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back in America


But honestly, haven’t had that much trouble with reverse culture shock. The conveniences of modern USA are pretty nice. I’m not going to miss activities like having to wash my clothes by hand, and showering with a bucket of water and a ladle. There are things I will miss. The Philippines is a beautiful country. The people I lived and worked with were all wonderfully friendly. But like Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”  


The ‘Peace Corps experience’ is vastly different from 20 years ago and vastly different from country to country and even between sites within a country. I was in a rural area that is rapidly modernizing. But even with conveniences like regular access to internet there remain plenty of hardships both psychological and physical. I’m not sure about the long-term sustainability of any of my projects themselves. Too often environmental work can seem like just a drop in an ocean of issues. However, I am sure that I built some great relationships, influenced a number of people to think/live/work a little differently, and helped strengthen the global sense of community that ties us together as human beings. Would I do another 2 years? No, I’m ready for the next step in my life and career. But would I go back and change my mind about going? Absolutely not.


(The employees of the Municipal Agriculture Office of Culasi at some point during my two years when I was clean-shaven.)

barangay Naba despedida

I threw a big party at my house to thank everyone for two great years in Culasi. I spent the whole day before baking cakes in my toaster oven. It’s an extended process when you’re only making 2x9” loaf pans at a time. I got some help setting up tarpualins to create a sheltered venue since my house is pretty small.  The morning of, I received some unexpected help from friends who arrived to contribute food and assist in cooking. 


I had coordinated to buy a pig so that we’d have lechon baboy (“roast pig”). Some neighbors slaughtered and cooked it behind their house.


The party started early afternoon. We used the videoke machine (sans music) for a few remarks. Mayor Joel Lomugdang was there and thanked me for my work. I said a short thank you and remarked on how welcoming, friendly, and supportive everyone had been. 


Lot’s of people showed up. I had invited municipal officials, my coworkers from the Dept of Agriculture, friends, and neighbors. Luckily there was no shortage of food. The table was laden down with what I provided which included something like 20 loaves of cake, the roast pig, macaroni pasta with tomato sauce (the large metal basin in the picture was one of two that were filled with it), and a mountain of peanut butter and jam sandwiches. There were also a couple of roast chickens provided by various people. Also, Ben and Molly Martin (fellow volunteers) came and brought a several kilo mahi-mahi/dorado to grill. 


Above is Amelia, the adorable daughter of Alma (my office counterpart). Below are Molly and I doing the sign for pogi (“good looking”) with a bunch of neighborhood kids who came. 


A number of municipal officials (like the mayor and the equivalent of town council members) came. They apparently had several other commitments (various other parties) to attend but stayed long enough to eat, buy some cases of beer, and enjoy some drinks. 


As the evening wore on, the videoke machine was well utilized.  


I did wake up early enough the next morning to clean up, and was helped again by friends and neighbors. And then left for the airport, and a few days in Manila to complete paperwork and officially finish as a Peace Corps volunteer. Rushing out so soon after my going away part meant that goodbyes weren’t dragged out, which was nice. Carlos Belarmino (the guy in the grey t-shirt to the right of me above) was the barangay captain of Naba, my landlord, my neighbor, a great friend, and like family. He was always there to help out, talk, or just sit and drink after a rough time. Without people like him, my experience would have been a lot rougher. I will miss them.

solar cookers again

It had been requested that I do one more solar cooking workshop at Barangay Buenavista. There were many postponements due to poor weather and then Alma was reluctant to ask me to work on any projects during my last week, but several sunny days inspired me to pull things together. Using some funds earmarked for the purpose I procured the supplies for 15 solar cookers. Each unit cost about 6.25 USD and consisted of a cardboard/aluminum foil/Elmer’s glue reflector, a three compartment metal lunch carrier painted black, and a clear plastic jug cut to function as a ‘greenhouse’ heat trap. The beneficiaries painted the metal containers, and then cut and assembled their reflectors. Everyone helped and we constructed things impressively fast. Because of additional attendees and some confusion about a sign-in sheet I ended up giving away my demo units and giving several IOUs for additional supplies. Unfortunately it clouded up and started drizzling partway through the morning, so my demonstration ended up yielding partially cooked rice and eggs of a soft-boiled consistency. The attendees were still excited by the results and enthusiastically looking forward to weather allowing them to experiment with their own units.

final countdown

Starting in on my last two weeks at site and if all goes to schedule I should be in Norfolk, VA around 5:00pm EST on November 15. I put it off for a while but now I’ve started the process of going through all my stuff… organizing, sorting, giving away, and throwing away. I’ve also started purchasing supplies for my despedida (going away) party…

VEG post (#6)

The final activities for the project (aside from the paperwork I need to fill out) were community events to officially launch the marine protected areas and turn over the equipment purchased with project funds.

Here are the Bantay Dagat (fisheries law enforcement volunteers) from barangay Bitadton Sur and some of the equipment: t-shirts, laminated IDs, spotlight, megaphone, digital camera, life vests, and binoculars. 

Here I am at barangay Malalison trying to make some remarks in Kinaray-a. I had about six sentences I wanted to say. The community corrected my pronunciation (good-naturedly) about eight times.

Alma and me with the Malalison Bantay Dagat.

It’s the Philippines so we had to do a wocky-wocky shot. 

COS conference

First week of October our entire batch went up to Tagaytay (near Manila) for close of  service (COS) conference. There were a few sessions on things like health insurance, necessary paperwork, reflecting on the past 2 years, worrying about what’s next, and  resumes. There was also a lot of free time in which to hang out with other volunteers. This was real nice. I think even those volunteers with their next step figured out and set up (e.g. accepted to a graduate program) have anxieties. Even though I have a fairly concrete plan that just needs to be materialized, I get mild panic attacks if I dwell on the future too deeply. Plenty of volunteers are very much undecided. Having everyone together for a few days of support network helped mitigate, at least temporarily, some of the anxiety. 

Previously, it was almost certain that you would see someone on a trip or at least at the next conference. This time around goodbyes were generally more absolute and more along the lines of “see you stateside sometime?” Even if two volunteers don’t know each other that well (or at all), they still have the common experience of “making it through.” The nature of Peace Corps means even if you can count on one hand the number of times in 2 years that you’ve hung out with a friend, you can feel pretty close. Then there might be volunteer(s) from nearby with whom you’ve work and interacted more regularly.

A few volunteers have extended from 5 months up to a year. For the rest of us the conference hit hard with just how close the end of our PC service really is. Some volunteers were not even going back to their sites. Everyone who is COSing will be doing so sometime in October or November.

Fun note. I have twice had 72-hour long, curl up in a ball on the bathroom floor and die, food-illness funtimes and my share of minor problems (pink eye, cuts, sprains, colds). But I was one of five volunteers recognized by PC medical for not getting sick enough or injured badly enough to need their assistance. And one of the the five wasn’t sure why they were being recognized because they had been to the hospital, it just turned out to be nothing. We had to give everyone else tips about how to stay healthy. The general consensus among the five was “dumb luck” and “don’t call PCMO, just tough it out.” Two stories about why I am a bad source of advice: (1) During the 3 months of pre-service training I would play tag and other games with the neighborhood kids on the beach/mudflats. Doesn’t sound that bad until you know that our training site had almost non-existent waste management and along the beach were plenty of squatter residences without any sort of toilet facilities. (2) At site I drink the piped water supply in my barangay. I don’t bother boiling it and I don’t bother purchasing filtered water. The water is piped from a spring source and the watershed area is hilly and mostly forested. What could go wrong. One time the water wasn’t working for two days. I later learned that a fish the size of a forearm was stuck in one of the pipes. But it’s okay, they found it before it started to putrefy and flushed the system afterwards. The events didn’t cause me to change my habits.  

VEG post (#5)

Also, each barangay got to use project funds to build a patrol boat. They counterparted the cost of construction/labor. I have ridden on both. Here’s the one for Malalison Island. It’s big enough that they can also use it as a sort of ferry when either government officials have business or there are visitors/tourists.

Here Alma is saying a prayer for the blessing of the boat.

The boat for Bitadton Sur is much smaller, but their entire MPA is within 150 meters of shore. The boat has a comfortable capacity of 3, so it can probably carry 5 Filipinos in calm weather with no problems. Here’s the carpenter working on the boat.


And the boat down by the water with the outriggers being attached.

And ready to go. They offered to put my name on it. I was honored but suggested otherwise.

VEG (post #4)

Part of the project was supposed to be a Fisheries Law Enforcement Enhancement Training (FLEET) requested through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). Unfortunately, the earliest BFAR was able to accommodate Culasi was in February 2013. So we organized our own training for the Bantay Dagat members (volunteer fisheries law enforcement… it translates roughly to “watch the ocean”). We had a two day seminar with a number of different speakers on topics including applicable laws, apprehension procedures, personal experiences in fisheries law enforcement, basic first aid, local resource management efforts, and the importance of marine protected areas. All the participants will be invited to attend FLEET in February to further enhance their knowledge.

Ailene speaking about LIPASECU, the local resource management council for the municipalities of Libertad, Pandan, Sebaste, and Culasi.

From the left… Edgar Escobañez the Municipal Agriculturist (my boss), Mayor Joel Lomugdang, three resource speakers from the maritime police, training participants, and Alma Lisay-Sandig (my counterpart).

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