Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dumaguete: Arriving in Alien Territory

Marilyn posing on her motorcycle outside her home in Bacong, PhilippinesAbove: Marilyn outside of her house in Bacong

The SuperCat fast ferry ride from Cebu to Dumaguete City took about 3.5 hours and included a 15-minute stop in Tagbilaran (on the island of Bohol). Throughout the trip I nervously monitored the surrounding waters, looking for pirates or terrorists or who knows what. Two weeks prior to this moment the U.S. State Department had issued a fresh travel warning for the Philippines. I remember the ridiculously broad nature of the statement, which basically said that Americans should avoid travel to ALL areas of the Philippines (which obvioulsy would include Dumaguete, as silly as that sounded). Well, there I was, in a defenseless boat out in the open waters, one of only a handful of "white people" on board. My anxiety was largely a product of that stupid travel warning as my imagination continued to fabricate numerous "what ifs". Yet, my attention ultimately turned back to my lovely Filipina sweetheart, Marilyn. I had come 10,000 miles to see her, and she deserved the brunt of my focus. Besides, I had just 12 days to make some incredible memories in the Philippines and I didn't want to miss anything.

Marilyn and I at a subdivision in DumagueteAs we arrived at the port in Dumaguete City the photos I had seen of this faraway place suddenly became alive before me. However, nothing really prepared me for the welcoming party that had gathered near the dock. It seemed as if all of Dumaguete had shown up to greet us. I would soon learn that Filipinos are an incredibly social people. As an American, I am accustomed to everyone minding their own business and acting more or less like robots. We rarely greet a single person on the street. However, it didn't take long for me to understand just how interesting I was to every Filipino who passed by. The stares were not mean or threatening, but for me they were a bit disconcerting. I didn't want to stick out, but unless I suddenly became invisible it was inevitable that I would be the subject of many a curious gaze. After a week of this I started to respond naturally with a smile and a nod. It was my desire to show the utmost respect to these people, for I was a visitor in their country. Being a "spectacle" of sorts was far outside the comfort zone of my timid nature, but I finally accepted the reality that I was indeed different. The anxiety melted away soon after and I was truly able to immerse myself in this alien, yet approachable, culture of Dumaguete. At times I even forgot how different I was and really started to relate to these people from the other side of the globe. In a few isolated moments I felt like I was home.