Friday, October 29, 2010

Letters from the End

Thank you for visit here in Iloilo. That’s all.
Thank you thank you ang babait na tito thank you 
First and for most… Thank you for being one of my friends. Thank you for the love, care, and understanding that you shared with us. I hope you never forget us especially me. 
Pls. take care to your self I miss you and pls. visit and pls. Don’t forget my name Tito Ryan you know you are my first friend Amirican. 
Dear Tito Ryan, Thank you so much for sharing your time, talents, skills & knowledge with us here in Iloilo. You know that we love you so much and we will treasure each moments we had spent with you. We love you! & We will miss you!!! 
It is a pleasure to say goodbye for you. 
Thank you for sharing your time with us :) and may you have a good health specially you and your parent’s and alway’s remember tha[t] you are always in our heart’s! :) 
Thank you for all the love and care you share to us. And for all the laughs that we shared together. And thank you because you teach us how to speak English. Hope that you will be back here and stay longer again. Stay what you are! and stay cool! 
[R]espect the person who she/he is
[Y]ummy is the name of my friend
[A]cceptable – accept the person who she/he is
[N]ever – don’t say never if you made it
[M]ysteries or mysterious – your life is mysterious but full of God’s Blessings
[U]nity – you can unite to ur community to become strong
[R] is your name Ryan Murphy
[P]rayer – u can help the people by praying to them w/out materials or money
[H]elpful – u can help the people w/out exchange w/out expecting so much.
[Y]ummy is you Tito Ryan you are my Friend
you are the best amirican her in the Philippines 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Beggars and boatmen


It’s thirteen pesos to cross to Guimaras from Ortiz Port. There’s been talk for years of building a bridge to the little island off Iloilo City, which would eliminate the need for the bangkas and simultaneously sound the death knell for the pretty island province. Guimaras, already threatened by the ugly wall of resorts thrown up at Alubihod Beach, would become, through ease of access, just another retreat island.


For now, Guimaras is protected by a slim expanse of water, a thin membrane easily breached by someone with political will and capital. But it hasn’t happened yet, and so thrives Ortiz, another of the country’s rustic slummy wharves with one short pier and dozens of ramshackle shanties.


But for all its decrepitude, the port provides a degree of livelihood to the many sailors and vendors accommodating beachgoers and cross-water commuters. A bridge would open up Guimaras, but close down the ticket office and the sari-saris and the eateries.


Ortiz is already at the mercy of the air and water: during rainy season the boats migrate to the nearby port at Parola, from which the stronger winds and currents don’t seriously hinder the boats’ passage.


It’s a fragile existence for the polemen and the panhandling street children and the food-sellers. The crumbling pier has certainly seen better days. One wonders if it will survive to see more.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Darkness at night

The sun sets early in the Philippines. Its disappearance coincides with my center’s daily group prayer, wherein children, house mothers and coworkers converge for a few minutes while the sky runs through its bedtime routine. If the prayer starts late, or if it is a rosary day, the gathering doesn’t break up until the darkness is almost complete and the sound of hands slapping mosquitoes replaces colors and shapes as the primary sensory stimulus. Then the lights come on and the kids walk back to their houses for dinner, homework and maybe a bad telenovela.

But in mid-step the world turns off and a collective groan rumbles through the thick air. A young moon soon reveals dim shapes. Small silhouettes continue homeward, led by the glow of a cellphone or a candle glimmering on a porch.

Power outages are nuisances, but they’re also opportunities: opportunities for kids to skip their homework and take a jaunt around the center with their buddies, for the guitars to be broken out and impromptu concerts performed, for the world to be seen without the artificial fluorescent glow.

For me, brownouts usually mean no work in the evening. No tutorials, no instruction, no working on projects. It’s frustrating, and it’s a frustration that has lasted since the early days of the hot season over half a year ago, when brownouts became a daily occurrence and usually a more-than-daily one. Earlier this week we had six brownouts in one day; another time the power stayed out for around twelve hours at a go.

Yes, the Philippines is a developing country and I have no reason to expect consistency when it comes to utilities. But from an economic standpoint, Filipinos get a raw deal when it comes to electricity: recently an article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer highlighted the fact that in some Philippine cities, power rates are higher than in many other countries, including the US, Russia and Japan as well as other developing nations. And the lucky Ilonggos in my province pay the most of anyone in the Philippines – and for the price, the service is abominable. (My utilities are included in my regular rent payment, so the high price doesn’t affect me. But I can imagine the pinch for families that have to pay a premium for a less-than-premium outcome.)

So for me personally, the brownouts shouldn’t be as much of an aggravation: at least I don’t have to begrudgingly hand over my pesos at the end of each month with the knowledge that the money is funding a power infrastructure that’s about as seamless as a sepak ball. But of course, I had over twenty years of luxurious, very nearly persistent electricity before I came to the Philippines, and I still feel the stab of annoyance sometimes when we’re plunged into blackness in the middle of a math tutorial.

And yet…

I also sometimes think about how tired I am when I get home three hours after the sun sets. And how that same sun consistently wakes me up the next morning around six – no need for alarms; no need for black curtains to hold off the sun because I didn’t fall into bed until two a.m. And I think about how desperately humanity has perverted that natural cycle (not that we haven’t had good reasons sometimes for doing so) with the invention of artificial lighting and our chemical-stimulant fetishes. And then the planet’s turning doesn’t seem quite so obnoxiously inconvenient, and I know the brownouts aren’t concealing anything, but only revealing what is true.

Darkness at night. How novel.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ilonggo Standard Usage Manual, 1st Edition

Along with demands for me to visit the Philippines after my service is over and requests to add them on Facebook, my kids also often tell me not to forget Ilonggo after I go home. It doesn’t matter that I won’t have anyone to speak to in dialect: "Basta matudlo mo lang sa ila,” they say. “You will just teach them.” While I doubt my efforts to propagate a minor dialect in the US would bear much fruit, I do hope the language doesn’t fade from memory too quickly, as I’ve gotten to quite appreciate some of its attributes.

First among these is the sometimes wholesale reliance on context to express meaning. I don’t know if it’s the same in other regions of the country, but Ilonggos shorten words and sentences like ants stripping clean a cockroach carapace: everything extraneous, and frequently things that would seem rather necessary in English, is dropped in the belief that the context of the statement will make the meaning clear.
On one hand, that makes the language bewildering sometimes. We didn’t exactly learn formal Ilonggo during our training, but what we did learn was generally grammatically whole, complete with verb conjugations, articles in their proper places and without any undue mixing with other dialects. This is not how Ilonggos speak.

Nagkadto ako sa tinda: I went to the market. The nag indicates past tense, and ako is the proper subject-focus first-person pronoun. In common usage this could easily be shortened to Kadto ko sa tinda, dropping the tense, chopping a syllable off the pronoun and relying on the context in which the statement is given to indicate when the action took place. The frustrating-for-western-tongues nga, frequently used to link an adjective and its noun (we don’t have a direct equivalent in English), is often a casualty, as is ang, which usually means “a” or “the.” Adjectives always start with ma, but most of the time this is dropped.

Ilonggos often mix Tagalog words in with their speech, which is sometimes frustrating but which I find myself doing now too simply because on occasion I prefer the Tagalog word to the Ilonggo one. The Ilonggo for “why,” nga-a, sounds too much like the nuh-uh sound we use in English; I usually use the Tagalog bakit. I prefer the Tagalog malamig for “cold,” because there are two similar words in Ilonggo which mean “cool” and “cold” and I often confuse them, just as I still misspeak sometimes with hapos (easy) and hipos (quiet). Word similarities are useful for amusing my kids, though. “Ah,” I’ll say on a particularly buggy night, “damo nga manok.” I should have said lamok, for mosquito, but the children like laughing at the kano who’s being annoyed by “many chickens.”

In general, Ilonggo words seem simpler than Tagalog: you won’t find many of the eight-syllable monstrosities that cause my eyes to glaze over when I look in my kids’ composition books. And even though the dialects mix and borrow, some things remain distinct. The Tagalog po, a marker of respect thrown into speech with wild abandon, is absent in Iloilo. When I hear somebody po-ing on a jeep, I know they’re from out of town.

Ilonggos and other Filipinos also employ a curious set of archaic and adapted English words. I have no idea when or why some of the following words and phrases were adopted, but they seem rather remarkably consistent throughout the areas of the country I’ve visited:

  • Viand – a word rarely used in English anymore. It means the main part of a meal – the equivalent of the Ilonggo sud-an.
  • For a while – signifies a period of time, anywhere from seconds to days. As in “For a while, sir, I will serve your food.”
  • Service – private transportation – another throwback.
  • Avail – to take advantage; another word seldom actually used in English. As in “The customer availed of the discount.”
  • Fond of – usually used in place of “like.” As in “The girl was fond of eating ice cream.”
  • Motor – a motorcycle. This shortening is also used for other words: “ascorbic” means “ascorbic acid,” as in the vitamin C supplements, and – my favorite - “condensed” means “condensed milk.”
  • Artist – a celebrity.
  • Squatters’ area – a slum. I hate this term because it connotes a certain amount of blame on the part of the “squatters,” as if most of them really have a choice about where to live.
  • I’ll just go ahead – I’m leaving. Often inflected as a question, leaving the hearer in the awkward position of having to give their consent: “I’ll just go ahead?” “Uh, sure.”
  • I will be the one – I will do it. As in “I will be the one to make dinner.”
  • Adidas – chicken feet. Yes, after the athletic-shoe company. 
  • I don’t know how well I’ll retain my already-questionable language skills after I leave the Philippines, but I’m hoping that corresponding with my kids will keep me from forgetting it all. There’s always Facebook.