult to think of leaving them in a few short months.  I’ve also had the privilege to be a part of a few young mens, individual studies of the Bible that resulted in their decision to be baptized into a relationship with Jesus.  All pretty awesome experiences.

Our bible discussion group.

Finally I have to at least briefly mention the food because I promised a friend I would.  As you may know, depending on your geographical knowledge, the Philippines is located in SE Asia which grows rice in great abundance and with relative ease.  Since there is such a surplus of rice, it is only natural that it also be consumed in large portions and with great frequency.  Most of the Filipinos I have asked, cannot imagine going a week without eating rice and many express a lack of satisfaction in a single meal without the carbo boost.

My regular breakfast of eggs with onion, fresh tomatoes, bread, and a banana. I’m frequently asked if it fills me up… because there is no rice.

But rice is not the only thing on the table.  There is usual a sud-an (main dish) that is added on top of a full plate of rice before being piled onto a spoon, with the guidance of a fork, and shoveled into ones mouth.  The dish is usually a combination of vegetables and meat mixed in some kind of soupy-sauce.  Thats as technical as I can get…  Pork, chicken, beef, a large variety of fish and the occasional goat make their way onto the table and into my stomach.

One of my favorites. Egg with vegetable soup… over rice of course.

Over the last 2 years I have picked up on a few different table superstitions that I find quite entertaining and think you might get a kick out of.

Sample:  Your utensils are like a crystal ball… if you happen to drop one of them, not only are you certain to have a visitor but the sex of that visitor can be known by the utensil you drop.  Spoon:  better get your basketball pumped up and put on a fresh jersey, your boys are on their way.  Fork: light a candle, wash your clothes and put some fresh gel in your hair because you’re about to run into your crush.

Another?  Eat noodles on your birthday, it will give you a long life.

More?  Chicken consumption is strictly not allowed if you have the chicken pox.  Doctor’s orders.

How about this?  If you are the poor guy or gal left at the table while the plates are being stacked, you’re going to be remain single… forever!

UPDATE! It is hard for me to believe that I forgot this one…  Almost every time I eat a meal with a group of Filipinos this comes up… The meal is nearly over and people have had their fill but there is still one piece of pizza left, a small chunk of chicken, one slice of mango, bread or cake yet no one will take it.  The reason?  Because if you take it, the table will be empty and you will be cursed with a shortage of food in your future.  It usually turns into a joke which I love to play along with because it results in me solving the problem by eating the last piece.  Since I am not a Filipino I cannot fall victim to the curse :)

Thats all for now my friends. I hope you enjoyed!!  See the slideshow below for more pictures or check out my facebook or follow THIS link

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Christmas Vacation

Posted: January 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

The common trend in the United States, if one is to go on a vacation during Christmas, is to head somewhere to sit beneath the warm sun and relax with a cold drink in hand.  Escaping the bitter cold (and wet) reality of winter often consumed my thoughts throughout the ‘ber months of my childhood.  This, however, was quite opposite of my feelings towards Christmas Vacation 2011.

After spending the last year (or so) in a continuous state of perspiration, some friends and I thought it best to find a cooler place to spend our vacation.  One which could bring us relief from the smothering heat that is a constant reminder of the distance between us and our families.  Furthermore, an adventure into nature was quite appealing after spending long, lonely and forgettable hours in our offices.  The awe inspiring Rice Terraces seemed to be the perfect location for just such a repose.

A short flight brought me to Manila where I met with my 4 other Peace Corps travel companions and we hopped on an overnight (6 hour) bus to Baguio City, the gateway to the north.   The bus was freezing cold even through my hooded jacket and newly purchased Japanese sweatpants from a Ukayukay (thift shop).  In fact, the only way I was able to move my comfort level from unbearable to tolerable was by using my backpack as a blanket.  I survived, however, and was commended by my peers for my tremendous sleeping ability (a trend throughout the trip).  Tired and cold but very excited we walked through the streets at 5 in the morning before finding a Diner where we could get a hot meal to wake us up.

On the freezing bus to Baguio.

From Baguio to Sagada

McDonald's. They missed my nap at the diner.

Our plan was to arrive in Baguio early in the morning, eat some breakfast and hop a bus to Kabayan where we could view the result of the old Filipino mummification practices.  As often happens on vacations, and particularly in developing countries, we ran into some speed bumps which resulted in us wandering around the city from bus station to bus station trying to figure our where to go and when we could leave.  We finally gave in and spent the evening relaxing.  New plan: catch the early bus directly to Sagada the following morning.  The delay was actually a blessing in disguise as I was able to enjoy one of the best burgers I’ve had in the Philippines and we set a more relaxed pace for the remainder of our trip.

We finally caught the bus!

It was another 6 hour bus to Sagada filled with beautiful panoramic views of the natural green valleys where coffee, strawberries and rice grow in abundance.  Unfortunately, I missed most of it due to a Dramamine induced comma (exaggeration, I promise I took the recommended dosage).  I was in and out for most of the day which was good for my stomach along the steep, winding and bumpy road but not as good for satisfying my desire to read and take pictures.  The one stop I was awake for had little to offer in terms of food but the cool, fresh morning air was blissfully revitalizing.

Sagada is a quaint little town in the middle of nowhere in the north of the Philippines but has a lot to offer tourists of a particular type.  Luckily that type was us!  We spent our days, hiking, reading, getting massages and relaxing around a table full of delicious food highlighted by mountain tea and yogurt.  We also came together for an amazing Christmas eve buffet dinner at a small restaurant with a French cook.

The Sagada crew on Christmas Eve.

Our Christmas Eve buffet, yum.

Sagada was also the location where we were able to go caving!  We spent about 3 hours doing “The Cave Connection” where you enter through one cave and connect and exit through another.  It was quite challenging at times as we had to repel down several drops more than 10ft and had to pass through breathtakingly cold waist high water.  Our guides were incredibly helpful.

Here we go!

Wooden coffins that line the entrance. Eerie.

Shoes were useless on the slippery rocks.

The underground pool where we took a break from caving for some swimming.

One of the many cool rock formations in the cave.

The light at the end of the tunnel... or cave, rather.

We made it out! Wouldn't have been possible without our guides. Seriously.

On Christmas day a few of us ventured off for a self guided tour of the “Hanging Coffins”  and the Echo Valley.  We had what we thought were some pretty good directions as we set out but soon realized we had very little idea where we were going.  Luckily, we met up with a very helpful dog who we blindly trusted to lead us in the right direction and actually took us on a great tour.  We named her Spirit because she gave us quite a fright when she initially snuck up on us in the middle of a ghost story but it became more and more fitting as she led us along our Christmas day adventure.

Check out the sweatshirts we found at an Ukay ukay (Thift shop)!! Go 49ers!

Spirit, our Echo Valley tour guide.

The hanging coffins.

Over the river and through the woods. The Echo Valley trail.

Our relaxing stay in Sagada felt too short but it definitely helped prepare us for the pinnacle of our trip, a hike through the rice terraces of Banaue.  After the 12 hours by bus to arrive in Sagada, it was relieving to know we only had a 3 hour ride to our next location.  Our ride, however, was by jeepney which is probably the least comfortable way to travel.

In Banaue we took a rest day to sleep, plan and pack for our 2 day trek through the mountainous trails.  We set out after breakfast the following morning and were soon alone (the 8 of us, including our guide) deep in the wilderness.  As we walked the first leg (4 hours) to a village for lunch it was difficult to go 5 minutes without wanting to stop for pictures.  We were constantly surrounded by scenery like that pictured below.  Waterfalls, valleys, rice terraces, small but neat houses and the occasional local wearing sandals and making the trek with a bag of rice on their shoulder.  The final descent was brutal on our quads.  We spent the last 15 minutes climbing down the uneven, mostly cement steps before we were able to sit and eat some snacks.  Because we had left from Banaue later than is recommended, we could only afford a 10 minute rest to ensure we arrived in Batad before the sunlight left us groping in the dark for the path.   For the next 2 hours we would be climbing and descending several times along the rough terrain.

And we're off!

Just the beginning...

Favorite picture.

One of the many waterfalls we passed along the way.

Cambulo Village the location of our short stop and snack.

Just as we were all beginning to limit ourselves with worry of the certain soreness that we would battle the coming days, the rough terrain at our feet and the growing hunger in our bellies we met an older man heading the opposite direction.  His name was Oscar and at his pace it seemed he would certainly not be able to arrive at the village before dark.  He poked at the earth with a stick as if testing to ensure each rock would hold his small frame.  It was this slight tentativeness and his seemingly distant gaze that made us finally ask our guide, “is he blind?”.  He affirmed our assumption and we were all awestruck by his incredible ability to make his way along the rough path with no companion, no sight and nothing even to protect his bare feet!  After he passed we were told that sparks had flown into his eyes as a young man while working in the mines.  For a minute I stood in silent shame of my own internal grumbling before continuing on with renewed inspiration.  I won’t soon forget Oscar, his humble acceptance of his circumstance or his determination to not allow it to limit him.

We arrived in the small village of Batad as the sun was disappearing behind the great hills that surrounded us.  Before us lay a large valley neatly lined with expansive rice terraces. We stood for awhile in amazement and admiration of the hard work that must go in to carrying each stone up the steep paths to build the retaining walls.  We had arrived in the village but had to go up and down several steep staircases before finally collapsing in plastic chairs around a dinner table. We talked, laughed and recalled the events of the day over buckets of sweet potato fries followed by heaping plates of vegetables and rice.  It was not long before our eyes were drooping and we each retreated to the rooms that had been prepared for us.

Welcome to Batad!!

Batad Valley

Early the next morning 4 of us hiked back down into the pit of the valley to visit a great waterfall and take a dip in the greatly refreshing but numbingly cold water.  It didn’t take me more than 10 minutes of climbing back out of the valley before I had a good sweat going and was wishing I could again plunge into the freezing pool.  Back at the camp the rest of our crew was well rested and ready for our final 3 hour trek back to the road where a private Jeepney would ensure us a safe return to Banaue.  Along the way we chatted joyfully, knowing our hike was nearing completion but I could not help but feel a bit sad that our time together in nature was coming to an end.  We took several breaks over the course of the day to snap pictures of the continuously stunning scenery and rest our weary legs.  Our greatest indicator that we were close was that our guide stopped waiting for us.  A few minutes later we rounded a corner and saw him chatting with our driver (his cousin) along the road.

Early morning waterfall.

Thats us down there just before jumping in. Very refreshing!

The steep terrain was torture on day 2

A nice little resting hut near the trail.

Our 'Victory' pose at the end of the hike.

I am quite proud of my companions and myself.  It was a great adventure, a very long hike (nearly a marathon) and a lot of fun throughout.  Although my Christmas Vacation was not the oceanside, sun soaked, cold drink wielding dream of my youth, I was very please to take a relaxing trip through the cold, mountainous north.

WAD Sadsad

Posted: December 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

Wow, is it really December already?  Here in the Philippines because there is no Halloween or Thankgiving holidays, we have been in Christmas Season since September but somehow, it still snuck up on me.  Maybe it is due to the constant sweat that gathers on my brow from the tropical weather or perhaps it is the limited decorations on the cement and bamboo made houses that fill my community.  Either way, December does not only mark the birthday celebration of Jesus the Christ but also includes another significant birthday.

World AIDS Day (WAD) turned 23 years old this year on December 1st and continues to grow in strength and commitment by individuals and organizations in each and every country.  The festivities include parades, fun runs, educational campaigns, art projects, concerts, and much more.  No matter the method, the purpose is united; to celebrate and remember the lives of those who have been and continue to be affected by HIV & AIDS.

This year I was  given the privilege to participate in WAD through an ongoing relationship between the US Peace Corps Philippines and the Provincial Health Office  (PHO) of Aklan, Panay (an island in the middle section of the country).  For the last 6 years Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have been traveling to the province to help develop a program to raise awareness, educate and reduce stigma of the growing HIV problem in the Philippines.  A diverse group of 10 PCVs came together this year to work towards this goal.

After we arrived and were introduced to the Doctors, Health Workers, Organizers and Staff, we were given an overview of the program in which we would be participating.  The following day we would be traveling in small groups to a mix of High Schools and Universities to present a 2 hour long presentation on HIV/AIDS and Violence Against Women (VAW).  Then we would be marching in a parade (also known, conveniently, as a sadsad making it the WAD sadsad, fun to say) through the city.  It did not take us long to realize that much of the work we anticipated had already been delegated amongst the other volunteers.  As we talked, more and more youth volunteers filed into the venue.  Each of us PCVs were assigned to assist a group of well trained facilitators.  We spent a couple hours preparing our materials and deciding who would facilitate which activity before departing to rest up for the long day ahead.

As can be expected, the transportation arrived behind schedule which can be attributed to a phenomenon I have grown quite familiar with call “Filipino Time”.  The school my team was assigned to was waiting patiently as we arrived and arranged our things at the front of the class.  My co-facilitators were a bit nervous as this was most of their first time and they would be presenting before their classmates but they worked through it and did a great job of presenting the material.

Our class of 150 was average for our day of outreach. In total we educated more than 1,500 students.

My team and I after our presentation.

Once we were finished we all reconvened for a celebratory lunch to refill our tanks before heading out into the rain for our sadsad through the city.  Despite the constant drizzle, we danced through the streets with our banners waving to the rhythmic beats of several marching bands.  Our turnout was not overly impressive, due solely to the weather I am certain but many children gathered with us in the town square to watch videos to promote awareness, answer trivia questions and cheer to most anything that was emphasized by the hosts.  We also had a surprise visit by Super Trust the condom man who entertained the crowd with his ability to “Dougie” despite his equally entertaining costume (see photo).  We ended the days events with a candle light vigil in the shape of the ribbon which represents the HIV/AIDS movement.

It rained on our parade but it did not dampen our spirits.

All of us Peace Corps Volunteers taking advantage of the photo op with Super Trust

The whole experience for me was quite inspiring.  Not only did it grow my passion for the HIV/AIDS movement but I was also able to see that there are youth who are willing to step up and take on the challenge as well.  This could be the first time where feeling unneeded brought me joy.  I think it is our ultimate goal as PCVs to no longer be needed in the communities we serve.  As happy as I am to have participated in the Aklan PDO WAD Sadsad, I am happier that next year it will go on even though I will be gone.


Posted: October 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

Hi, my name is Charlie.

I’m Tyler’s new roommate. I’m basically the worst roommate ever. I make a mess all the time, ensure that Tyler has no time for peace when he is home, and try to ruin his favorite things. I’m actually not really sure why he keeps me around… Maybe its because I’m cute.

I like chewing on things.

This is my playmate Hero.  The other dogs don’t like me because I like to play allllll the time.

I like to sleep a lot…

… even on shoes…
… even in bags…

…especially under the bed because Tyler hates it.

These are my favorite toys: Plastic bag, Waterbottle, Tic-Tac container, Broken sandal,  Piece of wood, and Tennis ball.

It’s nice to meet you.  I hope you can come visit us at our place soon!


Posted: June 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

Its been awhile… so here’s a recent journal entry…

Dear Ant colony,
Good morning, or maayong buntag in your local dialect. I have something to tell you. I’m fed up with your shenanigans. This time you have gone too far. You have over stepped your boundaries. I thought we had a deal? You could eat my garbage while I slept but you had to go in the morning. Your deceptive, treacherous and betraying ways will not go unpunished. I put up with your occational attacks on my sink and even that time with the bananas but you need to learn that a man’s peanut butter is strictly off limits.

I know that you have lived here longer that I have and that what was yours is now mine but that does not mean that what is mine is yours as well. Now you will feel the wrath of my mighty hand that will crush you and the wave of vengeance that is extra strength bleach as I wipe you from existence (or at least my apartment).
From this colony will come a remnant who will repent of this unrighteousness and turn elsewhere for the desires of the stomach. Let this be a warning to all insect kingdoms to come: do not pursue what is forbidden for my hands are 7×77 times larger than you and they will strike you with great fury.

The New Tenant

Can you tell that I’ve been reading Isaiah?  I’m sure glad that God is more patient with us!

Also, Happy B-day to Jose Rizal. Thanks for the day off!

Check out this awesome poem by the National Hero of the Philippines.


Posted: February 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

Good afternoon all.   With some pictures and comments that had surfaced on Facebook, I figured it would be a good idea to announce, on a larger scale, my recent incident, hence the status update.  Now that I have a few minutes and internet access, I wish to enlighten all of you to the story of how I broke my first and second bone…

My day started as any other Monday morning with a prayer, 2 fried eggs, lots of rooster calls and some time in the Bible.  After I got the necessities out of the way I contemplated how I would spend this full day off.  With so many options it was difficult to come to a decision.  Spending a day lazying around in bed and delving into the epic book Ulysses was a tempting thought.  The need for sorting through emails sounded disgustingly productive for such a beautiful day where it seemed even the pollution clouds had lifted.  Yea, all signs pointed to exercise and with my recent purchases of water bottle holder, mud flaps and WD40 to fix a squeaky crank, biking was most enticing.

Soon I was a sweaty wolf character, huffing and puffing my way up the steep rural roads of Minglanilla.  As I crested the hill I thanked God for his glory in creating us with these abilities and for the beauty of the earth that came into view as I plateaued.  I was surrounded by valleys whose hills were speckled with mango trees amongst the ever-recognizable coconut palms and beyond, the ocean.

After a few minutes pause for reflection, relaxation and prayer I decided to head back downhill.  As Filipinos stared with curiousity I smiled back and greeted them with “Maayong Buntag”s and quick eyebrow raises as is culturally appropriate.  I longingly oggled a dirt basketball court carved out of the hill which I’ve been meaning to play on for awhile despite the rebar rims barely large enough for a volleyball.

Suddenly, an insect violently collided with my face and attached itself to my lower lip.  Concerned but controlled I tried using the non-violent method of air pressure from my mouth to remove it.  I soon realized the futility of this method and grew in urgency as I realized the insect was a bee who was putting his stinger to use on the soft flesh of my lip.  Raising a hand to knock it away I somehow lost control of my bike and tumbled over the handlebars.  I’m uncertain of how I hit the ground but I remember pushing the bike away, standing up and pulling the stinger from my lip. 

After taking a minute to assess my wounds and ensure the hable hable (motorcycle) driver I was ok, I began the 15  minute walk back down the hill.  I returned my bike to its place and called a friend to accompany me to the hospital.  Further examination of my wounds helped me recognize a quickly stiffening wrist and extreme soreness in my shoulder to go with a fare amount of road rash.  I spent a frustrating day in a Cebu hospital with great company from church before catching a flight to Manila where I am currently located. 

The result: a fractured carpal bone in my wrist and a dislocation of the ac joint which attaches the clavical (collar bone) to the acromion (shoulder).  This is to go along with the road rash on my elbows, shoulder, hip and back which is mostly healed now (a week later). 

Needless to say, I will be hanging out in Manila for awhile under close PC Med staff supervision.  Timeline: uncertain :)  Alright, God, what do you have up your sleeve?

A (new) Day in the Life

Posted: February 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

I have been trying to figure out, for weeks, how I can put together a blog that clearly and concisely provides those of you back home with a picture of what my life is like.  Unfortunately, no stroke of genius has come upon me in regard to this issue.   This is what happens most days.

The sun shines through my window around 6am and gets me to begin the process of starting my day.  First is a stop at the dining table for my breakfast of eggs, juice, bread or rice, and some kind of meat.  Next is my quiet time where I read some pages from the Word and pray for the things on my heart and that God remains with me throughout my day.

After a quick bucket shower I have a few hours of free time before heading to work.  Usually this is used to catch up on emails, skype, run errands, or read if I’m feeling like I need to relax.  (4pm-8pm Pacific time if you want to set up a skype date)

By 1pm I’m in the office at Casa Miani settling into my chair where I will spend much of the next 3 hours searching for activities, information, and programs that could be useful down the road.   Other means of ridding myself of boredom include checking/responding to emails and uploading/editing pictures.  Generally Tuesday is my busy day as I help to prepare the activities for the coming Saturday art and lifeskills session.  Currently, we are facilitating discussion on Children’s Rights in the Philippines and internationally through the CRC.  In the afternoons we have the “King of the Jungle” watercoloring activity where the children express how they fit into the jungle hierarchy.

After my few hours of “office work”  I embark on a journey through peak traffic hour to keep Father Ronald company while he fetches the kids from school.  Round 1, the high school boys (6) chat about girls and tease one another.  Round 2, 25 elementary boys pile into the back of our utility van while we carefully maneuver through the packed streets.

By the time I return, Casa Miani is chaos.  The children from the community, high school boys and seminarians have arrived on scene and combined to begin games of basketball, Uno, and Filipino versions of tag, kick the can, dodgeball.  Depending on my energy level or who grabs me first, I join one of these mostly laughter-filled events.

The children wind down with the jingling of the keys by Brother Mike, cuing their movement toward the showers.  Feeling fresh and clean they shift into classroom mode for an hour of tutorials.  Most deny the existence of an assignment despite a full day of classes and another one to follow but we settle for practice math problems and/or English word games.  I avoid those with open Filipino books like the plague because without fail they will insist I attempt reading it to them which causes a scene and fits of laughter not conducive to such a scholastic environment.

Just as it seems we are getting somewhere, time is called, books are packed up and groups are formed for practice or teaching of Catholic religious ceremonies and traditions.  Despite having a different perspective on Christianity, I do like the attempt at instilling, at least a curiosity of, spiritual development in the minds of the boys.

Finally, we all join together in the mess hall for dinner before another brief round of play and taps at 8:30.  I feel as though I need to again issue the warning that this is merely a skeletal view of an average day here.  I encourage all of you to make the trip across the Pacific if you want the real experience.  I’d love to show it to you!

In Truth and Love,