Living alone in an unfamiliar environment is tough and having a good support system is very helpful. During our PULSE volunteer orientation, we were told that we will experience all the phases of change curve and though I have conditioned myself, dealing with it in actual proved to be challenging. Thank you to the technology and various mobile applications as they made my communication with my family, loved ones and friends back home a lot easier. However, being with people too that I can spend my days with and make beautiful experiences is a far more better idea.
Speaking based on experience, I feel a big sigh of relief when meeting and knowing fellow countrymen or kababayan living in a foreign country. That feeling of just being able to converse using your own language is comforting. And when you’re able to spend some days together, meet more kababayan and savoring a local delectable dish that reminds you of home are precious. I was told though that I don’t look like a typical Pinoy and when meeting me for the first time, they would think twice whether they will greet me in Tagalog or rather in English. It was very interesting for me to know as I thought that I have very strong Pinoy features. I guess, it’s because I have started growing a bit of facial hair and kept my hair even longer where I know I will also get a good mockery from friends when I am back home.
I met my first Pinoy friends in Lesotho by accident – Ate Evan and Kuya Rolly. I already saw them in church on one Sunday service and it was when I was doing my grocery shopping on another weekend that I heard them talked in Tagalog. I greeted them first and they were surprised to know that I am a Pinoy! We exchanged contact information and within that day I was invited for lunch at their friend’s house – the Balcorta Family. It was that moment where I realized the sizable number of Pinoys working in Lesotho. I was even thrilled to know that some of their family members – the Tamonte Family, is my neighbor. From that time on, their kitchen became an extension of my place as I usually get invited over lunch or dinner. Who am I to turn down an invitation especially if the food is a Filipino delectable dish? I even had to make sure that my calendar for most of the weekends were free as I need to hop from one house to another to celebrate a birthday or any other special occasion. I am not complaining as it saved me from eating the same type of food that I usually prepare for the entire week!
This group of people became one of my dedicated support systems. They embody a typical Filipino family: strong and close-knit. And as such, they would regularly check on me if everything is okay as they are considering me their newest family member. They wouldn’t mind if I stay for lunch, snack, dinner and drinks during weekends at their place. And sometimes, would jokingly be mad at me for not saying goodbye if I happen to go for my personal trips out of the country. The loveliest thing that they did for me was when they went out of their way to celebrate my birthday. More than the delicious food that they have prepared, it was really the time and effort that I appreciated the most. They wanted me to have good memories in Lesotho and for sure it was one of them. When I told my family back home about it, they were even surprised and thankful that someone not related to us have warmly welcomed me. My luggage now also needs to make some space as I even received athletic shirts, sweatshirt and shorts/pants as gifts since most of them are working in the office of garment factories that supply goods to the US. I had a free shopping-spree!
People in CHAI office are also very supportive. If I made them aware of what I need, they are always ready to help be it work-related or not. From Ntate Hlalele who contacted and sorted out my transport when I decided to visit Maletsunyane Falls, Thathohatsi who helped and arranged for my hiking registration and to Ntate Bulara who went out of his way to lend and brought all the stuff that I need for a hiking trip. Though unfortunately, that hiking trip was cancelled because of the dangerous weather but still, they were very generous!
And what I also like are the moments when Ntate Cheeks, our office driver, would take me from CHAI House to CHAI office and vice versa. We would talk and cover a wide range of topics – life experiences, daily success stories, interesting things in Lesotho, about our family and even frustrations be it personal or not. Basically, anything and everything! He has an amazing life story and I am fortunate to hear them straight from him. It validated more of my belief that though some things do not work how I wanted it to be, sooner or later, things will fall to its own rightful place. He would tell me that he is the first person to establish a connection with every volunteer in the office. He is the first one to see me when I arrived at the airport and the last person from the office to see me as he needs to send me off to the airport. Now I know that being the sole company driver can also be emotionally tough.
I am also lucky for being with another GSK volunteer in Lesotho. Lori is from GSK US and she is assigned to a different NGO. Though we don’t often see each other, the times where were able to catch-up were helpful. We have exchanged our volunteering experiences and knowing that we can always call on each other were re-assuring.
I have also re-acquainted myself in doing journals. The last time I remember doing it was in high school as we were required to do so, and for most of the time I ended up using my imagination to complete my entries as I only make all my entries at the end of the month. But now, I appreciate it. I spare around 15 minutes of my time to make my daily entries. I usually do it while having my morning coffee and it is good to read my previous entries. Sometimes my handwriting would even reveal how I was feeling that day!
I have said it and I will say it again, this experience is truly one for the books! I am thankful that I have met and made friends with these wonderful people. They made my journey not just bearable but also memorable. These people are my family away from home.
To all of you, my heartfelt thank you!
Maraming, maraming salamat po. Puso!