What I Learned From The Philippines
I recently spent a month in the Philippines visiting my good friend Lani’s family. Now Lani last went home to PH in 2008 and when she came back, I told her I was going with her the next time. Little did I know it would be almost a decade later, but here we are. We traveled to Baclayan, Catbalogan, Tacloban, Bohol, Cebu, Batangas, and Manila, Philippines.
The path changes direction at any moment.
Just when you think you’ve got everything figured out, you’re comfortable, you’ve got your plan and you’re working on it, God says, “nope”. My trip to the Philippines was one big resounding “NOPE”. Randomly, one day in the midst of our Baclayan visit, doing absolutely nothing but shooting the breeze, a thought popped into my mind.
I could leave my life back home and live here. The thought shocked me and all of these questions followed:
Could I be far away from family and friends for a long time? Could I end or change my creative projects? Could I give up convenience of American life? Could I give up my favorite foods?
Could I take bucket baths daily? Could I deal with unstable internet? Could a boat replace my car? Could I survive typhoons?
Could I find a way to support myself financially? Could I be myself without coming off as disrespectful? Could I adapt to a culture that is very different from my own?
These thoughts let me know everything in life is transient. If you can imagine it and are willing to work for it, it’s possible. So, am I moving to the Philippines? I’ll let you know.
It’s possible to live even more simply.
My friend tried to warn me that things were very “simple” in the province and I think I was prepared for the most part. I probably should’ve downloaded more books before I left, but mostly I managed well.
Here’s the reality of the situation:
Black and brown outs. No microwaves or ovens. Rooster alarm clocks. Hand-washed clothes. Electric fans. Bucket baths disguised as showers. No running water at times...
I really came to understand the value of water. There was no water on demand unless it rained and we arrived at the beginning of the dry season. Otherwise someone had to go to the well or go to another island to get water. Drinking water had to bought or boiled. Since coming back, I’m definitely more conscious of my water consumption.
We ate some variation of the same foods everyday and it was good. There was no daylight savings time which I appreciated. No HBO NOW (#GoT) and the internet wasn’t strong enough to watch Netflix or even visit other sites besides Facebook.
We entertained ourselves by visiting people, taking walks, playing dominos and cards, drinking, swimming, drinking and swimming at the same time, karaoke, talking, reading, and sleeping. It’s hard to not be social, but you can find some time to be alone.
My life was very simple for 27 days and I loved it!
You can still be generous even when you have little.
Generosity is not just measured by how much money or things you can give. It’s also about a generosity of spirit. The ability to give your time and effort to someone.
I talked about the simplicity of life above, but I also have to be careful not to confuse simple with easy. It was humbling and a blessing to see how hard the family worked to provide for us and their own families. We were very well taken care of.
Additionally, I just saw people give and give. The selflessness displayed was inspiring and refreshing.
Respect is important.
This isn’t only a Filipino thing, but they do it very well. Respect is a deeply embedded cultural value that goes beyond what I can understand just from being there for a month. One simple way to show respect is how you address your elders and strangers. Nearly everyone has a title. For example, when speaking to or of an elder sibling, cousin, you say Ate (f) or Kuya (m).
Also, when you encounter your elders, you “mano” them. Mano is when you grab the person’s right hand and touch it to your forehead. You are asking the person to bless you. This gesture was very powerful to see coming from American culture. Mano-ing someone is asking them to honor you with their presence, experience, and wisdom.
Your family will find you wherever you go.
I really didn’t know what to expect going on this trip. I travel for cultural experiences, but I’ve never lived with someone’s family. I’ve know Lani for over 10 years and have spent time with her stateside family throughout the years. Still, I wondered, “What would her family be like? Would we get along? Would they accept me? Is 30 days going to be too long? Would I offend them unintentionally?” I also may have been first black person to visit their village.
I needn’t have worried at all. Actually, I was not prepared for the amount of love and acceptance I received. I never felt like an outsider even though I didn’t know what they were saying half the time. I was told that I “fit” there was a blessing to hear. I gained a whole new family.
Unfortunately since my return, we lost a member of our family. On August 5th, Tita Jovie (below, center), the person who mainly took care of us while we were in Baclayan, passed away unexpectedly. In the wake of this tragedy, I have grown closer to my family there.
The last lesson I learned is this: STOP WAITING TO LIVE. You can’t stop change or the inevitability of death. Let go of everything that is holding you back and LIVE.
With my plans and God’s will, I’m going back to the Philippines. Something there is calling my spirit. Whatever is calling your spirit, go after it.
Want to see more of my Philippines trip? Watch: