by: Nahoma Maentz
I consider myself fortunate to have done a bit of traveling around the Philippines when I was younger. While others may have their sights set on going overseas, I was more hooked locally. I wanted to see my own. Get to know it first before “conquering the world”. I was always intrigued about the rice terraces of Banaue, the mummies in Kalinga, the reefs in Apo Island and Malapascua, the Philippine eagles in Davao, the lush forests in Negros Island, of the high Maria Cristina Falls, of that aircraft debris up in Mt. Manunggal and more. I’ve always wondered, what could be in all those 7,107 islands that make up the archipelago? I kept hearing in school that this country is rich in natural resources. All those black and white textbooks said it. All those backpackers said it. All those Philippine post cards showing turquoise-green waters located in God knows where said it.
So I did go, whenever I could afford to and saw with my very own eyes that it’s not a lie. Indeed, the Philippines is an absolutely beautiful country, from its mountains down to its seas. No doubt about it. It’s worth exploring every nook and cranny. Well, except the big cities.
Oma with Tumihays family in southern Palawan, a Tau't Bato tribe.
With the Katutubong Filipino Project we get to see more of the country especially those locations that are harder to reach. While I am grateful for this rare opportunity, going to all these almost inaccessible places is starting to take its toll on me, physically and emotionally. Whereas those long and bumpy, very dusty bus rides from before meant nothing but sheer fun to my once youthful, adventurous spirit, I find myself whining lately. I am slugging, so to speak. My husband can very well attest to that.
I can’t however allow myself be overcome with these inconveniences. It is certainly true that there are days when I’d rather be stuck in my comfort zone than out in the field. When I’d wish for a softer bed to lay on at night. And better-tasting meals. There is one thing however, that I believe will carry me through until the project is finished. And they are the people we encounter, the local folks – our trike drivers, boatmen, the kagawads and barangay captains, the sari-sari store owners who gladly volunteer to cook for us, our little companions during bath-times in the river. They who have been our trustworthy guides, who didn’t ask for much or anything. Most of the time, these are the people who linger in our memory long after we’ve settled back into our normal lives.
The beauty of the natural environment will always leave me in awe but the people we meet in these far-flung areas are by far, the most nurturing to the soul. They live in downright simplicity in places that, for one who lives in and deals constantly with the trappings of a ‘modern’ world , seem so out there. Forgotten. Left behind. Nothing that you would fancy materially. Their life is very simple but really, what more can one need other than food, a roof above their heads, a family? Whatever they lack in an otherwise material world, they make up with their kindred spirits. I am always humbled every time our tricycle driver picks us up early mornings with such eagerness and his trike proudly waiting, all cleaned up. We tell him where to go and almost always takes us somewhere else, beyond our expectations. He waits patiently. He communicates on our behalf. He shares with us a little bit about himself, what makes him happy, his hopes and dreams and at the end of the day, invites us into his home for some gin and fish soup.
There is that one time too after the usual devoid-of-comfort, 3-hour bus ride going into a remote barangay, where we ended up staying at a Kagawad’s house. Not only did they give us the best room (to think we were complete strangers!), our stay also allowed me to witness a most loving relationship between a lola and Carl, an 8-year old grandchild with cerebral palsy. I’ve never been this close before to one afflicted with such and now that I’ve seen what it is like, I’d say nothing else must have kept them going except pure love. I secretly shared that special bond for the three days we stayed with them, delighted just to watch them together. Carl is a happy boy loved by everyone around him and I went away not a bit bothered about the ride going back into town.
Oh, and that night of singing nursery rhymes to Tumihay’s children deep in the valley. What a joy! I started it to entertain them as there was just no way for us to understand each other. They all fell silent as they watched me sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Stars and other silly songs I could think of. When I got done with one, they wanted me to sing some more because for them it’s “mangayun” meaning, beautiful. My heart literally melted. How easy it is to please them! I could only wish I had more time to sing for them. They are a lovely bunch of happy kids.
These are just among a few memorable characters we’ve been fortunate enough to have known. We don’t get it easy all the time as not everyone can be pleasant to deal with. But I’ve noticed that in all the places we’ve visited so far, we always manage to find exactly the right person that can point us to where we ought to go. It’s as if Someone was making sure we are guided well and I take that as a great blessing.
I am convinced now that in every long, arduous, back-breaking journey that still lies ahead of us, there’s a pot of gold waiting when we arrive. I have learned not to worry too much anymore. Someone will be there to take care of us. Without fail. For human kindness abounds in every corner of this planet. Gentle yet strong enough to move us in many, unimaginable ways.
When in my youth the scenery was all I could think of, that seems not to matter anymore. I hold closer to my heart now every person, child and family that offered the best of what little they have, opened their doors freely and welcomed us in. Knowing that they are everywhere, especially in places most unfamiliar to us, is enough for me to set aside any discomfort and focus on what is life-enriching.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. ” Philippians 4:8