Our ICO training week has come to a close which means that the team will no longer be living together anymore. All of the UK volunteers have been paired up with an in-country volunteer to live with and will be spread out across the community (so that we don't clump together but properly integrate with the locals). My host-home counterpart is the lovely Sophia, who you will be hearing a lot about over the coming weeks. I could not have been more thankful to have Sophia by my side when meeting my host-home for the first time, as she acted as my translator to the family, told me how to greet everyone ( e.g. for the Grandmother, you must take her hand and place it to your forehead as a sign of respect) and gave me a shoulder to cry on when I found myself feeling very overwhelmed. Meeting my host-home for the first time was one of the most daunting experiences of my life. I'm living with Tati Teddy ('Daddy' Teddy) and his family of 9! Although when I arrived there were at least 15 people waiting at the house to greet me- all members of Teddy's extended family who also live in the same compound. It appears that everyone really does know everyone here in Cabiao, either by blood, or friendship (or both).
I think the hardest thing for me to deal with was the family's embarrassment in front of me- the ' rich westerner' - and although I was in their house and in their country, they seemed ashamed by their "poor English" (that's their opinion not mine, as I'm continually impressed by the general language standard over here. It's much better than my GCSE German ever was!) Of course, as I mentioned in my previous post, Filipinos initially come across as quite a shy race, preferring to observe you until you have gained their trust. So even the kids couldn't bare to hold my gaze for more than a second before running away in a fit of nervous giggles. I didn't really know how to deal with the situation, as in the UK I would normally be the one to fill the awkward silence with random trivia. And there's only so much smiling you can do before that starts to get awkward too. So then I began to act out my gratitude with my own variety of universal sign language- e.g. "mmm I like the rice" is a belly rub with a big smile. To my relief the family thought I was very silly and started to laugh along too...and so begins the process of gaining their 'trust!'
Another interesting fact about the Philippines: the day starts early (very early!) And even on the weekend everyone is up and about by 5am. I learnt this the hard way. When I woke up at 8.30am on Saturday morning and crept out to the bathroom, everyone was awake, dressed and waiting at the breakfast table for me to join them (they'd been to polite to wake me!) So not wanting to make them wait any longer, I took my seat at the table complete with bed hair, pj's and sleepy dust still in my eyes- giving them a great first impression of myself and the UK! (I'm guessing there isn't a word for 'lie-in' in Tagalog!!) Most families do their shopping at 4 or 5 am and then go for a walk or jog before the day gets too hot. My second morning was slightly more successful, as I managed to drag myself out of bed at 5.30am to join the family for a walk. But Tati Teddy still laughed that I was "lazy" for sleeping in so late! However I must admit, this early rise routine allows you to have a lot more free time. Before breakfast and the day-time heat I had been for a walk, hand-washed my clothes, typed up my blog entry and played 'house' with the girls! (N.B. in the Philippines you sweat ALOT. Even a short walk into town will have you dripping in sweat. For hygiene reasons they wash clothes regularly (changing up to three times a day) and take a bucket shower at least twice a day. So I think leaving my make-up at home was a smart move).
As for the food- there is always time for food in the Filipino family. They eat 5-6 times a day and there is always so much food available. I couldn't have been more wrong when I presumed I'd lose weight on this programme. My host Auntie has assured me that she will send me home fat. She's pretty dedicated to her mission too, because during every meal she will keep piling my plate high with rice, despite my protests of "busog na ako!" (I am full!) Laughing at me she will say "are you on diet? we don't do diet's in the Philippines. We eat!" So I do. I eat. And then at 11am, after a huge breakfast of crab, fish, vegetables and of course rice, it is snack time. Although 'snack' does not mean an apple and a coffee. It's a bowl of spaghetti (albeit a smaller portion). But still- spaghetti as a snack ?!?
TOO. MANY. CARBS.
Nani Au (another host-mum, who also dished up buffet-style feast when we went round to visit) explained that if we lose weight the other mum's will be very angry and presume we aren't being looked after properly. Because being fat is a sign that you are healthy.
What I will never understand is how the majority of people here stay so small in spite of their high carb, high sugar diet. I guess at meal times the food is always fresh and unprocessed (including lots of fish and veg). But the Filipinos have a massive sweet tooth and LOVE candy, chocolate and fizzy drinks which are sold on nearly every street corner! The coffee is also served with 5 teaspoons of sugar, giving me the same kick as a Redbull in the morning!
But maybe the secret is their energy. Filipinos are some of the most energetic people I have ever encountered. They walk everywhere, never stand still and communicate in a very expressive manner- putting 100% into life (at least when they are awake!) I experienced this at yesterday's siesta karaoke party. I have never experienced karaoke whilst sober but it quickly became apparent that the filippino's do not need alcohol to have fun. Or lossen up. Even a government official dropped by to sing us a terrible rendition of Frank Sinatra's "My Way." But it's not about the standard of singing or the performance. It's about having a laugh and letting your hair down.
And I have to tell you, I had so much crazy, stupid fun. I laughed until my belly ached. Screeched out the top notes of 'I will survive.' And partied with a group of people who manage to get drunk on life itself.