Pagbabalik: 2018 NEXTGEN Camillo Geaga Travels Back to the Philippines

In September 2018, NEXTGEN Fellow Camillo Geaga travels back to the Philippines. Camillo writes an essay of his personal thoughts of his 2017 trip at the same time as he reflects with his recent experience in 2018:

In August 2017, as a recipient of the 2nd annual NEXTGEN Pagbabalik ‘coming home’ program, I was guided through a 10-day trip of the Philippines, visiting mainly three islands.

2018 NEXTGEN Fellow Camillo Geaga attempts to climb a papaya tree (Samar, September 2018)

Ultimately, my favorite part of the trip was the deliciously rich tropical fruits such as the sweet mango (that looked like canned peaches) and the ‘lakatan’ banana (local banana variety that tastes like mango).

I sat on a balcony, to catch up on readings that Dale had given me describing Filipino cultural and social values such as ‘hiya’ [shame], ‘amor-propio’ [love of one’s self], ‘utang na loob’ [indebtedness], and ‘pakikisama’ [togetherness], I thought “am I crazy?”, I had not even considered this opportunity less than a year before, and there I was. Then I heard a young male (maybe a teen) singing “I’m not crazy, I’m just a little …” the rest I didn’t know, with a young woman tearing in with “Livin la vida loca.” I think that it was my favorite part because it showed an emotional longing and more common side of people, for affirmation and acceptance, that reflected what I had learned about at historical site such as the Rizal birthplace  and Mabini shrine, describing the plight of Philippine leaders during their revolutionary fight for freedom, that occurred over a century ago.

Camillo Geaga posing in front of the US landing of General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte Beach during WWII (Tacloban Leyte, September 2018)

I’m not quite sure of the origins of karaoke if it’s Filipino or American, as music is universal, and why I feel I can relate to it so well. Although I rarely sing, I play a lot of music, usually loud, that could be bothersome, especially to someone trying to sleep. I also feel that music can be like medicine with a nice vibration and a positive message that one can learn from. It’s like carrying the spirits of those before us, although it’s easy to get carried away. And not everybody likes the same music.

On the trip, I thought a lot of the difference between Filipino and American cultures, as American culture tend to be more individualistic and less community oriented (or ‘bayanihan’ spirit) than the Filipino culture. Regardless, one must stand for something, and that it can be difficult to navigate in our capitalistic culture that has mostly stripped us of our traditional ancestral heritage and customs.

In 2017, on my flight back to the States I had a difficulty breathing. I was wheezing on the plane and I was not able to sleep. Was I suffering from poor nutrition and eating mostly processed foods and sugar, leading to possible allergic reactions? Or was it the antibiotics that I have taken off and on for the last four years to fight a skin infection? Or maybe it was the medication that I had taken, for almost the same amount of time, to fight a mental illness? Or it could have been from my habit of smoking herbs that could also be filled with pesticides? Whatever it was, as I sat on the plane thinking of what could be the cause of my discomfort. I felt a pain in my liver that almost made me faint. I recognized that I was one sick puppy.  I felt a seriousness of it all. I had to take my health into my own hands and I couldn’t rely on anybody else to do it for me.

(left to right): Dale Asis, Venise Castillo, and Camillo Geaga riding a jeepney in Tacloban City, Leyte (September 2018)

One factor, that’s crucial, is diet and nutrition. I believe that food can and should be medicinal for us: specifically, foods high in vitamins and minerals, such as fruits and vegetables, that allow us to function optimally. However, my favorite meal on the trip was ‘lugaw’, a traditional mainly white rice porridge with chicken, ginger, garlic, and a pinch of green onion.  I have later come to realize that it was not only the warm memory of times when my mother would make ‘lugaw’ when I was sick, or the warmth of the soup itself, but that there may be truly healing properties to the stimulating qualities of plants such as ginger and garlic.

When I got home, I had a pasalubong (gift) to myself – the desire to change for the better health wise – primarily focusing on diet and nutrition. I don’t want to solely blame certain foods as bad, however I would like to encourage others to consume more nutritious foods. As Filipinos, we have a tremendously rich variety of traditional foods, some that could boast as champions of nutrition: some vegetables like malunggay (moringa), ampalaya (bitter melon), kalabasa (squash), eggplant, ube (taro), etc. as well as tropical fruits like mango, calamansi, banana, pineapple, rambutan, coconut and much more including mung beans, vinegar, and countless varieties of fish.

So, in taking better care of ourselves we can honor this life and what we have been given and prepare for a better future. This, I believe, is the active component of our long-held traditional belief in ‘bahala na’, or ‘come what may.’ I realized that life is a valuable struggle and that we are inheriting an honorable fight of the spirit that has carried on for centuries, even through positive lifestyle choices such as food.

I also want to recognize the plight of fellow brothers and sisters in the Philippines. We visited historical sites in the Philippines and planted mangrove seedlings in hopes of keeping another village from getting washed away and prevent the effects of climate change.

Teachers looked on as Evelyn Castillo (standing middle) and Camillo Geaga (standing far right) looked over the donated books for two elementary schools in Giporlos, Samar (September 2018)

At the close of our trip, we flew back to Manila and stayed in Ermita. We visited Intramuros, the old walled city, where Filipino hero Jose Rizal was imprisoned and executed; Quiapo Church and its open-air market; and Makati, where we saw a precolonial gold exhibit at the Ayala Museum. I was surprised to find out that gold was found on many islands and was worn mainly by the local leaders at the time. Overall, the trip was a valuable and enriching experience, one that I had hoped for, thanks to the Bayanihan Foundation.

About daleasis

President of the Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide
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