That title could refer to two different things. The feeling of returning home after a long three weeks abroad, sleeping in your bed for the first time in a while, and being surrounded by simple comforts again OR being immersed in a completely different society, with new and exciting surprises around every corner, amazingly warm and receptive people, and opportunities for external and internal discovery everyday.
Needless to say, I am finally home after a long two days (that really happened all in ONE day) of travel. My three week study abroad seminar in the Philippines has come to a close and I have to say, it was pretty life changing. I already feel like a different person in the number of ways and am already seeing changes in how I see my everyday life and the choices I and those around me make.
In my last check in with you all I mentioned wrapping up my Philippines adventure in a series of about three posts. But after sharing more with my parents yesterday and today about my trip, I feel like I’m bursting at the seams and just have a ton to share RIGHT NOW. So I think I am just going to go with a good ol’ list of observations and thoughts I have. It might be a little random and a little out of order but I think it’ll get the job done of filling in the gaps and conveying the final details of the trip that I’ve yet to cover on the blog! And of course there’ll be a good dose of pictures to look at too!
Here we go…
-Visiting New Bilibid Prison was one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip. Not only was it my first time in a prison but I was able to see how vastly different the Filippino prison system is in comparison with America’s. This place, while still a place of restriction and punishment, gives people the chance to truly reform themselves rather than be treated as less than human. On our trip inside we only saw one actual corrections officer (keep in mind this is a MAXIMUM security compound), the rest of the monitoring and security measures were under taken by other prisoners who had applied and earned the responsibility of serving on the Pastoral Security Force run by one of the prison’s many faith organizations. They even had the responsibility of protecting our group that day. The prison is also full of green spaces, color, and is set up like a typical Filippino community. Living quarters are called dorms rather than cells and are only locked from the hours of 7pm to 6am. Prisoners have the opportunity to open shops, cook their own food, and provide services that they would in the outside world inside the prison walls. There are games, conversations, religious ceremonies, and sporting events taking place every direction you turn and everyone greeted us with a smile and a pleasant greeting. It certainly felt like no jail I’d ever imagined. We even had lunch with some of the inmates and were able to interview them. I have to say talking with a prisoner with the death sentenced was a once in a lifetime experience for me and I will never forget all the things I took away from our conversation. Most of all, I came away with a better understanding of what justice is in the Philippines and in particular the NBP prison. It has its flaws of course and the men inside certainly do deserve punishment for the crimes they’ve committed but treating them like human beings and not completely stripping people of their ties to normal society is a better means of changing them as people then just locking them away forever with no hope of reform or repentance.
-Traffic in the Philippines is organized chaos. Whereas in China I just thought I would die at any second while driving around…in the Philippines I only felt slightly afraid for my life. 🙂 The driving, although very reckless and dangerous without any legitimate traffic signals or stop signs, is quite unnerving, but the drivers themselves have a mutual understanding for the unspoken ways of the road and are some how able to navigate the endless swarms of motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians,cars, taxis, vans, and jeepnees (like a more inexpensive taxi service) without (although getting verrrrrrry close) ever hitting each other. Let’s just say, lane lines are just for decoration in the Philippines.
-The people of the Philippines are some of the most welcoming, happy, friendly, and courteous people I’ve ever met. They are so generous with their time, energy, resources, and smiles. They pretty much epitomize the essence of Lending a Healthy Hand and are always willing to help out someone else in any way they an. They certainly put others needs in front of their own and in some ways do a little too much for you! Doors are held open, dishes are cleared, bags are lifted, and in so many other tasks that you would normally complete on your own are done for you.
-In connection to my last point, there are a lot of ‘extra’ job positions in the Philippines. Meaning a lot of people do jobs that normally wouldn’t even exist. This is partially due to the fact that there are large numbers of unemployed people in the Philippines so industries have created jobs so they can employ people and allow people to earn at least some sort of wage to live on. Grocery stores have ‘customer service attendants’ at almost every station, every door has a security guard and a door opener, there are tons of cleaning people, no one does their own laundry, more than one waiter takes care of a table at a restaurant, an attendant pumps your gas, and many other seemingly needless positions.
-It is very hard to eat out with a group at a restaurant because kitchens don’t do any prep work so all the food is served as it’s ready…meaning at all different times. Unless, that is, you’re at one of the numerous fast food restaurants (they are VERY popular and can be found every few feet on any given street) in which case everything is prepackaged and pre-made and only has to be heated up. People here LOVE fast food! Kind of like how it was big in the US in the 80’s and 90’s. (Fried chicken is the most popular food any where you go!) The Philippines is kind of going through that phase now and experts think that they will begin to see huge rises is lifestyle diseases and obesity in the next decade or so.
-All cabs have different names, most have rosaries hanging on the mirrors, and some kind of scripture written on the back bumper. A testament to how important faith and god are in this society. Especially Catholicism, which over 85% of the population is.
-Being someone who is very irreligious, it was very interesting to witness so many religious ceremonies and learn more about the details and differences of the various faith communities. But surprisingly, learning more about the ins and outs of different religions didn’t convert me or make me more religious. It actually reaffirmed my disagreement with the institution of religion. However, I still LOVE learning about religion from an academic and analytical view point!
-Crackers are called biscuits! Just like in the UK!
-Po is a term of endearment. So you could say, “good morning, po” or “thank you, po”.
-An American dollar goes along way in the Philippines…the exchange rate is a little over 40 to 1! So things are a lot cheaper here. I did laundry a few times for under two dollars and haircuts are advertised as less than a dollar in some places!
-Nothing compares to fresh ocean fish. I had some of the best seafood of my life during the trip.
-Toilet paper is not widely available. You either have to carry a roll with you or use the native method of a ‘dip bucket’.
-Being immersed in such hardship and poverty first hand has really made me rethink the way I see the less fortunate in my own community. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to walk past a homeless person again without at least acknowledging them with a smile and an offering of a few words or coins.
-Filippino smiles are infectious. Everyone is always smiling and it’s so refreshing to see.
-5 traits of the Filippino people stick out most in my mind…
- Makipagkapwa: a sense of shared identity…the Filippino no who they are and no where they came from, there is a sense of shared community and togetherness no matter what area of the country you are in…family is so important
- Mapag-Alaga: caring for others…as mentioned above, the people in the Philippines are among the most kind and caring of any people I’ve ever met…I am honored to have been the recipient of their great hospitality for three weeks.
- Madamdamin: sensitivity to others and to oneself…there is great concern for others and for being involved in each others lives.
- Mahirap: acceptance of the limited good…despite limited access to physical resources, wealth, or even opportunities, the Filippino people are excellent at making use of what they have, being grateful for the things they have been afforded, and being very adaptable to less than desired living conditions. For this I give them so much credit and am in awe of their resilience and determination.
- Maka-Diyos: alignment with deities or the supernatural…as I said before, religion is deeply embedded in Filippino culture…it is found in every crack and corner of each persons existence and truly shapes who the people are physically, mentally, and emotionally.
(the above words are in the Filippino language of Tagalog)
Overall, my trip was incredible. I learned and experienced so much in such a short amount of time and really do feel changed as a person. I’m still staying up late at night processing all that I saw, felt, and touched…but all I keep thinking about is what I can do to affect real change in the world that is so desperately needed in places like the Philippines. I have a feeling most of my summer will be spent pondering that question and I will definitely keep you all in the loop when I come up with something.
If you want to get caught up on all my Philippines centric posts here are the links to them…
Also if you have any questions about my trip please feel free to ask me! I will address them in another post….or maybe even a vlog??? 🙂
Hope you all have a great weekend! Remember Lend a Healthy Hand comes back from hiatus next FRIDAY! So start submitting your healthy helps and get ready to spread the good deeds and kindness once again!