Posted by: pol | January 25, 2009

Ferias de Mozambique

21st December 2008 – 12th January 2009

Our holiday was jinxed even before it began.

The adventures (or misadventures) of our first three days of travel from Lusaka to Johannesburg to Maputo should have given us a clue that, this time around, our vacation would not be all sunshine and warmth. Endless hours of waiting for extremely delayed plane flights and transfer services, gloomy skies and turbulent weather, sadistic immigration officers and hard-hearted bus drivers at the border of South Africa and Mozambique, and a near crossfire between petty thieves and the Maputo city police were just some of the roadblocks we had to hurdle as we made our way to our holiday destination.

For the most part, heavy rains and leaden skies followed me and Inge throughout our tour of Southern and Central Mozambique – from Tofo to Inhambane to Vilankulos to Beira. Imagine sleeping on flooded huts, or spending most of Christmas Day locked up (with every other guest in the lodge) in a damp restaurant with nowhere else to go, or constantly talking about going on an Ocean Safari rather than actually being in one. On top of those, every other chapa (local public transport) that we travelled in— aside from being cramped with a Guiness-World-Record-worthy number of passengers— had breakdowns due to flat tires or defective engines. Everywhere we went, there was a nuisance waiting to happen. (In fact, even on my way back to Zambia from Johannesburg, my flight got cancelled due to the sudden closure of Zambia Airways, thus rendering me “stranded” in South Africa for an extra day.)

But did those things stop us from enjoying the holidays? No way! During those rare days when the sun would show its face, we somehow managed to sneak some precious hours enjoying the beach, snorkeling in the waters of a picturesque island off Bazaruto Archipelago, and getting badly sunburned in the process.

In addition, Inge and I gorged on sumptuous seafood, limitless pastries, and other Portugese delicacies. We walked through towns steeped in history and immersed ourselves in the local art scene. We acquainted ourselves with the music scene as well and, not a few times, “accidentally” found ourselves in parties that amused us no end. We also finally got the chance to have our hair plaited— which we’ve always wanted to do in Zambia but never had the time to.:) Last but not the least, Inge and I shared stories, insights and laughter (and a few drinks) with people from all walks of life— some funny, some strange, some annoying, some inspiring— who all contributed to making our trip all the more colourful and interesting.

Maputo ~ Where everything reminded me of home
01-horseman-maputo-fort 02-canyon 03-old-and-new1

Tofo ~ Where the Sun played hide and seek with us
04-christmas-eve-cocktails1 img_5906 img_5949

Inhambane ~ Where the Sun smiled upon us again
06-inhambane-after-the-storm img_5976 img_5974

Vilankulos ~ Where we finally got to enjoy the ocean
img_6058a img_6085a1 07-new-years-goat

08-vilankulos-beach 09-new-years-eve

Beira ~ Where we finally got some decent sleep…and lots of souvenirs 🙂
10-dreadlocks 13-beira-beach 14-mask 15-art-bar-cafe

So yes, while my Mozambique holiday might not have had a smooth beginning or a “happy” ending (credit that to Zambia Airways), everything that happened in between made it all worth while.:)

~ pol 01/17/09

Posted by: pol | December 20, 2008

(Another) Christmas Away from Home

About a month ago, I was asked by the Sunday Inquirer Magazine to write a piece for their upcoming Christmas Overseas issue. I do not know when the said issue will come out (or if it will come out at all), but I thought I’d share the article anyway through this blog.

Here goes:

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A Different Christmas

Colorful star-shaped lanterns and bright twinkling lights… inspiring dawn masses and spirited yuletide carols… sumptuous feasts and fancily-packaged gifts… a string of festive gatherings with family and friends. These, to me, have been fixtures of the Christmas season, year in and year out.

Then, Christmas 2007 came along.

The aforesaid period actually marked my 9th month as a development volunteer in Zambia— a landlocked country in Southern Africa known mostly for its copper mines and the magnificent Victoria Falls. Although predominantly a Christian nation, a prolonged and lavish celebration of Christmas is not a common practice in this country. In Mazabuka— the town where I am currently based— for example, locals do celebrate it for a day or two by going to church, serving special meals, and going on drinking sprees, but not significantly more than when they would celebrate other festivals. In addition, exchanging gifts and greetings cards are mostly limited to the younger generations who have been exposed to Western customs and practices. Christmas trees and other holiday adornments could be found in a few households, but to have those is more of an exception than the rule.

Needless to say, it was bound to be a different Christmas. It was up to me, however, to make sure that it was “different” in a good way.

While traversing seven seas to be in my native land for the holidays was a luxury that I could not afford as a development worker in Africa, I got the next best thing. For three weeks in December and January, I, along with my Dutch housemate, decided to travel to the beautiful land of Tanzania, where we met up with one group of friends after another— new but good ones who have been a huge part of this chapter of our lives.

Our holiday adventure began on 21st December as we crossed the Zambian border and made our way to Dar-es-Salaam aboard the TAZARA Express. 48 hours on the train? No sweat! It certainly was no Polar Express (or Santa’s open sleigh for that matter), but the long hours cooped up in a small cabin was made worthwhile by witnessing the changes in landscape in the countryside and seeing all those magnificent animals— elephants, giraffes, zebras and antelopes— in the wild. It was like going on an inexpensive Safari! That experience beats watching animated films about Rudolph and his cronies anytime.

Our first major stop was Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island in Tanzania with a rich history and multi-cultural influences from the Arabs, Indians, Portugese, British—an idyllic haven that brings together the best from the East and the West. While predominantly a Muslim territory, Zanzibar is also a popular holiday destination among travellers from all over Europe and elsewhere in the world. It was like a huge beach party out there, joined in by people from all walks of life. The spirit of sharing and togetherness, regardless of culture, race or religion, was easily felt in that part of Africa. Hence, despite the absence of conventional holiday customs, it was the perfect setting for our Christmas Eve celebration.

That, for me, was already a gift in itself. But like a child who has been bestowed with an unexpected present, I was pleasantly surprised to find another wonder unwrap itself before me. On Christmas Day itself, I found myself amongst kababayans enjoying a feast prepared by a lovely Filipino family who has been residing in the island for a while now. In true Pinoy fashion, we had our fill of lechon, pancit, and various culinary favorites from back home. And what would a Filipino gathering be without an all-out videoke jamming session and non-stop drinking? As I always say, you can take the Filipino out of the Philippines, but you cannot take the Philippines out of the Filipino.

No gifts were exchanged that day— nothing material anyway. I suppose that when you have been away from everything that is familiar to you for long stretches of time, the mere presence of people— even virtual strangers— who can speak your own language, laugh at the same jokes, and bond with you over food and music, is a gift in itself.

As our holiday progressed, we discovered more of Zanzibar as well as other scenic places in Tanzania (The Kilwas, Bagamoyo, Kippepeo, Dar-es-Salaam). Pristine white sand beaches and endless shorelines. Succulent seafood and exotic spices. Coconut trees and a variety of tropical fruits. Old stone houses and ancient palatial ruins. More food trips and stories shared with fellow Filipinos we met along the way. Beaches, beaches and more beaches. For someone who has spent close to a year living in a landlocked country, being in archipelago again was a huge treat.

I may have been continents away from the Philippines, but right there, in the middle of the hot and sweaty Tanzanian summer, I felt closer to home.

In fact, with a slight squint of the eye, the colorful patterns of kangas (native wrap-around fabric) on display in market stands could be mistaken for the kaleidoscopic parols adorning the streets of Pampanga, and disco lights decorating beachside bars could stand in place of Christmas lights lining the streets of Manila. And not by a huge stretch of imagination, Zanzibar’s Forodhani Square, with its seafood market by the seaside, could have been Dumagete’s Rizal Boulevard…and Stone Town, with its ancient stone houses and narrow streets, could have been Vigan.

A tropical Filipino Christmas holiday in Africa. That perhaps, best describes how I spent my 2007 yuletide season. I did not really plan it that way, but I suppose my strong sense of being Filipino led me to people and places that would make me find home during the holidays, as much as I possibly can as a traveler in a foreign country. I would not describe it as my happiest Christmas. It was not my saddest either. But definitely, it was different.

Nothing beats the original, of course. No amount of new discoveries could change the fact I miss all things familiar from back home during the holiday season. Nevertheless, the spirit of togetherness and celebration of life that I saw in the people I met along the way (Filipino or otherwise)— despite their on-going struggles and frustrations— give me reason to remain joyful and be merry. And for now, that is enough for me…until I come back home again.

This year, I will yet again be experiencing “a different Christmas” as I travel to Mozambique with my housemate. Along the way, I would probably cross paths once more with people who will bring back memories of the holiday season in the Philippines. Sure, there will still be no simbang gabis and noche buenas, no bibingkas and puto bumbongs, not enough firework displays nor “Jingle Bell” renditions in that part of the world. Nevertheless, with new-found friends by my side and the undying support of loved ones from across the miles, I know that the spirit of sharing and hope— which I believe is the essence of the yuletide celebrations— shall be alive and well wherever Christmas Day finds me.

~ POL, 11/24/08

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Enjoy the holidays, everyone!

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UPDATE (January ’09):

An abridged version of this article was featured in the December 21, 2008 issue of Sunday Inquirer Magazine.

Thanks mucho to all those who sent me links to the article, forwarded me scanned copies, and gave feedback on it. You guys rock!

Feliz Ano Novo, amigos!

Posted by: pol | October 9, 2008

Celebrating Across the Miles (and Two Weeks Late!)


*Credits to Bleachers Brew for the photo*

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A fortnight has passed since the Ateneo Blue Eagles have been crowned UAAP Season 71 Champions (Men’s Basketball) and yet here I am, still in awe of the victory. Part of it is due to the fact that I learned of their sweep of the finals a day late (I was attending a conference during Game 2 of the Finals) and got to read articles and view clippings pertaining to it only a week after (internet connection in Zambia sucks). Apparently, my hardcore hoops buddies who were watching the game live or viewing the TFC livestream have been giving me quarterly updates (via SMS) during the 2nd and decisive game but, as useless, I did not receive them (boohoo!)— thanks, but no thanks, to Zambia’s oh-so unreliable mobile phone network!

My fellow true blue supporters, however, clued me in a few days later (thanks mucho, especially to Tatit and Reg!), so at least I had a sense of how a championship after 6 years feels like. I’m sooo happy for the team and for the Ateneo community! I can’t believe how much they have dominated the league this season despite having been seeded 4th or 5th before the tournament began… how Rabeh metamorphosed from underachieving hot-headed boy to season MVP… and how the other guys in the team (Nonoy, Ryan, Eric, Jai) stepped up big time, proving that the Ateneo squad has so much more to it than Chris Tiu.:) My only regret is that I and most of my diehard cheer-and-heckle-mates— now spread out in three different continents— were not physically present to witness our team’s moment of glory and celebrate with the rest of the Blue and White Faithful. Like one of them said, “this is sooo the year to be home.” To which I added, “…and yet we’re not…” 😦

Nevertheless, we did celebrate in our own little ways and in our own capacities. My version of “being one with the community” was to view (for the 10 millionth time) the DVD set of the UAAP Season 65 Championship (which was one of the few “prized possessions” that I carried with me to Zambia). Watching the Blue Eagles Circa 2002 (as I await the DVD set of this year’s championship) did/does help me feel a sense of solidarity with the Ateneo community as it celebrates the triumph of this year’s “Hail Mary Five” (or “Hail Mary Sixteen”, to be exact). After all, while the individual members of these two champion squads were different, the spirit that carried the team to victory was the same. Puso. All heart. All the time.

It’s crazy, really, to be obsessing about the performance of a bunch of overgrown boys trying to steal an orange spheroid from one another in order to put it through a ring. But then again, to a plentitude of true blue supporters, an Ateneo basketball match is more than just a game. It’s about the growth and coming together of individuals into one cohesive unit. It’s about a community sticking together through victories and defeat.

Can’t wait to be in the midst of that community again next season as I watch our Blue Eagles defend their crown.

Win or lose…you know how the rest goes.:)

ONE BIG FIGHT!

Posted by: pol | August 31, 2008

Sweet Sixteen

No, the aforementioned number does not at all represent my current age.:) Rather, it stands for the number of months I have so far spent living and working in Zambia. And who would have thought that this—my 16th month in Mazabuka—would turn out to be one of the better months of my stay in Zambian soil?

August, surprisingly, has been a good month for me. I say “surprising” because most months have been usually been fraught with frustrations and challenges. And since I live in Mazabuka—the supposed “Sweetest Town in the Nation” due to its thriving sugar industry—let us call my 16th month in Zambian soil “the sweetest month” of my stay here. Largely, the positive experience was brought about by these two main events:

Another Birthday in Mazabuka

Entering into the last week of July, having a “birthday bash” was the farthest thing from my mind since I was quite focused on running a workshop that week. But my housemate Inge insisted that we have a celebration. I agreed, as long as it is kept just within our small circle of friends.

And so it was. On the morning of 1st August, Inge prepared for me a “surprise birthday breakfast”, as she did last year. In true Dutch fashion, I had to stay in bed (or at least inside my room) until my well-wishers came, blow my candles, wear a fancy crown that declares the number of years that I have been inhabiting the Earth, open my presents (one of which was a creatively assembled scrapbook depicting our memories in Africa), and eating a hearty Dutch meal. ‘Twas, indeed, a perfect way to start the 33rd year of my life.

In the ensuing hours, however, I momentarily forgot that it was my birthday as I ran the final day of a workshop on resource mobilisation. We ended a bit late, which got Inge worried that I might not make it in time for my own birthday party.

Somehow, I managed to arrive at our place before the party was in full swing. A few moments later, guests—some of whom I’ve only met that evening—started to arrive. From an expected number of eight or so guests, the party grew to almost twice that number. I think most of the volunteers in Mazabuka (coming from different organisations) were at our place that night! Some of my closest colleagues from work were likewise present. It was interesting that South America and Australia were the only two continents that did not have representation during that occasion.:) “United Colors of Mazabuka,” anyone?

Since the guests were “international,” the cuisine was too. We stuffed ourselves with all sorts of food, including Japanese okonomiyaki (similar to an omelette), African-Asian-style sweet potato curry, Dutch salad, El Salvadorian cheese bread, at least three types of cake and, of course, chicken adobo (which was quite a hit among the guests)! After that, some of us went to Afrikana—one of the few “gimmick” places in our humble town and danced ‘till we dropped.

It was also good timing that my birthday fell on a long weekend (due to the celebration of Farmer’s Day on 4th August). That afforded me an opportunity to visit Lusaka to catch up with friends and take part in another Filipino community get-together (Tita A’s birthday celebration). I was only supposed to stay there overnight, but my friends lured me into seeing the new Batman movie (or should I say, the new “Joker” movie)—and I gave in. At least I am not that out of the loop now. Call it a birthday gift to myself.

“Investing in Ourselves”

One of my placement objectives, as per VSO’s strategic plan, is to build the capacity of sub-district structures and communities in resource mobilisation. That way, they would learn to be less dependent on the local authority and become more equipped to steer their respective communities toward growth and sustainability.

The month of August saw the beginning of this endeavour, starting with the Training of Trainors that was held from 31st July to 1st of August. Teams composed of staff from the Planning and Finance departments thereafter visited communities every week to conduct workshops on the fundamentals of resource mobilisation and financial management. The feedback from both the trainors (i.e., Council staff) and participants (i.e., representatives from Resident and Area Development Committees, market committees, cooperatives, women’s groups, Parents-Teachers Associations, etc.) has been positive so far.

On the part of the staff, it is one of the rare occasions that encouraged personnel from Planning and Finance to work together as one cohesive unit (imagine that!). On the part of the participants, it was an opportunity for them to “help themselves in terms of building knowledge, skills and attitude so that others (potential donors, partners and supporters) would start helping them too.” This, in turn, would enable them to help their respective communities to achieve sustainable development. Hence, the title of the programme, “Investing in Ourselves,” was a most appropriate one.

It was heartening to see how open and motivated a lot of the participants were. Of course, some were cynical and de-motivated at first, but this was understandable, considering that their voices have been muted for so long. A good number of them were, nevertheless, ready to trust and work with the Council again. Not a few said that the workshops empowered them to do something for the community and find new ways of making things work for them.

When I see events like these taking place, I am reminded again of why I am here in Mazabuka. I am here for these people, and not for those high-and-mighty pseudo-overlords who concern themselves too much with allowances and manipulate things for their own personal gain.

~o~o~o~

And so, despite the worsening power and water crises, the rising challenges in internet and mobile phone service provision, the passing away of Zambia’s President that has left the country in a state of grief and confusion, and the everyday struggle to keep the Council afloat, I am here. And I am here to stay until the end of my placement.

~ pol, 08/31/08

Posted by: pol | June 25, 2008

Samu’t-Saring Hunyo

And so I’m back to diary-style blogging…thanks, but no thanks, to the unreliable internet connection here in Mazabuka.:P

Anyway, this was how my 14th month in Zambia went:

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7th June: Independence Day Celebration in Lusaka

This is the second straight year that I have celebrated the Philippine Independence Day outside of my country. Last year, the festivities were hosted by the Filipino community in Kitwe. This year, the gathering was held in Lusaka.

True to form, the celebration had all the ingredients of a Filipino feast—traditional dances (interspersed with crazy, humorous ones), all-out videoke jamming, wacky parlor games, flowing beer, various native dishes, Pinoy jokes, and even a celebration of the Holy Mass the day after. Kumpletos recados, as they would say.

You can take the Filipino out of the Philippines, but you can’t take the Philippines out of the Filipino.


11th June: Tragedy

Today is probably one of the coldest days in Mazabuka in 2008 thus far, at 14 degrees Celsius during mid-day.

It just got colder as I read about the tragedy that has befallen the family of my former director and dear friend, OJ.

What sort of animals would hogtie, stab, and commit arson on elderly people and a 3-year old child? In fact, what sort of sane person would think of doing that to any human being?

I’m still going about my tasks for the day—attending meetings and rushing reports. But deep down, I feel frozen to the core.

And no, it’s not because of the winter breeze in Mazabuka.


13th June: A Wedding and A Funeral

Another one of the Council’s men have fallen down. The remains of M, the former driver of the Town Clerk has been laid to rest today. I really appreciated this guy. He was a hardworking and gentle man. And yet, for months now, he has been very, very sick. Of what? “Only the doctor knows,” some people would say. But of course everyone knows what the culprit is—a.k.a. “that disease that no one here dares to name” (hence, I call it “The Lord Voldemort” of diseases). Ahh, AIDS…how many more lives will you claim?

Back in RP, however, there is happier news. AnJan has really, irrevocably taken the plunge! I’m soooo happy for them. I regret not being able to attend their Big Day though. Aside from the fact that I adore the couple, their wedding—from the proposal, to the invites, to the details of the preparation, to the actual nuptials—seems to be one of the coolest, most creative, and most joyous ones that was ever celebrated in recent years.

Congratulations and best wishes to AnJan! May your married life be as beautiful and grace-filled as your wedding day!


19th June: The Celtics are Champs once more!

Hurray for the Boston Celtics—the first team that I ever rooted for in the NBA! I remember myself as an innocent (and a bit odd) grade schooler in the mid-1980s who preferred spending Saturday afternoons watching NBA highlights in GMA (courtesy of “The Dean” Quinito Henson) to playing piko or Chinese garter with kids in our neighbourhood. In particular, I would be religiously watching the games involving the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers. I have always loved a good rivalry, especially when the flag bearers of the teams are as classy as Larry Bird (Celtics #33) and Magic Johnson (Lakers #32).

However, while I admired Magic, I was a huge fan of Larry Bird and his Celtics. Bird’s work ethic and team play, more than anything else, impressed my young basketball junkie self. I recall even being thrilled when, in school, I would be assigned “Class No. 33” (i.e., the 33rd student in my section)—to represent Bird’s jersey number. Truth be told, though, I was really hoping to be assigned ”Class No. 44”, akin to my PBA Idol Jerry Codinera’s number. Harhar. That, however, was a bit far-fetched, since our class size was not that big anyway. Tough luck.:)

Fast-forward to 2008.
It was quite nostalgic learning that the Lakers and the Celtics were facing off again after such a long time. I haven’t been religiously following the NBA these past years (especially this last year that I’ve spent in Africa), but I felt instantly drawn to this championship series that was bound to be a classic. The cast was different from two decades ago, of course. The feel of the game was different too. This time, it was Pierce and Kevin Garnett’s team versus Kobe Bryant’s five. (Actually, from accounts of the game, it was the entire Boston team versus Kobe. Period.) Yet, there was still that same air of excitement and a sense of being part of something big, something phenomenal.

And in the end, after a looong title drought, the Celtics are back as NBA champs, proving that team play is still more valuable than a series of blockbuster performances from one supremely talented player.

Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and the great Celtics of the past must be very, very proud.:)

23rd June: Something to Look Forward To

It’s been crazy hectic again at work these past few weeks. It’s only the first day of the week today, yet I feel very tired already from trying to put in order several projects in record time.

The good thing though is that I am rushing things for a reason. On Thursday, I will be heading for South Africa for a brief holiday with my US-based aunts who are visiting their friend in that part of this continent. So yeah, it would really be a welcome break from the toil and moil of Mazabuka. Indeed, it is something worth looking forward to and beating deadlines for.

And when I come back to Mazabuka six days after, there will be another big thing to be happy about…the beginning of UAAP Season 71! Can’t hardly wait!!!

Posted by: pol | May 31, 2008

The Merry Month of May

The month of May in a nutshell:

Looong hours spent working on the 3 Rs (research, reports, and resource mobilisation proposals). Non-existent weekends. Short notices and “surprise” official visits & work sessions. Water crisis gone extreme. Lack of restful sleep. Dreams (nightmares?) involving “logical frameworks” and project designs. Conflict-ridden meetings and mini-battles with corruption. Work, work and more work.

It was a merry month, indeed!

Posted by: pol | April 25, 2008

One Year Later

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes…how do you measure a year in a life?”
~ “Seasons of Love” from Rent

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In commemoration of my first year anniversary in Zambia (20th April in the country and 24th April in the town of Mazabuka), I unearthed this survey from ages ago and answered it again to help me look back to the significant people, places, events that have been part of my life for the past 12 months.

Here goes:

TEN Random Things About Me (in my present context as a resident of Mazabuka, Zambia)
1. The local name that my colleagues have given me is “Mutinta”—meaning a girl among boys.
2. I miss watching basketball games live!
3. My laptop has been my lifeline in Zambia. Seriously.
4. I prefer power cuts to water interruptions (both of which are day-to-day occurrences in Mazabuka)
5. I haven’t had a proper haircut in a year.
6. It bothers me that I cannot jog in peace in my neighbourhood. (Too many people passing comments, asking for the time, etc.)
7. I am now a reformed insomniac.:)
8. I have discovered that I’m actually a decent cook!
9. I still don’t wear skirts.
10. I still don’t like the color pink.:)

NINE Places I’ve Visited (My favorite ones so far)
1. Victoria Falls, Livingstone (Southern Province, Zambia)
2. South Luangwa National Park, Mfuwe (Eastern Province, Zambia)
3. Zanzibar (Tanzania)
4. Lake Kariba, Siavonga (Southern Province, Zambia)
5. Mongu/Barotseland (Western Province, Zambia) for the Kuomboka Festival
6. Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania)…a lot better than Lusaka!
7. Kitwe (Nothern Province, Zambia)
8. The Kilwas (Tanzania)
9. Petauke District (Eastern Province)…the rainbow capital of Zambia (according to my friend S)!

EIGHT Things I Want To Do Before…I Leave Africa
1. Make sure that the Council is sustainable, resource-wise
2. Build capacity in the grassroots level
3. Visit Egypt
4. Travel to the Northwestern Province
5. Visit Kafue National Park
6. Create a Children’s Book with characters based on the people I’ve met in Mazabuka
7. Create a Zambian-English Dictionary 🙂
8. Attend more ceremonies and festivals in different provinces or regions

SEVEN Ways To Win My Heart
1. Be honest.
2. Treat me (and everyone else) as an equal.
3. Make me laugh.
4. Consult. Don’t dictate.
4. Know how to listen.
5. Show consistency.
6. Don’t invade my private space.
7. Don’t just talk. Act!

SIX Things I Believe In
(This hasn’t changed much over time…)

I believe that…
1. “My life is more than a vision. The sweetest part is acting after making a decision…” ~ Indigo Girls (Hammer and Nail)
2. The power of choice transcends one’s capabilities (ala-Harry Potter)
3. Behavior is a function of the interaction of a person’s situation (context) and how s/he perceives that situation (disposition)
I believe in…
4. The power of non-active violence
5. Being a person for others
6. Education as the ultimate development tool
7. A being that which nothing greater can be conceived

FIVE Things I’m Afraid Of
1. Being complacent
2. Being irrelevant
3. Not meeting my placement objectives
4. Losing my independence
5. The vicious dogs in our neighbourhood

FOUR Of My Favorite Items In My Bedroom
(There aren’t a lot of stuff in my bedroom, but…)
1. My bed
2. My mosquito net (which has kept me malaria-free for a year)
3. The plastic Globe that my housemate Inge gave me for my birthday (which constantly reminds me how far I am from home…hehe)
4. Postcards from friends all over the world

THREE Things I Do Everyday
1. Take a bath
2. Walk to work…and walk back home from work
3. Cook dinner

TWO Things I Am Trying Not To Do Right Now
1. Get involve in more projects/activities…I already have too much on my plate
2. Bloat my expenses

ONE Person I Want To See Right Now
(It is so hard to choose just one, but…)
1. Bess (my co-volunteer who is finishing her placement in Zambia…so I could properly say goodbye to her)

~pol 4/24/08

Posted by: pol | March 21, 2008

Penitensya

Intermittent power cuts (around 3 times a day, sometimes for hours on end). Interrupted water supply (a total of only about 6 hours with actual water). Torrential rains one moment, and the scorching heat of the sun the next moment. Unpaved, muddy roads and pathways. Countless creepy, crawly creatures inhabiting your home.

If you had to deal with these things 365 days a year…is a 40-day Lenten sacrifice really necessary? 😉

Posted by: pol | March 20, 2008

Women’s Day x 3

I have always been an advocate of celebrating Women’s Day, but never before have I been part of any festivity or organized activity related to it. Hence, this year’s commemoration was extra special for me as I was able to actively participate in events that tackled real issues concerning the plight of women in Zambia—not just once, but three times over.

On March 6, I assisted the Zambia National Women’s Lobby Group in conducting a workshop on entrepreneurship for women from poor villages here in Mazabuka, in line with this year’s International Women’s Day theme, “Financing for Gender Equality”.

Women’s Lobby Group workshop img_0880.jpg Women’s Lobby Group - Mealtime!

On March 7, I and my fellow HIV/AIDS Peer Educators from the Council (now also known as “Pia Educators” :D) conducted a sensitization seminar on the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its impact on women. Preparing for the session was draining and the whole process was not without hitches. Nevertheless, seeing all those 80+ women (and several men who care about their well-being) from all corners of Mazabuka gathered in our good ol’ Council Chamber— enthusiastically participating in the activities and genuinely wanting to learn as much as they can about the issue at hand— was well worth all the toil and moil that went into putting together this event.:)

HIV AIDS Myths HIV AIDS Facts Women represent!

On March 8, I joined the Women’s celebration in Chikankata—an isolated area within Mazabuka District characterized by long, rough roads and warm, friendly people. The gathering was participated in by numerous women from far-flung villages who had to travel 12-20 kilometers by foot just to take part in such a rare community event. I never saw so many Zambian women gathered in one place all at the same time! The lively march, the colourful dances and “sketches” (short plays), the exhibition of local products made by various women’s groups, and the charitable auction that culminated the programme—all of these taken together made this one of my most favorite community gatherings in Zambia so far.

Muzungus in chitenge Mother and Child Sketch - Women’s groups Women’s march Dancing time! Drums

In a country where 85% of females believe that “a husband is justified in beating his wife” (Zambia Demographic Health Survey, 2006), women empowerment seems to be an impossibly daunting task. It is not everyday that women here come together for opportunities to learn new things, stand up for something, and find hope in themselves. But when they do—one, two, three times over— that gives us something truly worth celebrating and aspiring for.

~pol, 3/14/08

Posted by: pol | February 21, 2008

Tanzanian Hang-over

It’s funny how people in this little town called Mazabuka were all a-frenzy about celebrating Valentine’s Day. Up until last Saturday (two days after Valentine’s), girls and guys all over town were parading their fancy red outfits on the streets, buying windmill lollipops and planning romantic dinner dates with their loved ones. I didn’t really expect that from a whole population that rarely makes a big deal out of birthdays, anniversaries and the like.

Not that I was ever a big fan of Valentine’s to begin with. But this year, it was somehow even more difficult for me to grasp that we were in the midst of another “red letter day”. This, perhaps, is due to the fact that I’m still dreaming of pristine white sand and endless beaches under azure skies on lazy, yuletide days. I’m still hung over from my Tanzanian Holiday.

The thing is, since my housemate Inge and I got back from our 3-week vacation last month (January 12), we barely had time to dust off our feet from our long travel. Instead, we plunged head on into a sea of work and social commitments (and household chores!) faster than we could even say, “We’re back”. Soon, the blur of activities had me wondering if those three weeks spent soaking in the Tanzanian sun actually did happen. My friend, however, was quick to point out two proofs that we didn’t just dream up our vacation: (1) my ultra-tanned skin, and (2) the gazillons of photos we have from our trip.:)

No arguments there. Our pictures speak for themselves (but do permit me some comments…can’t help talking about our adventures:D):

December 21-23: Zambia (Mazabuka-Lusaka-Kapiri Moshi) to Tanzania (Dar-es-Salaam), Aboard the TAZARA Express

tanzanian countryside train rainbow train lunch

48 hours on the train? No sweat! It was actually a pleasant ride. Witnessing the changes in landscape as we crossed the Zambian border and went deeper into the Tanzanian countryside made the long hours cooped up in a small cabin worth it. Plus, seeing all those magnificent animals—elephants, giraffes, zebras, antelopes—in the wild was a real treat. It was like going on an inexpensive Safari! In fact, I consider the whole train ride to be one exciting adventure in itself.:)

December 24-December 30: Zanzibar, The Spice Islands of the East

hello zanzibar tug-of-war, stone town pia through lechon holepinoy christmas celebration, the girls pia and tortoise in prison island prison island - beach prison island “tour group” pia and inge at sunset bar seafood market, forodhani square pia and inge at kiwenga beach

Beautiful beaches and endless shorelines. Sumptuous seafood and exotic spices. Coconut trees and a variety of tropical fruits. A Filipino Christmas Day celebration. Huge tortoises and a “tour group” (Inge, Sharon, Alexandra, Earl) gone crazy. Old stone houses and narrow streets. Beaches, beaches and more beaches.

It really felt a lot closer to home.:)

December 31-January 6: The Kilwas

fort ruins, kilwa kisiwani peace and quiet, kilwa kisiwani mosque ruins, kilwa kisiwani graveyard ruins, songo mnara island pia and pineapple, kilwa masoko beach sail away (aboard the dhow) baraku, fisherman’s son woman making chapati, kilwa masoko

14 hours of travel through rough roads. 6 nights of camping in an ant-infested site. 2 historic islands visited. Countless “ruins” admired. A total of 8 hours of sailing via the dhow (local fisherman’s boat). 3 ventures into the town market. 2 books read cover to cover. And lots of lots of time lying on the beach, under the Tanzanian sun!

Now, that is what I call a “holiday.”

January 7-January 12: Dar-Es-Salaam and nearby towns

kipepeo beach aboard the ferry, from kipepeo to dar bagamoyo beach

After living in a municipal town for 8 months, Dar-es-Salaam seemed to be one big colourful urban jungle to me! They had tall buildings (i.e., more than 3 storeys…hehe), nice restaurants and cafes, and posh shopping centres too (think Eastwood or Greenbelt 3). There was also a myriad of things to choose from everywhere—food, spices, clothes, footwear, accessories, fabric…you name it, Dar has it! I find the people genuinely warm and friendly and the language (Swahili) so much easier to learn than Tonga. Plus, I find it a wonder that we weren’t ripped off as much. Bargaining with taxi drivers, shop owners and marketeers for discounts (in Swahili, mind you!) was so much more fun in Tanzania than in Zambia where all the prices are jacked up 3x as much for muzungus (foreigners).

Aside from exploring the city, another visit to a nearby beach (Kipepeo Beach), a frenzied ferry boat ride (almost a stampede!), a tour of an old colonial town with a “slave trade” past (Bagamoyo), and a series of gatherings with new friends (Inge’s old pals Vera and Pete; Earl, Ricky and the Filipino community in the Oysterbay area) made the last leg of our vacation well spent.

January 12: Dar-es-Salaam – Lusaka – Mazabuka

As the cliché goes, time flies fast when you’re having fun. That certainly holds true where our holiday in Tanzania is concerned. All too soon, I was back to the reality of my placement. No complaints though. Like the Tanzanians say, “Hakuna matata!” After all, we did have our three weeks of fun.:D

~ pol, 02/17/08

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