Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Today started out with a minor frustration. While I was dinning for breakfast at the hotel restaurant, I was furiously typing away my previous day’s entry as explained before. Merrilyn, a program affiliate with one of the NGO’s here (she also will be taking over next year as the Philippines director of the PYLP), also joined me for breakfast. We chatted a bit about our interests and our families. She is a very sweet woman who is ready and willing to help anyone she can. After speaking to her, I realized we had to get going to the community center for the day’s program, so I decided to publish my entry but was disappointed to find my Internet connection lost. Apparently, the hotel changes the network keys in the morning so they can charge daily for providing internet access. The lost connection wiped out my entry and I had not saved it on my computer. Disaster! While I was meddling with the computer, our driver had arrived. I wasn’t too disappointed since I knew I would have time during the day to compose a new entry. That’s exactly what I did!
We arrived a bit late to the community center—again! I guess I am definitely living up to my billing as a South Asian. Don’t worry, the program’s start is not contingent upon our arrival. Although, It just would be nice to go on time. In any case, the first item on the agenda was a debate on the current conflict in Mindanao. The students were divided into 3 groups: questioning group, for group, and against group. The quesioning group proposed the questions of interest while the other two debated. After the question was thoroughly presented and debated, the student groups rotated roles to tackle a new issue or topic. It was fascinating to see them become so emotional and passionate about their positions. Well, naturally in their excitement, some of them forgot their words and others spoke too fast among many other consequences of competitive debating atmosphere. Overall, they did a terrific job in handling the issues, as some of them were extremely sensitive. Afterwards, they received feedback from the directors of the program and other distinguished community leaders on how to better improve their debating skills. After the debate, the students had snacks. As I mentioned before, they eat like 5x a day with 2 snack breaks (called Marienda) thrown in with the 3 regular meals. Following some delicious snacks, they listened to a panel of speakers including a Muslim Professor, a Christian Priest, an inter-faith representative, and the student representative of PYLP Alumni, and awoman who had been kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaab (a rebel group). The panel’s underlying theme was how to best resolve the conflict in the Mindanao. All of the speakers provided interesting interpretations and unique approaches to mediate the conflict but the common point was that they all need to work together and help others understand the realities on the ground instead of engaging in hatred.
The panel discussion gave way to another organic and delicious lunch. I get really hungry all the time (as some of you know all too well), so the food was more than adequate in satiating my expanding appetite. After lunch, the students had an organization fair where different student-based community orginzations presented for the students to attract support for their initiaitives and give the PYLP students access to new resources. I think this was a great idea! The PYLP kids had a blast, at least that’s what it seemed like form my end.
Today, I had been walking around the community center more so than before and this was largely due to my ailing stomach. I definitely feel like I am slowly falling victim to international gastric stresses. I hope my poor tummy can hang on for a few more days so I can enjoy this delicious food before I leave. Forgive me but I feel awfully disgusted right now. As I am typing this in the hotel lobby, I saw a pimp and a foreigner walk in with a woman. This is definitely a prostitute exchange. The pimp is enjoying some drinks at the bar while the man has taken the woman upstairs. Unbelievable! I need to take my mind off it, so I’ll try to finish writing about my day.
While walking around, I ran into my basketball friends from the other day. I learned that they all live and work at the community center compound. It was fun talking to them and learning a little bit about their lives. Believe it or not, I got a lot out of them with their broken English and my complete ineptitude with the local languages. They instructed me to meet them later in the day to play with them again. Basketball and me equals happiness. :) So, at 5, I walked on over with my new friend Kenny to the basket ball courts. A little bit about Kenny….
Kenny is a PYLP alumni from 6 years ago and he is currently working in banking even though he concentrated in Radio, Television, and Film for his Bachelor’s degree. He told me that the wants to pursue his journalistic aspirations by going for a Master’s in Journalism after he is done with his banking term. He said that he might apply to Medill at Northwestern University—which made me really happy. Kenny is a very humble, kind, and interesting guy. He asks probing questions and is very respectful in his approach. I am always attracted to individuals who are outgoing and are comfortable in their own skins. We became friends right away. He even gave Dr. Russell and me a tour around the community center. He took pictures of us so that we would have beautiful ones to show off to our friends once we get back to the US. Also, he arranged for us to meet the Director for the Turkish-Philippino School nearby. The school concentrates on math and science education with an emphasis on universal values of human understanding. The Director was extremely amicable and forthcoming in talking about his school’s mission, Turkey’s role, and his own reasons for coming to the Philippines to lead a school to serve the Philippino children. It was a useful and informative site visit. Anyways, Kenny and I chatted on and off all day about everything from politics and religion to our ambitions and career goals. Yeah, it does quite seem like I have a man-crush on Kenny. That may be true because he is a heck of a guy. He reminds me a lot of Noman Tahir, a representative from a Scottish Muslim organization who came to visit CAIR-Chicago late last year. Kenny and I will be going running in the morning and he has volunteered to show me around town to make sure I soak in everything here. He lives and works in Manila but is back for the PYLP Follow On in Zamboanga City. He also gets to see his parents since he is originally from here, so he was definitely elated about that. I am really happy that he will be sticking around the rest of the week since I have another friend with whom to just chat away and go exploring.
The rest of the day was filled with me going and playing basketball and engaging in or more like hearing Dr. Madale’s experiences and stories. He is another interesting person. By the way, Dr. Russell uses the word “interesting” as a compliment for those who she likes a lot. I am proud to say that she had dubbed me “interesting” from the start. At dinner, I enjoyed another local fruit called losantos ( I may be misremembering the name). In any case, it was delicious of course. During dinner, I also discussed with Dr. Madale about a possible Fulbright Fewllowship in the Philippines and he seemed excited about the idea and would be willing to support me in my application. Awesome, another good option to have. It is amazing how the most rewarding opportunities come about in the places you least expect. This invitation to do a workshop for a youth program has turned out to be much more: a vacation, an educational experience, and a cultural exchange. Following dinner, we sat in the audience to watch the kids perform dances for everyone. I was very impressed with their talents and their creativity. I have lots of pictures highlighting this. Then, we returned on home to the hotel. I must head to bed now and I still need to make up my day’s worth of prayers. Until tomorrow, palum magan kaibigun ko (good bye my friends!)!