The First Days

It’s been a week since I crash landed in the Philippines, and an awful lot has happened. I left England to weather reports of overnight freezing, and arrived about 2 days later in the tropical paradise of the Philippines. The journey was long, tiring and nerve-wracking.

I hadn’t anticipated that I would be jetlagged at all, but it took me a long while to come to terms with being 7 hours ahead of the UK – as I awake, you lot are all turning in for the night. Luckily, for my first few days I was stationed in the Provincial House of the Salesians of Don Bosco in Cebu City. It was a comfortable, air conditioned, internet-ready house with friendly, warm residents and workers. I was instantly submerged into Filipino big city culture – somewhat of a nice transition on my journey to Borongan. I drank iced tea at Bo’s Coffee (a place that, in my head, could only be pronounced as Bosco Ffee), ate Cebu’s famous lechon (pulled pork) at CnT and visited many of the huge malls that Asia is famous for.

I was toured around most of the Salesian houses on the island: training centres, youth centres, a seminary, a boys’ home and a retreat house. I met a lot of the Salesian Priests of the South Province, especially as most were in town to celebrate the priestly ordination of Fr. Rooney John Gustilo Undar, SDB last Thursday – which was an experience that could be reserved for a blog post of its own! For all of my friends at YMT, a highlight was hearing ‘Days of Elijah’ play on the sound system as we tucked into tasty Filipino food at the reception afterwards.

And so on Friday, I took the journey by plane alongside Fr. Al (one of the Salesians assigned to Borongan) to Tacloban City, the area ravaged by last year’s Typhoon Haiyan. I was taken aback by how much destruction the super typhoon had caused. As we drove downtown in a jeepney, we passed families living in U.N. stamped tents on the side of the road as well as huge swathes of tree trunks uprooted and discarded. It was devastating. One girl I spoke to, a native of Borongan but studying in Tacloban, lost contact with her parents during the storms. Both thought the others hadn’t survived, and they were none the wiser for many days until the parents travelled to Tacloban after Haiyan to see if they were alive. Thankfully, they were, but thousands of others weren’t so lucky and lost their lives; bodies were said to lie unclaimed on the streets when the flood water began to subside.

Following our brief few hours in Tacloban, we took a van to Borongan – a journey supposed to only take 4 hours, ended up being 5 and a half because of the poor road conditions as a result of the storms. Huge slabs of tarmac, easily 6 feet by 6 feet, were scattered on the roadside and if we slowed to avoid potholes once, we did it a further fifty times. We arrived at around midnight Saturday, alongside the 5 other passengers in the van and the many, many sacks of lemons that were taking up half of the seats in the van being transported for merchants in Borongan.

I have experienced culture shock on many levels since being here. It is very hot, and the city is probably a city by name only. People speak the local dialect, Waray-Waray, rather than Tagalog or English (the official languages here in the Philippines) so it has been challenging being the person always sat on the side never knowing what people are talking about. The Salesian house is very inviting, and feels like a family home with people always dropping by, and although it is not how I am used to, I am having to learn to sleep, eat and wash in a different environment to what is familiar to me!

On the other hand, I have met so many kind and friendly people embodying a rich spirit of Filipino hospitality which I have come to appreciate. There are many youth leaders here, former students and members of the youth centre, who are always around and either have jobs in the training centre or they facilitate activities for the young people at weekends. I hope over time we will begin to communicate more freely, and that we no longer have to talk at half our usual speeds.

All in all, I have faced personal challenges since arriving one week ago into the Philippines. I am reminded to take one day at a time, and not expect that I can do everything I hope to achieve in just one day. I take huge comfort in knowing that the people here are supportive, even if it takes a little while for us to understand each other’s cultures and idiosyncrasies. And hey, I am getting a chance to play the piano in Mass this week, so for those moments we can be sure to be united in an international language where no Waray, Tagalog or English is needed (oh, well.. except for the lyrics!).

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 I have begun teaching at the Training Centre, a 2 hour mathematics class for 60 students of varying abilites on a Tuesday morning – a subject, I’m sure, for many future blogs. And apologies for the lack of photos, the internet connection here in Borongan is really not up to uploading photos! Hopefully it will improve over the coming months.