Kay Green, from Huddersfield, who started a new life as a single woman at the age of 50 and embarked on an adventurous year touring the world, tells about her latest exploits in the Philippines in her continuing series Shoulders Back, Deep Breaths.
This is a story of acceptance, love and friendship, and of being the loneliest I’ve ever been. It involves learning so many lessons about the lives of others and being humbled by the experience.
It’s about time I came to understand myself so much better than I ever have before, when I realised how many things I have taken for granted because of where I was born and raised. I’ve had my
opinions confounded and my attitude towards many things has changed.
I sincerely hope that I will never lose sight of the sense of humility that came from my stay. I hope that the gentleness I found in myself never leaves me again. I want to hang on to the woman who made the time and space to understand that life is so different for others and that I should be very careful to judge or make generalisations ever again.
I stayed in an area called Pampanga. I rented a house across the street from my cousin’s Filipino wife Andrea and her two daughters Khris Anne and Khristine.
I lived in their neighborhood as part of their family and despite the fact that at first I was a stranger to them all, we created our own routines and found a way to live our lives together.
There are very few western women visit the area I found myself in, in fact I can honestly say that between arriving at Manila and my leaving from there seven weeks later I was the only ‘white’ woman I saw – this is the way I was described by those who met me. I was ignorant to the fact that in the main we are seen as lazy and spoilt; that we are not particularly respected for our ways. Having spent time there experiencing their accepted way of life I understand why they think that. I struggle with how to explain this without seeming to be condescending, but the life I became involved with wasn’t an easy one, and it certainly isn’t what we are used to.
Most people still do their laundry by hand. There were times on the housing estate I lived in where there was no running water and ‘brown outs’ – power cuts – happen often. Experiencing this and many other things that make up a way of life so alien to me has made me realise I am spoilt; I’m not lazy, but by comparison to the women I met and grew to respect, I have had it easy.
All of this makes it simple to understand why I was such a curiosity to most of the people I met and why, wherever I went, I was keenly observed. I never felt threatened particularly, I never worried I was in danger, but it did become very uncomfortable after a while and I found it incredibly difficult to go anywhere alone. I was very reliant on Andrea, her kindness and determination to include me, and to want to show me her life and that of her family. In a sense I lost the thing I value the most; my independence.
The local kids made it their mission to help me to be understood in their language and after meeting each other for the first time they left me with reams of paper with English to Tagalog translation. They tested me on my understanding and pronunciation most days; my use of the few words I learned surprised and delighted the people I met.
The lack of ability to be able to communicate with anyone outside of my adopted family created a shyness in me that I’ve rarely felt. When I met Andrea’s aunty and cousin I understood why they were wary of me and how uncomfortable they were at times to be in my company. We couldn’t have a conversation with each other, we had to rely on smiles and gestures and actions speaking for themselves.
In the main I am boisterous, I rely on my words and the ability to make people laugh. I work hard to be liked and this is how I try and achieve that. I couldn’t do that here; I had to take a step back and let people make their own decisions about me. I had no influence over what they thought; I had to be patient and show my willingness to want to get to know them in other ways. This is where my gentleness came from.
I happily played games I had no chance of ever understanding with the kids in the street, and when it rained, which it did often, I welcomed them into my home and gave them my things to entertain themselves with. The language barrier became less important as we got used to each other and became comfortable in each other’s company without having to try and speak.
When Graham arrived a day or so after me for his quarterly visit, I recognised how well respected he is within his wife’s community. He has created this feeling by being a generous, caring man. The love for his wife and her daughters is undeniable and his commitment to them and the people involved in their lives has generated the welcome he receives whenever he’s there. I admire
him for that. Seeing them together made me realise that if there’s enough love and respect between two people, living in different countries and being apart from each other for periods of time, while hard, it isn’t impossible. It’s just a different way to be together.
I had been experiencing bouts of homesickness for a while and I was interested to see how I felt when I eventually saw a familiar face. I had wondered if it might swing me more towards going back to everything I knew rather than carry on with my plans, but while it was good to see him and spend time with the two of them together, when he left I had no desire to take the journey back to the UK.
It may seem strange, but despite my loneliness and isolation, the feelings had made me even more determined to carry on with my plans.
I realised that I would never forgive myself if I ‘gave in’ and went back, that I had taken this time away from everything I knew to learn about myself and if I ran back to the familiar the moment things got tough, then the only person I was letting down was myself.
I was resolute, I knew I couldn’t stay in the Philippines for the few months I’d originally intended, and the feelings of being trapped and out of control in my current situation made me look at opening myself up to other possibilities.
Seeing the way that Graham and Andrea managed their marriage and coped with the times there was a huge physical distance between them made me understand that there are other ways to live a life that is far from the accepted tradition.
I realised that I did have other options, that to close myself off from possibilities because of a stubbornness to allow myself to trust another person fully, was in many ways foolish and a trap I was creating for myself.
I booked a flight back to Australia for a few weeks’ time. I was excited by my decision, and proud that I had taken what could have been a negative experience and seen the good in it. Before I made my next plane ride I decided to embrace the opportunities I had in the meantime.
The result was a time that became rewarding and life affirming, it created a friendship and a love between myself and Andrea that I will be forever grateful for and between us we developed our own adventure. We took a road trip together and whole new world opened up to me once again.