The past week has been a whirlwind of sights, smells, foods, thoughts, people and activity in general.
I left Toronto, half packed, half crazed, no wedding dress yet found and boarded a plane for a 20-hour journey that would bring me to Manila, Philippines for the next 6 months. As usual, my luggage was heavier than it should have been, filled to the brim with skirts, shoes and sandals that I have not had an opportunity to wear for the past 3 summers as I have been “roughing it” so to speak in various locales. The two flights were mainly uneventful except for the fact that we flew over the North Pole, Russia, China and I was hoping North Korea— but alas we by- passed the country to arrive for a comfortable stopover in Seoul. The sight of so many luxury boutiques, designer wares and Canada Goose jackets in the airport bewildered me slightly as I was dressed in a t-shirt and capris, in preparation for my landing in the hot, humidity of Manila. I ate bibimbap and tried to figure out currency exchanges, gave up and just used a credit card.
Arriving in Manila at 11pm, the smell hit me. You know the smell of developing countries? Its awful to say like that- out loud- but its not a bad smell. It always hits me when I come out of an air conditioned airplane. To me, it is a smell of humidity, of millions of lives lived, of smog from the people living their daily lives. It is the smell of delicious street food, of mazes, of longing, of stress and sweat and tears and blood. It is the smell of adventures to come. The smell of Manila is different than that of Dhaka City, or Calcutta, Delhi, Nairobi, Kigali— it is worlds away from the smells of the North Atlantic or the North Pacific or the Mid- Pacific in Hawaii. It is sweeter and simpler, less sweaty, more foody. Yes, I have a fascination with smell, maybe I should collect air samples? We waited for our luggage with sleep misting our eyes, perspiration hitting us in waves and, for me— the little bit of stress on whether it made it or not. Round the world journeys necessitate so much faith. Faith that the box you filled with your living objects make it through the maze of airports to make it back to you. After arriving in a foreign country, there is nothing as relieving as seeing your bag or your box or your suitcase making its way down the conveyor belt.
The Manila airport has two or three different waiting areas and when I didn’t see someone looking at me, I was a little stressed out. Thankfully, we found our way tot he third waiting area where hundreds of people crowded around the walkway, waiting for relatives, friends… or tourists! A Pearson College grad and his father picked us up (thank heavens for the UWC movement!) and took us on a midnight tour of Manila, the traffic we experienced right away. We were then brought to Jollibee— Philippines’ fast food chain were we were treated to milk fish, spaghetti with inexplicably sweet tomato sauce, and hashbrown burgers. The past week, we have been staying with these friends to whom we owe so much. They have welcomed us into their home with love and care, fed us all sorts of different foods, counselled us in preparation for our upcoming wedding (no kidding, we landed in the house of one of Philippines’ most well- known couple/family couselor). We hunted for places to live and walked through Quezon City, the suburb where we are staying right now. I have been working for 3 days now, I even had an all- nighter in an attempt to finish off some work I had left until the last minute (surprise!) back in Canada. We went to a talk on Social Entreprise at Ateneo de Manila University and met Carlos Cendran, an activist-comedian type who gives theatrical tours of the old Manila City called Intramuros. The talk was delightful (and in English) and I’m hoping to go on one of his famous tours— I’ll be sure to share the experience!
My cab rides have been the most fun. Unlike in Rwanda where everyone would gawk at me and single me out for my skin color– here everyone assumes that I am Filipina and lets me go about my own business. They are mostly shocked when I tell them I’m not and look at my inquisitively. My first cab driver said sadly, “ah, if you were Filipina, you would be considered a great beauty”. Not sure if that was a compliment or not. Yesterday, my cab driver- Miguel and I got into an intense philosophical talk on the nature of terrorism and Islam in Mindanao (where he was from). He was thinking about converting to Islam (his grandfather was a Muslim) but did not like the way the faith was practiced in his home province. We both got carried away and he was the first to notice that we rather far from where I needed to be! He took me back home, didn’t charge me 20pesos and told me to call him if I ever needed a ride to the airport. This morning, my car driver told me about growing up in Quezon City and his 5 children that he supports, he told me about the hours he spends in traffic everyday and as always, taught me a few Filipino words (that I already knew) but played along. It’s nice to be able to communicate with people, in English, without too much of a hassle. It has made the Philippines seem more welcoming and friendly so far– less intrusive. There is the semblance of sanity in my life right now. I wake up, go to work, go apartment hunting, eat delicious foods, go out to meet friends and listen to interesting talks. Yesterday, I even went exercising in a house yesterday. A group of older women doing Zumba in a house. It was fun and I felt like this was a community I could become involved in. So far, I feel pretty much at home, safe and sound… and sane.