It’s hard to believe that two weeks have passed already and that our time in the Philippines is drawing to a close. We end our time in the capital, Manila, where we began. My first impression was that, aside from the heat it wasn’t all that different from back home, from Calgary. The streets were plastered with huge ads (and to my surprise, most of them were in English too), and filled with Filipinos. My high school experience consisted largely in building relationships with Filipinos, the majority ethnicity of my school.
On the long drive to Laoag my impression began gradually to change. For the first two days there things were comfortable. We stayed in a Westernized hotel where there were hot showers, toilet paper and Western toilets, where squatting was optional.
In our home stay family things began to change. The people were absolutely lovely, but they had a very different way of living. Showers consisted of pumping water into a bucket and then throwing that over my head. But I didn’t mind at all; it saved water and to forced me to shower quickly.
Religion here was also an interesting experience. With the Philippines being the third largest Catholic country in the world, I had set my hopes very highly. At mass in downtown Laoag, the church was so full I had to stand at the back, one of probably over 500 people. Our host mother told us that mass is said hourly at St. Williams on Sundays, and that all of them were this busy. People leaving mass were bombarded by street children trying to sell flowers, balloons, rosaries and many other things.
At North Western University, the school we were attending, I encountered more non-Catholic Filipinos than Catholic. My roommate and I had an interesting experience when we took public transit to Pagudpud, two hours away, with our host mother and her sister. As they were loading the bus, a woman began speaking in a loud voice in a language I did not understand. She stood at the front, facing everyone, closing her eyes and swaying as if reciting something; she then opened a book and said in a thick accent a Gospel name and a verse and then continued speaking. She was preaching! The bus crew worked around her without even batting an eye. She then went around asking for what she pegged in English a “love offering” and then left.
I don’t doubt that the conversation about religion will continue, but in a completely different way, since Malaysia is filled mostly with Muslims. As sad as I am to leave the Philippines, I am looking forward to the next leg of my journey, as I’m sure I will continue to grow and learn in ways what I could never anticipate!