Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sa balay ko

I have a house, a little house, H-O-U-S-E. (That's one of the songs
they sing at our preschool.) I moved out of my host family's place on
February 9th, the first day Peace Corps would let me. No more
scheduling around them, no more getting locked out of the house when I
come home late so that I have to pound on the windows and wake up my
lola. No more fish.

My new place is a little house in a subdivision a couple kilometers
from my center. I have pictures: It's fairly decrepit and has
hideous fake-wood paneling on the partition that separates the
sleeping area. There's no furniture except a bed, which my landlord
thankfully left me - otherwise I'd probably be sleeping on the floor
even now because furniture is such a pain to transport. Plus I don't
really spend a lot of time at home - when I'm working there's
generally no time during the day for me to go home for meals or
anything else, and on days off I'm often in the city or out biking

Since I don't usually have time to cook I eat most of my meals at the
market - generally in carinderias, little neighborhood eateries. I was
worried at first that I wouldn't have enough money to "eat out" most
meals, but if I keep myself under p100 per day - which I discovered is
totally doable - I'll actually be spending less money than I was
giving my host family who, if you remember, was giving me only one
meal a day during most of my home stay. And I haven't eaten seafood
since I moved out. When I am at home for meals I usually just make
some kind of noodles (my electric kettle is my most prized possession)
and bread or something simple like that.

So my house is not in the best shape, it's small, and the slatted
windows try but can't quite keep out the insects (I have my mosquito
net up now for the first time since I've been in the Philippines - my
house fronts a low-lying empty field and when it rains my walls get
covered in some little kind of fly seeking refuge). The ants are bad
but I've long since become accustomed to them, and we generally live
together peacefully along with the geckos. For a while frogs were also
getting into my house through the huge gaps underneath my front and
back doors, but I stopped those up in true Peace Corps fashion, with
the cardboard scavenged from packages I've received from home.

I love living on my own. I can come and go whenever I want, I can play
music without headphones (although my laptop's speakers can't drown
out the 90s videoke ballads being belted out at other houses at
night), I can eat without people asking me worriedly "Where's your
rice?", and most importantly I have privacy and a quiet place to rest,
except for the aforementioned videoke sessions across the street. And
revving motorcycles at five am. And the street vendors who seem to
believe that pre-dawn is the best time to vend.

Even after I signed the contract on my house I worried about the cost.
My rent is actually below the Peace Corps limit (my house is cheaper
than I expected because it's farther from the city - it's a couple
kilometers from my center), so I have some money included in the
contract to cover electricity and water, but I kept hearing about how
expensive utilities in Iloilo are so for the first month I was very
careful: I unplugged everything when I wasn't using it, I didn't use
the lights except at night when I absolutely had to, I monitored my
shower- and dishwater usage closely. For water I had a minimum monthly
fee for up to ten cubic meters and for electricity I had p400 in my
contract - any more and I would have to pay out of my own pocket. So I
got my first utilities bill, covering my first three weeks (since I
spent a week on vacation)...

...I had used one cubic meter of water and my electricity bill was p28.

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