By: Angeline Hong
“Goodnight, I am going to sleep now!” It was only 9pm when I could hardly open my eyes anymore and immediately fell asleep after heading to bed. It was the 3rd night after arriving in this small neighbourhood called Tubud Mar in Jagna where the friendliest Filipinos (no doubt!) reside. Despite a simple house with no air conditioner, no Wi-Fi, no stable water and electricity supply, the warmth and hospitality of the host family definitely compensated all the above. I was assigned into the Sangria family with my roommate, Zoya. Reno (host father) and Neneng (host mother) have two wonderful children – Reannie and Ryan and their nephew, MJ lives with them as well.
Harmonious family life
The family lives next to Neneng’s extended family houses. There are three houses next to each other with a “nipa hut” made of bamboo in the middle where the families spend time together in the evening and after dinner. They will share about their day, sing songs together or weave doormats for Rebecca’s (Neneng’s sister) business. I really enjoy the conversations with them especially when smiles and laughter serves as our common language. As Rebecca has a television in her house, on some days, we would watch movies together at night while the men in the family watches NBA in the morning.
Every morning when I wake up, the family members would great me with a loud “Good morning!”. When I return home from my business, they would ask me “How was your day?” with a bright smile. It makes me feel like I am part of their family. In busy cities, people hardly see their immediate family every day, what more extended family?
When I first arrived, going to bed at 9pm and getting up at 6am seemed strange, eating rice for breakfast seemed unusual and showering with cold water at night seemed unbearable. My usual habits formed by living in the cities my whole life have been deviated after living here for 10 days. I started to understand and adapt to their habits.
People go to bed early so that they can start their day before sunrise the next day because they do not have privilege of air conditioner when heat from the sun begins creeping into their houses; they need high amount of carbohydrates for breakfast because most of their jobs involve physical energy instead of sitting comfortably in an office typing away on their computers, moreover rice is an affordable commodity; cold water showers because they have other priorities than a water heater system at home.
One day, Nepthali (Neneng’s brother-in-law) asked me what are the differences between Philippines compared to Hong Kong and Malaysia – since he is adapted to this place, some things that happen might seem unusual to me but normal to him. I thought for a while and realized that I am adapting not just to the environment but also to the people culture. In Jagna, while walking along the beach, people would just smile and strike a conversation with you, maybe because they hardly see unfamiliar faces in this small town. Back home, my parents always warned me not to speak to strangers because you will never know what their motives are. Since I am here, I have to put my guards down and immerse into their culture. I am glad it worked well so far and I have met many friendly Ati (aunty in Bisaya language)!
“Although we face many problems, we will never avoid and will overcome them once at a time,” said Reno during our conversation after dinner one day.
Living a simple yet contented life summarises my host family perfectly. Reannie and Ryan’s education is the priority in their lives, although they might have many “wants” in life (eg: have better meals or a fridge), they are willing to sacrifice so that their children are able to pursue better education. Secondary education in Philippines is not free, it is because Reannie is a scholar in her school that they are able to send both the children to secondary school.
As they have personally experienced the disadvantages without higher education such as unable to seek for a stable job, they are determined to send them to university. The parents’ biggest dream is to be able to afford to send Reannie for tertiary education aborad and not compromise on her ambitions due to financial constraints. Reannie is a talented girl with mature thinking who definitely has a bright future ahead of her! She has a beautiful voice which has won tremendous number of singing competitions over the years and made her parents proud.
“Eat more, eat more, take more rice!”
“It’s alright, I already had enough.”
“Are you sure?”,
giving me a doubtful expression, Neneng and I always bicker over the dining table as she is worried I am not eating enough. Reno and Neneng worry and care a lot for Zoya and I, treating us like their own daughters. Although they might not have ample food, they will definitely make sure we are well fed.
After volunteering in Thailand last summer and being in Philippines this year, I have been pondering upon how can I make an impact to the communities in less fortunate places. To be honest, I am still figuring out. I am guilty of feeling blessed only after I witnessed their circumstances because I truly learnt so much from them. Despite the challenges they face, they strongly believe that being humble and hardworking will bring them success. Although they do not have much, they are always generous in serving others. Even though they are less fortunate, they are always happy and satisfied with what they have. Sometimes, I do wonder if these stops them from moving forward and achieving more in life. On the other hand, I also believe that success is not only measured by the abundance of wealth, but the power to bring positive impact to the surrounding people and I am confident they have done it.
I truly appreciate the time I spent in Tubod Mar, the Sangria family went many extra miles to make us feel comfortable and at home. I am glad to say that I have found a family beyond home in the Philippines.
My experience does not end here; one day I want to give back to this community.