Tuesday, January 31, 2012

First Day Culture Shock

On my first day of arrival to the Philippines, I flew in to Clark International Airport on the island of Luzon. Interestingly, this is where I was born – back when it was Clark Air Force Base. At the time, my dad (a Filipino) was in the U.S. Air Force. After being born here, my family left the Philippines for the U.S. when I was only 3 years old. This was the first time being back to the Philippines since having left.

It was warm and humid, as I expected. It was about 1:00AM in the morning. Upon exiting the doors of the airport and entering the waiting area, I was immediately greeted by an over-helpful local who wanted to assist me with my baggage and transportation.  I was to be picked up by my mom and I didn’t need or ask for the gentleman’s help. Once my mom arrived, he lingered around with a big suspicious smile. I got the impression that he wanted a tip. I felt very uncomfortable and I thought it was very rude of him to assert his unsolicited help and then to expect me to give him money for it. So I pretended not to understand what he was saying. I had been warned by family ahead of time that this sort of thing happens, but I didn’t expect myself to feel so uncomfortable about it.

That was my first culture shock.

My mom lived in the province of Bataan. After getting some sleep, we traveled later that afternoon about 3 hours to get to Quezon City (next to Manila).

My global experience will consist of two phases: the introduction phase and the study phase. The first phase involved receiving an introduction to cacao farming with time spent with the Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines, and the second phase involved conducting a study on the need, usage and accessibility of microfinance for small holder cacao farmers with time spent with ACDI/VOCA.

To start my introduction phase, I was to meet with the President and staff of the Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines (also known as CocoaPhil). My appointment was for 1:00PM but we arrived early during lunch time. Everyone was in the staff lounge. I felt weird about interrupting their lunch and I expected to either wait in the lobby until 1:00PM or that they would end their lunch to have the meeting. I was surprised that instead they invited me to hang out with them. It was very casual. My mom and cousins had accompanied me and so they took the liberty of coming inside to join us. Then everyone started talking and getting to know each other. They offered my mom durian (a fowl smelling fruit) and so she just casually pulled up a chair and started eating with them.

I was pretty surprised at how casual and hospitable everyone was being. I was expecting to have a formal professional serious meeting and instead I watched everyone chit chatting and socializing – the staff and my family meeting for the very first time but interacting like it was a family potluck. In hindsight it was actually pretty funny to watch it all happen!

This was my second culture shock.

We did eventually have our formal professional serious meeting. My family waited outside while I met with the staff in a conference room.

The Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines is a filipino non-profit organization of farmers, cacao buyers and processors, and professionals that was established in 1993 and serves as an umbrella organization for the cocoa industry in the Philippines. They are currently connected with over 15,000 farmers and have about 50 staff and volunteers country wide. They have a well-developed and established training program for nursery, plant maintenance, and post harvest. Approximately 50% of their participants are women.

During our meeting, they gave me an overview of the cacao industry, insights into cacao farming, an explanation of the training and services that CocoaPhil offers, and their aspirations if they had the funding. Then we discussed some of the farm visits that I'll be doing. Instead of driving to some farms like I originally planned, they recommended going to the province of Bicol. That would be a 7-8 hour drive. So instead I decided to fly a plane to Naga City in Bicol. CocoaPhil would then connect me with someone on their staff there. I spent the rest of the week with my mom in Bataan, then on Sunday I would go to Naga City on my own.

Overall, I found my first day in the Philippines interesting. My cultural expectations and actual experiences were varied. Prior to this trip, my knowledge of the country came only from stories and the internet. But seeing it for myself for the first time was surreal.

This is going to be fun!

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