Thursday, January 19, 2017

Two Much to Say Too Little Patience with the Internet

Well friends, family, and strangers

It has been a good long while since the last time I posted a blog and since then I have had many, many, many adventures.  So I suppose it's time for me to stop being so selfish and share some of my new experiences with all of you. 

One of the more memorable experiences thus far has been when I forced everyone to celebrate Thanksgiving the American way.  Ok, I didn't force anyone to do anything (and actually the folks of the Episcopal Diocese of the North Philippines love any excuse to have fellowship) but I told everyone to free up their schedules on Thursday November 24th to have a late lunch of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie.  I also reached out to Kellan and a guy named Tristan (not me), who are also Young Adult Service Corps members serving in the other dioceses of Episcopal Church of the Philippines, and I invited them to join us in beautiful Bontoc.  So the date was set, the guests were invited, but there was one problem left, the turkey.  Actually,  I should say turkeys because I had invited so many people that it became evident that there needed to more than one turkey.  I should also add that turkeys are not indigenous to the Philippines so there is hardly an abundance of those ridiculous birds here.  Anyway, I needed to get turkeys, I kept asking around to see if I could get the hook up.  I wanted to see if anyone could get me a good deal, but I already had my heart set on some good looking birds that were from a farm in a nearby village called Tocucan.  I knew about the birds because I had seen them during my many trips to Tocucan to teach choir, guitar, and piano.  So after I picked my birds, I knew that I need to figure out how to prepare them.  I researched all about butchering Turkeys until I was confident about the process and the materials I needed.  I still had no idea how to cook them because I had never done that before either.  So I decided to reach out to my mom and ask for some tricks of the trade.  She turned me on to the idea of brining, so I knew that would be the next step after the birds were butchered.  

Finally the big day had come.  I bought the turkeys on the Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving day, and we took them back to Bontoc in sacks. As soon as we arrived Bontoc I tied up the turkeys and got to work on all the preparations.  I made the brines first.  The brines contained just over a liter of water, a bunch of salt, quite a bit of organic cane sugar, one whole orange Barlig orange grated up, and rosemary.  After the brines boiled I let them cool.  Meanwhile, I went to get the biggest pots they had at All Saints Mission School's cafeteria to scald the birds in order to remove the feathers more easily.  I filled them with water and began boiling them.  Once they were boiling hot and the brines cooled, we set out to butcher the turkeys.  I will spare you all the gory details, but once the feathers were removed and they had been fully processed, I dropped them into bags and added the brine.  Then it was straight to a refrigerator with them.  Later on, a woman from Portland named Nancy, who is a priest's wife arrived and she started making pumpkin pies from this Japanese variety of pumpkin.  Then Kellan arrived and she had a pie that was ready to be baked too.  On Thanksgiving Day it was time to cook the Turkeys.  I decided to cover one with Butter and the other with bacon greese.  The most daunting aspect of roasting the turkeys was the fact that oven had no way to gage the temperature.  It was this big old industrial over that was heated by two gas burners.  So I just looked at the flames, said a little prayer, and popped the tin foil covered birds into the belly of the beast.  While the turkeys were roasting other preparations were being made.  I got everything I needed to make sure it would be a nice party.  Plates, silverware, cups, tablecloths, serving trays, etc.  Nancy and Kellan were preparing their other dishes.  After a couple of hours we decided to check on the turkeys and they smelled divine. It seemed they were making progress in order to be finished in another couple of hours.  I was so excited!  I had decided that I wanted to put my own little flourish and style to the roast turkeys so at 3.5 hours I took them out and to the turkey that was painted with butter I added a glaze of honey and orange rind, and to the turkey that was painted with bacon greese I sprinkled organic cane sugar in hopes that it would carmalize.  They went back in to the belly of the beast for another thirty minutes and then they were done.  I took them out to cool and they looked so delicious and  smelled even better. 

We had the feast at my place in the common area.  Everyone started showing up and eying the food. I was pleased that quite a few people brought their own dishes to the party, so there was a ton of food.  People arrived in waves but the first wave included about 25 of my new friends, many of whom are priests but others included the All Saints Mission School Headmaster, the All Saints Cathedral Choir director, Kellan, and Nancy.  I made that first wave say grace by joining hands and having each person thank god for what they were thankful for which is a Tucker household tradition.  It was mbeautiful man, you could feel the love in the room and it was connecting all of us. Finally we all
chowed down!  It was a great meal.  The first wave pretty much picked the turkeys dry... so they w


terrible.  No, they were pretty delicious.  However, one was better than the other but all in was

proud of my work.  Afterwards a wonderful party ensued.  People talked, ate, drank, laughed, and eventually we all started singing.  It really felt fulfilling to bring people together like that.  It just warmed my heart strings to watch my new friends having so much fun and fellowship and, I love that I had instigated it all.  That is what I was most proud of.  We drank and laughed into the night and then we decided to hit the town.  It was by far my most memorable thanksgiving yet. It was great! 

I thank God for that fact because I was really afraid that I was going to get very homesick.  Instead I kept myself so busy getting everything prepared and then I was so busy having a good time I was able to keep myself in the moment and have a great time.  You know, the true history of Thanksgiving is awful, in that the Thanksgiving feasts that the white settlers of New England engaged in were actually celebrations of raids and successful attacks on Native American villages and the decimation of indigenous culture.  However, the new narrative that we have created for Thanksgiving day, that it was a feast that bridged gaps and brought cultures together is a great concept to sell to kids.  I am proud to say that I did my best to accomplish that goal with the Thanksgiving feast I hosted in Bontoc.  

Christmas time was really a whirlwind here.  I had so many presentations and performances that I was either incharge of, directing, or performing in.  I had to prep the All Saints Cathedral's Youth Group (aka Skep) for a Christmas pageant that was expected to be different and meaningful and to include a lot of music. I was also preparing the All Saints Mission School marching band and Choir for Christmas performances that I basically invented for them. Meanwhile we had clergy choir rehearsals, my private instrumental students were preparing for their first recitation l and the All Saints Cathedral Choir was preparing some really advanced repertoire for Christmas Day.  Right after
Christmas my girlfriend Jenna was planning and we had a great vacation planned so I knew I just needed to get through it, do my best and try to have fun.  

The ASMIS (All Saints Mission School) groups could not have been more different from one another.  The marching band is full of kids who are super hungry to learn.  The boys love drumming and the girls really enjoy playing their bell lyres.  I taught them two new songs for their Christmas Day parade, "Hark the Herald" and "Joy to the World".  Teaching bell lyre is pretty straight forward.  It's pretty much by ear and not names (they can't read music at this time).  However the percussionists really struggled with learning their new parts.  For weeks, it wasn't coming together, and then all the kids started trying my patience until I lost it one day.  I told them all,  "The next person who plays is going home!" No sooner than I  had said that, I heard a tap tap tap from a snare drum. I told the student, "that's it go home!", and then there was another, and another.  I felt bad for those kids but I had to be assertive and let them know I meant business.  After that the kids were a lot more well behaved.  They love making music so much and being with their friends that they really don't want to miss out on it because of bad behavior.  The following Saturday I asked them all to come for an extra rehearsal, and man those kids are so great many of them came an hour early!  Afterward the rehearsal I took the kids out for pizza and I think that meal together brought us all closer together because after that day the kids have been fantastic and I can always reign them in when I feel I am losing them.  Their Christmas parade was really nice and I could they were proud of the performance too.  Meanwhile the choir was a more difficult group to work with.  You know, i am not the best piano player, so I struggle with directing and playing the piano at the same time.  While I was struggling to do both I lost the kids attention and eventually they just stopped coming to rehearsals.  They would continue to evade me even when I would ask them individually to come to practice.  So I had an idea, I decided I would make them perform even if they weren't ready and then we would discuss the fact that the performances would have been better and more fun have if they came to rehearsals.  So that is what I decided to do.  We did a little prep before a performance for the school, and I had to drag them all out of class and basically escort them to the rehearsal space.  The performance was not great, and then I made them go Christmas caroling that same day.  Now these are all middle school girls, who hate being embarrassed so I knew that either my ploy would work, OR they would HATE me.  After it all was over I took them out for tea and we a bonded and they promised they would start coming to rehearsals because they knew that whether they are prepared or not I would make them perform.  I really think my trial by fire scheme for them worked because I am planning all contemporary music for them and they are super excited to start working on it!

The recital of my private students was really cute! There were begging violinists, pianists, and even a saxophone beginner!  However, none of them had ever performed before so they all got pretty nervous.  There were so many memory slips and mistakes that I had never heard them commit before in lessons, but I guess that is just want nerves can do to people.  Tthey can make or break youdepending on how you experience them.  But it was still a really special event and the first of its kind at All Saints Cathedral.  Everybody played simple Christmas melodies and the audience was extremely appreciative and supportive.

The SKEP Christmas pageant was another event that I was incharge of preparing for a successful 
performance during this whirlwind time. The SKEP is a great bunch of high school aged kids but they can also be difficult to work with because they have a very hard time with timeliness.  It took a lot of
patience but once we picked out a script and started rehearsing and doing the blocking for the play it was evident that the group had the potential to put on a very meaningful and entertaining
performance.  The script was full of silly jokes that were perfect for the group.  Once it was time for the performance, everyone was very nervous, but those kids rose to the occasion and the pageant really impressed a lot of people.  There were a handful of musical numbers, and we did our best to make costumes out of used bed sheets, and we even had a giant star that was hoisted up by a pulley system to guide the wisemen to Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.  I really had a fun time directing that pageant, and I enjoyed helping the SKEP achieve their goal of having it be contemporary and fun.  There was only one issue and that was attendance of the congregation to our first performance.  Only very few people showed up to the first presentation so we all felt kind of defeated looking out in the audience and only seeing like 30 people. The first performance was held before the Christmas Eve
midnight mass, so it did not start until 8:30 pm, and I guess that was just to late to to get people in the door.  However the second presentation was held on the morning of  New Year's Day, and there were
tons of people out in the audience.  We were so happy that we got to share the play with more people,
 and I think they higher numbers in the audience helped motivate the group to perform even better
than the first time.

All the other presentations were equally fantastic, but I really feel like the work that I do with the kids here brings real meaning to my YASC experience.  I sometimes wonder if the work I am doing is
actually helpful, or if I have just been given an opportunity to galavant around the Philippines for a year.  However, when I think about the work I do with the kids of the SKEP, ASMIS, and my private students I know that the Lord called me here to help them achieve their goals but also help them achieve things that they might not have dreamed of.  While my work is not saving lives, it is touching lives in very important and meaningful ways.  I can see now in many of the groups that I am working with that I am helping to engender leaders and helping some of these kids find their strengths in addition to their weaknesses. Of course it is all work that I could do at home, but these kids need someone whose soul focus is helping them succeed.  I certainly don't believe that I am some sort of white savior, but rather a curious outsider who in his own sort of way is doing his best to help, learn, and teach.

Since Christmastime my girlfriend Jenna has come and gone.  We had a very nice vacation here that included short stays in Manila, Mountain Province, and a trip to the Island of Palawan. Palawan is one of the most gorgeous and picturesque places I have ever been on the planet.  The water is clear and clean and as you look out the ocean offers a beautiful and seamless transition from turquoise to a deep and dark blue.  Jungle covered mountains loom above the pristine beaches and the hot climate is cut by ocean breezes.  I highly recommend it as a vacation destination.

Since the vacation I have been doing my best to slip back into the swing of things.  I have a marching band performance next Friday morning, and the next day I will traveling to Ifugao for my martial arts systems anniversary event.  For those of you who don't know, I have been studying Filipino martial arts since I arrived in Bontoc.  Filipino Fighting Art is an indigenous stick fighting martial art, and my system of Arnis is called Salaknib.  Salaknib combines the stick fighting of Arnis with the unarmed combat art of Pencak Silat.  Pencak Silat is a martial art that is indigenous to Indonesia.  However, many people believe that something similar was practiced in the Philippines but it was lost durbing the Spanish Colonial times.  Anyway, during the event next week I hope to be promoted from the rank of yellow belt to the rank of blue belt.  My goal is to become a black belt before the end of the year so that I can teach the martial arts system when I return home.

Well this concludes this check in. I will posting pictures soon in a second blog, because the internet is atrocious.

Thanks for reading!
God Bless

Monday, September 26, 2016

First Blog, First Impressions

Hello Family, Friends, and Strangers!  I am safe and doing well here in Bontoc!  I am beginning my fourth week, here in the Philippines, and I figure it is time to share some of what I have been up to with all of you.

This photo was taken on top of a Jeepney on the way to Sagada

But first, for those of you who don't know me, I am Tristan "Hobey" TuckerI was born and raised in Petersburg, IL and am a lifelong Episcopalian.  My home parish is Christ Church in Springfield, IL.  In my youth, I attended school in the Athens School District and in 2010 I graduated from Athens Senior High SchoolI have always played instruments since I was four years old, so I decided to pursue a degree in music at Appleton Wisconsin's Lawrence University.  In January of 2015 I graduated from Lawrence with a Bachelor's of Music in Instrumental Music Education.  After I graduated, I taught for about a semester as a long term substitute at Hortonville High School, and then I joined a Cover Band called Boogie and the Yo-Yo'z. Now, I am a member of the Young Adult Service Corps, a mission program of the Episcopal Church.  My service placement is music ministry and education in Bontoc, which is the capital city of the Mountain Province of the Philippines

Now for those of you who do know me but are not sure what it means to be a YASC missionary, I shall explain.  The Young Adult Service Corps is a mission program through the Episcopal Church.  It offers young people ages 21-30 an opportunity to live in community in a different country, and perform a task that either suits their talents and skills or pushes them to learn and develop new skills.  Moreover, the hope of the program is to send leaders into the world to apply Asset Based Community Development or ABCD.  ABCD is community development in which an individual works along side members of a community and eventually engenders leaders from within the community to continue to the work at a high level so that even when the individual leaves, the work can continue.  For example, say as a musician (saxophonist), I bring a bunch of saxophones with me to a community that has never heard a saxophone before.  If during the course of my work, I play saxophone all the time, but I never: a.) teach people how to play the saxophones and b.) teach someone to play saxophone well enough to teach others to play saxophone then when I go home and leave the saxophones behind, no one will have any idea what to do with the saxophones.  Of course, as a mission program YASC is not just about the work, it's about community, and more specifically, Anglican Community.  YASCers are sent out from the Episcopal Church in the USA and are accepted into the Anglican churches where their services/skills/talents are needed in order to establish and strengthen bonds between the Anglican Churches of the world.  So as ambassadors of the national church, we establish both bonds between two locales such as Springfield, IL and Bontoc, Philippines and bonds between the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Episcopal Church of the Philippines.  Let me just say, for those of you who are thinking to yourselves that I am off fighting Jesus' battle by converting wicked sinners to Christianity one verse of Kumbaya at a time; 92% of Filipinos are Christian and while the USA outnumbers the Philippines in the sheer number of Christians the overall percentage of Christians in the USA is just 79.5%.  So suffice to say, the goal of my work is not proselytizing Filipinos.  Rather, evangelism may be a by product of meaningful and Christ centered work.

Now that I have been here for a while, I have a much better idea of what my service placement in Bontoc is all about.  Originally, I was supposed to go to Baguio City to work at a school called Easter College.  However, there are already music teachers at Easter College in Baguio City and as time went on, the powers that be within the Episcopal Church of the Philippines set out to find a place for me where my services would truly be appreciated and needed.  As it so happens the Episcopal Diocese of the Northern Philippines, or EDNP, had such a need.  The EDNP is located in the Mountain Province of the Philippines, which is very rural and many municipalities are in remote locations.  In fact, Mountain Province is where the Episcopal Church of the Philippines originated because there were communities that were so remote that the Spanish Catholics could not reach them.  It was in one such community that the first Anglican Missionaries built the first Church, Besao.  I digress...  Bontoc is the Capital of the Mountain Province, so it is where the Diocesan office of the EDNP is locatedSo the need that I mentioned there is here in the EDNP is of pianists.  There are many parishes here that wish to have a choir, but first they would like to have a piano, and someone to play it.  So I was told that I would be coming here to train pianists about two weeks before my arrival.  Those of you who know me well, you know that I am a saxophonist and while I can read piano music you would not expect me to be training pianists.  However, we must do the work that Christ calls us to do, especially if we feel the call in the first place.  I need to mention this now because you will wonder later if I don't.  There is a pianist here named Danielle who is attending College here in Bontoc.  She is who was teaching piano lessons before I came here.  She was also accompanying choirs and the masses as well as going to school.  I was called here to help alleviate her work load.

So there is a little bit of info about me and YASC.  Now I would like to share a bit about what I have been up to and my first impressions of the Bontoc and the Philippines. 

So, I am teaching beginning piano lessons.  I have also been asked to work with several marching bands and choirs, which, some may know, is more up my ally.  Since I have been here, I have found that wind instruments and strings have simply not found a place here in Mountain Province.  Yes, here the piano and guitar reign supreme.  It is possible that my tenor saxophone is the first tenor saxophone to ever be played here.  I am sure those statements are raising some red flags such as, "How can you possibly have a marching band without wind instruments?".  The answer, two words, Bell Lyre.  That's right, they march drums and bell lyres only.  Today, I will observe my first children's choir rehearsal here at All Saints Mission School, and tomorrow I will observe the drum and lyre band.  As for the piano lessons, I have found that I have more than enough knowledge to teach beginners.  However, the bigger problem with the piano students is that they do not have instruments to practice on.  So far progress has been at a snails pace, especially for students who have only one lesson a week.  This is a problem that I will be working closely with Bishop Brent Alawas here in the EDNP to solve.  Another issue, is the fact that there are no keyboards in many of the parishes.  So, I think I may be doing some grant writing to solve that problem.  Those of you who are experienced with grant writing should let me know because I may ask you for help!  I have also been enlisted into the All Saints Cathedral Choir here as well as the EDNP's Shalom Beharim Clergy Choir (both groups are coached by a self-taught choir director named Ma'am Zenith, who is quite good).  With those groups I have been singing and doing some accompanying on saxophone.  They have also asked me to make some arrangements for the Clergy  Choir of songs like God Must Be a Cowboy... They love country music here... A LOT!  

People here are extremely musical, and singing occurs at every social gathering.  There is always a guitar and people gather around and sing their favorite songs together, unlike in the states where we put our favorite songs on through a sound system, or hire a band to play them.  To the people of Mountain Province singing and making music are a means of bonding.  The funniest thing is, they like to sing American songs the most, but there are so many songs that they sing that I have just never heard before.  Either the songs are country, or they from way way way before my time.  This leads to an interesting thought... "I am an American, why have I never heard this before?".  But I sing with them nonetheless and nobody seems to mind that I do not know MOST of the American songs they love to sing here.  They also have their own cultural music of the gongs.  I was fortunate to arrive right before Bontoc's Am-Among (coming together) festival which celebrates Bontoc's founding day.  Many cultural presentations were given which included traditional gongs and dances, as well as garb.   

Another notable thing is that English is spoken by all here and all the advertisements, road signs, governmental buildings, and notices are in written in English.  Moreover, here everyone speaks about 4 or 5 languages.  They can speak the language of the tribe such as Bontoc, more regional languages such as Illocano and Kankana-ey, the national language, Tagalog, and English.  But I was surprised to find English is spoken everywhere, at least on Luzon.  There are a few reasons for this.  One is that there are so many languages spoken here that English is treated like the universal language.  That is despite the fact that Tagalog is the National Language and is supposed to be taught in all schools.  Many people do not like Tagalog and reject it and, from what I have gathered, that is because Tagalog is heavily influenced by Spanish.  Generally speaking, Filipinos seem to view the American influence on the Philippines in a much more favorable light.  I have started to learn a few words of Bontoc, and I am excited to learn more.  

The weather in Bontoc is awesome!  It gets fairly warm during the day, but it is nothing like Manila, which feels like a steam room all the time.  Inversely, here it gets cool at night, and I might be so bold as to say it even gets chillyIt's great.  Although places higher up in the Cordillera Mountains here such as Sagada and Baguio City are like the perfect temperature all the timeIn those places it never gets hotter than 85 degrees and usually stays around 70-80 with a breeze.  Also, it's rainy season here which means it rains just about every day.  which is nice because it cuts the Bontoc heat.

I have started studying the Filipino martial art of Arnis.  Arnis is also known as Kali Stick Fighting, there may be a difference between the two but I have not been able to figure it out yetThere is a local gym here in Bontoc, and the teacher there agreed to make time to work with me in EnglishIt is a ton of fun!  It's also an opportunity to expand my network here.

Toilets are quite different here for those of you who'd like to know.  There is no seat, and they don't flush with a mechanism.  Instead, next to the toilet, there is always a big tub of water with a scooper, and you dump the water in the toilet with a scooper and it creates the suction to flush out the... contents.  Also, there is no toilet paper so I carry around packages of moist towelettes.  So, if you would like to do something kind for me at some point this year, send me some moist towelettesJust ask and I will give you my address here!  Fun fact; here bathrooms are called comfort rooms, or CR's.
This is a bad example of the usual toilet I see here because this one has a seat... But it is an example of the bucket at least.  I took this photo becaue I found this comfort room to be rather picturesque.  This is the CR at the Gaia Café in Sagada.
The CR from the outside
Another interesting thing here is the public transportation.  All over Luzon, public transportation is privatized and there are three types that I am aware of, One is the jeepney which are made of old converted US Army vehicles.  Jeepneys are always brightly colored and customized so that each one is its own piece of art. The second are the tricycles, which are motorcycles with a side car.  Tricycles are also customized and brightly colored.  The third are the bus lines.  Buses are perhaps the safest way to travel, but they are also more expensive.  You can also hire private vans for longer trips, but I haven't had a single person advocate that.  I also forgot that there are cabs in the bigger cities, but they often have no idea where things are.  You cannot just get into a cab and say, "Take me to the Post Office."  You have to either know the main street that the location is on, or you have to be able to give directions to the driver.  

This is a jeepney

This is the jeepney we took to Sagada

Eric Panter told me that it is best to ride on top of the jeepney if you are in a place that allows it.  This has now become my favorite way to travel here

A view of the Cordilleras from on top of the jeepney.
 So you may have see the name Sagada pop up from my pictures.  Sagada is a town that is forty-five minutes away from Bontoc, and it is absolutely beautiful.  It is higher up in the Cordilleras and as a result, the temperature is much cooler than in Bontoc.  I think I heard that the elevation in Bontoc is around 2,000 ft above sea level, while the elevation in Sagada is around 5,000 ftIt is an agricultural and artist community that is know for its Igorot (mountain people) weaving, and oranges.  Fun fact, I've seen green oranges here, which is aparently the color they are supposed to be

Agricultural Terraces in Sagada

The Gaia Café

I want to share some photos I took on the bus from Baguio to Bontoc.  A trip that is exclusively through the beautiful Cordillera Mountains.  

This is La Trinidad which is a basically a suburb of Baguio City

I'd like to close this blog with just a number of fun facts about life here in the Philippines.

People love fried chicken, you see it everywhere.  Straight up southern style fried chicken.  

Basketball is the most beloved sport here.

Coffee is life.  Seriously, these people drink coffee like it is water.  However,  they do not make it as strong as the coffee in the US.

Rice is eaten at every meal, and a meal has not officially begun until there is rice... Rice is life.

A common greeting here is "Where are you going?"

Roosters...  there are 5 of them outside my window and they start their day EARLY and believe everyone else should too.

Oh, and here is a picture of my apartment!


 Alright, I think that's all folks.  God Bless!