Thank you to all who have stuck with me thus far! I hope you enjoy this report of yet another eventful week here in the Philippines!
Tuesday & Wednesday Post-Marinduque Deployment
We arrived back at our condo pretty late around 1am, following a full day of travel on Monday. Having said this, we were pretty beat. We were granted an off-day on Tuesday and Wednesday before our next deployment on Thursday, which was greatly appreciated. An actual mattress has never felt so good. Although I tried to sleep in, my internal clock decided to hit the alarm button at around 7:30am. While sleeping in sounded nice at the time, I still woke up feeling refreshed and ready to attack the day! I was able to catch the end of the College World Series Championship game too! It was happening at that time back home… keep in mind I am 13 hours ahead of Chicago. Moreover, my sore hips from sleeping on hard tile for the past week and a half felt better than ever too!
Granted with an off-day, we weren’t going to let it go to waste. I scoped out a cool brunch spot within the Poblacion area of Metro Manila- home to many restaurants/entertainment spots and a high-reputable nightlife! After the fantastic brunch, we hopped around to various fun places and it ended up being a super fun day which spilled into the evening! One of the other FNRI interns, Hunter, joined us later in the evening after his day in the office too. For reference, he’s been a part of our group joining us on all our endeavors!
Today consisted of resting and doing laundry in preparation for our deployment Thursday. Not to mention chowing down on Panda Express & Popeyes… taking advantage of the food in Manila before being surrounded by rice fields and cows while being fueled solely by local homemade dishes. Along with this, we hit the hay early as we had to report to the office by 5am to begin the journey to Pangasinan!
Deployment #2! We departed from the FNRI building at 5am headed towards the bus station. Our bus was scheduled to depart at 6:40, although it ended up being more around 7:00. Unlike Marinduque (previous deployment site), Pangasinan is not an island itself but rather just a bit north of where our residence is on Luzon (the main island in which Manila is located). With this being said, no boat travel is necessary! It was about a 4 hour bus ride to the main bus station in Pangasinan, followed by a 30 minute van ride to our designated barangay.
Instead of a day-to-day format like the structure of my previous post, I will give an overall summary of the events that took place and major takeaways from this deployment.
Our designated barangay was a very rural part of the province Pangasinan. I have no previous exposure to rural settings whatsoever… after all I’m from Naperville, a very populous suburb of Chicago. Having said this, being surrounded by rice fields, free-roaming cows/goats/chickens, and an entire community comprising of only three roads was an entirely new setting for me. In another light, the small-town community was very apparent when meeting all the people. It seemed like everyone knew each other and it was a community made up of nothing but close-knit friends. Moreover, it seemed like everyone would gather around the central building of the barangay (which happened to be where our headquarters was) whenever they had nothing else going on just to hang out! I’m not sure if this was simply because of the presence of us foreigners (a rare occurrence) but the closeness between all of the residents was apparent either way.
With regards to where we were staying, it was the local health building located at the intersection between the three roads of the barangay (meaning it was the most central part). Abi, Kennady, and I stayed in a small room which included one sink and a bench. Abi and Kennady took the floor (hard tile again), while I claimed the bench as my sleeping territory. It may sound like I got the better arrangement; however, this bench is not what you are probably envisioning. To put it simply, it was a slab of wood in the shape of a smile (curved up on each end). Keep in mind I’m about 6’2″ 200lbs. Knowing this, I had no moving room due to its narrow figure and was forced to curl up like a ball since my legs would hang off if not. Let’s just say I’ve had better nights of sleep haha! On the bright side, there was 24/7 running water and our little room had its own air conditioning unit! The toilet was still not equipped with automatic flushing though… back to the tabo (described in last post), woohoo!
All of the collected data included the same components as last deployment. First of which being personal interviews regarding the respondents’ nutritional habits comprised of where they buy food, what they consume, cost, physical activity, smoking/alcohol use, etc. Secondly, anthropometric measurements are taken which include collecting the clients’ blood pressure, height/weight, and circumference of their upper arm, waist, and hip. Thirdly, biochemical specimens are collected which include taking the clients’ blood (after fasting for at least 8 hours to maintain accuracy of the tests such as lipid profile) and collecting a urine sample. Lastly, the dietary component is reported. This includes traveling to each respondents’ household, three separate times in a day, to measure what they consume for each meal along with what they don’t (aka leftovers).
The sub-team Abi, Kennady, and I were assigned to for this deployment was the most inclusive thus far. Previous teams have been very hesitant with regards to allowing us to take part in collecting data, but understandably so… after all, they are professional researchers with many years of experience in collecting data and we are 20-year olds who showed up a month ago. However, this sub-team was incredibly inclusive and I’m so grateful for that. I was able to conduct interviews (with a fellow researcher acting as a translator when needed), take several blood pressures, and collect measurements for the dietary component. Along with this, I conducted a personal interview regarding the clients’ mental health status. I was unaware that this was something we measure in the field until now, which I think is really important and I’m grateful for the opportunity to conduct that personal 1-on-1 interview regarding this topic!
It’s official. I’ve had the most interesting week of eating in all my 20 years of life. After visiting the mayor’s office, one of the city council chair members took a liking to Abi, Kennady, and I. She generously took us out for a late lunch! The lunch was normal, I had a double cheeseburger and fries… so American I know I know. What comes next is where the fun starts. Her son insisted on getting an assortment of street food across the street from where we were. I’ve seen these “street meat” stands several times… but never had the courage to try anything. Here was my chance!
The “mystery street meat” included the following parts of a chicken on a stick: feet, kidney, head (brain included), ear, intestine, and last but certainly not least… anus! This wasn’t all though, we got a couple gourmet pig dishes such as its blood and liver… yum! They say “no body part goes to waste” here and I can certainly confirm the truth in that.
Now, review time. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Although they looked quite terrifying (see pictures below), once you get over the thought of what is actually in your mouth it’s not so bad! My least favorite was the chicken head and feet. With all due respect, not my thing. The rest wasn’t too bad. Don’t get it twisted though, I wouldn’t go out of my way to order chicken anus on a stick to crush my hunger haha!
In addition to this, I tried a fried frog for the first time! Some barangay officials had it in a bag (still alive and hopping), and next thing I knew I was eating its fried leg! Tasted like chicken. Oh yeah… crickets too! Good, salty snack.
I finally crossed something off my list of foods to try here too… balut! This is a traditional Filipino street food (yet controversial). It’s a fertilized developing duck embryo that is boiled or steamed within the egg. You then eat it by sucking the soup out, peeling the shell away, and eating the tiny looking baby duck. Like I said above, once you get over the thought of what’s in your mouth, it’s not so bad! However, I definitely wouldn’t go out of my way to order this either.
The Local People
Although each site I stayed in during the last deployment were special, this barangay was beyond that. I truly don’t know if there are existent words that can do my feelings for these people justice. Never have I met new acquaintances so overwhelmingly welcoming and generous in nature. They took us strangers in and made us feel like family right off the bat.
There were probably about 8-10 local barangay officials that cooked every meal for our team, cleaned up our dishes, maintained the cleanliness of the building, offered coffee/tea several times throughout the day, etc. They were there from the start of our day at 5am until the end around 9pm. Never once did they complain, show any sign of annoyance, and always greeted me with high energy and an outshine of happiness. People with this energy are contagious and they served as a reminder to myself to reflect that attitude in my own behavior. On our last day, they surprised us with a chocolate cake and a boodle fight. A boodle fight is a “feast” in which many people gather around a long table covered in banana leaves. In the middle of the leaves is an assortment of food including fish, tofu, spring rolls, egg, vegetables, and of course… rice (a staple with every meal). See photo below of the setup. After this, we all joined together for dancing! I was trying my best to follow along as it seems like everyone practiced each dance together in sync prior to our arrival. I definitely looked out of place but who cares haha… it was so fun!
All of the respondents I had the pleasure of meeting/working with were incredibly welcoming as well. All of which were so easy going with the data collecting process that isn’t very convenient as it spans over a few days with a moderate time commitment. One elderly couple in particular stood out. When we arrived to collect data for the dietary component of the survey, they had prepared pancit (a traditional Filipino noodle dish) for us to take back and enjoy, along with a 2 liter Coca-Cola… which is everywhere by the way. They even have coke floats at McDonalds! It seems like it’s the default beverage here. Anyways, they were incredibly generous and act as a source of inspiration for me to do the same for others!
Lastly, the kids were awesome. I had so much fun joining them in basketball, volleyball, and phone games. A 12-year old even took me on a moped ride! I get the sense no one patrols the age of drivers as many of which looked under the age of 10… crazy right! The size difference definitely looked interesting to distant observers haha!