My Co-Workers and I took a trip to a place called Bulalacao in order to do an outreach program for a community of people who are poor and elderly. Calapan City is basically at the Northern tip of Oriental Mindoro, while Bulalacao is at the Southern tip. Thus, it’s a bit of a trip to get there, but due to the newly finished roadwork the trip was fairly smooth.
We got to Bulalacao, we gave the community food, I played them a medley of songs on guitar, and then we went back to the resort in order to relax. I got to meet up with some other Peace Corps volunteers and all was well. Why am I glossing over the details? Well, a wise person once said something along the lines of the journey being more important than the destination. It may or may not have been more important, but it was certainly more interesting.
I woke up at 4:00am to get to my school and to the bus that would take us to Bulalacao by 6:00am. I was up and ready to go by 4:30am. Most of my transportation options were still asleep, so I just began walking. It takes about 1.5hrs to get to school on foot. I planned on having to walk, but I didn’t really think it would happen. Surely I could catch a trike going to the pier or something. I foolishly thought to myself that, “I’ll probably be walking for 20mins tops” It was not to be. I ended up walking all 7.23439898 kilometers.
Lugging a heavy guitar in a hard case and a backpack nearly 4.5 miles was not exactly how I imagined my day beginning. I also didn’t expect to get nearly taken out by a semi-truck, confused for someone else, and bitten by a dog. Yes. I was bitten by a dog.* This guy was about the size of a Border Collie, but looked like a Rottweiler. I stared him down, stomped my foot, and jabbed my guitar towards him until he ran off.
I got to school at about 6:20am. I was worried about being late, but all of my apology rehearsals were all for not. I forgot about the fact that I was in The Phillies (though honestly, this would’ve happened at home also) and time works differently around here sometimes. Being 20 minutes late made me about 40 minutes early. I waited for everyone else to arrive.
The students arrived first. 12 students lugged their baggage and snacks onto the bus. It took little to no time for me to notice that these boys and girls were uncharacteristically quiet for Teens. They were the deaf students. I spent a lot of time on the trip regretting the fact that I never took the Sign Language class my High School offered.
The teachers arrived later. They were dressed in jeans, t-shirts, and hats. They shocked me! I was surprised by how stylish, casual, and relaxed they all were when not in school attire. It was eye-opening and refreshing to be able to view my co-workers in a new light.
We were off. I opened up my transient copy of The Kite Runner and began reading.** I peeked out of the window from time to time to do a terrain check. I didn’t want to miss anything interesting. That proved to be unnecessary seeing as we stopped at every spot that could possibly be a landmark. I was bought bibingka at one stop (ayoko ‘yan!) and was compelled to share some tinapay (sweet bread) with our maintenance guy, Rugby.
At one point, I became very absorbed in Khaled Hosseini’s first novel. The main character, Amir is (pardon the cliché) stuck between a rock and a hard place and must choose the path of heroism or cowardice. The author was describing the disturbing activity happening before the young boy’s eyes when suddenly I heard a loud BOOM outside. I noticed that we were pulling over, but I was in a daze that was not unlike waking up from a vivid dream. I eventually snapped myself out of my mind. I sprung to action in an almost robotic fashion. Not really thinking about what I was doing I was outside helping them use the jack, taking off bolts, and helping Rugby pull the spare tire down off the bus and to the wheel well. I looked at the people still on the bus and they were slightly impressed by my sense of immediacy. I felt a bit embarrassed, but the whole process didn’t take any more than 10 minutes.
Nonetheless, the change of pace energized me. I stared out of the window, listened to Vampire Weekend on my friend’s borrowed IPod and let my imagination loose. I daydreamed about becoming a legitimate writer, climbing Mt. Everest, walking across the U.S. with nothing, but a backpack and notebook, and every other silly fancy that bounces around in my head from time to time. I was beginning to get restless. I soon had an outlet for my fidgeting. We got another flat.
It happened about an hour later. I was actually very excited. I hopped up immediately and grabbed the necessary instruments: The Jack, Blocks of Wood, and A Crowbar and handed them to Rugby. A deaf student decided that he could help also. He grabbed one end of the spare tire and looked at me excitedly. I grabbed the other end and together we lugged the second spare tire out of the bus. It was a bit more difficult because he wasn’t quite as strong as Rugby (neither was I) and I couldn’t talk to him. We spent a little time working against each other, but we got it down. This time, much to my chagrin, the process went quickly. This was partially (maybe) due to my vivacity. Luckily, we had another stop just up the road to use the bathroom and stretch our legs.
We made it to Bulalacao! We did all of the things I mentioned before and even got to ride on a banana boat. That was a new experience for me. It was a lot of fun, but the main boat driver was going slow because most of my co-workers can’t swim very well. We all had life-jackets on, but still. I also met a man from Chicago at the resort we stayed at. He was probably about 6’0″ and used to be in The Corps (Marine Corps). It was surprisingly difficult to talk to a non-peace corps expatriate. He seemed cool enough though. I was a bit put off by the fact that he clearly has no intentions of integrating into the culture, but he seemed to be an alright fellow, regardless. He was definitely not a COWD,*** so that was a relief.
We got to deal with two more flats on the way home. After helping with the 3rd flat tire Rugby and Youngby (a new maintenance guy who joined us for the return trip) sat uncomfortably close to me and began speaking to each other. They suddenly turned to me and stared for awhile. I thought of ignoring them, but instead decided to return their gaze inquisitively. I expected them to ask me a question since they knew I could speak broken Tagalog. Instead, they just kept staring. Not knowing what to do and lacking distractions (I finished the book and the IPod was dead) I just looked outside.
Rugby finally built up the courage to tap me on the shoulder and blurted out a Tagalog sentence. I dropped my jaw**** and waited for him to repeat what he said. He responded with, “Saan ka nakatira dito? Sa Calapan hindi” (Where do you live here? In Calapan or no) and I responded with, “Opo, nakatira ako sa Calapan. Sa Brgy. Silonay. Saan nakatira po kayo?” (Yes sir, I live in Calapan. In Barangay Silonay. Where do you all live, sir?) He answered, but it was too loud to understand, so I just nodded and smiled. About 1 hour and a half later the 4th and last tire gave up the ghost. I laughed, looked at Youngby and said, “Ulit!” (Again!) We were tired, so this tire change went slower than the first three.
We finally got home at about 7pm on Sunday night. I forgot to bring extra money for public transit, so I walked home again. The walk seemed shorter. Also, this walk was completed sans dog bites.
I am really glad that I went on that trip with my co-workers. I had a lot of fun experiences and got to see them from a different perspective.
I wonder what my next adventure will be!
*No, the dog did not draw blood or even bite me very hard at all. He just nipped my ankle, but 4:30 in the morning is not an optimal time to bug me. I was just a little pissed off to say the least.
**The Peace Corps office has a room in which volunteers can trade books. I picked it up about a week ago and will drop it back off for a new soul to read.
***I’m not sure who came up with it, but I assume it was someone from the CYF sector in the Peace Corps because they see the most COWD’s. It stands for Creepy Old White Dude and they can be found all over The Phillies. They spend a little more time with the ladies of the night than they should, look generally awkward anyway, and have wives that are about the age of their grandchildren . . . or great-grandchildren. Not every foreign white man in The Phillies is a COWD, but unfortunately if you are a white guy over the age of 55, that is what most PCVs initial reaction to you will be, regardless of your true intentions.
****Most Filipinos do this when they can’t understand what you said. The Filipino version of the American head-tilt and eyebrow furrow.