Story by Andrea, one of our Chief MAD Experience Officers
One month into my job as a new tour guide for the Tribes and Treks tour in Zambales, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend my birthday with the community. At this point, I had been to Yangil Village no more than five times. My 24th fell perfectly on a tour day that was overbooked. I thought nothing of it, though, because I typically don’t like celebrating my birthday; plus my family is in Bacolod. I was just excited to be with the tribe and meet new friends.
My boss, however, being the enthusiastic character that he is, decided to tell the tribe in advance that I was going to spend my “special day” with them and the guests. He warned me days before the actual day that a birthday song should be expected, so expect that I did. What unfolded was definitely more than what I could have imagined.
Upon entering the community, everyone I saw along the way excitedly came up to me and greeted me a “happy birthday” – some even gave warm, tight hugs as they uttered the greeting. What met us in the community center was not the typical spread of ube (purple yam) chips and lemongrass tea that we serve to guests as morning snacks before lunch. The tribal nanays (mothers) I’ve come to know in that one month prepared some unique local delicacies – one made of ube and coconut, the other made of brown sugar and sticky rice – just because it was my birthday. They told me that the chieftain of the tribe had to spend a whole day up in the mountains just to look for the right coconuts to use for the recipe. Everything was delicious and amazing and made with love.
After lunch, the birthday song I was made to expect was sung, but it was accompanied by a sweet potato cake that they prepared, a single candle standing, indicating that it was indeed for me – the “birthday girl”. Everyone excitedly sang and clapped again, greeting me and hugging me once more. By this time, my heart was just bursting with joy and gratitude. But the treats and the surprises weren’t over yet. The teenage girls I always talk to and joke around with, Princess Joy and Rehana, pulled me aside and each gave me bracelets they made themselves. They pulled me close and tight into a group embrace and told me how thankful they were for my presence in the community.
It seemed unreal to me, because frankly, it seemed like I had more to be thankful for because of them. Not just because of the generosity they shared on my birthday but the deep familial love they’ve extended to me in just one month.
It is easy to give when you have more than what you need. But it is something else when you give even when you have less. Here were people who, once upon a time, lost everything to the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, who struggle to make ends meet every day, who don’t always have a sure meal to eat – here they were, going out of their way for one person they’ve decided to welcome into their homes just to make her feel special on a silly little day. Here they were giving much more than what was expected or even necessary and in the process teaching me what family and true generosity really means.