Ten years ago, we sold our house, I took my husband’s hand, and we moved our young family to Manila.
He told me he wanted to go home. He said he wanted to work with his father and make a life in his home country. We had lived together as husband and wife for 8 years by then. I knew he wanted to go home for some time, and could see that there were times he was melancholy and home sick.
We had discussed moving a few times before in our marriage. But it was only at that time, that I felt we were ready to relocate with our children. So, with three small kids in tow, we bought one way tickets and took the plunge to living in the Philippines.
I thought it would be easy to adjust to living here. After all, Manila is mainly English speaking, so as a Filipina American whose Tagalog was almost non existent, I thought I could manage. Of course there was culture shock, and a little bit of home sickness sprinkled in between moments of revelation and wonder for my mother’s home country.
I knew it would be a wonderful learning experience for me. I welcomed the chance to also nurture my relationship with my older sister who had been living in Asia for some time, and do the same with my extended family on my mother’s side. I was also excited to get to know Nino’s extended family, his grandmother, and learn more about Nino’s childhood in a place that was so different from the world I grew up in in upstate New York.
I’ve been mulling this post over for some time now, coming up with 10 reasons why I love living in Manila, and I have contemplated the good and the bad that this country has shown me.
But because y’all know me, and know my take on life, I care not to dwell on the negative, and rather focus on the positive.
After Gelli was born my whole paradigm shifted and I realized that the more we are grateful in this life, the happier we will be.
Hope you don’t mind that I share some of the things that I love most about my life here in Manila. I know my life may differ from the vast majority of many of the people living here. Many times, I think I live in a bubble, shielded from the harsh realities of living in a third world country. I have been blessed many times over and for this I am grateful. However, like everyone, we all have our challenges in life and love and LIFE.
I am grateful for the beautiful country I have been given to explore. I have seen the beauty in the countryside, the cities, and the people of the Philippines. There are so many more beautiful places I have on my bucket list, and I hope I can share these gifts from God with my children.
A photo posted by ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Michelle Aventajado (@mommanmanila) on
I am grateful for the depth and variety of the flavors of the Filipino food I have learned to explore and appreciate. Growing up in a home where the menu mainly consisted of Italian American dishes my mother would learn from her travels and her mother in law to please my father’s palate, my experiences with Filipino food were that of the everyday dishes. It is comfort for many rice loving pinoys, but was not my preference. Through my experiences, I have been blessed to try different delicacies from different regions, and I have learned the stories behind these dishes that have been lovingly prepared and shared at many a tables.
I am grateful for the heart of the Filipino people. Being invited into someone’s home is an honor. From the sharing that goes on between the mothers I have spent time with, to the Bayanihan spirit that lives in so many. The gratitude. The willingness to share. The open hearts and open minds. Being given the opportunity to get to know the resilience of the people and a culture can only be seen when you are living in a place where you are immersed in the people, places, food, and even the disasters that I have seen people in war torn and devastated regions that bounce back from tragedy.
Filipinos have a culture that values FAMILY above all else. It is a culture where you see many homes blessed with more than two generations living in one home together. The experience and wisdom that comes from the idea that we take care of our own cannot be compared to any other loving home. The respect that the youngins show for their elders is something that is lost in many other cultures. With age comes wisdom, with wisdom comes the opportunity to share. When we say that it takes a village to raise a child, I understand that Filipinos live this every day, by having close knit families where we support one another.
Understanding this culture, has given me great insight into my relationships with my mother and my husband. I say without reservation that there are many things I didn’t understand about my mother growing up in the suburbs of Manhattan. I may have been kicking and screaming when my husband told me he wanted to leave the place I grew up in, but I know now, if we did not move to Manila, my understanding of my mother and her culture and what shaped her would be grossly limited.
In truth, I had always identified myself as a Filipina. However, it was in my move here, that I realized I was way more American than I thought. That’s not a bad thing…but I have definitely attributed the changes in my understanding and appreciation for all things Filipino simply because I have fallen in love with the Philippines as well. I have also realized that I’m somewhere in between cultures now. Feeling passionate when I hear of someone speaking negatively about the Philippines I become defensive and even disappointed when others cannot see the beauty that I have seen.
I have more time to myself living in Manila, than I did back home in NY. I can see that in the quality of my relationships with my children and my husband. I have learned to delegate the more mundane routines and parts of my day to the helpers who I am lucky to have. There are lots of pros and cons to having live in house help here in Manila. (or anywhere for that matter) But, I am definitely the type of person who likes to look at the positive attributes that such services brings to my life.
I can rest easier at night, and not worry about the other chores that would take up much of my time in NY. Those are the times that I would plop the kids in front of the tv and scurry around the house to try and keep it liveable.
Back home, I would clean and do the laundry while the kids were fast asleep in their own rooms. I remember feeling completely exhausted and be making mental notes and lists of the chores I would finish before they would wake up so that I could be fully present when they climbed out of bed.
I still make mental lists (and even sometimes physical lists on my phone) but the housework isn’t something I need worry about. Instead, I can focus on the fun stuff.
Learning how to delegate responsibilities in the home has also spilled over into other aspects of my life here, that I know would be different if I was still living in New York.
When Gelli was first born, I turned to the internet for answers. This source of information and my searches of websites and blogs fed me desire to share my own journey with Gelli. Even here, while I blog, I know that the opportunities this platform has offered me, would be very different if I was living in New York.
I have connected with mommas, poppas, and all sorts of people who I would not have otherwise connected had I not decided to take the cyber leap into the blogosphere. I find inspiration in others that I follow on social media and share that inspiration in the hopes that I am making my small contribution to this world as we know it.
With my advocacies, I KNOW I am able to take small steps through friendship, awareness, and furthering inclusion as Best Buddies Country Director for the Philippines. I have met so many advocates in the field of special needs, education, and through government agencies where we are all fighting for the rights of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
I am equally blessed to call many of these people my friends.
Living in the Manila has also offered me the ability to truly celebrate big and small milestones in my life and my children’s lives. Celebrating is something Filipinos know how to do. You don’t need more than 3 people to get a party started, and usually if you have 3 people together, you can be sure the karaoke microphone might come out too.
Celebrating Christmas in Manila is a four month affair.
I’m not kidding. (Friends back home in NY, this is not a joke!)
Some of my friends put their Christmas Tree up as early as September. Malls play Christmas music as early as September 1st, and stores decorate for the most important holiday of the year before Halloween has come and gone.
I used to shun this early welcome of Christ’s Birthday. Not because I didn’t believe that Christmas is the most wonderful time of year, but because I still wanted to celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving before I would dive into my Christmas decorations or gift buying for my family and friends. I didn’t understand or find the joy in celebrating so early, because I still felt like there were other things that needed to come chronologically in the calendar before I could take out the tinsel and the garland.
Now, I enjoy putting my tree up on November 2nd. I let All Souls Day pass, so we can honor those who have gone before us, and I enjoy putting the tree up reminding myself that Jesus is the reason for the season of LOVE. It’s a time for GIVING, and my kids enjoy the long list of our Random Acts of Christmas Kindness that we make sure to complete before Baby Jesus’ birthday in December.
I can even get excited about asking everyone to pose for a family picture by the Christmas tree on our makeshift Thanksgiving Day.
Come on…who wouldn’t love to stretch out the most wonderful time of year? I get it now! My Christmas lists come earlier. The joy of wrapping is done slowly over the four months, and if I’m lucky Santa will be nice to me and my kids and we will be able to share our blessings.
If traveling while you are young, offers you the perspective you need to broaden your understanding of the ways of the world and your acceptance of those around you, LIVING in another country for 10 years certainly offers just as many gifts (if not MORE) to your life to help make you a better person as well.
When I was younger, my parents would ship me off to visit various states to visit with family and friends, (and later foreign countries while I was still in college) and these experiences shaped who I became later in life. Traveling and stepping outside of my comfort zone taught me lessons I could not have learned if I was still back home living in the same town and visiting the same places I grew up in.
I always came back a different person.
Now that I am a little older (NOT OLD, just older) and I have made the choice to raise my family in my husband’s home country, I realize how much I have changed as well. The Philippines has been good to me. I can understand a lot more tagalog, I can relate to the challenges my mother faced while she was growing up here, and I can offer my children a true understanding of their culture.
I have learned what it is like to truly be welcomed into someone’s home, their lives, and their plight. I have been given so many opportunities to better myself. This also means that I can really appreciate the comforts and gifts to living in a place where there are four seasons. I LOVE NEW YORK. The culture I grew up in has also shaped me in ways that growing up in Manila could not have done either.
But after 10 years here in Manila, I have grown as well.
Growing is good.
Learning is good.
Giving is good.
Understanding the culture where my husband and mother came from is REALLY good.
Thank you Manila.
Thank you for making me a better version of myself.