21. I’ve mentioned that the medium of instruction in the Philippine school system officially was English. That meant that first and second graders were the only ones taught in the local dialect (Tagalog in Manila): everyone else was taught in English. Unfortunately, many children (especially in public school) spoke no English outside the classroom, which meant that communication inside the class was frequently a problem. In Peggy’s fourth grade class (which was the lowest fourth grade class in the school), there were only two students who could answer her in complete sentences. If they ever went to say anything outside the lesson, it was in Tagalog. In the beginning Peggy could only understand a few of these comments, complaints, and requests. Of course her Tagalog improved, but mine never did.
The language barrier in the Philippines was not nearly as great as it would be for Americans in Turkey. There were/are more than 80 Filipino dialects, although Tagalog or Pilipino was the official national language. English was really in a strange position over there. Almost everyone spoke some English, but almost no one spoke what would be considered in the States really good English. Most of the signs and posters … at least the ones in Manila … were in English, and it was perfectly possible to order a meal, give direction to a taxi driver, and carry on most simple business completely in English. When Filipino friends were together, however, their conversation were mostly in Tagalog, or Cebuano, Ilocano or one of the other dialects unless they were from different parts of the country in which case they used English.
Peggy was continually amazed at the really poor English some of the teachers at her school had. She didn’t mind some of their strange phases, which came from translating their own idioms literally such as, “to get down from a bus” or “to sleep late” meaning to go to bed late. She cringed, however, when she heard things like the following (which she copied from the blackboard of a third grade teacher): “How many box and chair did they had?”
One of the hardest facts for a Peace Corps volunteer to accept was that he or she, an outsider brought up with cultural values very different from those of his or her new country, could not realistically expect to bring about earth-shaking changes, nor could he or she expect to see much progress. (Progress? From whose perspective?) Peggy was working with people who said they wanted her help and her suggestions. And some of her ideas were greeted with real enthusiasm. When she talked to teachers they almost always nodded their heads in agreement and understanding, but after four or five months in the Philippines she couldn’t say that she changed even one teacher’s way of teaching. She had only one co-teacher that she felt relatively good about, but she was already on the right track before Peggy came. It was thus very difficult to evaluate the value of her work. To both of us one of our biggest jobs was to try to show that Americans were not superior to Filipinos … as many Filipinos believed … nor were we all money-hungry and filthy rich … as many others believed. (On the campuses where I taught (UP Diliman and Ateneo) there was a lot of anti-American feelings, with frequent demonstrations, but I never felt that any of the animosity was directed at me.) Certainly Peggy hoped to help at least a few teachers learn how to help their pupils to really think … but she didn’t think that her two years would necessarily be wasted if she didn’t succeed. Anyway that was how she felt after four or five months and when she was still eager to see what another 18 months would bring.
22. One letter from home was a little delayed having been “Missent to Agana Guam.” Some postman … or several postmen … sure slipped up!
23. In February we moved into our own apartment on Taft Avenue in Malate. The reasons we moved were really quite complex, but it basically boiled down to the fact that we wanted a home of our own. Lew, another volunteer who had been living with us, and Linda, our maid, moved with us, but it was still Peggy’s and my apartment. The move enabled Peggy to walk to her school, and it increased my commute only about five minutes.
24. Peggy’s birthday suggestions that year ran along the line of Flinch cards and children’s books. She warned her family, “If you send Flinch cards, declare it as “Flinch” or “Flinch Game” since I believe there’s some sort of law against playing cards, you know the ones with jokers, aces, queens, etc.”
Peggy and Randy Ford