I guess we all want to return back to school for different reasons. I was in the Peace Corps in the Philippines on and off from 1976 to 1984. Five years as an Agricultural Extension Volunteer then later as a staff member. I worked with the five tribes in the Cordillera Mountains collectively called Igorots. It didn’t take long to realize my agricultural techniques were not going to work in the steep mountains where rice was the main crop grown in inaccessible terraces. I was fortunate to connect with Mother Basille Gekierre, a Belgian missionary there since 1925. Mother Basille was unique among missionaries in that she saw the value of preserving the culture.
When I got there she had converted a classroom, in the old brick schoolhouse, which covered the Bontoc Igorot. By a stroke of luck, she was able to get $250,000 to build a new museum. Now my job became to look for the green spots on the map, identify the remotest villages, hike in, record the culture and collect artifacts. Some trips were 2-3 weeks and covered hundreds of miles.
One of my barometers for cultural integrity was to wait by the bus stop. Many women at that time had full-length tattoo sleeves. But the practice was quickly disappearing. I would wait by the bus to watch the women disembark. When I spotted young ladies with the tattoos I would ask what village they came from and mark that as a village I needed to visit. In the end, we opened the new museum in 1981 and it covered the five Igorot tribes. The museum is still there today. (I remain active in the Igorot community and return occasionally with a non-profit where I am the Chief Executive Officer.)
I was fortunate that I kept a journal for all those years. So in a way, I started writing my book 40 years ago. I need to finish it. I’ve already taken my first class in the MFA program and I learned many new writing skills. My goal is to have my book done by the time I graduate and the MFA program provides me the incentive I needed to accomplish this.