Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Slow Rush of Time: Food, Fun, and amFibians

Today, March 21st marks a special day in my peace corps career. One year ago today I left my family and friends for a roller coaster ride I call the Peace Corps. A retrospective on this year (which feels like simultaneously the shortest year of my life, and a decade of experiences) is in the works, but not quite ready.

Here on Guimaras, dry season has taken hold. I don't believe I've seen a serious rain in well over a month, maybe 2. Droughts are a problem here on Guimaras, and water is running out at my center. The boys have begun their daily kilometer treks to the nearest body of water, so that they can wash themselves and their clothes. The former is a particularly cruel joke on nature's part, as walking a kilometer in the current heat leaves you in need of a bath. Therefore, by the time they have made the return hike from their bathing, they're in need of another trip. I haven't visited any of the boys quarters recently, but they are short on the water needed for flushing their toilets, and undoubtedly the resulting smell is not pleasant to live with.

For myself, I'm luckier. I have two buckets: one small and one quite large. Every evening my landlord turns on the water so that i can fill my buckets, and those buckets sustain me until the following evening. It's nothing so hard as life at the center must be - really the buckets hold more than enough water than I use on a daily basis. But it becomes difficult and less pleasant to wash my dishes with no running tap, and boiling water for my coffee in the morning seems less appetizing when that water has been standing 9 hours and has a visible layer of something without name on its surface. To pour that same water into my coffee cup, even after a thorough boiling, can turn my stomach. The key is not to think about it.

I appear to have a new house lizard: he is a small guy compared to the other two Tokay geckos, I've decided to call him Brain. It's only a natural choice in names, given that I already have a Pinky living above the kitchen, who is significantly larger than Brain. If I can say only one good thing about Brain, it is that he has chosen the best place to hide during the afternoons: as I am a man I naturally keep my toilet seat raised most of the time. Brain cleverly hides on the wall just behind the raised toilet cover. He's very well concealed, and I'm sure he's been there countless times without my notice. But that sounds like something you could tell your children to scare them, doesn't it? "Don't leave the toilet cover up Ben, or Brain, the toilet lizard, will hide behind it. He'll wait for you there, biding his time until you sit down - and when you do, he'll have you!"

Personally, I'm quite fond of Brain.

My relationship with Marianne continues to go well. I met her family just 2 days ago at her barangay's annual Fiesta. Her family were all very nice and pleased to meet me. Her father asked me if I was considering marriage. In the Philippines there is great emphasis, i repeat GREAT emphasis on being the perfect host. Time and again I have visited someone's house, and time and again the host humbles himself (or more commonly herself) so much that it truly seems her greatest desire is to please you however possible.

You know, when I first entered Peace Corps I was told that I would face many difficulties: strange places, an alien culture, a language barrier, and having to feast until we're bloated. Well at this last item I laughed. Everybody laughs! But it's true - I have faced few adversities larger than Fiesta!

The host will stack your plate full of foods - you must try a generous portion of every one of the dozens of items served. Traditionally in the Philippines it is only polite to clean your plate - that is a message to the hostess that she is a good cook. But woe be unto him who tries that at Fiesta, for Fiesta is an exception: if you clean your plate at Fiesta, that is a message to the hostess that you want more food. The amount of food removed from your plate before this message is sent will vary from hostess to hostess - in the case of Marianne's fiesta I was being repeatedly told "Please, get some more!" before my fully-loaded plate was half eaten.

Telling the hostess that you're full - that you don't want any more - can be an exercise in futility. In the Philippines people will routinely offer things that they don't want to give you, for politeness sake. If you pass someone eating lunch, even if they only have enough for one person, they'll offer you food. They may, however, be disgruntled if you take them up on that offer; after all, everyone understands that it's for politeness sake alone that it was offered. As a result, people often will say 'no' when that are offered something, even if it's something they really want. This creates an interesting social dynamic when someone actually DOES want to offer you something, because how can they know if you are declining out of politeness or because you really don't want it? This is why, even if you've eaten a horse at Fiesta, you will be offered more food. Again and again and again and again and again.

The 'generous host' pride goes very far too: when someone leaves a Fiesta, they will often be given a bag of leftovers to take home. In my case, I was given an exceedingly large bag. As I prepared to leave the house I was given a bag containing: 3 mangoes, a container of chop suey (at least 2 servings), 4 chicken wings, a container of spaghetti (2 servings), a container of fruit salad (3 servings), a box of candy and a whole chicken. I'm certain I left something out too...

I live alone and without a fridge. This was enough food to feed me for a week! Honestly, maybe more than a week. Currently I'm storing it in my landlord's fridge and heavily encouraging him to eat to his heart's content.


Anonymous said...

Ohhh the pictures do add a great deal to the posts. But they need captions The first I believe is your home the last who is this yourperson and what beautiful bird is he holding?? I have not been able to look into tickets from this side. you should look too. Cant wait to see you. Love Mom

Anton said...

hey man, enjoyed reading your post. My name is Anton and I'm currently a PCV in Thailand. Our group was just sworn in 3 days ago so I'm just starting at my site. I grew up in the Philippines though so I totally understand alot of what you are going through. Hope you enjoy the rest of you service! Peace!

Anton Taruc

Allan in Europe said...

Exciting times then, enjoy your service. I know someone who might be there now, Tiffany. Don't know her last name. But if you see her, tell her Allan says hi