I never thought I’d find my heart in Davao.
A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit my family in Davao, Philippines. A little background info on myself- my Mum is Filipino and my Dad is Irish (they met all those years ago when having pen pals and writing letters was once the equivalent of adding friends on Facebook and chatting on messenger). Having already visited Dad’s side of the family back in 2011, it only seemed fair that I visit Mum’s to see what that part of life is all about- right? Well I wish I could say that had been the case but truth be told, I never had any desire to visit the Philippines at all!
I guess places like Japan and The States have always seemed much more enticing to me but now that I think about it, it makes much more sense wanting to visit somewhere where my mother grew up- why wouldn’t I have an interest in this?! So when it ended up being the best trip of my life, I can only look back now and be extremely grateful that I took the plunge and travelled to a part of the world that I never thought I would visit.
I could honestly write a short novel on why I love Davao so much but in fear of writing something long and tedious that no one wants to read, let’s just stick to the main points…
Never have I realised the importance of family more than when I met my (30-something) cousins. Life back home in Melbourne is relatively quiet, having only ever had Mum, Dad and my younger brother here in Australia (until we recently migrated my Uncle’s family). Christmas and birthdays have always been fairly uneventful and we’re not really the type of family to have catch ups over dinner or initiate many family-orientated events. Still, we love each other wholeheartedly, it’s just the quiet life that we’ve always lived.
In Davao, my cousins welcomed me with open arms and treated me like an absolute celebrity! I could never get over the bubble of awe they created around me and it wasn’t long before we were inseparable- I treated them to the movies (some of them had never been) and lunch during the day and then we would all party into the early hours of the morning. Every.Single.Day. I have never laughed so much or felt so a part of something special. Something that only family can give. It was positively overwhelming!
One thing that continually caught me off guard was just how happy everyone is in Davao. To give you an idea, my family there is quite poor. They don’t have a flushable toilet or properly functioning shower and there can be up to 10 people under the one roof in a TINY house of two bedrooms. Even simple things that we take for granted like bottled shampoo and conditioner are hard to come by, purely because money needs to be spent elsewhere- like to keep food on the table or to send the kids to school. Yet everyone is so content!
Everywhere you turn people are laughing, singing and dancing. Even strangers smile at you and are so welcoming and friendly. I think that even though they don’t have much they accept their life for what it is- simple. Instead of worrying about their situation they embrace it. How? By being surrounded by loved ones and putting all their energy and soul into their family and social lives. By drinking and singing karaoke, eating street food, going to the beach or by simply lounging around and enjoying each other’s company.
Here in Melbourne people always seem stressed or in a hurry to get somewhere. Sure, we are absolutely fortunate to have so many opportunities and to celebrate such diversity, yet I sometimes wonder if we are at times faced with too many choices and opportunities. So much so that we are never content in our current situations- there is always something else we wish we were doing or could be doing, always a different career path or course we could have taken or always another situation we could be in. What if we did this, what if we did that? We never simply stop to think about just how lucky we are to even have a choice, to have a job, to be able to study…to have a functioning toilet!
Anyone who knows me knows how much of a self-proclaimed foodie I am. But admittedly when I first arrived in Davao I was not all that impressed, probably because of how much take-away and junk food was around. Don’t get me wrong, I love cheesy, fried, oily goodness as much as the next person but it did only take me a few days of straight Maccas-KFC-Jolibee before I desperately started to crave real food.
Although not the prettiest looking by any means, Davao cuisine is heavily based around BBQ’d meats, fried chicken, fish and seafood dishes and of course tonnes and tonnes of rice. My Aunty owns a BBQ restaurant and I have to say her pork skewers are the best I’ve had. Nothing even comes close here in Melbourne!
Oh, and for those of you who are wondering, the picture above is a shot of one of the Boodle Feasts at Seafood Island- based on a traditional way of eating in Philippines, garlic rice is piled onto banana leaves with an accompaniment of various seafood and BBQ meats and is shared and eaten by hand. It’s absolutely DELICIOUS!
If you’re a summer buff like me, you’ll love the weather in Davao. Having visited in Dry season I was constantly being told how crazily hot and humid it would be so I definitely wasn’t looking forward to that aspect of my trip (even I can’t handle extreme heat). However upon arriving, it ended up being totally bearable! Even mum who hates the heat seemed to handle it fine. I think being so far South means it’s not as hot as it can get up North in Manila. For me, the reason I love the weather so much is more from a social perspective- it means everyone is always out, bringing about a fantastic festive atmosphere in the evenings that makes you want to stay out all night!
So I realise that even though I said I wouldn’t write a novel, looks like I kinda have hahaha. Anyway if you’ve gotten this far, I’ll close off by saying that Davao has opened me up to a new outlook on life. I was able to indulge in traditional Filipino cuisine, I was given an insight into what life might have been like for mum growing up and I was able to make incredible, lifelong connections with my cousins (who I miss every single day). Above all I have a newfound appreciation of my life in Melbourne- one that is full of opportunity and potential, one that allows me to do things like afford a plane ticket and visit such amazing places in the world as Davao. For these reasons, I am forever thankful.
Davao will always have my heart!