Back to the Basics

By Samuel Chan

Picking up my roller bag at the tiny open-air arrivals area, I dragged it towards a middle-aged Filipino holding a sign with my name. After a not-so-small hitch that involved a missed flight, I finally arrived in Bohol 24 hours after the rest of the class.

During the two-hour journey by land to Jagna, the man, Reno, and I chatted about cultural differences and changes he’s seen in the area, everything from the effects of the 2013 earthquake to the overwhelming support for President Duterte. I learnt that he became acquainted with Beau after our professor took a vacation here a while back, and the rest is history. Little did I know I would continue to see Reno for the next few days as I would be staying with his extended family.

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Barangay Tubod Mar, our village in Jagna municipality

My host mom, Rebecca, is one of many children in the Sangria family, and heads a woven mat co-op which will also be my client. Rebecca’s husband, Lito, works as a barber in Cebu to earn a higher salary. She lived there until a few years ago, when she moved away after experiencing a traumatic break-in. Lito still makes monthly trips back to Jagna, and in fact I’ll be meeting him later tonight (papa!).

Ultimately, Lito and Rebecca dream of reuniting permanently and opening their own barbershop in Jagna, but finances are tight at the moment. Distance between family members is an unfortunate but necessary reality for many, as I’ve realised before with overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong (domestic helpers).

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Rebecca’s home (firewood is used for cooking)

Rebecca’s current home in Tubod Mar is basic, the kind you would only read about in storybooks but can never fully register in your head — at least until you experience it firsthand. There’s no wifi, of course, but also no toilet seat, flush, showerhead (think bucket showers!), or stove either. These are mod cons I’ve definitely taken for granted up to this trip. Yet Rebecca and the rest of the Sangria family are incredibly hospitable with the little they have.

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Breakfast prepared by Rebecca (rice is a staple for all three meals)

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After Sunday morning church service

I attended church with my roommate, Kasper, and the extended family the following morning, much to their amusement. Although most of the service was in Bisaya, a local language, it was nice to know I could easily converse in English with most of the congregation afterwards.

It’s exchanges like these which really make me appreciate the friendliness of Filipino people. In the words of my host family, “even if we might not understand, Filipinos will still smile.”

While washing the dishes last night, I asked Reannie, Rebecca’s 17-year-old niece, about her ambitions. The high school junior said she hoped to become an architect in the future but cost is her biggest concern, especially as universities outside Bohol would cost substantially more. It made me think of a friend who involuntarily returned to the Philippines for college and often complains about it, albeit attending a well-known institution in the country. Reannie really put things into perspective.

I had a similar conversation with Estela, Rebecca’s sister, on how education is important for their future. She completed vocational training in midwifery and contemplated moving to Singapore at one point to make more money, but their father rejected the idea. Estela pointed out senior high is not free, unlike many places including Hong Kong, and Reannie was one of the few that received a scholarship. They all seem to have high expectations for her, and I can definitely see a bright future for this child as well as her younger brother Ryan.

These first few days have been incredible in terms of insight and experience, and I’m looking forward to the next three weeks to come. Woke up at 5am this morning for a muddy, hill top workout and hand washed my dirty clothes — another first for me.

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