Friday, November 28, 2014

Adventure to Ambuklao

whoops, I never posted this blog, oh well, this takes place about 2 weeks before the preceeding blog post

Hello from Baguio. Things go on much the same. Days of teaching, nights of practicing Beatles and Bob Dylan tunes, and karaoke (did I mention that Baguio is filled with karaoke bars and acoustic live music bars? I have countless opportunities to study up on country music and guitar technique). So there isn't much to report, except for last Monday when I had the opportunity to go on an adventure. The Episcopal Church here has a program called Receivers to Givers, whereby they provide soil enhancers and other helpful things to farming communities, with the stipulation that those who receive must in turn pass on help and experience to other communities. My friend Laiyan works for the organization, and she invited me up to the organic farm in Ambuklao last Monday, which happened to be a holiday from school (I'm still not sure why, various sources said it was Teachers Day, or that it was because of a Muslim holiday, frankly I didn't sweat the details too much). I hope I'm not getting this wrong, as my Philippine geography is still not too solid, but Ambuklao is in the Barangay Province, north of Baguio, in the mountains. So me and 5 other young people, some employees of the organization and some along for the ride like me, rolled up there in a truck, me and two new friends bouncing around in the back with crates of fertilizer and soil enhancers, clinging tight to the bars on the roof as we twisted and turned along the mountain roads. I found myself wondering if there are any roller coasters in the Philippines, with roads like the ones we were on, they don't need them.

street meat

The views from the window were truly spectacular. The mountains are higher, the country greener, I dare say the sky is bluer, once we left the house packed hillsides of Baguio. Here there is nothing on the mountainsides but trees, and lonely little pit stops offering chips and bathrooms perched on stilts propping them against the steep sides. So up and down up and down we drove, past other other trucks and the occasional cow grazing by the side of the road. In the valleys are little quickly flowing rivers in wide riverbeds which give an idea of these rivers' size during the rains. Suspended over the rivers are little footbridges which look truly terrifying.

So eventually we reached the farm, after getting off the highway and enduring a mile or two of dirt roads, and trail which I think can hardly be called a road, we parked by the little Anglican church of St. Bartholomew, which is perched on a little shelf above another of those spectacular views. There the employees of the Receivers to Givers program presented their program to the assembled committee of 6 or 7 community leaders (people occasionally left or arrived, so the number is approximate), while the rest of us sat or wandered around and took pictures. The presentation took place in Ipaloy (spelling approximate), so even if I was further along in my Ilocano or Tagalog I would have been at a loss. Do you know how many languages are spoken in the Philippines? I don't, every time I ask people just say “a lot”.
St. Bartholomew's

It must be tough to give a sermon with the congregation looking at this view

Of course afterwords the people offered us food and coffee, I've learned to always go to any event hungry. Rice and some cabbage dish, which I looked at askance until I tasted it, then I went back for seconds and thirds. We went walking around the grounds and the employees of the organization showed the people how to use the soil enhancers (it involves digging holes in the ground and pouring the stuff in). Then someone handed us a couple plastic bags full of little green fruits, which looked like limes. Against my better judgement I ate some along with everyone else (I'm fine by the way), and found that they tasted sort of like a cross between a lime and an apple and was filled with mushy seeds. I asked what they were and was told they were guavas. My friends were surprised that I didn't know what a guava was, and I explained that up until then I had only ever experienced guava as a flavoring in iced tea.

So we headed back. This time, not pressed for time, we stopped often at overlooks and at a dam, to take pictures. We also stopped at a sulfur spring, which I was surprised to find almost completely undeveloped. I explained to my friends that in America we would long ago have fenced the place off, charged five bucks for admission, and put fences around the bubbling springs so little children didn't fall in. And that, invariably, it would have been filled by garbage left by people who jumped the fence at night to get into trouble.

sulfur springs
there was also a horse

I would go into more detail describing the amazing sights of the mountains, but luckily I took pictures, so now I'll sign off. Blessings from Baguio!

It's been awhile since my last blog post and I'm somewhat scared of forgetting something, but I'll try my best. I think I am well and truly acclimated to living here now. I've quit shopping at the nearby supermarket in favor of the large open-air Baguio Market. The meat market is the most colorful part of this experience, a large tent full of butchers who will cleave your meat to your specifications and where you can buy pig heads and various innards as well as the more familiar parts of the animal. I've learned how to cook adobo, the most typical Filipino recipe, consisting of meat boiled in a mixture of soy sauce, ginger, vinegar, garlic, and onions. I'm getting better at eating with my hands, (three fingers to scoop and push the food to your mouth with the thumb). My Ilocano is still sadly lacking, but I know how to say “lets eat”, “I'm hungry” and the names of several different types of food, and my friends assure me that this is all one really needs to know. I still dream about home sometimes, but I invariably wake up when I start to wonder how I'm going to get back in time for class.

Which brings me to my class, which has at last started! I'm having a great time, and learning rapidly. I teach high school three days a week and elementary two days, teaching those students who are interested and who have instruments how to play those instruments. They range from a couple already competent guitar players (who I fear may be better than me) to the students who have never touched their instruments. I've got piano players, guitarists, violinists, drummers, recorder players, and one girl who said she wanted to learn cornet but has since decided to learn guitar instead. I'll admit I'm relieved. Almost none of them can read music, almost none of them have ever been a member of any kind of ensemble before. I spend the class periods scurrying around from instrument to instrument giving each a phrase to learn by rote and then whirling around to the next and trying desperately to keep everyone on track. When class ends at four I go home and pass out. I worry that I'm not being effective, but despite that (because of it?) the students still seem to like me. They still shout “hello sir!” as I walk across the campus, and at lunchtime some of them come to eat and hang out in my office. I often would very much like to nap during this time, but I don't have the heart to turn them away. Besides whether they come because of a desire to play more music or a curiosity about the American, a little extra practice never hurt anybody.

I've joined to choir at the church by the school, Holy Innocents Episcopal, and it has been wonderful for a number of reasons. I've made a number of friends, six of the men in the choir are my age, and of course the aunties and uncles are all very sweet as well. Especially nice is the fact that most of them are local, so when I walk down the street now I have a good chance of seeing people I know. Then there's the fact that all of our rehearsals include food, at least some bread or pastry and coffee, but sometimes full meals. And of course the aunties know that I live alone and so insist that I take leftovers home with me. Finally of course is the chance to be a part of a rather good choir, I've started singing tenor and on the hymns I like to play along on the violin, so it's really excellent practice for lots of different musical skills.

This Tuesday I'll be travelling to Manila for the consecration of the new prime bishop of the Philippines. I'm excited to see the capital for the first time (I don't count the week following my arrival because I spent most of it asleep), and my friends at the national office, and of course a big cathedral service with all the smells and bells is always a good time, but somewhat nervous about that oppressive lowland climate.

By the way, I almost forgot to brag about my latest culinary feat, I've tried balut. Balut is a food I first read about in an article called “5 Disgusting Foods You Won't Believe Are Delicacies in Other Countries” and I'll leave it to the less squeamish among you to look it up. Suffice it to say, the crunchiness was somewhat disconcerting, but overall it wasn't too bad.