Although I had researched and learned a little about the Philippines, I had no idea what was in store. Ferdinand Magellan discovered this mass of small islands while on the errand of King Philippe of Spain. Magellan came, discovered the beauty of this land, discovered the warmth of the people, and claimed the islands for King Philippe. Hence, the name: Philippines!
That was way back in the early 1500’s. Spain ruled for almost 350 years. Then the Americans arrived, at war with Spain, and took over. America ruled for another 42 years. Japan invaded and ruled for just two years during WWII. Then, the ominous General Douglas MacArthur arrived and chased the Japanese out. Freedom at last in 1946! Then, I arrived in 2011 to the BIG, busy city of Manila and didn't quite appreciate what Magellan had apparently discovered so long ago. It has been a long time and some things have changed. Some things.
Manila is a crowded, dirty, wet city of over 9 million people. We discovered that many of the people in the city are homeless. Seeing people sleeping in the streets, shabbily dressed children playing in the streets, hungry, dirty families hanging out in the streets was a common site.
It took a trip 2 hours out to the countryside for me to discover what Magellan must have found when he arrived and claimed this land for the king. It was beautiful, lush and green. Thick trees and tall palms lined the roads. Rice fields and pineapple farms covered the rolling hills. Fat, gray clouds filled the sky.
We drove out to the suburb Santa Rose which sits on the banks of the huge lake Laguna de Bay. Most of the people in this town are fisherman and that is what we were looking for. They live a very unique Filipino life. It was perfect.
The poverty was almost overwhelming until we met the people. Again, the best way to appreciate a country is to meet the people. As we meet and come to know the different people of the world assumptions are corrected and barriers come down.
We watched a father and his son come in from the lake on their small boat with buckets filled with fish. Together they washed and prepared the fish and took them to market to sell. Dozens of other children were at the waterfront playing and watching us, clamoring to get in front of the camera.
The Filipino family is an extended family. Everyone in the neighborhood, friends and family, came out to see the Americans taking photographs! We quickly discovered they were all related somehow. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. The Filipino family extends up to the most distant recognized member of the clan.
While we were, perhaps, distressed at the extreme poverty the Filipino people are extremely happy. They smiled constantly and laughed often! They are warm, friendly and easy going. I asked Espi, one of the mothers, what kind of concerns she may have living in the Philippines. Her answer surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. She sincerely replied: “We may be poor. We live simple life but we are happy. We spend much time together and we are very happy in our life.”
These sweet, happy Filipino people were genuinely happy to help us. They were so proud to have their families photographed. It was a wonderful discovery! If Magellan hadn't claimed this land in 1521 I would have claimed it today!