By Andrew Wynne
Being an above-average (in height) volunteer, I stick out like a sore thumb in the Philippines. Sure, some days are more exhausting from the constant stares and "hey joe" references, but I have been fortunate to be able to channel my genetics into a hobby of mine, and one of Filipinos too: basketball. My second day at site afforded me the opportunity to join a local team. A local store owner, noticing my height, called me over and asked if I wanted to play with him on his team in an upcoming tournament. Having played competitively back in the states, I couldn't pass up the opportunity.
Fast forward 13 months. I have now played in 5 different tournaments around my province, winning that very first one in October 2012. The experience has been invaluable, providing me the opportunity to relieve some stress, exercise, and most importantly, integrate. The store owner who originally asked me to play basketball on day 2 at site has now become my closest Filipino friend. My teammates from that first tournament are now my barkada. People around town and throughout the province recognize me and know my name because of basketball. The relationships formed on the court have been great, but those that have formulated after the games are the ones that mean the most. Being able to share experiences (usually over some post-game pulutan or drinks) has given me the chance to learn more about Filipinos and their culture and share with them a bit of my own.
One of the most memorable nights I can think of was after a tournament game two months ago. The group was intermixed between my barkada and a few new friends and teammates when the topic of my service as a Peace Corps volunteer was brought up. I was asked the question "so why are you here?" I went through my usual explanation of why I chose to join the Peace Corps, what I do, how I live, etc. But then I get, "so why are you STILL here?" I sat there a bit shocked because I had never been asked that question before. But it didn't take me long to respond. "Because I want to be here. This is where I belong right now." With that, my friends were stunned, and the look on their faces gave me the most overwhelming feeling of humility, gratitude, and acceptance. Basketball truly is more than just a game.