Running and More Rain

Wow, I’m way behind on updates – this is a long one, so bear with me!

2 Weekends Ago:

We had a cross country meet in Manila (all meets are in Manila) at Faith. This time there were no dorms to stay in, so we had to get on the bus at 5 AM. As brutal as that was, it meant the kids were quiet the whole way there, unlike the first trip where they wouldn’t stay quiet or in their seats.

We got to Faith at about 7:00, and I noticed right away that this meet would be a lot smaller than the Brent Manila meet. It turned out there were a total of 80 runners. The course at Faith is a lot hillier, and the kids knew that before we arrived. They seemed defeated before we even began. Trying to get them to focus on the positive, I pointed out that they had a better chance of placing in the top ten at this meet than at the Brent Manila meets. And it worked! We had two middle school boys place 8th and 9th. We also had a middle school girl finish in the top 10, but they had mistakenly labeled her as a high school runner, so we didn’t know she had placed until we got home and saw the official results. I looked closer and noticed they had made this mistake with a couple of our other runners as well. We had a few high schoolers running the 2 mile instead of the 3.1, and high schoolers could not place in the 2 mile at this meet. To avoid all of the confusion next time, we’ll have all high school runners run the 3.1 and all middle school runners in the 2 mile. Lesson learned!

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Just like the last trip to Manila, we stopped at the mall on our way home. Worn out from getting up early and running, the kids slept most of the way home, too. As much as I HATE getting up before 5 AM to get on a bus, I prefer the quiet bus rides. Our next meet is at Faith again, so it looks like I’ll have peace once again. : )

The school week blew by, as the last few have seemed to do. I have grown accustomed to changes that accompany cultural diversity, and I really enjoy it. Aside from some language issues, teaching here is just about like teaching at any other school. Kids anywhere are like kids everywhere in the basic ways. They forget to do homework and obsess over their social lives. They’re awkward. And they’re funny and insightful and surprise me every day.

Friday was the annual Acquaintance Party, which I believe is held as a way for new students and returning students to get to know each other better, but it’s basically just a dance. The theme was “hip hop.” Jeff was chosen to judge the dance competition, an honor he took VERY seriously. So we went home after school and dressed up in our best “hip hop” gear (sweat pants, sideways hats, etc.) and headed to the party. The student council put together one hell of a party, with group games, a rap battle, and the dance competition, which was far more impressive than I thought it would be. The inclusion of “Sprite pong” was a little suspect – even more so when the student council representative explained it as “just like beer pong, only with Sprite” to the entire audience… The judges were announced for the dance competition, and the kids made PLENTY of noise for Mr. Mayrose and his hip hop swag. Students from each grade choreographed their own dances, which were mostly impressive, but the seventh grade was by far the best. After the Acquaintance Party, we headed home for a low key night. Jeff was headed to Manila at 5 AM to have his knee looked at (more on that in a few) and I had volunteered to help with the Coastal Cleanup, starting at 6 AM.

Last Weekend:

Saturday started with rain, which looked to put a huge damper on the cleanup. Jeff took off at 5, and I was right behind him at 5:30. Student and teacher volunteers loaded up on three buses and headed to the bay to pick up trash on the shore. The places we normally see are public beaches and are well cared for. The cleanup took place in a less touristy area and was downright disgusting. Right when we pulled up it started to pour, but within 10 minutes it let up and didn’t rain again until right as we were finishing. We collected everything from diapers to foam from furniture and more shoes and sandals than I could count. There were multiple other groups out picking up trash as well, so the shoreline was packed with people all working together. It was pretty amazing to see the improvement after just a couple of hours. The kids did an awesome job, which made it almost enjoyable to pick up trash. We were home around 10, so it wasn’t even like I had to sacrifice my whole Saturday.

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Jeff’s day, on the other hand, was consumed mostly by driving in Manila traffic. He hitched a ride with the Model United Nations team to see a doctor about his knee. The day before school started, Jeff was playing basketball when his knee buckled to the inside. He was in a lot of pain and saw a doctor here in Olongapo who said it was just a sprain. He told him he’d be able to run on it within a few days. Well, that wasn’t the case. It was about a month before it really felt better. At that point, Jeff had slowly started to play basketball again. I remember the first time he played. I was walking the hallway above the gym and looked down just as he landed from a jump shot. He immediately fell to the ground, simultaneously looking up and making eye contact with me. “That was weird,” he commented. But he wasn’t hurt. Not two weeks later, he was playing basketball one night and his knee buckled to the inside again. This time the swelling was worse, as was the pain. He went back to the doctor who told him it was just another sprain. Thankfully, Jeff didn’t buy that diagnosis this time. The doctor relented, suggesting he could send Jeff for an MRI if it would “make him feel better.” MRI results: a severe partial or complete tear of the ACL. I was seething mad and wanted to give that idiot in Olongapo more than a piece of mind. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance because Jeff was ushered into his office, leaving me in the hallway. Probably for the best…he told Jeff all he needed to do was rest it for a few months.

After looking at his MRI, two friends of friends in the medical field said the same thing: surgery. Jeff has since been to see a surgeon in Manila who handles the players for the national basketball team. He took one look at the MRI and agreed wholeheartedly that Jeff should have surgery if he wants to continue living an active lifestyle. He also said the ACL was most definitely torn the first time Jeff hurt it, and the reason he fell and then hurt it again was because his knee is really unstable. This doctor does about 300 ACL surgeries a year, so I’d say he knows what he’s talking about. My biggest concern was anesthesia (I’m totally freaked out by being “put under” for surgeries), and my fears were immediately calmed because he uses spinal tap numbing. Jeff will be awake through the surgery but will feel nothing. The plan is to have surgery in early November, right after our trip to Caramoan. The doctor (the smart one in Manila, not the idiot in Olongapo) said it’s not urgent, but until he has surgery he should avoid lateral movements. Of course, any surgery isn’t ideal, but I am confident that Jeff is in the very best of hands with this doctor, one of the best in the country. I know before coming here I was leery about how good the doctors would be. As I found in the States, I’ve found the same to be true here: there are good doctors and there are bad doctors. Brandon made a good point when we were talking about this the other night: “Do you really think you could be seen by one of leading medical professionals in the field back in the States?” And that should make anyone worried about Jeff feel a lot better. His surgeon is one of the best, and his surgery is simple – done in about an hour. The hard part is the recovery: 6 months to a year of physical therapy. But the doctor said he will be at 95-100+% of what he was before surgery. Some people actually see better performance after the PT because they strengthen all of the muscles around the knee, not just rehab the ligament. Jeff is now convinced he will be a superstar baller in 2014.

This week:

It’s now Tuesday night and we haven’t had school yet this week. What started as slow, intermittent showers last week quickly turned into non-stop torrential downpour on Sunday. By Monday morning, Olongapo was in the grip of the worst flood in the city’s history. My principal sent out a message asking for home-cooked food to be sent down to the rescue workers. Well, home-cooked isn’t my forte, but I did whip up some scalloped potatoes and mac ‘n’ cheese to send down, along with a huge bag of Kit Kats that I desperately needed to get out of the house before I consumed them all. We spent the rest of the day watching football and being worthless. By 7:00 PM I was antsy to get out of the house, as was everyone else, so a few of us headed up to the gym to play volleyball. I put aside my insecurities and jumped right in. Yes, I was terrible, but I still had fun. It felt great to move around, laugh, and just be out of the house.

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Today I was surprised by Jeff’s 5:00 AM announcement that school was once again cancelled. It looked like the sun was out, I didn’t hear the monotonous drumming of rain on the driveway, so why no school? We learned soon after that the school had experienced a pretty nasty leak in one of the buildings, and all of those classrooms needed to be cleaned up. Also, the flood waters had receded in Olongapo, and cleanup had begun. The streets, office buildings, and people’s homes were full of mud and debris, as were the roadways and bridges. The people of Olongapo banded together to get everything back to normal.

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Thankfully, we are about to enter the last month of rainy season, and I can only hope it will be kinder to the people of the Philippines. We are VERY fortunate to live where we do, high up on a hill where flooding is next to impossible. The worst we have had to deal with is the roof leak between our living room and dining room, which seems to get worse every time it rains. Monday the paint on the wall bulged with water and slowly worked its way down the wall. We have two towels in constant rotation on that part of the floor. It’s certainly a pain in the butt, and I would really like for the maintenance to crew to figure out the problem, but patience — I am learning — is the most important of all virtues here. : )

All in all, life here feels normal, routine even. There are times I completely forget that I’m teaching in a foreign country, which I NEVER thought would happen. As much as living here is becoming natural, I still have moments where I stop and think, “Holy sh*t, I live in the Philippines.” I hope these moments never go away. I don’t want to grow to take this experience for granted.

And while I have gotten used to living here and find it very enjoyable, I still miss home. This will never BE home. I see pictures on Facebook showcasing the landscape of Iowa, and I little twinge snags my stomach. I miss Iowa football games if we can’t find a live stream of the game. I miss fall weather. I hear celebratory news from my friends and family and am reminded of all that we are missing out on by choosing this experience. Just the weekend before this, one of my very best friends announced she is pregnant. And while my heart burst with cliche joy for Glenna and Adam, it simultaneously broke, knowing I’m missing out on her entire pregnancy. I will never get to feel her baby kick or visit her in the hospital. I won’t get to plan her baby shower and pick out the cutest-ever first baby present. Baby Nockels will be over 2 months old before I ever get to smell its baby smell and feel its tiny hand squeeze my finger. So I have determined that I will find a way to make missing out on my best friend’s pregnancy FUN. Through monthly video chats and sending her surprise presents from afar. By buying the cutest-ever first baby presents from a foreign country and having her open them in a virtual baby shower. This baby will be wordly before it even leaves the womb, if I have my way.

I knew I would miss out on things when we made the decision to move overseas, but the reality of that is far harder than the hypothetical. And that’s life, in it’s hard, unforgiving nutshell.

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Corregidor Island

Last weekend we joined a group of teachers on an historically rich venture to the island of Corregidor, the second most-bombed place during WWII. The island is situated right at the mouth of Manila Bay and was a key location during the war. American troops occupied the island during our control of the Philippines and to defend the country from the Japanese. Unfortunately, MacArthur was called away from Corregidor by the President, who felt he was needed elsewhere. Upon leaving, MacArthur is said to have announced, “I Shall Return.” It wasn’t long before the Japanese successfully invaded the Philippines for three years. President Quezon, his family, and other government workers were secured in a tunnel system on the island as the Japanese invaded the country. Corregidor was used as a stronghold for the Filipino and American soldiers during the battles with the Japanese. It was one of the last places surrendered to the Japanese. During that time, Corregidor was badly bombed and much of the military infrastructure was destroyed. True to his word, MacArthur and the Americans came back and reclaimed the Philippines from the Japanese, leading to more bombing on the island. This is only the briefest of explanations of Corregidor’s history, so please take the time to learn more.

Our day began before 6:00 AM with a 2-hour drive to Mariveles on the bay. Finding our meeting location for the boat ride over was tricky because signage isn’t plentiful. Danette was on the phone with the woman she organized the trip with, and we finally got ourselves to the right place. After parking the car and receiving our Titanic-brand life jackets (really?!), we hopped on the banca boats for a 20 minute ride to the island. As we approached, I found that Corregidor was much larger and hillier than I expected. I had it in my head that the island was tiny and flat. Not at all the case.

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We met up with our tour guide and piled into a jeepney to begin the tour, which highlighted the bombing sites – mostly barracks and batteries, the Malinta tunnel, a Japanese memorial garden, a Filipino war memorial, and the museum.

The tour:

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Statue of MacArthur at the dock where he left for Australia, stating, “I shall return.” In his absence, the Japanese invaded, eventually taking complete control of the Philippines for 3 years. In 1945 MacArthur indeed returned, and after a bloody struggle, the American and Filipino forces drove the Japanese out.

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The Japanese used man-made caves like this one to hide large wooden boats and themselves during the fighting. When MacArthur regained control of the island, these tunnels were “searched” with explosives, for fear that Japanese soldiers were still hiding in them.

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The Japanese war memorial on Corregidor went undiscovered for sometime. It was finally found after a picture depicting recognizable landscape near the memorial was found at a garage in the U.S. The memorial includes this statues of Buddha (facing Japan, not the West), several large guns used by the Japanese, and a small garden.

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The Philippine war memorial contains a timeline of the wars fought in the Philippines, statues depicting heroes (like this one, symbolizing the contributions of Philippine women in war time), and a small gallery of artwork portraying the wartime struggles of the Filipinos, specifically the Bataan Death March.

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The Malinta tunnel system was used to house President Quezon, his family, his staff, and military men during the Japanese invasion. Living in these tunnels during bombings would have been terrifying, but safer than staying in Manila.

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Looking at the destroyed barracks, I was immediately reminded of the Roman Coliseum, which is MUCH older than these buildings, blown to pieces in the 1940s, but the conditions of these buildings was so decayed it looked similar. I felt chills, looking at the ghostly old frameworks and staircases.

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We saw several batteries on our tour as well. Guns were place strategically all over the island for the best line of defense against attack. Unfortunately, most of the construction on the island was completed by Japanese companies, so the locations of our strongest weapons were known to our enemy.

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Some of our most powerful weapons were rendered useless because the Japanese knew their locations and the range of their fire and simply stayed out of their way and attacked from other sides.

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A lot of artifacts in the museum were objects found on the island: dog tags, pocket knives, cups, canteens, etc. I’ve always been fascinated by historic relics like these that link us to the past. It’s like time traveling. And I think we owe it to the heroes and victims of the past to hear their stories. I was particularly struck by this American flag, the first to fly over Corregidor in the early 1900s. You’ll notice there are only 45 stars on the flag. America – occupying other nations before our own had even finished growing.

We finished our tour of the island with a quiet lunch by the water. Satisfied and exhausted, we headed back to the banca boats for the trip home.

First Meet and a Little Monkeying Around

This past weekend Jeff and I had our first cross country meet in Manila. As of Friday, we had 30+ runners on our squad. The plan was to cap enrollment at 20, but we both have a hard time saying no to any kid who wants to try to get in shape. Our numbers are fluctuating slightly as some kids quit to join other sports or because they decide running isn’t something they enjoy.

We didn’t take all of our runners; instead we hand selected a team of about 20 based on effort, attitude, and ability. We plan to do the same for every meet. Ideally, every runner will get a chance to go to at least one meet, but if they aren’t willing to try in practice, we aren’t going to reward them with competing in meets they aren’t ready for.

We left Friday afternoon so we could stay in the dorms on the Brent Manila campus instead of getting up at 4 AM on Saturday. The kids were plenty hyper on the bus ride down, and I was sure either Jeff or I was going to lose it after telling them to sit down the twentieth time. They weren’t being particularly bad, but their excitement was undeniable. We stopped to eat at a roadside mall that offered KFC, McDonald’s, Subway, and several other fast food chains. All season (all two weeks of it) we’ve been harping and lecturing about proper eating, going so far as to make kids do push ups if they are caught drinking pop, so I was pretty curious to see what food choices they would make. Jeff and I headed for Subway after stopping at the restroom (called comfort rooms here) and found all of our athletes in line for sandwiches. I was so proud! They proceeded to check every food-related decisions with us. “Is it okay if I get cheese” “Should I have tea or water?” and so on. Most kids would just get whatever they wanted and sneak it past their coaches, but these kids took our rules seriously – at least when we were right in front of them. They continue to drink pop, but the best part is that they rat each other out to us! I think they thoroughly enjoy seeing their friends get punished with push ups. : )

We made it to the dorms just before 10 and sent the kids to bed. The girls settled down right away, but the boys were in and out of each others’ rooms for the next 30 minutes, clearly still excited by the travel experience and staying overnight for a sports trip.

We had them up and eating by 7:00 and were down on the field by 7:30. Jeff signed most of the runners up for the 2 mile event, but we have a few standouts that he thought could handle the 5k, which ran after the 2 mile event. Right away we ran into the Brent Manila coaches – Tony and Erin, also a married couple. They had introduced themselves at our all-Brent staff meetings before school started. They were incredibly nice and helpful, since we had no idea how this was supposed to work. We’re planning to do a Manila/Subic team event in October when the Manila team will come and run the  mountain trails around here. Even though we are separate teams during the regular season, we are technically the same school, and we compete as one team for conference competitions. It’s an interesting relationship, and I really like it. Jeff and I have our own team, but we also have a built-in support system in the Manila team. We cheer for each other’s runners even as we compete against each other. As we left the field after our races, Tony and Erin had their kids cheer for us. Like I said, really nice people.

The 2 mile started a little after 8:00. Our runners surprised me, I have to admit. A lot of them seem to take practice too lightly, and most of them could definitely push themselves a lot harder. But in the meet, I felt that just about every one of our runners gave it his or her all. One pushed himself so hard he got sick after the race! Of course, we congratulated him on his stellar effort. One of our 5k runners even finished in the top third of the field. I could tell the kids were proud of themselves for working hard, as they should be. They were up against teams who had more practice and way more experience.

There were some things to work on, as was expected. We had a runner start his final sprint 300 yards before the finish. He was so gassed he had to walk the final 50 yards. I guess he took it to heart when we told him to “finish hard.” : ) Most of our runners have terrible form, so that’s another thing we’ll be working on in the two weeks before our next meet.

On the way home we stopped at a mall in Manila – something the kids were really looking forward to and we felt they deserved. The mall was four stories high; like nothing I’ve ever seen. Jeff found a tennis racquet for a really good price, and I got to eat a decent hamburger. All is right in the world. After our little field trip, we loaded back up on the bus and headed home, getting there a little before 5:00. Our weekend was nearly over, with Sunday sure to be spent doing school work; that was the only draw back. I’d say Jeff and I both really enjoyed watching the kids run and getting to know them better. I don’t like to generalize, but I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of our athletes are extremely good-natured kids. They love to joke around and take teasing very well. The bus rides were full of laughter, and it made my day watching them cheer each other on during the meet.

We asked the Keshkas to check on Ringo for us while we were gone, and we didn’t hear from them Friday night, which I chose to take as a good sign that nothing was wrong. Saturday morning, Jeff saw that Danette had posted a picture of Ringo and their dog, Renzo, on Facebook. Apparently they decided the boys should have a slumber party, so Ringo stayed at their place. I was incredibly relieved to find out that things went even better than I could have hoped; Renzo and Ringo got along great. We have such great friends here!

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After a long trip to Manila, I decided to be a little delinquent in my attention to school work on Sunday and joined a group headed to the beach. The Keshka’s have Brandon’s uncle in town from home, and they invited us to join them. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous the past week, but that could change at any moment, so we had to take advantage.

After cooling off in the bay for awhile, I headed back to our little base camp. Brandon’s uncle, Craig, and I were chatting when I woman came near and started taking pictures of the tree we were camped under. I craned my head to see what she was so enchanted by, but I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. I quickly returned to our conversation. Just moments later, I heard a rustling noise and turned just in time to see a monkey scamper up the tree with a bag of Hint of Lime Tostitos chips Danette had brought! He stopped about 15 feet up, popped the bag open like a pro, and proceeded to snack on our chips. Not his first theft, I’m sure. We were all far more amused than mad.

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Now that September is underway, our irregular schedule of breaks and holidays is over; this month is devoid of three-day weekends and short work weeks. It shouldn’t be hard to settle into a routine now, which I am partially welcoming. On the other hand, the work load is really starting to pick up. I am now helping out with yearbook, coaching cross country, holding remedials weekly (something all teachers do), possibly joining a literacy committee, and helping out with the electronic newsletter. This week alone I had/have practice until 6 Monday-Thursday, CPR training until 7 Tuesday, a meeting Wednesday morning and remedials after school, a meeting Thursday afternoon, and plenty of grading and planning to do. Not to mention the fun stuff: Zumba with the girls, a staff pot luck, book club next week, and a trip this weekend. Life is in full swing.