I just got home from a 3-day trip to Guimaras Island with some work friends. It was fun because I was with cool, energetic people who knew how to have fun. But then again, to me a trip is never just fun, a trip is never even just a trip; it is always something else, too. In this post, I’d like to share what this particular trip taught me, and what it has made me see.
When your boat breaks down
On the way to Guimaras Island, we had to ride a pump boat. Since there were so many of us (16 people) and the available boats were small, we had to split the group into two parties, two boats. As we sailed to the island, the boat I was on broke down. Something in its motor snapped, and the boat simply stopped. As soft waves lightly rocked the boat, we watched the boatman desperately try to repair the motor while trying to comfort us. “Relax lang ha,” he repeatedly told us. Looking around at the other passengers, I didn’t see one person panicking or even worried about the situation. I think somehow we all knew we were gonna be fine.
A few minutes later, the other pump boat carrying the other half of our party (which had gone ahead of us) turned back and headed towards us. I don’t exactly know how they knew we were having trouble with our boat. My first instinct was to think our boatman texted the other boatman (haha), but he was too busy trying to fix our boat to do that. Moreover, obviously it wasn’t the practice to have to contact anyone via electronic means to get help in that situation.
The practice was that everyone looked after one another.
The other boatman must have noticed our boat was no longer following theirs, and turned right back to check in on us. They ended up tying a rope linking the two boats so they could just pull us along for the rest of the trip. Their boat ran at a slower speed at that point, as it bore the brunt of pulling along an entire other boat.
It was a simple thing, really, but the thoughtfulness of the act was not lost on me. We needed help, and though we didn’t call out for it, help arrived.
And it got me thinking, how many people in our lives can we trust to do the same for us? That even though we have no desperate cries of “Help!”, they notice we’re not coming along fine, and they hear our silent plea. That even though we show no signal of distress save for the fact that we’ve simply stopped halfway before the trip is done, they know something’s gone wrong and they turn back to help us. And they help us, even if it means that they will have to go at a slower pace trying to pull our weight for us while we can’t.
Do you have people like that in your life?
How often do you thank them?
Chicos and chopping boards
On the afternoon of our second day at Guimaras, we went over to a friend’s house in the island. Being a local there, she introduced us to her family and we got to glimpse how life in the island played out in the day.
It was a very interesting visit.
I got to hear her grandparents talk about growing chico trees on the mountainside right across their home, and selling their fruit for a living for 30 years.
I got to witness the barrio folk send a boy up a ladder to gather buyo leaves for the elders who used them in the traditional practice of ‘mamâ’.
I got to listen to how difficult it is to make a thick, sturdy wooden chopping board, what kind of tree made the best material for it, and how much it meant for people who cooked to have one of those chopping boards.
You know, in my day-to-day life outside of this trip, I’ve never really given much thought about such things. I couldn’t imagine making a living out of growing and peddling chicos for a living for 30 years. I’ve heard old people practice mamâ, but I had no idea what the thing they chew contained (apparently, it’s betel nut, lime and tobacco wrapped in buyo leaves). I didn’t even know making thick wooden chopping boards out of sambag trees was a thing.
But the people I met knew all of these and more, and I was fascinated by how intimate their knowledge and experience of the earth was, how much of it they understood at a gut level. I realized then that all this while, I thought I understood so much about life and the world, but the truth is that I know life and the earth at a level so superficial and abstract I am almost ashamed to call myself human. It is as if I’ve probed the brain of the earth, but I’ve never really known its heart, never really conversed with its soul.
How much of life do you think you know?
Is the way you’re spending your days allowing you to really experience life at a deeper level, that you may truly live beyond existing, before your time is up?
Where I work, we have a lot of foreign volunteers who come from countries like Spain, Germany, and France. I remember one of them saying, “In the Philippines, the sunsets are always beautiful, everywhere.” When she said that, we weren’t even in the beach or some tourist spot; we were standing by the road in the middle of a city. She then whipped up her camera and took a snapshot of the sun setting in the horizon.
That comment about beautiful sunsets really has changed the way I experience things, and it’s what I find most interesting in working and interacting with people from other countries. I get to reframe my perspective about life based on a larger context. Because of geographic and cultural differences, foreigners have experienced the world differently, and thus offer a fresh perspective about things. The things we see every day, such as “sunsets [that] are always beautiful, everywhere,” are so commonplace for us that we never really see them for what they are. But people who are seeing them for the first time, or for the last time—they are filled with awe at every instance they get to witness such things.
And that’s one of the tricks to appreciating life better, isn’t it? To see everything as if you’re seeing it for the first time, or the last.
What are the things so commonplace in your day-to-day life that you no longer see them?
Take a moment to notice them again, as if you’re seeing them for the first time, or the last. ♥
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