|This photo was taken on top of a Jeepney on the way to Sagada|
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 located. So 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 chilly. It's great. Although places higher up in the Cordillera Mountains here such as Sagada and Baguio City are like the perfect temperature all the time. In 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 yet. There is a local gym here in Bontoc, and the teacher there agreed to make time to work with me in English. It 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 towelettes. Just 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|
|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.|
|Agricultural Terraces in Sagada|
|The Gaia Café|
|This is La Trinidad which is a basically a suburb of Baguio City|
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!