It has been quite a wild ride since landing in the Philippines 10 days ago. It feels like I’ve been here a month or two already because we’ve had so much packed into our time thus far. I won’t go over everything right now, but I know there will be more reflections and thoughts coming about these experiences because I already feel like my life has been changed-it’s just a lot to take in right now.
After the first week of being here, I told a fellow YAV Emily that if I went home right now, this would have already been worth it. I would already be different and look at the world in new ways. Obviously, coming home from trips and intense experiences can feel like that for awhile before slipping back into normal routines and ways of thinking, but I know in my heart that this will be different. I am extremely thankful that I will be here for a year so all of these feelings and experiences will be intensified and more personal before I leave. Since I haven’t settled in to where I’ll be living (which is still up in the air I’m told) I don’t have routines yet, but I already feel like I LIVE in the Philippines and I seriously love it. These past 10 days have been far from easy or a ‘honeymoon phase’ so I know it’s not that kind of feeling. I just seriously love it here already and I am so blessed to be living the life I’m living.
I didn’t know what to expect coming in to our orientation period, but I am grateful for it in many ways. We flew into Manila and stayed there one night before flying down to Davao City the next morning. We stayed in Davao for 3 days to adjust to jet-lag, learn about the Philippines through seminars and discussions, get closer to each other, and prepare for our immersions. From Davao we went into the Compostela Valley and subsequently into the mountains of that region (on crazy motorcycles that I loved-sorry Mom) for 3 days to stay in an indigenous community. We then came out of the mountains and went to Tagum City for one day to get some supplies, rest, shower (kind of), and go to a karaoke bar. From Tagum we went back to the Compostela region into a banana plantation community to stay with workers for a few days and tour some packing plants and discuss what life looks like for the folks living and working there. That brings us to now-back in Davao at what feels like home base for us at the moment. Every time we talked about Davao we all got sentimental and wished we were back at a place with beds, toilets, clean clothes and wifi. I know that I will forever be grateful for those things, and many others, from now on.
Since I can’t break down all of the impactful experiences right now, I will describe one of them to you to hopefully paint a small picture of what my life looks like right now.
In the indigenous community there is a school where children from the region live because it’s too far to travel home often/at all. There are very few schools in IP (indigenous people) communities, and this is one of the good ones. The teachers are volunteers with great educations who want to spread the joy of knowledge to kiddos who wouldn’t normally be receiving it. When we got to the end of our motorcycle ride and saw where we would be, we stood there speechless. It was the most beautiful place full of the most beautiful people. It was one of the most welcoming environments I’ve ever been in. One evening at supper we ate in the common house (20‘x10’ room) that includes the kitchen. There were about 40 of us in the room eating and socializing by candlelight-there is no electricity or running water. Some people were singing, some were playing games, some enjoying their food in silence, some giggling about our attempts at speaking their language, and then there was me. I sat in the midst of all of the various noises trying to take them all in and remember that moment. There were two little kids counting my toes out loud over and over to practice their numbers, and about every other time they would stop at my toe rings and play with them. They would stare at me with amazement when I spoke and get the biggest smiles when I would play with their hair or count with them.
As they continued to touch my toes I went back to sitting and taking it all in. I kept saying “Remember this moment. Remember these feelings.” in my head as I sat there. My heart was full to the brim with love and gratitude. I cannot express how privileged I feel to have been there with those people and to have lived along side them for a brief moment in time. They are living in such a different world than I am used to, but I have to tell you friends that it is a glorious world. It doesn’t have the same comforts we’re used to, but the community and love present in that place is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. I will take the mental images and videos of that place with me where ever I go from here on out. My heart is still full of gratitude each and every day-even the days with motion sickness, exhaustion, and a dirty body-because I am forever changed.