About two months ago, I visited the Philippines (more specifically the Aeta tribe in Zambales) on an overseas service learning trip with my school mates. I have since delayed writing this post firstly (and mainly) because I am a lousy procrastinator and secondly because I was waiting till I got my film with pictures from the trip back so that I could attach them along to this post.
And now that I’ve finally gotten my film back, I no longer have any reason to procrastinate any longer so it’s time to start.
Our trip lasted 10 days in October. I can’t remember the exact date anymore but I don’t think it really matters. Over the 10 days, every passing day left me more and more alive, every sunrise washing away the gray that had silently found its way into my body. I remember the days leading up to the trip. I remember constantly having a slight headache and feeling like no matter how much I slept it still wouldn’t be enough because I was still tired. It doesn’t take much to recall because I still feel it every once in awhile.
This is probably one of my favourite pictures from the trip because it reminds me of the evenings we spent with the kids by the river at the end of each day. Thinking back on those few hours leaves me with a warm sort of glow, maybe it’s from the golden sheets of light that fell upon us each day or maybe it’s remembering the laugher of the kids as they swam and ran around with us by the river. Maybe it’s both.
It’s not just being at the river though, the walks there and back were such blessed moments as well. We had all the time we wanted with the kids and we got to talk to them in strings of broken english and tagalog as we all tried so hard to be more than the language barrier that danced between us.
I remember one evening where this little boy Jerald, about 7 years old, held my hand and walked me all the way from the hostel down to the river bank. Whenever the kids walked with us, they took care to walk slower than they usually did, pointing out stones and variations in the path to warn us. Even though we were a good 10 years or so older than quite a number of them, they were our little guardians, knowing we were not nearly as adept as them in navigating the paths of their village. On the walk home, he again walked with me and at about halfway back to the hostel, there was a fork in the path and most of his friends ran along the left fork while our hostel was down the right fork. They called for him to join them for a bit but he just shook his head, smiled and continued walking with us and a few of the other children back to the hostel. So we continued walking for a bit before I realised his house was probably down the left fork like his friends! And with the help of one of my Filipino classmates, I managed to ask him if he lived down the left fork. For awhile all I got was a shy small before he finally nodded. After that it took multiple questions before I managed to wave him back on his way home.
And he wasn’t alone in accompanying us on our way back to our hostel. Every night after dinner at the chieftain’s house (and boy is nanay marina a good cook) the kids would walk with us back to our hostel by the light of our torchlights and the moon along the otherwise pitch black path. With them by our side, the path was livened up by chatter and laughter as they guided us through the grass and away from the many cow pat sites along the way. After reaching the hostel, they would bid a quick goodbye and then sprint all the way back to their homes. Without us, they were so much faster and they had no need for the battery operated torchlights that were so vital to us in the dark.
I remember the night I had a throbbing headache from a mixture of over-activity and dehydration, I remember Hazel, Emmi and Erika coming over to ask me what was wrong as I sat out of a number of activities. I remember their voices easing away the pain that had been an unwelcoming visitor for the past hour or so.
Months on from the trip I look at the necklaces that Hazel and Richard gave me and I remember all their warm hearts, their countless wild-flower bouquets and the time we all spent together. They gave us so much more than we could honestly ever hope to give them. It’s astounding how they can have so much and so little at the same time. The tiniest things like a full bottle of soap were so incredible to them. On our last evening at the river we had two full bottles of biodegradable soap and shampoo to finish so we ended up bathing the kids as well and, honestly, holding their hands on the way back I could feel the difference. Their hands felt so much smoother, so much cleaner.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about that then, I’m still not sure now.
But one thing I’m sure about is that whatever we do for the children, for the village, we should never ever do anything to those incredible hearts of theirs. And these children will grow up to be incredible adults as well – like the children, all the adults that we met were so welcoming to us and so willing to teach us everything about their culture.
With their supervision, we learnt how to plough the land, harvest rice, and (tried to) identify which wild roots and plants were safe for eating and which weren’t. Despite being sick, the chieftain still made every effort to go hiking with us, interact with us and tell us all about the history of the land. And despite them having so much to give us with the richness of their culture, they were so so humble and so kind to all of us. Being the first group of outsiders that have actually stayed with them for an extended period of time, they were so grateful to us being there and trying to help them and spread their culture and show the world who they were and what they were about.
The way he spoke to us made me cry because suddenly I realised how much us being there meant to them and I felt like I barely knew where to start to live up to all they were already thanking us for.
Hopefully in 6 months time we’ll get to go back and do something for this amazing tribe that has given us so much in the short span of time we were there.
On the first day that we were there, one of the village girls Theresa said this to me, “Yeah, Maporak is beautiful”.
It is, and so are its people.