This past December, I was graciously invited to attend the first annual Global Peace Convention, held from December 10-13 at the oldest hotel in the Philippines and historic landmark, the Manila Hotel. This event brought together over five hundred participants from twenty-eight countries, who sought solutions to the world’s most pressing issues under the banner of “One Family under God” and with the theme: “Peacebuilding for the 21st Century: Interfaith, Family, Service.” Many individuals spoke of how they have witnessed and promoted the connection between different faiths and religions within their community. When I arrived after almost thirty hours of travel from New York, I stepped into a taxi just after I took a glimpse of what surrounded me, and proceeded to the Manila Hotel at about two o’clock in the morning. During the entire ride, I did not take my eyes off the city nightlife and the shore of the Manila Bay. I immediately realized that I was not around anyone of my own race, and I felt even more delighted. Even when I walked around the shopping malls, I must have been the only foreign-looking individual. I came to visit a country not only to observe my surroundings, but to capture and bring home with me a culture I had become more familiar with.
One of the reasons I had the desire to visit Southeast Asia was to have the chance to be a traveler, instead of a tourist. What I mean by this is that I learned and observed from people’s livelihood, instead of being a tourist who takes my culture and way of life with me and “rejects,” so to speak, another way of life. I have always been naturally very open to other ways of life. I had the opportunity to learn about the Filipinos’ day-to-day activities, their heritage, leisure and social interests, as well as their family life.
To get around the city, most citizens ride in a “Jeepney.” This is the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines, originally made from US military jeeps left over from World War II. Another popular method of transportation is the callesas, or horse drawn carriages found in the Intramuros, or the Walled City, the oldest district of Manila. I had the exciting opportunity to take part in an Intramuros sightseeing tour where I learned about the history of Manila and the Philippines, from the earliest times through the ruling periods by Spain, the United States, Japan, and finally to independence. It was there that I took the time to bond with fellow peace builders along with my Filipino tour guides.
One of the most important topics of discussion at the Global Peace Convention was the Mindanao conflict. Mindanao is located on one of the southernmost islands of the Philippines. Recently a religious conflict erupted resulting in the massacre of 57 individuals in the Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province. It is there that people have suffered from inter-religious conflict for many generations.
After I attended the Global Peace Convention, I stayed with my friend Paolo’s friends, the Hidalgos. They were extremely kind and generous individuals who invited me into their home that immediately sparked my curiosity, because they had boarders living with them. I wanted to learn how and if they lived considerably differently from the way most do in the U.S. Most adult children continue to live with their mothers and fathers even when they get married and have a family. Often times they will continue to live at home with their spouse and children. This helps to establish the unity of both families and create an even stronger bond. I especially loved the food of the Philippines. Some of the dishes I ate often were rice (the staple food of the country), grouper, embutido (a sausage found in Spanish colonies), ensaymada (a pastry), lychee nuts and passion fruit.
I would never have been able to visit the Philippines without the dedication, guidance and generosity of the my community service department at my college, and particularly the support of the Global Citizenship Coordinator, who helped my find a host to live with during the last week of my stay. I am grateful for their assistance and cannot thank them enough.
* Night photo and scenic photo taken by Markus Hidalgo.