Summer soul-searching in the Philippines

photographing the philippines
Rayanne Piaña/Staff

The Philippines — a tropical archipelago located in the Pacific Ocean, composed of approximately 7,000 islands (slightly fewer during high tide) and the country I call “The Motherland.” 

I wasn’t actually born in the Philippines, but it’s literally the motherland: the land in which my mother was born, as well as my mother’s mother and all the wonderful women in my family who came before me too. My childhood is filled with scattered memories of summers and winter breaks spent visiting my grandparents, eating authentic Filipino food and learning the ins and outs of my heritage. But before this summer, I honestly can’t remember the last time I visited. My mother and I were indecisive about whether or not we should actually take the trip, we even canceled our flights at one point. As luck would have it, we ultimately decided to pack our bags for the Philippines — and I couldn’t be more grateful.

One of the first things I look forward to when traveling is the excitement and anticipation of all the things I can do, see, learn and eat that I can’t regularly access. For example, a lot of people aren’t really a fan of the year-round heat and humidity in the Philippines. But, the climate is perfect for growing certain flowers and fruits that can’t be found in most places. I would have included a picture of a Philippine mango, but if you’ve ever had one you’d know that they’re too delicious to waste any time photographing instead of eating.

dragonfruit

Rayanne Piana/Staff

The thing I look forward to the most, though, is seeing the people. Since the Philippines is so far away, it’s not exactly quick or cheap enough to visit regularly. Given that, I knew I had to treasure every minute I had this summer visiting friends, relatives and especially my grandmother. She doesn’t look that happy in the picture below, but trust me, she probably was — she just takes her Mahjong very seriously. If you don’t know, Mahjong is a common game that originated in China and is similar to the card game rummy. For the first time in my life, I finally won a game against her, and it made me realize how much I can grow and how much things can change between my visits.

lola - mahjong

Rayanne Piana/Staff

Before we took our trip, my mom promised me that I’d get to cross off one item from my bucket list: see the Banaue Rice Terraces. The terraces were built 2,000 years ago by the indigenous people of Banaue, who reworked the hilly landscapes around them to accommodate rice farming — a vital element of their society. The view had me breathless — I stood before what might be one of the most prime examples of human innovation and adaptability. My grandmother gazed out at the view and said, almost musically, “What a beautiful world we live in.” Her words stuck with me, because this was something I had forgotten too often.

rice terraces

Rayanne Piana/Staff

The view was absolutely golden, so it’s easy for me to understand how visitors might overlook the struggles of the people who live there. Many provinces in the Philippines have a large population of people living in poverty, without access to the luxuries I, and so many like me, take for granted everyday. I met a kind, soulful man, dressed in the traditional garb of the local culture. His job was to greet visitors at one of the viewpoints. I couldn’t help but sense his warmth was genuine, that he was content to be living the life he lives and that there are so many reasons why I should share his perspective.

igorot man

Rayanne Piana/Staff

I shouldn’t have had to travel halfway across to world to remember how beautiful this life is. It’s the sixth week of the semester and underneath all the stress, I can feel myself forgetting again. Life isn’t always easy. If it was, we wouldn’t learn anything. We would never become better than we are. Sometimes life is a straight up struggle, but the struggle can be beautiful, too. Figuring that out requires some self-reflection, reevaluation and perspective — which is exactly what I got this summer, and it was exactly what I needed.

waterfall

Rayanne Piana/Staff

Contact Rayanne Piaña at [email protected].