Skip to main content

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?".

* * *

Popular posts from this blog

8 Heritage Houses of Iloilo

Lizares Mansion The province of Iloilo on the island of Panay has a rich trove of heritage houses, left over from the sugar industry boom in the 19th century. Iloilo also had the largest port in the Philippines at that time which facilitated the export of sugar to foreign shores and deposited money in the hands of the sugar barons. The barons dropped their earnings into the acquisition of properties in Negros and the construction of beautiful homes in Iloilo, many of which are located in the vicinity of the Jaro Cathedral. The Lizares Mansion was built in 1937 by Don Emiliano Lizares for his wife, Concepcion Gamboa and five children. The family fled to safety when World War II broke out and the house was occupied by the Japanese military. The family returned to the house after the war but left once again after the demise of Don Emiliano. It was sold to the Dominican order in the 1960s and was converted in 1978 to a private school, Angelicum School. The mansion now houses the

Filipino Struggles in History - Carlos Botong Francisco

In 1968, Antonio Villegas (then Mayor of Manila), commissioned Carlos "Botong" Francisco to paint the history of Manila for Manila City Hall. The series of large scale paintings was called  Kasaysayan ng Maynila  (History of Manila).  The paintings deteriorated over time and no attempt was made to preserve these historical canvases until 2013 when Mayor Amado Lim sent them to the National Museum for extensive restoration. Four years later, in 2017, Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada and the Manila City Council signed an agreement with the National Museum to leave the paintings at the museum so they may reach a larger audience in exchange for museum grade reproductions to replace the originals. Kasaysayan ng Maynila was later renamed Filipino Struggles in History and is now on display at the Senate Hall of the National Museum . Carlos "Botong" Francisco died in March 1969, a few months after completing the paintings. He is one of the first Filipino modernists and

The Art of Carlos Botong Francisco - Progress of Medicine in the Philippines

Pre-colonial period Pag-unlad ng Panggagamot sa Pilipinas (The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines) is a group of four large-scale paintings depicting healing practices in the Philippines from pre-colonial times to the modern period. Carlos Botong Francisco was commissioned in 1953 by  Dr. Agerico Sison who was then the director of Philippine General Hospital (PGH) together with   Dr. Eduardo Quisumbing of the National Museum, Dr. Florentino Herrera, Jr. and Dr. Constantino Manahan. These oil on canvas paintings measure 2.92 meters in height and 2.76 meters in width (9.71 ft x 8.92 ft) and were displayed at the main entrance hall of PGH for over five decades. Owing to its location, the artworks were in a state of "severe deterioration" at the beginning of the 21st century from exposure to heat, humidity, dirt, dust, smoke, insect stains, grime, termites and an oxidized synthetic resin used in an earlier restoration. These canvases were restored three times, the last was