Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas home!

If anything, Lolo's passing has brought our family closer together again. And what better time than for Christmas (which also happens to be the wedding anniversary of my grandparents!).

Normally I spend Christmas Eve with my Mom's side in Milpitas and Christmas Day with my Dad's side in Daly City, so this year was no different...except for the feeling of it all. The holiday spirit, if you will. It just didn't feel the same but I was still grateful to be with family (and in the presence of copious amounts of food! Let's be and food.) I'll let the pictures speak for themselves...enjoy! And Happy Holidays to all of you!

When we took Grandma to the Missionaries of Charity convent in San Francisco to drop off Tita Talin, the sisters were joking around with Grandma. So cute!

At Miles' birthday dinner with some of the LMU IB fam. <3

One of my favorite aunts, Tita Freda and I after getting breakfast at this really good place not too far from my house. Mmmm!

Mom's side of the family during Christmas Eve in Milpitas.

The grandchildren with Grandma. Looking good, fam!

Grandma and Mom with her brothers and sister.

David and I with Grandma on Christmas Eve! <3

Visiting Lolo's grave one last time before heading back to Burkina Faso.

The interior of the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. Really gorgeous!

Some of Mom's side of the family during Christmas Day mass at Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. Such a beautiful cathedral!

Dad with his gift. He's been talking about getting a digital camera for so long, so David and I finally got him one.

My niece Lexi and I. So cute!

Dad's side of the family on Christmas Day!

David, Dad and I at Christmas Day.

Dropping off Tita Talin at the airport. Such a great picture! See you in 2017 and good luck training the Missionaries of Charity novitiates in the Philippines.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rest In Paradise, 'Lolo/Gramps' Jose de Leon Sr.!

On Thursday morning (December 9), I was in Bobo for the 50th Independence Day celebration for Burkina, practicing marching. I get a call from home and almost immediately know what my Mom is going to say. ..

"Son, your Lolo just passed away a few hours ago. We're all heading to the hospital now. Go look for flights - I want you to come home."

Plain and simple. Yet initially, it didn't hit me as hard.

I knew about Lolo's condition ever since Thanksgiving when he wasn't eating enough and just wasn't himself. He had a hard time breathing so they brought him to the ER to help his respiration and stimulate his appetite. Long story short, he got pnuemonia among other things and, well..combine old age with the consequences of smoking for many years (he started when he was 13 but stopped cold turkey maybe 50 years later?) and it made him suffer a lot.

In any case, he passed away on December 8, 2010 at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley...from what it seems like, in his sleep. I'm glad my final memories of Lolo are happy ones when we said farewell at SFO when I came home in September. Regardless, I wanted to be there with my family and boy, did I need it!

The Peace Corps office and staff here in Burkina Faso have been so supportive. Usually in instances like this, if a parent or a sibling pass away (I think...don't quote me on that), the Peace Corps will pay for you to fly home on emergency/special leave. But because this is my grandfather, the Peace Corps doesn't cover it but my Mom was definitely willing to pay the plane ticket if I was allowed to leave. In any case, I'm just grateful for the support in Burkina Faso and at home in the US!

I think the emotions really hit when I was getting on the different planes to head home and eventually getting to the mortuary. Anyway, here are some pictures:

Jose de Leon, Sr.
March 4th 1927 - Pilar, Bataan, Philippines
December 8th 2010 - Berkeley, California, USA
Loving husband, father and grandfather.

The pallbearers (my uncles + David and I) laying our gloves and boutonnieres on Lolo's casket. I think this is probably the first time in my life where I've sobbed almost uncontrollably in public. =/

The family.

Grandma with her sons and daughters (youngest to oldest from left to right).

The immediate grandchildren (except Jacob is missing).

I'll end with the eulogy I gave for my Lolo on Monday. Crazy story: Keep in mind that the viewings were Sunday, December 12th-Monday, December 13th and Tuesday, December 14th was the memorial mass/funeral/burial. I was to leave Burkina Faso the night of Saturday, December 11th and arrive in Oakland the night of Sunday, December 12th. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso - Paris, France - Salt Lake City, Utah - Oakland, California. Simple enough, right? Until I arrived at Salt Lake City --the last leg of my flight home-- and found out my flight was canceled and that I wouldn't arrive until 8:00pm on Monday, completely missing the last viewing. I swear, God works in mysterious ways and I was able to get a flight to San Jose (which is right next to the mortuary) arriving an hour before the last viewing starts on Monday! Whew! In the process, I'll give a shout-out to Vincent, a fellow passenger and Bay Area resident I met while in Salt Lake City. Cheers to you for keeping me sane, friend!

Anyway, here's the eulogy I was able to compose amidst all that chaos of actually getting home:

Lolo’s Eulogy

By Michael Berino

December 13, 2010

For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Michael Berino and I am the eldest grandson of my Lolo, Jose de Leon Sr. As most of you know, I’m currently a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, a small country in the heart of West Africa since June of 2009. On September of this year, I came back home for a visit for many reasons, but one of the most important was to see my grandparents, the ones whom I firmly consider my second parents, having raised my younger brother David and me since we were babies. The unfortunate news of my grandfather getting seriously ill these past few weeks hit me really hard. This is the first time I’ve lost someone very close to me; the same for most people in my immediate family as well. Knowing that he was nearing the end of his time here on Earth conjured many memories of my Lolo throughout his long life.

He was a man of few words who spoke greatly with his actions. If he was with us right now, he’d want to divert the attention away from him and focus it on someone else. Even if you came to any of the de Leon family parties, Lolo wouldn’t be the first person you’d notice in the room. But he possessed a strong and wise presence that held our family together.

The way I see my family is much like how a tree is composed: the leaves, branches and fruit are plentiful but the tree would be nothing – absolutely nothing – without its roots. My family is blessed to be grounded by two intelligent, hard working and loving grandparents – the roots of our family. Heck, they are so intelligent that Lolo was salutatorian of his high school class while Grandma was the valedictorian! More importantly, Grandma and Lolo balance each other out – Grandma being more of the disciplinarian and Lolo being more of the relaxed head of the household. As a result, we are very blessed to have had both grandparents live for so long and still be together during a time when divorce is all too familiar; have daughters and sons who emigrated to the US and created better lives for themselves; and have had grandchildren that are going on to do significant things in life – a nurse at Stanford, a future dentist, a future engineer and so forth.

Personally speaking, the impact that Lolo has had on my life is indescribable. But I’m going to attempt to sum up a few of the lessons he’s taught me during his 83 years of living…

Lesson #1: Family and God first. Always.

· Lolo may not have been the most “religious” man but he believed in God even if he didn’t go to church as often. In terms of family, even before my Mom and Dad divorced, Lolo was like my second father. I’ll never forget when I had to dress up as a shepherd for the Christmas play when I was in 2nd grade…I refused to leave the house and was embarrassed with my outfit but Lolo drove me and waited at the church the whole time, encouraging me to go up even if I felt embarrassed.

Lesson #2: If family and God are first, then fashion is definitely second.

· Members Only jackets, name-brand cologne, Ray-Ban style sunglasses, argyle sweaters – he was the epitome of a cool and trendy grandpa. Which probably explains my family’s indulgence in all things clothes, shoes and shopping. Seriously! …Except probably Tita Talin. Also when David and I were younger, Lolo used to drive us to school and pick us up with his oh-so-cool Toyota Celica. He was a true trendsetter!

Lesson #3: When a situation gets dry or uncomfortable, use humor.

· One time when the whole family was in Boracay in 2003 for a huge family vacation, I remember we were all getting ready to leave to go snorkeling in the ocean. Out of the blue, Lolo turns to me and blurts, “my God, Michael. Your legs look like a girl’s.” A comment that completely took me by surprised but made everyone laugh hysterically. That was my Lolo – a man of few words but when he does speak, especially when it’s hilarious and random, you remember what he says!

· There was another time when I was around 10 and I brought back sand from the beach in San Francisco. I don’t remember what exactly happened but I poured sand in David’s hair because I was mad at David and Lolo told me to wash out the sand from his hair or else he would pour sand in my hair too.

· Before I left to go back to Burkina Faso in September of this year, David sent me a text right after they dropped me off, which read: “So we’re leaving the airport and Grandma is holding on to Lolo’s arm while we’re getting on the moving platform…and Lolo’s complaining about how heavy his bags are…so unknowingly, he let’s go of Grandma’s hand.”

· Even back in the Philippines, my Lolo was a riot. When Tito Vic was little, Lolo caught him picking up a cigarette butt on the ground and smoking it. When Tito Vic caught Lolo’s glaring at him, he immediately dropped it and walked away. Lolo called Tito Vic over, made him sit on the bench and threw him a whole packet of cigarettes…and made him smoke all of them in one sitting. Lesson learned and he never did it again.

Lesson #4: Keep up with current events.

· I can’t recollect a single day when Lolo wasn’t reading the newspaper. I remember David and I trying to teach Lolo how to use the Internet and leaving the laptop downstairs, only to find him an hour later reading the newspaper because it was easier that way.

Lesson #5: If you have the means, be generous.

· One of the best things Lolo is known for was his generosity. His willingness to give, give and give and expect nothing in return. He gave his grandchildren money all the time during Christmas and even when I was home in September, Lolo gave me $500 because he knew I was a poor Peace Corps Volunteer that couldn’t afford anything! Even my Mom and her brothers and Tita Talin can attest to Lolo being generous with money when they were kids in the Philippines.

· “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.” Psalm 37: 25-26

Lesson #6: Take risks.

· Reno, Las Vegas, Cache Creek…you know it, he probably gambled there. But I take his gambling as a metaphor for life: take risks. Take a chance.

This is no doubt a sad and difficult time for my family. I cried many times at my house in Burkina Faso just thinking about how much suffering Lolo must have been going through, or how difficult it was for the rest of my family to carry the burden of his pain. But I’m a firm believer in the saying that God doesn’t give us humans anything that we cannot handle. More than anything, this should be a celebration of Lolo’s long life. Of the legacy he left for his children and grandchildren to pass on.

Lolo, I know that Thanksgiving and Christmas family get-togethers won’t be the same without you. That it won’t be the same at home without you, reading your newspaper in the kitchen while drinking coffee. Or feeding Benji at the dinner table even though Mom and I have told you many, many times that it only encourages Benji to develop a habit of eating at the dinner table and asking for food. The point is: you will always be loved and will always be missed. What comforts me most is knowing that you’re up there in Heaven with Lolo Ben, watching over your family and wishing nothing but the best for us.

One of my most favorite quotes is from Mother Teresa where she says, “Each of us is a pencil in the hand of God, who is writing a love letter to the world.” Imagine that – each of us being a pencil of God, writing a love letter to the world. I’m certain Lolo was probably one of those high-tech, fancy-schmancy, sleek black mechanical pencils that you can get for $50 at Staples in the nice casing…whose love letter is manifest in those he loved most – his wife – my grandmother Dulce, his six children and his grandchildren. If anything, we’re all here to carry on his legacy.

I love you, Lolo…until we meet again.

Thank you.

I'll miss you, Lolo!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bon Retour aux Etats-Unis, Gwen!

So one of my closest friends here in Peace Corps Burkina Faso has successfully completed her two years of service and headed back to the U.S. A couple of our last pictures together au Burkina Faso but I know I'll see you after I leave next year. Dakar? Morocco? The US? I'll miss you, Gwen! This blog entry is for you. =)

Always laughing with this girl!

Matching bracelets. We're ridiculous and I love it!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gardening & Girls' Clubs!

As I mentioned in my last blog entry about work starting off a bit on the wrong foot, the first trimester of your second year as a GEE PCV is still a bit of a trial. Don't get me wrong, I feel very comfortable at site and feel like I know what I have to's just a matter of doing it with all this protocol and such which is the difficult thing.

I eventually got started around the middle of November to at least get the ball rolling. As of late, I've been branching out and doing activities with other schools. Jean, my counterpart, needed help with his school garden (his primary school is about 2km from my house) so I provided some financial support to get the appropriate seeds and also helped with organizing all the kids and such. Lots of fun! I'll be coming in every week and we even have a little section for Moringa to educate the kids on its importance and how it can provide great nutritional value to their food.

Jean teaching the kids how to properly care for the soil.

Jean and I.

Jean and I with most of the kids from his CM1 and CM2 classes.

I've had a couple more activities with the school (alphabet project, an English & Cultures of the World club, baby weighings at the CSPS, etc.) but sadly, no pictures (yet!). I do have pictures from my CM1 Girls' Club which I've started again. The girls this year are different from last year's girls...a little more reserved and it's taking a little longer to explain the importance of Life Skills. Aicha, Madame Ouattara's daughter, is part of my Girls' Club and one of my chefs (club leaders) which is great because she understands my French and can explain things to the girls when they don't really understand my explanations. I will say that these girls are turning into really great soccer players which I'm really excited about!

Same format -- Life Skills, English and Soccer every Thursday!


Ali helping me lead the girls in soccer.

The girls divided into two teams, ready to duke it out!

Aicha leading the pack!!

Come January, Jon and I are planning a joint weekend Girls' Camp with his CM1 Girls' Club and my CM1 Girls' Club. I'm really excited for this! We live so close to each other -- why not do more collaborative work together, especially as GEE volunteers?! One weekend we'll be at his site and the next weekend, we'll be at my site. The greatest part is that the girls will be able to meet each other, many of whom have never been farther than 5km from their houses in their lives. So updates on that soon!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving au Burkina Faso

Ahhh yes, my second (and last!) Thanksgiving in Burkina Faso. And I spent it at site! I invited the other volunteers in my area and a few could come -- Jane, Brenda and Shannon. Fun times were had. Good food was had! Lots of magazine reading and hilarious moments with Hercules (thank God all of us love dogs!). And laying on my porch, talking and watching the stars.

I think that's why I love Thanksgiving so much -- a reason to get together with family, eat good food and be grateful for all the blessings in your life. =)

Hercules! All my neighbors think it's funny that I pick up Hercules like this because the way they treat dogs in Burkina Faso is dramatically different from how they do it in the U.S.

Jane, our official Thanksgiving taste-tester. Completely needed!

Peeling potatoes on the porch. Homemade mashed potatoes, anyone?

A Thanksgiving feast, Burkina-style!

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I remember telling myself this almost a year and a half ago when I was a trainee up in Ouahigouya: that I know that I've reached the beginning of the end of my service when two of the biggest events in Burkina Faso happen - FESPACO (the film festival) and SIAO (the artisan festival)!

SIAO is the first of the two, meaning 'Salon International de l'Artisanat de Ouagadougou.' It's probably one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, display of African art and culture in the entire continent of Africa. And it's happening right here in Burkina Faso! People from all over Africa and even some from around the world come to display and sell what they have to offer.

It's literally a feast for the eyes (and the wallet)...Ghana fabrics, bronze sculptures, fruit jams from the Congo...the list is truly endless and they have just about everything. I only wish I could've spent more than one afternoon there to truly enjoy everything. Sadly, I didn't take many pictures except of the cotton candy machine they had there. A cotton candy machine! For those of you that don't understand the magnitude of how amazingly awesome this is, I haven't had cotton candy in a fair since I was...well, really, really little. SO this is great! In the middle of West Africa!

At the end of it all, I got some cool Ghana fabric, a couple of nifty tee shirts and some Touraeg silver jewelry. Overall, a great experience!

Leslie and I waiting for cotton candy. In Burkina Faso. Whaaat?! Still blows my mind.

So amazing. Seriously, haha!

Gwen got us matching fabric/shirts. Imagine that, a country where wearing the same outfit is actually a good thing!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Back at site: second year, let's go!

After my amazing trip back home from Americaland, it was back to Burkina Faso and the start of a great milestone in my Peace Corps service: the beginning of my second and final year!

When I got back to site in the beginning of October (with a crazy-busy schedule of working PST and going back home the couple of months prior), the feeling was different. A GOOD different. Like I felt more at ease than I've ever felt before. Like I had more of my niche. French seemed to roll off the tongue more. Jula (at least the basic greetings) were easier to go through. Biking around town and near my house, people would shout my name or I'd just recognize more people/friends. In all, things just felt more natural...

...except for work. Someone should have told me that the first trimester of your second year as a GEE PCV will still require a lot of patience! I arrive in October, Action Plan in-hand, ready to get started projects immediately until I realized how debilitating going through protocol can be here in Burkina Faso -- greeting all the authorities, making your work plans known, waiting for their approval and whatnot. Sheesh! For almost more than a month, I was pretty much waiting to get primary work projects started. Fortunately, it seemed to be the same for my other fellow GEE PCVs in my training group.

Such is the life living in another country. At the end of the day, you just enjoy the experience you've been given and appreciate the company of friends and 'family' here in Burkina Faso...and I did just that. Enjoy the pictures!

Grace-Victoire and I. Grace is my neighbor (Madame Constance's) daughter. Super cute! She used to be scared of me but now I think she's grown a little attached to me now. =)

Jon and his gift of Hostess cupcakes, his one request when I came back from America. Funny thing is, you can't see how flat they became, haha.

"Helping out" my friend Clémence fan the charcoal to cook food. She cracks me up everyday!

Aicha with Albertine and Clémence making her infamous caramel toffee ball candies. Mmmm!

A closer look at the caramel toffee balls...oh Ali. I don't know how this kid learned the middle

Now that Grace can start walking, she likes playing this game of hide-and-seek behind your back. Really cute!

Aicha and Madame Ouattara making their infamous gateau biscuits. Mmmm! They're so good when they're freshly cooked.

I seriously have a clothing obsession. These aren't even all the shirts I've got made here in Burkina!

So I have this outdoor kitchen area that I don't use. The door doesn't have a lock/handle so when it gets really windy or rainy, the door flies open and shuts all the time, making this really scary noise. So I tied string around it to keep the door shut. When I went home in September, I come home to discover my string was stolen. Not a big deal, right? But I decided to leave a little note in case the thief came by and wanted to guilt trip him/her. =)

Okay, so half my pictures are of Grace. Whaaat?! I can't help it - I love kids!

Cooking 'igname ragout,' one of my most favorite Burkinabè dishes. Mmm!

Some of my kids all dressed up in their party attire. They're so cute! They're celebrating Tabaski, one of the biggest Muslim holidays.

Excellent shot! Compliments of Jon.

Jon and Hercules!

Hercules and I! I don't want him to get any bigger. But seriously, one of the most adorable dogs ever. Isn't necessarily the brightest crayon in the box but he'll do...

A couple of my friends here competed in the 'Semaine Nationale de la Culture' (National Week of Culture) in Bobo. It's a biennial event that brings troupes from all over Burkina Faso to perform and compete. Mathieu was performing on the tam-tam (drum) while a couple of my other friends were doing traditional Lobi dancing. Cool stuff!

It reminded me a lot of my days when I was a kid and did Filipino folk dancing with the Maharlika and Sampaguita dance troupes. And it reminded me of my time at LMU doing PCN with IB!

My neighbors forcing me to whip out the blue boubou from Swear-In and model it for them.

Aicha being silly with Hercules. Awwww!