where should I start? It’s been a rough and bumpy year for the two of us. A whole lot of new experiences, heat, realizations about this world, cockroaches, rice, conversations and bliss. When I tell people I went to live in the Philippines for one year, they associate dreamy beaches, nice weather and colorful fruit – holiday mainly:
Then they sigh and say: lucky you! An it’s true, I am very lucky. Not only because I got to see those paradise like places, but because of so much more you have to offer. What most people cannot imagine though, is that most of the time I spent with you, I spent in dirt, in traffic, hunting cockroaches and rats or in front of my fire place.
Your first lesson for me was to learn how to live from day to day. It was a jump in at the deep end, because there was no way I could continue my efficient, planning lifestyle with out a fridge or even a water boiler. I would go to the market everyday to buy food and charcoal. It is impossible to conserve food because of the heat on the one hand and insects on the other hand. Aunts would somehow always find their way into my plastic boxes. There’s nothing I can do about it. It didn’t take long until I was like: grit your teeth and get to it, and thought of it as extra protein. Lesson number 2 you taught me: some things are out of my control.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)
The whole insect issue was not really a problem for me. I mean it’s not that I like cockroaches or rats but whatever I do, they’ll always be there. What bothered me more were the thousands of mosquitos. Especially during rainy season I tried hard not to be bidden too often, because I was worried to get Dengue fever. But again it is hopeless, they’ll bite anyway. And in the end it makes sense to ask whether it’s healthier to use Off lotion, which is forbidden to be sold in the EU and is probably carcinogenic, all day long.
My little sensitivities gave me a hard time in the beginning, but when I started to understand what bothers you all day long, it was worse. I hate to see you broken and weak like this. Manila bursting at the seams, so that you’re people live under the worst circumstances in basically any possible place, even a cemetery (whole article). I hate to have you admiring me for nothing but a huge bit of luck. I hate to know the truth about your missed but earning loved ones, who live abroad in Dubai or Lebanon. And I hate that I don’t have a clue of how to change any of it. On top of all that, the realization that most of your sorrows originate from colonialism. That makes those who you look up to, those who have put you in this situation in the first place.
I love and I hate how you sometimes don’t care. The first example that comes to my mind is that huge ship in the port of Iloilo. It’s been laying there for months now and nobody seems to know what has happened to it. But even if it’s completely broken, everything would be more profitable than leaving it there. Oh well, the ship made me laugh every time but in truth it’s very sad. How are you supposed to grow/evolve when you’re not aware of your resources and capabilities?
This leads me to my favorite topic of anger: the rubbish situation. This is the one thing I cannot make you responsible for, yet cannot forgive you. I know you have bigger fish to fry. I just wish you would rudimentarily be aware of what an extraordinary beautiful ecosystem your islands are. Or at least for your own health, stop burning rubbish. I tried my best, but the war against plastic bags is a Sisyphean challenge. I pray that it won’t be too late.
Not to begin with the mischiefs in your politics. It would be a lie to say nothing’s in progress in your country. Economical growth is happening in your capital, but the provinces don’t profit. It’s no wonder when local politics have been under the power of one family for decades. I had to realize that one can be dumb without end, as long as there’s money one can always have a career in politics. The whole situation is screaming for change, but how is it to be done? All I know is Duterte cannot be it. I never understood your admiration/the ignorance of what’s happening.
Did somebody say corruption? This makes me think of an anecdote that once happened to me when I wanted to withdraw money. “‘My request could not be processed’, why is that?” I asked the bank’s security guard and he answered with out looking up: “Because of power and corruption…”. The only time I ever got in touch with this stuff was at the immigration office I think. One of my all time favorite places… not. Every time I went there, the prices for my visa extension were different. It sounds funny but it made me angry to pay ridiculous extra fees like “express lane” that change nothing. But again, there’s nothing I can do about it.
Your superstitions make me laugh and angry at the same time. How can you seriously believe in spirits, trolls and fairies? How can you be in bondage like that? And where I never got behind: how does all of this fall in line with christianity?
Speaking of your faith: you amazed me. Coming from the least religious place on earth, Eastern Germany, I couldn’t believe how so many – no actually all of you – believe. I have to say you live a strange version of Christianity. From horror stories of people who are voluntarily crucified during easter to celebrations of events that didn’t even happen according to the bible (some islands celebrate the reunion of Jesus and his mother after he was resurrected). Even though I’m convinced that a great part has never ever read a single page of the bible, it was a pleasure to see and feel your spirituality. I found it an interesting experience also regarding my own faith.
They call you an americanized piece of Spain, with no culture except what emperors of the past centuries have left with you. But good god, you know how to celebrate fiesta! And even if there’s Lechon (pigling) for every single occasion it doesn’t matter. These events are your own. Even if I can barely finish one plate of food by courtesy, I would always go, because this is you in a nutshell. Fiesta means family, food, hospitality, karaoke, more food and Lechon obviously. I was blown away by Dinagyang festival in January. As much as I hated the beauty contest, I loved the tribe performances.
On your thousands of islands the party never stops. As much as I regretted every night club visit in Iloilo, I wish back to all the fun nights in Smallville (night life district of Iloilo) or your cozy beach bars. I mean, what kind of world is it, where rum is cheaper than coke? It was a hell of a New Years Eve in Boracay last year – salamat gid Bryan.
One year wearing slippers and the shittiest clothes, like grandma-style maxi skirts. It didn’t matter at all, because I would still be “Miss beautiful” for you. And to speak the whole truth: All of them mold anyway.
Among the things I miss the most, your Jeepneys definitely make the top 3. Regardless if in the front, in the back, on the roof, with chicken between my feet or a 100 year old lollo (grandpa) on my lap – I love riding a jeepney! Jeepneys are a lifestyle. Even though they’re super loud and probably the main polluters, they will always have a special place in my heart. 🙂
Unfortunately I cannot say the same about your food. To summarize this long story of suffering, I’ll just say: you stay under your possibilities. With out doubt the best you have to offer is your fruit. I love all of them and they outclass everything my german super markt offers.
I would like to take the opportunity to pick the grossest and yummiest you have to offer. Basically I’m a huge fan of your vegetarian dishes like fried eggplant, bitter melon or munggo. Furthermore I would never turn down a sweet sin like a fresh halo halo, banana cue or bibingka.
But as much as I’d like to, I have no understanding why and how you can enjoy a boiled developing duck embryo (balut), boiled pig blood, duck feet or pig intestines. I am more than sure that I ate my lifetime ration of dried and later fried fish. There’s only one question left unanswered: How can you call this buko (coconut) salad?
Oh Philippines, you have so much to offer. I will never forget the amazing memories I made when traveling from island to island, discovering your hidden gems. It’s hard to realize though that most of my friends from Iloilo won’t ever be able to see all this.
From the 8th world wonder: the Rice Terraces of Batad
to the Chocolate Hills and tarsiers of Bohol
to swimming with whale sharks and chasing waterfalls in Cebu
As off-hook as it sounds, but during the course of visiting all those amazing places, one becomes kind of choosy. One natural wonder trumps the other and in the end it’s the quit and raw places that fascinate the most. I’m in love with all your unpopular paradises left for me to explore, unlike other southeastasian countries.
Iloilo city, you little piece of dirt. Filipinos call you City of Love but I’m afraid you cannot compete with Paris – the “other” city of love -, to be completely honest with you. Quite the opposite, you are kind of the only place that turned out a lot less – or rather not at all – beautiful, looking back. You’re importance is founded on your inhabitants, food places and open air concerts or art galleries you hold. Other than that you actualize the shady sides of urbanization. Among those firstly your terrible pollution, the dirt and waste in general; poverty and slums; waifs, adults throughout the day and drunk at night – to name a few. I’m glad I didn’t live here permanently, but I certainly enjoyed the big city life experience during the weekends. How special is though, to have my buko (coconut) juice lady of trust in a city on the other side of the world?
Guimaras my love, you are literally what I call paradise. I love you for much more than your mangoes, even though I love them a lot already. [Background information: Guimaras is the neighbouring island of Panay that is said to have the sweetest mangos in the world (full article). Once a year they hold a mango festival to worship them. Read about my mango-all-you-can-eat experience here.] You are a green wonderland, much needed escape, clean air, you are an untouched beauty. Stay the way you are please.
Thank you Philippines, for paving me the way to find eternal piece with me, myself and I and a hammock. The truth lies in the fact that one doesn’t need more than that. With this, a whole different style of traveling opened up to me. I reckon this is your most precious gift to me. I would NEVER have had the courage to hitchhike!
And like it is probably anywhere in the world: there are plenty of acquaintances and a precious hand full of friends. I am so thankful for every minute.
And of course salamat gid to my SOS family. There are obviously no words. You guys know already.
It felt weird and rash to leave you, when there was still war going on in Mindanao. When my little village got a bomb threat. When summer had finally ended and water started to run more frequently through my faucet. But really this was the end of my endless summer. It was a time of crisis, when ISIS raged in Marawi, relatives of the local islamists suddenly showed up at the port of Iloilo. When the NPA decided the time had come to take action again and raided the police station of our neighboring village Maasin. And all along I updated myself using foreign media. I didn’t want to feel unsafe on your streets at night, but how was I not to, when nobody had a clue what was going on? Even though I was expecting our foreign office to withdraw us german volunteers any minute for the last couple of weeks, my return flight came earlier than expected. It was hectic, it was emotional and sudden.
What I take along with me to “real life” is sadly less than I planned on. That’s how it always goes. Never underestimate the power of habits. But what I keep with me every day is the filipino point of view. Every time I walk the streets, my university or the super market. I cannot help but wonder what a filipino would think right now.
Sex tourism to me, is one of the worst felonies of mankind. The whole problem gets to me on a very personal level, when I see that the perpetrators live right here. Make it stop!
Even if I could, I wouldn’t change a single thing about our year together. Mahal kita, and: nahidlaw ako gid sa imyo ❤