After almost a day worth of traveling, our large group of 20 students had finally arrived in Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Tuesday. We were greeted by the heat and humidity right outside the gates. Tito Mon was waiting for us with a sign, ready to take us to Los Baños for our orientation. We got to see some parts of Manila on our way and it was urbanized and busy, especially the traffic. We got to settle in our dorms that day and guess what, we have our own balcony and everything……yeah we’re living lavish out here. We went to bed early to get ready for the next day (blame it on the jetlag but I slept at 7pm…. I don’t remember the last time I slept that early)
Next day we had to wake up for our full day orientation with the freeman Asia group. We spent the morning learning more about the culture and history of the Philippines. That afternoon, we got to learn some important terms and phrases that we might need to know in Tagalog, which is one of the many Filipino languages. There was a big feast at the end of the day where we had the chance to try some of the Filipino cuisines. I got to try a Boku drink which is basically a young coconut and also Halo-Halo which is a desert.
The next day the rest of the Freeman Asia group left and we went on to our onsite orientation where we got to meet with other scholars from the Philippines that are working in IRRI. They were super nice and friendly and we got to make some new friends right away. We spent the day touring IRRI and the UPLB campus with the rest of the group. We got to try Buko pie, which is also another Filipino desert made of coconut flesh.
Friday was saved for our rice planting activity. We were sheen deep in muddy grounds ready to transplant some rice plants. We also got to use a carabao (AKA water buffalo) to plow the land. It was a new experience for most of us although some were more comfortable than others. We used that time to learn a lot about the process of planting rice and bond with the rest of the crew. It made us appreciate all the hard work that the farmers have to put in to successfully harvest rice. That afternoon, we got to tour around the departents that each of us were stationed in. Unfortunately for me, my supervisor isn’t in the country so I have to wait until he comes back to know more about what I will be working on. Later that night, we were able to go out for dinner, ride of tricycles and jeepneys and also got to stroll around the city.
On the weekends, a group of us went to the Makiling Botanical Gardens and hiked to get to Dampalit Falls. The views were beautiful and totally worth the journey.
On Sunday, we got to have merienda with Tito Mon and his family. We had the chance to witness a Filipino tradition that takes place when they move into a new house. A priest prayed over the house and sprinkled some holy water around the house and soon after we got to have some food and have some lovely conversations with Tito Mon and his family.
What I have noticed so far is that the Philippines resembles Ethiopia. From the culture of hospitability, highly respecting your elders, religiosity to the look of the cities. The more I got to see the more I was able to see my childhood. I felt right at home (besides the fact that I feel completely lost when I hear them speak Tagalog.) I can’t wait to see more of what the Philippines has in store for me.