By: Tessa Choong
Theme: Home Stay
Last Friday, after a long and exhausting trip we finally set foot on the tropical island of Bohol. While heaving our luggage behind, we painstakingly climbed up the hill of Barangay Tubod Mar to meet the Filipino families who generously offered to be our hosts for the next three weeks. I was pleasantly surprised by the congeniality of the community as we were greeted by warm smiles and gestures. Being surrounded by these fellow villagers and children reminded me of those TV reality shows such as the “amazing race” that I used to watch back in Mauritius and I am glad that I get to experience life with such a close-knit community in a picturesque setting.
I will not deny that I was anxious about life in a rural environment, as I have never lived with strangers before while travelling abroad, however having spent this first week with my host family, I can definitely say that it has been an enriching escapade which has increased my awareness about the issues faced by the villagers of a developing country. Having said that let me tell you more about my wonderful journey with my adopted family. I am lucky to have been assigned to a family of four adorable children and their lovely mother, Myrne, as our home is always full of life laughter. It is a nice change from Hong Kong where I live on my own and quite frankly often have to deal with the highly dreaded feeling of loneliness.
As the children’s dad has been working abroad for nearly ten years now, I can hardly imagine the hardships that Myrne must have had to go through with four children in tow and this brought me to understand more about the complexities of life for the lower income citizens. The sacrifices made by these families for an adequate salary are much greater than other higher income class households that can afford to bring all their family members abroad to live as expats. Myrne’s husband’s situation is quite reminiscent to that of the domestic workers living in Hong Kong. Living in Tubod Mar has made me realize that nothing should be taken for granted and although first world problems have been our daily doses of stress and will continue as such in the future, a concerted effort should be made to broaden one’s horizon and to live with a compassionate and optimistic heart.
On the day of our arrival, Zishi, my roommate, and I exchanged cheerful glances with the family and tried to make them feel as comfortable as possible. After chitchatting for a little while, we headed to the dimly lit but nicely equipped kitchen for dinner. Before coming to the Philippines, I was intrigued about the culture and the cuisine of the villagers, which I believed would mainly consist of fruits and vegetables. Yet to my surprise, we were served bountiful amounts of meat being fried ham, sausages, grilled chicken and grilled pork and also a typical Filipino dish being deep-fried fish with salt seasoning. On hindsight, I believe that the reason behind the plentiful amount of meat was because our host family was relatively wealthier than the other villagers and could thus afford to buy it. Perhaps eating meat is a symbol of status here. The cuisine in the Philippines seems to hold quite some similarities to Chinese and Thai food and while I did enjoy those deep-fried delicacies, funnily I found myself looking for vegetables and fruits every time I would eat out for lunch.
I have pretty much well adapted to life in the village as my daily routine now consists of sleeping as early as 10 p.m and waking up at 7 a.m since I would be forcefully dragged out of my deep sleep by the cacophony of the crowing cocks, barking dogs and the morning bustle. I am actually living a healthier life here in Bohol as I am now having breakfast every morning and getting a decent amount of exercise due to hill climbing and backpacking. Spending time with the family has brought me to understand better about the piousness of the villagers and the importance of religion in their lives as they would pray before every meal, attend church every Sunday without fail and even go to church on their birthdays. I have definitely noticed the unbending generosity and the evident trust among the villagers who would come and go freely into each other’s domicile.
Despite the rustic appeal of living in a jungle-like environment for a few weeks, rural life also holds its fair share of inconveniences. Amusingly, my classmates and I ended up having serious talks about poop and toiletry issues and since there is no running water to flush the toilet as they use water-filled buckets here, we would relate to each other about stuck poop and the different means of disposal for the used tissues. I know it sounds gross… But trust me it is an eye-opening experience as you get to realize how privilege you actually are. After spending nearly one week here, I am now quite indifferent to the rats, weird lizards and insects here, as I have come to realize that they are just puny inoffensive creatures.
This amazing adventure with the locals has taught me that the pursuit of money will not always bring happiness and that happiness actually comes from contentment.