By: Suhail Bindra
I found myself lying awake at 2 am despite the fact that I would have to wake up at 5 am in order to reach the airport. Having never experienced serious insomnia before, I wondered why I was unable to close my eyes and enjoy the beautiful (and rather inappropriate) images that usually keep me entertained in my sleep. The answer was not as simple as I had hoped. Unlike a number of concerned parents who coerced their adult offspring to drop out of the course, the strained diplomatic relationship between China and the Philippines was the last thing on my mind. Perhaps I, like any normal person, was anxious to throw myself in a new environment that I had never experienced before. Perhaps I was excited about all the new people I would become acquainted with or overly optimistic about changing the lives of the sole proprietors I would work for. I’m still unsure why I was unable to sleep on the night of 28th July 2016.
Soon after landing in Tagbilaran, I found myself on a bus headed to Jagna with 20 of my peers from The University of Hong Kong. Although I was impressed by the driver’s skills, I was equally fearful for my life due to his persistent attempts to overtake cars ahead of us on a windy road while facing oncoming traffic. With my head partly out of the vehicle’s window, I could taste the dust in the air and feel my eyes gradually redden. The dense foliage that surrounded the road suddenly disappeared and I was greeted by a light blue sea that extended as far as my eye could see. The rocky beaches, traversed by many locals and travellers alike, induced a tingle of excitement in my stomach. I was already at peace, far away from home, leaving behind the unending hustle and bustle that I had become accustomed to, or rather endured, for far too long in Hong Kong.
I was immediately greeted by smiles and friendly waves while walking through the village of Tubod Mar, which would be my home for the next 25 days. As the wheels of my colleagues’ designer suitcases complained about the torture they had endured on the rocky and muddy terrain up to the village, I couldn’t help but think that we were misfits in this environment. Trying to hide my grin, I shouldered my bag that contained all my possessions for the trip and was led into the warm household of Paz and Junior.
With the unending smiles and giggles of all members of the household, including their daughter Irish that attended university nearby, I was immediately at ease. The decorations in the house reflected their Catholic values, with crosses, pictures of Christ, and instructions on how to say ‘Grace’ pinned to the walls. The family oriented culture of Bohol was apparent from the conversation at the dinner table, which revolved around how spouses, uncles, aunties, children, nephews and other relatives were doing in the village. Within an hour, I was soon fairly confident that I could draw up a family tree of their entire extended family. I can’t say the same for friends in Hong Kong that I have known for years since our conversation, in stark contrast, would usually revolve around our career aspirations or how we should have shorted the pound before Brexit occurred.
Although the family I stayed with lacked financial resources, I found them to be incredibly wealthy. I was consistently reminded of how handsome I am, not only from the family members, but also from a lady who was selling soap at their doorstep. I’m not sure whether they were simply being nice or giving me a genuine compliment, but I always like to think the latter. It’s clear that people here tend to speak their mind. I can learn from them.
Although we come from different worlds, I was amused to find that Irish and her friend Janice were obsessed with taking ‘selfies’ and distributing them indiscriminately to their friends over social media. After all, teenage girls will be teenage girls. I only wish that they were the ones to pay me compliments on my boyishly handsome looks, as opposed to their mothers. We played card games as the house cat caught a mouse and proceeded to slowly torture it. The ants carried a moth to their house and salivated in anticipation of their feast, and the village kids babbled on endlessly outside as the sun started to set. I was happy.
I couldn’t help but wonder why this family was not as monetarily endowed as those in Hong Kong. Why do their businesses not grow into million dollar enterprises? I think it is perhaps that they are too honest, too selfless, and too kind. They are more generous even though they have less. Incapable of exploiting resources or people around them, they lack the greed and disregard for others which often is a prerequisite to amassing financial wealth, but often fatal to achieving anything close to happiness. They simply work to satisfy their needs and their wants don’t seem to extend much further. They lack a desire for the unnecessary, a thirst for materialism, which I think keeps them content. Their priorities are clearly in the right place. I can’t imagine these people suffering from insomnia. I have a lot to learn.
I was surprised at the trouble that the family went through to please us during dinner. We were served rice, noodles, fish, pork, and for dessert, fruits of all kinds. Everything tasted wonderful and had a lot of flavor, something that I was not used to after having been on exchange in the UK for the previous academic year. After laughing and talking to the family, with my belly full, I soon retired to my bed. I was surprised again to find that I was an inch or two too tall for the bed, an issue that I had never experienced before as a man of 5”6. Pleased with myself, I had no trouble sleeping on the night of 29th July 2016.