To say that Kairo and I got up early would not be accurate. We went to the late showing of "War for the Planet of the Apes," came back to the guesthouse to pack up, and caught an uber to the airport at about 1 a.m. Dave went to the movie with us and hung out until we headed out for the airport. By some stroke of good fortune, all of the flights--Kairo's flight to Gen San, my flights to and from Masbate, and my flight to Bali--would all come to Terminal 3. Nice. Plus, Terminal 3 had a left luggage center. For about $7, I could leave all my baggage at the airport while I made the quick day trip to Masbate.
I was glad for some last minutes with Kairo, even if we were both falling asleep. Kairo saw a pretty girl he thought was Korean and was trying to figure a way to talk to her. I walked over with him following me and asked if we could sit down with her. She said, "Of course." I asked if she was Korean. No, she was a local. At that point, I turned away and let Kairo talk to her. He managed to get her chatting for about 15 minutes at which time she said she had to go to the bathroom. She left and never came back. Kairo said, "I hope she will Facebook me." I said, "Um, Kairo, I hate to tell you this, but she was freaked out by you. She is hiding from you." We both laughed.
Soon enough, they were calling his flight. I gave him a big hug, told him how grateful I was for the time with him. He responded, "Me too, Dad, but don't cry." He hugged me again and headed out.
To be honest, there is not anything about this trip I have looked forward to more than the chance to spend one day on Masbate Island seeing Jhon Andre, the Compassion child I have supported for 12 years. He was four when we started. He just turned 17. I've spent enough time on the Philippines to know a little about Filipino teenagers. Almost all of them are a little shy around me. I'm old. I'm white. And I only speak English. I was talking with Anne about being a little afraid of freaking him out. She said, "Paul, when he sees you, he will take your right hand and touch it to his forehead. It is a sign of respect and a request for blessing. It is typical in Manila but much more in the provinces." Hm. I can deal with that.
I asked around. Apparently the act was developed when the Spanish priests were on the islands. They would touch people's heads as a sign of blessing. The people, particularly the children, would want their blessing and would actually take their hand to touch their head. An effort to receive the blessing of the priest. As the habit developed, it became a distinctly Filipino thing. Children almost always do it to pastors or "pastoras"--females in pastoral roles, typically wives of pastors. They also do the same to parents, grandparents, and god-parents. Kairo told me what it was called, but I don't remember now.
I boarded the plane with a heart heavy with anticipation. Unfortunately, my wallet was a little short of cash. I had thought to hit the ATM at the airport, but there was not one on my side of security and I really didn't want to go out of security again. I figured there would be an ATM at the airport. Plus, I would arrive about 6:30 a.m. and no one was supposed to pick me up until 9. Plenty of time to secure cash.
We arrived at the tiny airport with brakes on full as soon as we touched ground. It looked like something out of a movie. One little building with an arrival/departure lounge. Multi-functional. Probably not a problem as only about 3 flights a day go to Masbate. I had a small bag mostly full of gifts for Jhon and his family. I grabbed it up and walked outside. ATM? I asked around. No, you need to take a tricycle into town. I found a trike driver and asked how much to take me to an ATM in town. I knew it shouldn't cost more than 10 or 12 pesos--about $2--but I am a foreigner after all. The guy was shrewd. You just pay me whatever you think is fair. Actually, I think he just told me, You decide. I asked again. Apparently, he had grown to like his decision and said it again with more conviction. OK, let's go.
I'm not a novice at riding trikes, but I don't exactly love the experience either. Essentially, it is a little side-car on a small motor bike. If you are littler, say Filipino-sized, you can kind of see out of the trike. I am usually trying to keep from whacking my head on the ceiling, hoping the honking sounds are not quite as close as they sound. We arrived at a bank the driver thought suitable for me. He told me to leave my stuff in his trike while I went to get money. He would take care of it for me. I didn't actually doubt him. I mean, he was trying to increase my perceived value of his trike. The first ATM turned me down. Not international, I guess. I was sort of glad the trike driver was waiting for me. He took me down the street to a second. Also, a non-starter. This could be a problem. He took me to a third ATM. This one spit out money like a Vegas slot with three cherries. OK, I don't actually play slots, so I should say, it spit out money like I would guess a Vegas slot machine with three cherries would. My trike driver took me back to the airport and I gave him 50 pesos, about $10. He seemed quite pleased with this. I found out later the going rate was P8.
I found a little cafe off the airport parking lot and got a cup of coffee. I still had an hour to wait, and 9 a.m. could mean Filipino time...so 9:30 or 10. I had just finished my second cup of 3-in-1 when a van pulled up. I went to the door to look it over. Didn't see Jhon Andre, so I sat down. A few minutes later, two girls that could have been high school age came to the cafe. They walked up to me. Mr. Paul? Well, it was a good guess. I was the only large American male anywhere about. Maybe the only one on the island. They introduced themselves, but I really didn't understand. I figured they had to be with Compassion because...well, they knew my name. One of the girls has been Andre's case worker, but is releasing him to the other lady. Apparently, she didn't want the transfer to take place until after my visit. As we rode along, the holding on case worker kept chatting. I think the going to be case worker didn't speak much English. Or was extremely shy. They seemed crazy excited that I was there. I found out that I was the only individual sponsor the case worker knew of to come and visit his child of compassion. They had a group of Koreans, but apparently, that wasn't nearly as cool as having one fat American. The case worker told me that she had read EVERY letter I had written to Jhon Andre so she would know what to expect. Yikes, she is intense. She is only 22, finished university in Manila and came home to work with Compassion. Her mom used to be a case worker as well. She told me that the first thing we had to do was go over a form that would explain the rules for my visit. As long as I signed the form, the visit could take place. Sounded ominous.
It took about an hour to get to the Compassion center, a local church. It was like a national holiday. The place was decorated for me. Everyone was there to meet me. The case worker had told me that Jhon Andre would meet us at his home. However, as I walked up to the church office, there Jhon Andre stood. Now, my inclination was to go over to him and give him a big hug. But, I thought that might be one of the things on the form that was against the rules. So, I just stared at him and smiled. He sort of did the same thing. When I walked over to him, I was going to offer my hand to shake, but he took it and lifted it to his forehead, just as Anne had predicted.
The case worker swept me away to introduce me to everyone, beginning with Jhon's mother, then the pastor. They had gotten a cake for the event and seated me to have cake and coffee. I was pleased when the case worker ushered Jhon Andre to come and sit right next to me. She asked me if I wanted to see Jhon Andre's file. Um, sure, I guess. So, I began looking through his grades, his progress reports, and so forth, doing my best to poke fun at Jhon Andre the entire time. He laughed easily and I think was a little more at ease when he realized I would not be too serious. Or he thought I was a real jerk and wondered how long he would have to spend time with me.
He showed me to the room where he comes to a Saturday program. He is attending a public high school, but comes to the center for discipleship. I asked about his friends. It seemed that his best friends are all guys and girls from the center.
We walked to his house. It is a tiny wood and tin frame house. I think the whole place would fit in my living room, and Jhon Andre has 3 brothers, a sister, and another little sibling on the way. The house was immaculately clean and colorful. He showed me the kitchen, dining table, and the little privy downstairs. Then, he asked if I wanted to go upstairs to see his room. The stairs creaked as I walked up. I was afraid they would break under me. Jhon's bed is a mat on the floor of a room he shares with all his siblings. He showed me his clothes, neatly folded on a little shelve. "Sir," he asked, "would you like to have my jersey?" He pulled out a great red jersey with his name sewn onto it. I felt a little catch in my throat. Hard to imagine a kid who has so little wanting to give something so nice to me. I joked, "Well, if I take your jersey does that mean you will be playing football in your skin?" He laughed. His case worker said, "I am sure he has another jersey. I think he has been planning this." So, I accepted it. I thanked him over and over.
Back down stairs, I took out the gifts I had brought. They seemed very meager to me now. Some time ago, he told me he was playing drums in the youth group praise band. So, I had gone to a music store and got him the coolest set of sticks I've ever seen. Unfortunately, he is no longer really playing. Hm. I gave him a Bible in English and a journal. A collection of about a million pens. A T-shirt that says USA. A coolio cross for his family. Some Bath and Body stuff for his mom and the case worker. And a little cajon that the guy at the music store assured me would be very cool for a drummer...apparently, not for Jhon Andre. Oh well. Should have bought a soccer ball.
Next was lunch. We jumped into the van. Jhon again sat next to me. And the case worker tried to get him to make conversation with me the entire way. "Isn't there something you would like to say to your sponsor after he came all this way?" I felt bad for him and quipped, "Of course, no pressure." He found that extremely funny and said it over and over. Yes, I need to say something meaningful, but no pressure. He has a big heart, but he is 17. I suggested something nice for lunch, but the case worker asked if we couldn't just go to Jolly Bee. Ha. Sure.
"So, what is it you call me, Jhon Andre? Paul? Mr. Paul? Kuya?" The latter translates to Big Brother, probably not a descriptor for an old guy like me, but they were surprised I knew the word. Andre quipped back, "Lolo." Grandfather? Seriously? Then, they laughed that I knew what Lolo meant. OK, I'm closer in age to his grandfather than his kuya, for sure.
After lunch, we went to this resort. Apparently, it is the cool place on Masbate. I was supposed to stay the night, but when the case worker found out I was leaving early in the morning, she suggested I stay in town instead. It has a beautiful beach in view of a couple of other islands. I had brought trunks in case we were going to swim, but no one else had remembered to bring anything to swim. No matter. But Jhon wanted to swim with me and decided to go in his jeans. This is going to be uncomfortable, I thought. I got changed and we waded out into the sea. I was glad for the time. We just floated around and talked. I am sure Andre didn't understand much of what I said, but he seemed to be more open with me when it was just him and me. "I would love to come see your home some day," he told me. "I'd like to meet your family and your friends and see where you live." I told him I would love that. Perhaps some day.
I had a Filipino child of Compassion many years ago. He graduated out of the program and I never heard from him again. I don't want that to happen with Jhon Andre. I told him so. I told him I want to see what God does in his life as he goes to college, gets a job, gets married, has a family. "Don't lose touch with me, Jhon Andre."
After I changed and he put his shirt on, I asked, "Would you mind if I give you hug?" He reached over and hugged me. The case worker saw and wanted a picture of us hugging...which kind of made it weird. She made us hug again. On the van ride back to town, I told him, "Jhon Andre, I am so impressed with the man you are becoming. I am proud of you." His eyes watered a little, but he said nothing. What do you say, right? They dropped me at a hotel in town, made sure I was settled, and said good-bye. His mom and dad both expressed gratitude for me being in Jhon Andre's life for so long. "Please come back," his mom told me. I gave Andre another hug. He searched for words but couldn't come up with what he wanted to say; just said, Thank you.
I thought I would wander town a little, get some food. But, I laid down in the hotel room, fell asleep, and didn't wake up until time to get up the next morning. Quick trike ride to the airport and I was headed back to Manila.