This spring semester, I took 19 credits and learned how hard it is to balance that with a part-time job, an education practicum, and keeping up with my social circle. I left for the airport 15 hours after graduation, sat for 23 hours on planes and in airports (hungover and sleep-deprived), and spent 2 weeks with my extended family in the Philippines. Those two weeks were some of the best in my life. In the midst of the drinking, laughter, love, and hugs, I was witness to so many things that put my busy life into perspective.
The moment that absolutely hit home for me was a drive we took to a place called Danasan, an “Ecopark” as they call it, for people to come and play around on ziplines, sky-swings, etc. etc. I watched my family play around on some of these rides, heard their full-body laughter and felt the cheek-paining smiles that came from this experience. To get there, you have to take an hour ride through the mountains of Danao. On the ride up, I had the opportunity to stand in the back of the multi-cab (picture a very small truck, only able to hold two people within the actual car; an open trunk bed, holding pseudo-seat-benches and as many people as can fit on them) and was fully able take in the mountain ranges without distraction. The lush greenery of the trees was overwhelming, and as we drove higher and higher, the rolling hills of the island became more visible and even more astounding. As we drove along, we passed through multiple villages full of Nipa huts and the Filipinos that inhabited them. Once they realized the car was full of Americans, their eyes widened — some yelled “hi!”, some waved, and some children chased after us excitedly. I couldn’t help but smile at their smiles, even though the view was cut short as we quickly passed them on our drive. The more Nipa huts we saw as we drove up the mountain, the tinier and dirtier they got. There was significantly less up-keep in terms of house structure, and the sizes of the entire homes were only as big as the average living room. After driving away from a few more huts, I felt a growing unease in my stomach. I was thankful and appreciative of the beautiful drive and the experience itself, but I wasn’t stoked about our destination. We were about to drop Pesos like it was nothing on tourist activities, when the native people living on the very drive there were too poor for necessities as basic as a stable roof over their heads. My thoughts were all over the place - distraught at first, mainly. How could I do this, how could I engage in and encourage a trip to an Ecopark when my money could be used more productively elsewhere? I had a hard time sitting with this reality. I still do.
Through my time in the Philippines, I saw, felt, and experienced tangible examples of how the cards dealt in life can determine one's success trajectory. The tiny, worn down, and dirty Nipa huts lining the streets that lead to American tourist spots were among other illustrations of this: Jobs that seem mundane to some in the States become the reason for another’s success story in the PI. Access to healthy and reliable resources — physical, sexual, and mental — become back-burner afterthoughts that require careful calculation rather than readily available conveniences. Gated mansions were placed on property sharing a fence with small homes that were made of bamboo sticks. The ideas of privilege and the advantages one attains based on uncontrollable situations was so rampantly visible it was striking.
Despite of all this, the people I met (family, and otherwise) were some of the happiest and most generous individuals I have ever had the pleasure of encountering. Despite of any struggles, lack of resources, lack of monetary comfort — happiness, kindness, and pure sincerity were always at the forefront.
I’m proud of my busy life here in the States, and proud of the work I’ve put forth balancing it all, but I’ve also gained pride of the roots by which I’ve blossomed from. An everlasting appreciation. A motivation for growth. A comforting knowledge of my place in the world. A reminder: always stay happy, generous, kind, and sincere, even in the face of the most difficult struggles.