I made it to Manila! The trip was long, but it wasn’t bad. We arrived at UP Los Baños at 2:30 in the morning. Orientation was not until 1pm the next day though, so we had a nice relaxing morning which included our first meal in the Philippines (I had banana pancakes – very authentic). The orientation was interesting since we learned a lot about the history and background of the Philippines, as well as an ‘introduction’ to Tagalog. The introduction to Tagalog was a little overwhelming, but I’m sure I’ll pick up some phrases. We took a Jeepney to a floating restaurant for dinner – the tables were on little platforms that were floating in the water. Tito Mon (our contact person here, who has been super helpful) introduced us to some more traditional foods, which included sour soup, pork belly, mango smoothies, etc. I really enjoyed the meal! But, the only utensils you get with meals are forks and spoons, which will take some getting used to.
From the minute we stepped on the plane from Seoul to Manila, Filipinos have been very welcoming and interested in our internship. Everyone asks questions, gives advice, asks about American politics and sports, etc. This has definitely helped me feel comfortable here right away.
We left for GKEF early on Sunday morning. It was Independence Day here, so we expected a lot of traffic. However, it only took us about three and a half hours to get here (as opposed to the expected 5+ hours). Charlotte, one of the many French interns, welcomed the “Americans” right away. However, our rooms were not ready, so we explored the farm a little. It’s not at all what I expected, but then again I didn’t really know what to expect. There are many different areas. For example, there is a mushroom farm, the animal farm, the Health & Wholeness Center, the community (where many families live and own little shops), SEED (the school, which just had their graduation yesterday), etc. There is also a really nice pool which we spent some time at later. I’m sure we will spend a lot of time there, actually, since it’s one of the only ways to escape the heat and humidity and we are losing our air-conditioned rooms in a few days.
We ate our first few meals at the farm. For around $1.50 you get unlimited fresh food. Almost everything comes straight from the farm, and the typical meal includes rice, some sort of meat, many different vegetables and fruits and some sort of dessert (typically something with banana). It’s very good and fresh. On Sunday night’s dinner is not served, so one of the “Titas” (she’s like a host mom, a lady that lives in the community) cooks either a pasta dish or burgers and dumplings and then everyone goes and eats it at a little place outside the farm and have some beers (alcohol is not allowed on the farm). This was a nice way to get to know some of the other interns. Almost all of them are French, and they often speak French amongst themselves, but there is also one American guy, Chris, who has lived on the farm for two years, as well as a few German interns that we have not met.
This morning we split up after breakfast, and Suchana, Morgan and I got to help with picking the mangos. We got to talk to some of the people from the community while we all picked about 200kg of mangos together. I really enjoyed being able to help out on the farm and to see how everything works. Then we met with Tito Toni, the owner of the farm. He’s very passionate about everything he does and being able to help as many people as he can. He introduced us to some of the students at SEED who used to live under bridges or be gang members that he brought into the school to offer them a better life. Everyone in the community works very hard and very long hours. Even students spend half their day on the farm. Rules are very strict and punishments are tough. This is the way Tito Toni thinks people will change for the better, and obviously his community has been very successful.
In general, I’m still getting used to the heat and the bugs and frogs everywhere, but I’m excited to be here and can’t wait to learn more about the community and become more involved in the next couple of months.