Friday, December 02, 2005

A Friend at the Next Destination

by Rosario Charie Albar

During the many years I've traveled solo, I've rarely felt alone or lonely. As a Filipina traipsing around the globe, I can easily make friends with a ngiti, smile and a simple kumusta, how are you. The much touted word, diaspora, is the reason why no matter where my travels take me, there is often a friend at the next destination.

About two months ago I was in Prague at the Church of Our Lady Victorious. This is the home of the Infant Jesus of Prague which is in a temperature-controlled glass case. During mass I noticed two kababayans seated behind me. I turned around and extended my hand to them in the traditional “Peace be with you” greeting. I lingered a little bit after mass to examine a painting of the Madonna and Child on a side altar. I was surprised and pleased to see that the Madonna was dressed in a saya and nipa huts were at her feet.

Crossing the street in search of a restaurant, I saw the two Filipinos I had noticed earlier in church and approached them. I said Kumusta? and they smiled widely and asked me where I was from. When I responded that I came from the Bay Area, one of them told me that he had been a one time resident of the South Bay. And thus begun an unexpected friendship which gave me entry to many wonderful experiences in Prague. For one thing, my new friends informed me of the Filipino choir that assisted at the 11 a.m. Sunday mass at the same church. So I made it a point to be there on Sunday to listen to them sing. With only 32 Filipinos in Prague, most of them were in attendance and a visiting Filipino priest was officiating at mass. During his sermon, he talked about the Madonna and Child painting which he said was a gift to the church by a Filipino delegation who visited in December 2004. It has since rested on the left side altar as you come in through the main door.

While traveling in Egypt last spring, I met and made friends with three Filipinos who were in my tour group. What are the odds that out of 22 tour members, 4 of these would be Filipinos? So I had good company and lots of laughter at the dinner table, help bargaining at the souk, and dance instructors during disco nights as we cruised the Nile River. The Filipinos were a doctor and his gracious wife from Arizona and their vivacious friend from Los Angeles. It seemed like we had known each other all along. At least the other tour members thought so.

Last year while on a short visit in Milan I met some Filipinos in the metro. It was crowded but I finally found a seat next to two Pinays, one of whom immediately engaged me in earnest conversation. She then invited me to attend a prayer meeting that week and gave me some material to read. Unfortunately I was leaving for home the following day. I'm sure I missed a great opportunity to meet Filipinos living in Milan.

My cousin and I had just arrived in Rome one morning and were basking in the novelty of being in the eternal city. We were sitting outdoors at a restaurant in front of the Opera House. Pretty soon we noticed several Filipinos entering the building next door. We thought at first they were attending a party. But as more Filipinos came and went, greeting us in passing, we decided to investigate. It turned out there were two Filipino banks in that building and our hardworking kababayans were sending their remittances to the Philippines, on a Sunday, their day off from work.

In the U.S. I am lucky to have a network of friends and relatives from coast to coast. Once I attended a funeral in Atlanta which was a true celebration of life. After the funeral, cousins and friends got together for lunch and the conversation flowed. When we brought out the mamon and ensaymadas, there were exclamations of delight! Many commented on how much they missed our native desserts and this started another round of kuwentuhan that lasted well into the night.

On an Alaskan cruise I was fortunate to have been surrounded by young Filipino workers who went out of their way to make my vacation a truly memorable one. The Filipino chefs prepared sinigang and fried fish for me and three Filipina nurses from New York. At dinner the Filipino sommelier made sure my favorite drink was waiting for me, gratis. The Filipino crew was friendly and eager to tell me their stories and show pictures of their families, always with a wistful eye.

In London, I had double helpings of breakfast, thanks to the generosity of a Filipina waitress. In Brussels, the Filipino room cleaner gave me a bag of Belgian chocolates, enough for many sweet dreams. In Holland, I met some Filipinos at a café who invited me and a friend to their home. In Bangkok, my mother and I were serenaded by Filipino musicians working at one of the hotels.

Attending Sunday mass in a foreign city is one of the best ways to meet kababayans. In Singapore, Paris, and Oslo, I found I could attend mass specifically scheduled for the Filipino community. In Singapore, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd on Queen Street has a service for Filipinos on the 4th Sunday of the month at 11:30 a.m. In Paris, there is a late afternoon Sunday mass at Saint Germain l’Auxerrois at 2 Place du Louvre.

I love to travel and look forward to meeting new friends on the road. As a Filipina traveler, I have the advantage of growing up in a culture that easily extends a warm welcome to strangers. All I have to do to be on the receiving end is smile and say "Kumusta?".

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