Six months is not enough to deepen inside of a culture, although so it is to experience it widely enough to get a general picture of its essence. After my sojourn in the Philippines during these six months, I can say that I have gotten to know only the surface of this interesting and welcoming country. However it has become one of the most intense and stimulating experiences along my entire life.
The Philippines is a curious synergy of different cultures which features are notable all over its land and that contributes to consolidate the identity of the nation. Although the background of the cultures that inhabit here is mainly based in the Austronesian cultural branch, the Latin influence during the more than 300 years of Spanish colonization is still strongly noticeable, making of it an unique country in the entire Asia. Furthermore American protectorate after the independence from Spain, left a strong trace aside of the impact that it had worldwide during the last century and that specially hit the already Americanized Asian country.
Living in the Philippines, to be more accurate Cebu city, makes me feel like living in an unknown part of myself, a part that builds my identity as a Spaniard but that is somehow exotic yet familiar. It brings before me reminiscences from my culture, when they use their Austronesian-based languages mixed with quotidian Spanish words or when I pass by any of the architectonical remains that claim that we Spaniards imposed here our presence once. That brings me the feeling of that I have something in common with them and that somehow I am not so alien here.
Moreover, adaptation to the Philippines has not ever been such a difficult struggle to me. In culinary terms, the food is likely to be Spanish dishes that deviated into something else along the centuries adapting to their own resources, but kept the same names. Lechon is the traditional dish, and indeed they cook it delicious. Sweets are not such a great thing, but you may find Silvanas, which are sort of condensate butter cakes covered by biscuit powder which melt in your mouth and that are simply delicious. Rice is already tiring though…
Filipinos are friendly, warm, humble and easy going; they remind me of Southern Americans living in Spain when it comes to their behavior and politeness. Not even the general rumor of the Philippines to be such a conservative country seems so certain. Besides, people respect others personal choices and lifestyles more than in other countries that I visited in Asia, and even in Europe.
Probably the most difficult thing to deal with is the climate. The heat and humidity is like being inside of an acclimatized indoors swimming pool all the day long… Nonetheless, despite Cebu Island is likely not to be so rainy as Manila, it is still much easier to stand with the heat than in the Capital city. Furthermore, the public transportation (without AC) in these big cities as well as the usual traffic jam, just contribute to turn a hot day´s journey to work office into a trip to hell.
The structure of the streets and avenues of Cebu draw an insular South Eastern Asian messy city´s map, which gives it a lot of enchantment despite the aggressiveness that it shows to its citizens, especially to those who live on the streets. This is a city of contrasts, and along the trendy avenues where you may find fancy clubs and luxurious hotels and skyscrapers where rich westerners live with their Filipino wives, you suddenly stumble upon dirty huge masses of rusty squatters full of welcoming humble people with wide smiles on their faces. In addition, beggars and homeless live everywhere around and seem to be those who are marginalized from the high society and even out casted from the slums.
To speak more about my personal experience regarding EVS program, I must say that it depends more on how you take things than on how the world behaves. Filipinos do not work things out the same way as Europeans, they are not in rush to finish anything and their concept of professionalism and effectiveness is not the same at all. But something that I am proud of myself is that I already counted on that before arriving and that I understood since the beginning that I am not here to change their world, but to influence in their own change. Probably this is what has made my adaptation this easy.
Volunteering for the NGO that I am involved in currently has been the best opportunity of my life to expand my mind to new horizons. I knew almost nothing about HIV/AIDS before coming. I never met deeply any transgender or anyone living with HIV/AIDS before and most of my Spanish friends did not belong to the LGBT community. I had to learn how to “unlearn” all those prejudices that I might have brought here to become an effective volunteer, but it actually worked more on to become a better person, more aware of who I am, how diverse is the human being and how much respect deserve any choice, identity and condition. I am more than glad and thankful, I feel proud and fortunate for all that EVS has meant in this change.
Travelling around the Philippines is quite enough cheap to allow yourself to do it often. Notwithstanding the fact of being an archipelago, most of the islands are well communicated in terms of transportation. To be honest, the Philippines is not as amazing as Indonesia or Thailand when it comes to its traditional architecture and temples, but landscapes, beaches and fauna are impressive and quite well preserved. It becomes an addictive passion to travel once you start, especially when the land that you are meeting is so wonderful.