The Passport to Introduction
I bent to the floor to grab my passport that fell out of my bag. Just as soon as I rose, a gentle voice suddenly sprang from the aircraft luggage compartment side, confidently threw conclusion about my nationality, “So, you are Filipino!”
“How did you know?”, I asked in awe.
“Your passport…” he replied, diffusing warmth with his smiles.
I looked at the front page of the thing in my hand, and it read, “PILIPINAS”. I just smiled and asked him back, “And you? Can I know where you’re from?
He held his passport before my eyes so I can read. Then, I knew he was Norwegian. We introduced ourselves to each other and comfortably began a warm-up conversation. He was on a connecting flight in Bangkok from Vietnam, flying back home to Oslo, Norway via another connecting flight in Dubai. He visited his wife who at that time was based in Vietnam on a teaching mission. They have been happily married for two years, although they were not together the whole time because of the nature of her job. He was still in the university taking up nuclear (something-like-it-course) engineering and will be graduating soon.
Meanwhile, I was on a 5-day leisure trip in Thailand and that time was already flying back to Dubai. Every year I see to it that I visit new places, meet new people, immerse myself into new culture and discover a lot of new random things. This is my way of relinquishing from all the not-so-good events that tend to shake me up during the year.
Thailand was magnificent! I was for several times mistaken by Thais to be their fellow. They said I look like them. In my travels, I was always mistaken to be somebody else’s race, but not Filipino. Well, some said, I look like Thai, others- Indonesian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese – all these guesses are obviously because of my chinky eyes and nothing else. Why do nobody mention Russian, British, Lebanese or European? Obviously again because my chunky, cute nose and brown skin are not predominant characteristics of these races. That’s why when this new friend of mine concluded on my being a Filipino, I thought he was the real deal! How could he guess it right? Well, my Philippine passport did give him a quick guide to the correct answer!
What was so sweet was when he delivered a fine compliment on me, “You seem nice and very friendly and your English is really good.” You bet, my smile fixed permanently on my face, clamped through to my ears. I responded the most grateful “thank you”, of course. He further said, “All Filipinos are really nice and friendly.” Then, you can imagine my thoughts…”hmmmm those compliments are actually generic!”
I asked him, “Have you been to the Philippines?”. He said, “Yes!”. Then, his story went on about his wonderful experience in the Philippines and his great admiration for the Filipinos.
First time in Camiguin Island
He told me about a certain Norwegian who went to Camiguin Island for an eco-tourism mission and who later organized their local ministry in the place. They built a hotel that later housed tourists coming to visit Camiguin. By word of mouth, the organization promoted the place in Norway and encouraged their people to spend their vacation in this beautiful island. Since then, Norwegian tourists flock to Camiguin and stay in this resort. Apart from indulging themselves in this place they call paradise, they were also swayed to volunteer in the mission. And, my new friend was one of those tourists who was mystified by the beauty of this island and its people.
He relayed his almost tragic first trip when he had to take the long land travel from Davao due to flight cancellations, weather was at that time uncooperative and there was this threat of Abu Sayyaf too. Although he spent two long excruciating days to get to the island, what he saw on arrival was refreshing! He adored the island so much that he fell in love with it, he had to look forward to coming back already. He stayed immersed in the place for some time and experience living with and like the locals. He met these fisher folks and farmers whom the organization were in mission for. Everyday he would roam around visiting families, meeting the men and women and children of every household. He was amazed at how good the locals are conversing in English contrary to his experience with the Vietnamese who challenged him for a charade-like conversation. He admired them for their resilience. He was in awe at these people who wear permanent smiles on their faces despite their somewhat miserable situation. He added that they have strong faith in God. They go to church relentlessly and trust in God’s providence for every day. They look content. They even know how to say grace over a plate of camote served on the table for their day’s meal. And, they love their family.
Norway on the contrary…
Norway is a rich country. They’re one of the major oil suppliers in the world. Because they are rich, they have zero-crime – no robbers, kidnappers, carnappers, killers, etc. You leave your wallet anywhere, nobody will be interested in it. Children go to school for free – their government sustains them. They are trained well in school and get a job as soon as they graduate. Money is never a problem. They can afford to travel each year to other countries. Life is generally easy. We perhaps thought that they are one bunch of lucky people on earth! They are, indeed!
But wait! Well, the truth is, they are all complicated individuals who don’t know and sometimes hardly appreciate the meaning of life. Suicide rates in rich countries usually register higher compared to the poorer ones. As a general observation, those people who lived easy are usually too weak to handle problems, they’d rather end their life than face them squarely.
Of course, they also have religion – predominantly Christian, but most are non-practicing. While this friend of mine believes in God and goes to church regularly, he said that in their country, mostly only old people patronize the church. He further added his realization – that apparently, when we have everything in life, we forget to call on God because our situation do not prompt us to need God in our life. He cited the Filipinos for their faith. They may be less fortunate but it is their being underprivileged that made them cling tightly to the grace of God.
I have great admiration for this Norwegian friend of mine. He has exceptional love for life and showed a deep sense of social awareness.
We perhaps think that the wealthy are the luckiest and happiest people on earth, perhaps they are in some respect. But, as I gather my thoughts after our instant sharing, coming from one wealthy tourist, I can honestly say that we, who have less in life are in fact those who have so much heart to celebrate life. We have been made rich by our experiences, from the real challenging roles we play as we journey along real people, trusting in our real God.
Examining myself within, I began to feel great zest and appreciation for my life and my being a Filipino. Looking back, I felt affirmed by my own challenges too which I had to go through at a young age. I come to a realization that all those hardships in life were my secret weapon to my sweet success. It strengthened my faith in God. And, perhaps things would be different had I been born with a silver spoon in my mouth. If I had, I perhaps lost sight of the deeper meaning of life and easily give up on the hardest trials in my life.
I am always proud of my country, but now, I am prouder than ever! How many of us acknowledge our greatness? I think, we should always be as even other nationalities look at us with great respect and beyond fortunate to live in this beautiful paradise.
His commitment to come back
My new friend plans to go back to Camiguin every year to keep up with his little mission together with his other fellow missionaries. Meantime, he continues to promote Camiguin, Philippines to the Norwegians. This way he could also share his wonderful experience in the Philippines and the amazing Filipino spirit.
We have discussed a lot but we were still half-way through to our destination. We agreed to cut-short our sharing of thoughts because our physical body need some short rejuvenation.
Finally, before I rested, I recognized a different feeling of elation. I feel rich and happy. I was so blessed that I met my new Norwegian friend.
And, by the way, his name is Kristian and he is a Christian!