“Hello po,” I say, bowing my head a little in respect, to the dark-haired elderly man sitting on the slope of the hill where our project was situated.
“Hello,” he says to me, a little surprised, probably because almost all volunteers are foreigners.
“Pinoy ka?” he asks. I nod and smile at him.
“Pasensya na sa aming bahay. Kailangan lang talaga namin ng tulong para ayusin,” he tells me.
(“I apologize for our home. We just really need help in fixing it.”)
I look over at our current work site, scanning over the ruins of what must’ve been a modest house.
It was now all in ruins. The beams had gone down, the cement was broken and everywhere. What remained was an antique railing of an outdoor balcony…and a toilet.
But he had called it his home.
It is where we all lay our heads, after a tiring day of work. It is our sanctuary from all the bad things and people outside. It is where we all come back to after a long, tiring trip.
To some, it is a huge mansion, somewhere beautiful, sitting on the rocks of some unknown beach, tucked away from the buzz of the city life. To others, it is a condo, above the malls of beautiful, hustling Manila. And to the rest, it is a simple, humble home settled in the slopes of Baguio City or the reclamation area that takes away half of Pasig/Cainta floodway area.
It is home.
And we shouldn’t be ashamed of it.
It was October, 2013 when a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit the Visayas and the entire nation was rocked with the aftermath of the tragedy. Thousands of homes and property were ruined and historical churches fell apart.
I spent about 5 days in Antequera, Bohol in January 2014 with the All Hands team that volunteers to help rebuild the homes of the people affected.
Despite having traveled a bit in the Philippines, Bohol was one place where I learned the beauty of living and connecting with the locals.
Each day, we would travel 5-10 minutes to the inner hills of Antequera and Maribojoc, just to get to our work sites which had mostly been the homes of the locals here, crushed to the ground when the massive earthquake hit.
Each day, we would help out a little, some with a sledgehammer, taking down walls that are unsafe to rebuild anymore; some with tools I don’t really know the name of, just to get the old roofs and nails off; some with shovels to pave the way for better foundation of the new home.
And each day, they would take us in, prepare a little merienda (snack), not just once, but twice a day.
Sometimes, it would simply be biscuits and soda. Other times, they’d serve water and climb up coconut trees just so we could eat coconut for merienda.
But then, there are those days, when they’d come out of their made-up tents, clinging onto a tray. They’d call us and offer us warm smiles and a bite at some of the best home-made suman (sticky rice) and fried bananas in melted brown sugar.
We never asked for anything. The big smiles, happy waves and cheers and huge “thanks” all over the concrete roads were enough.
But it was in their culture.
It is in MY culture to give food and snacks to people who visit our homes, even more to those who help out.
And this isn’t an experience you’ll have anywhere else but in the home of a local.
How about you?
Would you take someone into your home just to show them the Filipino culture and tradition?