I’m watching a rain storm flood in while sitting in an internet cafe in Phnom Penh as I finish this blog. It seems like a world away now, the Philippines, and that is the palimpsest beauty of travel.
In the states, I talk often about the importance of community and family. During travel, I frequently feel quite distant from both. Though I know that strong communal and famiy ties exist in almost every town we trek briefly through, we remain on the outside. This is not always easy to take, but I know it’s our rightful place.
Because of our well integrated and acquainted guide in the Philippines, Sherry, (she deserves more praise than I can provide in these writings), we experienced a profound and rare blessing of travel: being invited into the arms of community and family.
On our last three nights in the Philippines we shared a meal and an evening conversation with three different families. And while the food was delicious at each gathering, the human interaction and laughter and discussion that took place around each table will remain the most memorable.
I know that many of us Americans highly respect and love our families and communities of friends, but the Filipino value for this most basic element of life demonstrates an even greater level of appreciation and need. Our cherished and rugged spirit of individualism and independence often defines the American identity, yet I wonder if we sometimes lace our John Wayne boot straps just a little too tight.
Lola Carmen, the grandmother of ENCA Farm and the Cosalan family, asked us into her home to prepare a meal on our final night. As an archetypal indigenous woman, unknowingly representing her entire Ibaloi culture and way of life, she best exemplifies the depth of family in the Philippines. While women her age often live on their own in the U.S. or are urged out to retirement homes, Lola remains with her family, and not just as a guest, but as a cornerstone to the daily life of all her heir.
I can not imagine leaving the Cordillera without the blessing Lola Carmen sang Lindsay and I on our way out the door, or her gentle wave with her worn hands and her gracious smile as we drove away. How often do we miss these interactions by focusing our time around building our own lives and by the minor family gatherings we avoid, or forget, everyday? What if we renewed our family identity and the value we place on those with whom we seem to spend such little time?
I’m not berating anyone other than myself. But this all might at least be something to consider the next time we grumble about “yet another family holiday.”