During my stay here in the Philippines, I’ve met a lot of different people, mostly locals, but I’ve also met a lot of foreigners: a few Americans, a lot of people from France, and some from Latin America, Korea, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, India, Netherlands, Italy, Japan and probably other coutries that I can’t think of right now. It’s really interesting to see the foreigners’ different opinions of the Philippines.
I started thinking of their opinions on a spectrum. On one side are those who are absolutely loving it here, and on the other side are those that are just putting up with it. The spectrum can go even farther to those who hate it here, but I haven’t met those people yet (and hopefully I never will!). Let’s not forget that a person can move around on the spectrum; one person can one day be loving it, and the next day be just putting up with it. For some, the change in food, weather, language, etc. make it really difficult to adjust, so they really struggle to survive and fall into the “just putting up with it” side of the spectrum. Normally, this changes and this person floats towards the “loving it” side of the spectrum as they get used to the different conditions here.
For others, everything just abhors them and they’re simply here to complete a job settling themselves into the “just putting up with it” side of the spectrum. And for a certain type of person, I get it. The Philippines isn’t perfect. Some parts of the culture here aren’t on par with the western world or are lacking in charity (especially with the business culture here. I mean, last night Chowking had available Large halo-halo, but the small one was out-of-stock. Really, Chowking? Just use a smaller bowl!). So, I get it.
The Philippines is such a beautiful country, but for some it’s just so hard to love because they’re distracted by their suffering and expectations. However, I think there’s a way to get on the other side of the spectrum. I think I’ve found the biggest factor in one’s stay here that can drastically move one person’s opinion from one end of the spectrum to the other, and that one thing is simple that it might be overlooked. It’s friendship.
It seems to me that the truer the friendships you have with locals, the happier you are to be in the Philippines.
I’ve noticed that those who are just putting up with living here haven’t ventured out to make a single local friend. And I when I say friend, I mean someone with whom you can pleasantly share your joys, sorrows, dreams, and aspirations and he or she can share his or hers back. That’s as simple as I can get with defining friendship. Those whom I’ve talked to that spend the entire converstaion complaining about everything and showing that they are absolutely miserable and would leave as soon as they could if it weren’t for their obligations, usually surround themselves with other foreigners when they want to relax and socialize. They only allow locals to be acquaintances, or just people they have to work with. Whereas, those who have totally fallen in love with this country have close friends with whom they work and hang out.
This realization makes me understand just how powerful Friendship can be. It can really make or break one’s experience. The crazy thing about Friendship is that it can transcend all those different little sufferings that newly arrived foreigners tend to experience. When you have good friendships, a little bit of sweat and heat becomes simply insignificant. A difference in culture is no longer annoying, but something to comtemplate. And you start finding ways to fit in rather than hoping others will become like you. God did a good job when he created “friendshp”.
I can’t imagine never going to visit my friends in the barrio just because their house might be less comfortable than my own. I mean, if I never shared a meal because I was afraid of the sickness I could possibly obtain from the food and/or water offered to me, I would have never discovered the generosity and kindness of Filipinos. If I never taught tutorial because of the heat and humidity of the crowded classroom and the way the kids sometimes misbehave, I would have never known the joy of these children who have dreams and aspirations despite their level of poverty. If I had never gone to the province because I’d have to pee in the grass while squatting behind some tin walls because they don’t have toilets out there, then I would have never see the beauty of the people who are surviving and who insistently welcome me in no matter how much of a burden it may be to welcome guests.
When I was trying to decide whether I should stay in the Philippines or avail my plane ticket back to the United States, it brought me to tears thinking about all the people I would have to leave. I had the choice to go back to my cool and comfortable life or stay and continue to do mission work.
Well, at the end of the day, it’s the friendships that keep me going. I’m not a very strong person. Actually, I’m easily depressed, I’m a huge complainer, and very cranky most of the time. But when there are friendships that are worth fighting for, all the things that make me depressed, complain, and cranky lose importance.
Many of you probably know that when I came to the Philippines in 2006, I hated it and never wanted to come back. Well, after some reflection, I realized I didn’t make any friends in 2006. I stayed with my brothers and sisters in our comfortable air conditioned rooms. But now here in the present, I have some good and beautiful friendships. I now really see the beauty of the Philippines. And if and when I leave the Philippines, it’s not going to be easy. THAT’s how powerful friendship is.