I would say that in the family where I was raised, kindness to strangers and genuine hospitality has been part of our growing up. I was born in a small village close to Pacific Ocean, in the North East part of the Philippines – 3 hours by land travel outside Manila. I had vivid memories of those foreigners who were in a mission where they interact with my folks in the community and part of it, they live and stay in our home for a few days. My mother whom has a heart like Mother Theresa (I am not exaggerating but she is really like that). She has passion for charity works, active in people’s organization, non-government organizations and other women’s group for a cause. As a kid we were taught to behave when there are visitors at home. That means, we act more finesse and a little quiet when there are other people around. Aha, that I think was one of those training ground where I learned to practice speaking basic English until eventually I got fluent with it. Most of the time, I was the unofficial translator, from Filipino to English and vice versa. I remember, one of our guest spoke to my mother, “Fely, you are blessed to have such a smart and bright children!“. And yes, me and my sisters would automatically burst into that BIG smile. My mother would reply in a joke (which I have to translate in English after), “my children inherit that to me!” and then we will all fall in a non-stop boisterous laughter! :)
One of the things I am truly thankful is to be introduced to this kind of group whom I would say, practically resonates my persona. CouchSurfing (from my viewpoint, ^ in my opening paragraph) has just formally put into organized group what I think has been a tradition that is going on (in small villages) for a long time – hosting strangers hosted by complete strangers. Isn’t that strange? ;)
Before I learned about CouchSurfing (CS), a classmate and a friend in my postgraduate class, Janice Gabuat has introduced me to Hospitality Club (HC). Basically, the concept is the same. I had an opportunity to be hosted by extremely interesting people who have that thirst for traveling and have keen interest in learning about other’s culture. I had experience HC while traveling to Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Italy, France, Norway. While my first CS meet up was when I was in Kota Kinabalu and then I was first hosted in Switzerland. The folks I had met and hosted me in all these places were simply respectful, down to earth, accommodating and generous. Until one day, I had encounter a not-so-good experience from CS, I stop and abandoned it for a little while. More often, one bad thing that could happen to you would cloud all the good that you have had. I consciously chose to focus on the good. I have to unlearn and re-learn to trust people again. That’s the only way. And I have to give it a try.
Then came, my very first voyage to South America. I realized, that this attempt to reaching out to complete strangers and people I don’t know who could be a huge step to restore my trust to other people (again), to believe in the goodness of humanity (all over again). I have to mention it here: I hate “the actions” of people who constantly lie, who gives false flatteries to seek approval, who does not know how to RESPECT. These are some of the few things that I could not compromise. I put emphasis on “the actions” as I try to objectively separate the action of the person to a person’s persona. Though, it’s a difficult work to do. But worth a try.
So there, VAMOS SUR AMERIKA!!! :)
1) Sao Paulo, Brazil. I will be forever grateful for Nayara and Renato for their gentleness, kindness and warm hospitality when I was in Sao Paulo. This interesting city has been my gateway to South America. Renato and Nayara pick me up at the train station on the eve of my arrival. It was drizzling. Upon reaching home, Renato cooked a very special dinner while Nayara prepared a smoothie juice. We were chatting and chatting and chatting and chatting and chatting endlessly!!! It felt like they were my friends I have not seen for a long time! But it was the first time I met them! I love their home. It’s very cozy, organize, clean. I have my own room. And they have a pet named ___ I forgot haha :) Despite their busy schedule, Renato is constantly giving me direction how to go to places and before they left for work, they already prepared my breakfast. They make everything for me to feel at home. Talking about them and expressing my countless gratitude would never be enough – I arrived as a complete stranger. I left with a heavy heart parting from my newly found friends in Sao Paulo. Muito Obrigada! Until we meet again! And yes your love story will always serve as my inspiration. Some things just happen when you least expect it. Keep the love alive and stay in love! :)
2) Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I really feel lucky for having met someone from Rio who has a big heart. Luis is a very patient, cool, extremely accommodating, humorous, fun loving and a laid back person. Although I have arrived a bit late in Rio de Janeiro and there was miscommunication about my time of arrival. He has been very patient. Well, am really glad for all the strangers who offered their mobile phones, who make their way to help me translate talking from English to Portuguese. Those random people who despite the warning that I got before I fly to Brazil that it is not a safe country and crimes happen everywhere. Nonetheless, I had not felt a single danger. Luis lives in the quiet suburbs near the foot of the mountain, a walking distance to beautiful beaches near his place. There are fruit trees at the back of his house adjacent to the swimming pool. My room that serve as my temporary sanctuary for a week has a view towards the beach though a little blocked by the neighboring homes. It has an atmosphere of a rustic home which I liked. With high ceiling, a long sofa and a prayer corner with the images of Jesus Christ and Mama Mary. My bed is adjacent to the window where I am happy to see the sunrise every morning. Luis has showed me all the tourist spots in Rio – plus those off-the-beaten-path. We went to museum, dine in at Lapa, went to paragliding point at the middle of the night. The best thing that happened was my birthday falls while I was in Rio. And Luis family friend, cooked a sumptuous, extremely delicious lunch for us! It was a very memorable birthday. Roaming around Rio’s beaches, driving to the city centre and seeing Christ Redentor at the middle of the night from one of the highest mountain peak in Rio. Luis, I wish you’d have time in the future to visit Southeast Asia, I would love to show around my place. Muitto Obrigado!
Whilst traveling to South America, I had a layover in the UAE. I am truly grateful for the newly found friends I met there. There was this kind gentleman, Suhail from InterNations (an organization for expats living abroad) who arranged to meet up with me who drive all the way from Abu Dhabi to show me the Palm Atlantis, The Burj Khalifa, the CBD area. We had long walks at the Marina Promenade and had a relaxing time people-watch while cooling down ourselves in one of the many restaurants alley near the coast. I learned a lot from him about his life back in Pakistan. We had a pretty great deal of things to talk to as we’re both in the construction industry and the American firm which currently employs him used to be one of our consultant in one of my previous project involvement in Singapore.
3) Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It was like a breathe of fresh air to be connected with one of the kindest soul I have never expected to meet in Dubai. Amit who hails from India has just move to Dubai a few months back. Although he has an 8am work the next day he waited for me patiently since I arrive after midnight. We met almost 3am and still he has the energy to cheer me up though I look so groggy and hardly fall asleep at the plane. Despite his busy schedule he make his way to show me around Dubai. We went to Jumeirah beach and had clubbing in one of the bars and restaurant located somewhere in the middle of the sea – 360 Degrees. Now I understand why he asked me if I have a ladies shoes. Imagine I was wearing a green sneakers. Next time I should bring some formal clothes. I never know when will be the next party again hihi. The security officers might not let me in anymore. The next day we managed to watch some live bands performance – my folks from the Philippines. On my first day, he introduced me to try some Lebanese food which is worth a try haha. Amit regularly practices yoga and meditation. He taught me the basics and we had some sessions and showed me several books about spirituality. Osho which is his most favorite.
My CouchSurfing Hosts: I can’t thank you enough. Your presence makes the world a better place to live. Together, we build a world of inclusivity not exclusivity, a culture of collectivism not divisiveness; a society that understands not criticize; that no matter where you are from; whatever color of your skin or your status in life – there is a culture of openness not judgment; a culture of acceptance not stereotyping.