Eventually January came to it's end
and so did my time in the Philippines. After one year in this beautiful
country it was time to pack my bags.
The last three months in Aklan had a profound impact on me. Especially
January. I felt more and more at home in Aklan, my friendship to the
people grew deeper and deeper and slowly developing since November
there is now a very special girl in the Philippines. We already met in
November as workmates in a community education campaign. She is working
for a local NGO. Me and the Provincial Disaster Office cooperating with
this NGO on a program to empower communities in their disaster
planning. Over December we grew closer. Over January we grew very
close. And the famous Ati Atihan Festival in Kalibo left us
unseparable. But there was just so little time left...
After the Ati Atihan Festival most of my life, and there was only one
and a half week left, was spinning around going home. Organising
farewell events, buying farewell presents, arranging handover of data,
handover of my beloved motorbike. Those were busy times. And it's not
easy for me to comprehend what would happen when I am back in
The farewell activities officially started on Friday, 23rd of January.
By that time it was clear that I would leave Kalibo the following
Wednesday, 28th January, for Manila and the debrief there. Since the
whole week of my leaving was booked out in training courses, we decided
that Friday would be the last time everyone is being together in our
office. So we had a lot of good lunch to eat, I arranged for a spit
roast pork, some grilled chicken and a big bowl of 'Pansit' (noodles
with seafood). We also had little farewell presents for everyone in the
PDRRMO Office - a coffee mug with a kangaroo and a thank you message
for all. And for Sir Galo as my supervisor and Jayfree as my
counterpart a T-Shirt with a kangaroo and a message as well.
Saturday I started seriously packing my bags, it was the last day
would have to myself.
Sunday would be my last fiesta attendance, the Ati-Atihan Festival in
the town of Ibajay.
Monday would be my farewell evening with the rescue volunteers of the
Seals. I will never forget that event. It was again a lot of food for
dinner. And everyone came. Really everyone. All the Seals volunteers,
my main group of friends in Kalibo, also Ma'am Nemia, my lovely Aklanon
teacher. Volunteers came here from the other provinces of Iloilo and
Antique. And everyone, really everyone held a short speech about our
time together. In English. You can imagine these speeches went on for a
long time with so many people. And they brought back so many good
memories. The fun we had in our trainings. Our movie nights. The times
when we had meals together. Drinks together. Times when we had to rely
on each other and help each other out. Times of travelling, of riding
our motorbikes, beach barbeques, times of so much laughter. But most of
all times of growing friendship. This friendship creeped up on us over
the one year. Almost unnoticed. But now that we had to part it started
weighing down on us how big this friendship had grown. During these
little speeches I was sitting in front of everyone. And as everyone did
their best to talk in English in front of everyone else I had a really
hard time fighting back my tears. A very intense year would come to
it's end soon...
Tuesday I just finished packing. Went to the market in Kalibo for the
last time to say good bye to all the people who, over the last year,
supported me as a volunteer, giving me bananas for free, always had
time to chat with me. It was again
very intense and we all were so close to tears. The rest of Tuesday I
would spend in Sampaguita Gardens where the Seals were running a
training course for the town of Batan. It was there where I would spend
my last night in Aklan, together with most of my best friends
Wednesday at last was the day to leave Kalibo behind. Just after
breakfast I had to say good bye to so many people until I was escorted
to the airport in our brand new rescue truck together with seven people
to send me off.
Oh man, was I feeling sad that moment. Especially saying good bye to my
yearlong counterpart Jayfree was pretty hard. We worked together almost
every day over the past year, and much more than that, we became pretty
Arriving in Manila still had a touch of uncertainty to it. Because by
that time I still had no flight booked to come back to Australia. And
was hoping to fly out the next day. And as Thursday came, my flight was
still not booked. Instead I enjoyed a wonderful final meeting with the
country manager of the Australian Volunteer Program in the Philippines,
with Myles. It was a very positive debrief and we parted both hoping
that one day I'll be back on another assignment. And it was only after
her call to the booking office that finally my flight booking came
through. It was a booking for a surprisingly early flight. So we had to
literally leave straight away to make it to the airport in time,
through Manila traffic.
And we did. And that was when I left the Philippines, my home country
for exactly one year of my life.
Flying to my other home country of 10 years of my life. On a far away
continent on the other side of the equator.
sometimes-housemate Brunox, the little dog in the compound where I
lived. Whenever I got home he would follow me upstairs to my room and
sit on the sofa of my veranda, waiting for me to play with him.
our office's parade at Ati Atihan in Kalibo
days with my girlfriend in Kalibo
plaza of Kalibo is the focal point of the Ati Atihan festival. All the
parades will terminate here and it is the loudest and happiest place
you can imagine.
Francis was there too...
more colourful costumes.
a weeklong celebration of drums, lyres, dancing, eating and just lots
and lots of fun.
had lots of companions to celebrate with, the town of Kalibo was packed
with happy people.
before our next small parade - at the house of one of the Seals rescue
entire team of my Host Organisation - the Provincial Disaster Risk
Reduction and Management Office in Kalibo. For one year this was the
team I worked together with.
Kalibo's bowling alley
week after the festival in Kalibo, the town of Ibajay celebrates their
own Ati Atihan festival.
a celebration of drums, lyres and amazing costumes
good friend over the past year, volunteering for the US Peacecorp
two counterparts - Jayfree and me at Jawili Falls
of food and lots of good friends during the farewell dinner with the
Pet, the founder of the Seals as an organisation, was there to say good
lots of eating there was of course lots of drinking.
last day just before I was taken to the airport - again lots of people
I had worked with over the year, now conducting a search and rescue
training at the Sampaguita Gardens Resort.
Manila Airport - the last dinner date for a while...
to fly to Sydney!
As I am writing this I am back in Sydney. Back in my old home. After a
long stay overseas like this, 'home' always needs some time to feel
'home' again. And
only when you travel away from home you will see your home more
objectively. Because only then have you got something to compare it
too. Right now Sydney feels more like a DejaVu than home. But I know
that will change soon. But whatever Sydney will feel like for me, the
Philippines certainly left a big mark in my life, a mark that can not
be ignored and can not ever be forgotten.
Being back in Sydney I realised that nothing here has changed. All the
shops around my home are still the same. The shopkeepers still
remembering me from over a year ago. No one believing that it's been
over a year already. Everything felt instantly familiar. My friends are
still living in their same homes, still working in their same jobs,
only their kids have grown up a bit.
But saying that, there is no doubt that one thing has changed
dramatically - that's me. Again, not surprisingly, I feel a bit out of
place in Sydney. And when I'm saying that I don't mean it in a negative
way. But instantly I felt a certain distance to the the people in
Australia, a certain friendliness that seems to stop somewhere at a red
line still in a secure distance from you. It has always been like this
and I always felt comfortable that way. But the closeness, the instant
friendship, the caring attitude and the overwhelming hospitality of the
Philippino people is something I loved to have. And now I find myself
longing for it.
I experienced the Philippines as the by far friendliest country I have
ever been too. It's been one year but I feel like I am having so many
friends there to be amongst my best friends. If you compare the
Philippines to Australia you will find the differences quite stunning.
The Philippines are extremely social, people are very connected and
always together sharing their time, their food, their resources. No one
is ever alone. Philippinos are very welcoming, particularly to
strangers like me. I can't count the number of times that strangers
invited me to share their food, to visit their home or they gave me
little presents. The society is also very appreciative to each other,
sharing time and resources is being done with pleasure and received
with sincere gratitude. Personal contact is often very touchy and
personal space is often unknown. You get hugged and tapped on your
shoulder and shaken your hands so many times every day. I lived
in a big house in a tropical paradise. I have the loveliest girlfriend
there. I really enjoyed my job. I had a big social group of awesome
friends, being surrounded by friends every day. Even the good life in
the Philippines does not set you back more than $300-400 a month, there
is no need to spend crazy hours on boring jobs to earn a living.
Being back in Australia, it feels like people are more distant from
each other, spend more time alone, are more busy than social. But
that's not surprising.
My comeback happened in three steps.
Seven good friends farewelled me in Kalibo Airport on Wednesday
My lovely girlfriend farewelled me in Manila Airport on Thursday
When I arrived at Sydney Airport on Friday Morning, I was alone.