To be honest, at first I was a bit apprehensive to go to Bohol because it was going to be held during the last few days of summer. These last few days are those that one normally spends at home, on his couch, sitting in front of the T.V. or the computer, maybe even cramming reading his summer reading list books. However, upon reading the invitation letter sent by Ms. Cuevas saying that I was one of the recommended students chosen to participate in the first ever Xplore Bohol, I felt oddly fanatic and eager. I felt fanatic because, hey, I was recommended for once. I was eager because I wanted to know if my parents would let me go.
I ran towards my mom saying, “Mom, I was recommended for this XCE-like thing, but it’s in the Philippines (which means it is cheaper). Can I go?” “Maybe,” she replied. I thought to myself, “Okay, a maybe is a half yes, so might as well tell the school that I would be going.” After a while, I sent an email to Ms. Cuevas asking if I could reserve a spot. A blink of an eye later, I received a reply saying that a spot would be reserved for me. I was a little worried because I still had not gotten a full yes yet. I approached my parents and waited for the right time to speak up, and before I could muster the words, they said that they were all right with me going, as long as I was sure. I thought hard about the pros and cons of going and not going, considering time, expenses, and other factors. I was, for this visit, an excited and anxious child. I was excited because I would actually be building a house–something that most Xaverians have not done. It would be the first time I would actually do hard labor. However, my feelings went two ways: one positive and one negative. Apart from being excited, I was also feeling anxious. I was worried about sleeping and being in a strange place, and I was worried if I would be welcomed with open arms or given the cold shoulder upon arrival. I was also worried about not having the normal conveniences like wifi for several days. Now, looking back, I can’t imagine having had second thoughts about going.
My five-day Bohol trip is definitely one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. Xplore Bohol was an eye-opener, and I’m pretty sure the other Xplorers share the same opinion. During the orientation, when we were asked about our expectations of the scenery in Bohol, we all harped the same thing: that we all expected to see the Chocolate Hills and tarsiers. Our experience in Bohol exceeded our expectations. Bohol definitely has more to offer than just the Chocolate Hills and tarsiers. On day one, we started exploring. We went on the Loboc riverside cruise which serves a sumptuous lunch buffet, coupled with an exquisite view of the surroundings. This combo equated to a really great time. However, our day didn’t stop there; we then went to most of Bohol’s historic Jesuit Churches such as the Loboc Church, the Loay Church, and the Baclayon Church. The churches we visited were partly in shambles after the 2013 earthquake. Yet, Boholanos are a resilient bunch; at the Baclayon Church, they put up a museum to generate more funds to renovate the broken wing.
The second day was my favorite because it was the day we would be going to Barangay Bonifacio, the build site. Barangay Bonifacio is in the more rural side of Bohol. It was one of the places that was affected heavily by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake. It was once a hillside barangay, but when the earthquake struck, big boulders came rolling down, crushing houses, taking lives, and displacing people from their homes, forcing them to relocate. They moved farther from the hills into a clear site. As we left for the village at 8:00 am, with barely any sleep, I started trying to relax in the van. I hoped for the best, yet also expected the worst. To my surprise, the surrounding scenery was breathtaking! There were several hills surrounding the village, with trees everywhere and carabaos grazing in the pasture.
Something very memorable for me during this trip was our host families. Initially, I was surprised to find out that my host “family” would only be a host person: Tatay Roldan Bojo. He was the barangay captain when the earthquake struck and remained the barangay captain even after the earthquake. He had a wife and two children, and as I looked further into the foster family profile I saw that his family had been the victim of big boulders that rolled down into the bukid. His family was the only casualty of the earthquake. When it was my turn to go up to the microphone to call on Tatay Roldan, I was greeted by an unexpected face, someone not listed in my host profile. I was greeted by Nanay Nina Oppus, the barangay kagawad. She was next in line in the barangay officials, ranking second to my host. As she greeted me, she told me to call her Nanay Nina. Wondering why she, and not Tatay Roldan would be taking me, I asked her where Tatay Roldan was. She explained that the barangay captain was out and she was asked to be the one to take care of me. She readily accepted the invitation.
When we reached the house of Tatay Roldan, Nanay Nina invited me to sit down as she started putting my stuff in the house’s only bedroom. There was food already set on the table; it was chicken inasal and tinolang baka. Before I began to dig in, I asked Nanay Nina if she was going to eat the food with me for it was far too much for me finish on my own. She politely refused and said that she had already eaten. Without thinking any further, I began to munch down the food: rice that came from their harvest and homemade soup. I wasn’t able to finish everything, so I told her: “Nay, hindi ko po ito ma-uubos, sana sumama po kayo sa’kin kumain.” She again replied that it was alright and that she had already eaten. I continued eating. As soon as she noticed a bead of sweat running down my face, she turned on the electric fan, exclaiming that she was the only person in the whole barangay, or at least the section of the barangay that we were staying in, with a working electric fan. She began to say that she and her husband, Tatay Celio had carried it from their house all the way to the one we were staying in just for me.
She took one of the two towels that was inside the house and placed it on my back. After three hours of working, we went back to our respective homes. Nanay Nina was there again preparing the food that I was going to eat for dinner; again she refused to eat with me. As soon as I realized that there was just one bed in the house, out of curiosity, I asked her where she and her husband were going to sleep. She then said that she was going to sleep on the floor. I was the guest so I offered to be the one to sleep on the floor instead and they could sleep on the bed. Again, she refused.
During the night that we had a campfire, we all enjoyed singing campfire songs and telling stories. Nanay Nina noticed that I was wearing my trademark arm sleeves. She asked why I was wearing them with the hot weather and the hot campfire. I then said that I was mosquito-sensitive. When I was in the 5th grade, I was hospitalized for months because of my bout with dengue encephalitis. When I got back to the house and went to my bed room, to my surprise they were putting up a mosquito net just for me, one that would surround my bed so I wouldn’t get bitten by that dreaded insect. They, on the other hand, would only have a blanket and one spiral cord of burning katol.
The next morning, I found Nanay Nina wide awake. She was already up sweeping the floor and cooking rice. I got up and offered to help with the morning chores. Yet, again, she refused. I decided not to bother her and chose to roam around the barangay with some of my fellow Xplorers. We were all surprised when we got out to feel cold air, comparable to the coldness of Baguio. We noticed the talongs (eggplants) they planted right outside of the homes, nearly ready to be harvested. After our expedition around the barangay ended, we got tired of roaming around so we then returned to our houses, and just like the first day, Nanay Nina was waiting on me to remind me that the food was ready and we should eat. This time she had prepared Milo for me. As with any breakfast with new friends, you try to strike up a conversation, and that was what I did. I asked her where Tatay Celio was. She said that he had already left, and they had eaten breakfast together already. I then asked about her family. I found out that apart from her, Tatay Celio, and their dog, Jinggoy, she said that she has four kids. Three of them were working in different provinces, and they barely get to see each other. The youngest one was going to college. She said that the whole family was trying to support him, but it was expensive. She said that she would get dentures (because she doesn’t have any teeth anymore) as soon as her bunso graduates from college because right now they want to direct all of the money that they can to their bunso’s tertiary education.
On the last day, a lunch and a swim later at a near by spring, it was time to go. It was time for us all to part ways. I was sad that we couldn’t stay longer, but happy about all the new friendships that we had built. These are memories that I will keep forever: the kindness and the willingness of my foster family to give me what little they had — giving me the only bed, the good food, the electric fan, the mosquito net, and everything else. It would seem that they also found joy in their generosity in making everything comfortable for me.
It was time for us to pack and get on the plane back to Manila. It was also time for us Xplorers to part our ways until school starts. It was time for us to move on and treasure the moments and friendships we had made.
And, as I said earlier, the trip was an eye-opener. It showed me how life can get bumpy, and how it may (literally) throw stones (or boulders) at you, but you can’t give up. You have to get up and keep pushing on. It’s your choice on how to play the set of cards that you’ve been dealt. You can keep complaining or be like Nanay Nina who does not quit, is satisfied with what she has, and does not hesitate to be generous.
After all these experiences I would like to thank all my fellow Xplorers; Fr. Xave, Ms. Cuevas, Ms. Ventosa, Mr. Bonifacio, Abella, Angelo, Diego, Dhiether, Dizon, Heinrich, J. Lu, Jerry, Austin, Latrell, Maynard, Ryan, Ken, MG, Mig, Bondoc, Joseph, Hyeok, Dieza, James, and Carlos. With gratitude, I would also like to give a special thanks to Nanay Nina and the people of Barangay Bonifacio, Bilar for their warm welcome and selfless care.