How would you communicate when stuck in a foreign land with a completely foreign companion? Saba, a PhD scholar who was in Philippines to attend an ADB programme, overcame language and cultural barriers and made new friends.
All alone yet accompanied by some dreams, aspirations and excitement, I arrived at Manila in the winter of 2012. I was on my way to attend an internship programme with the International Non-Governmental Organisation Forum on ADB (Asian Development Bank). This was my first trip to Philippines, or anywhere else outside India. The place was completely unknown to me.
After a slightly nervous journey I finally landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila on a bright sunny morning. Breathing in new air and looking all around at strange people made me realise how faraway I was from Kashmir. But all my fears and insecurities took a backseat when the thought that I am really all by myself struck my mind. For the first time in my life I was completely independent.
After an hour long taxi ride from the airport I was at the forum’s office in uptown Manila. Meeting new people has been something I have thoroughly enjoyed. So when I met my fellow interns from different countries, backgrounds and faiths, I was more than happy to be with them. And icing on the cake was that instead of some staid hotel I was to share a flat with my co-interns.
There was this girl from Pakistan, Shabana, with whom I clicked a little earlier due to our halal food preferences and a shared language. Mida, who was from Indonesia, was intellectual in her talks and good in English which made it easier to communicate with her. Another girl from Vietnam, Ha, was sweet in her ways and always carried a smile on her face, but was proving very difficult to communicate with as her pronunciation of English was not only difficult to understand but at times simply ‘Greek’ to me. With each passing day we were getting comfortable in each other’s company and were enjoying our evening strolls.
On one such pleasant evening after completing the agenda of the day, we all went straight to our rooms to relax a bit. But when you are far away from your home and have access to internet, relaxing was sure to take a backseat. I instantly got connected with my friends and family through facebook.
Sometime later I realised that everyone else had left the forum office-cum-apartment to either explore the city or to hang out with their local friends. Now it was Ha and myself who were left. Ha who was sweet in nature and always had a smile on her face which induced a lot of positive energy. It took me some five or six minutes to make her understand, by using all the possible gestures, that we both should also go out and have fun. It was really funny the way I was trying to make my point without saying a single word. It was like communicating with an alien. I felt really happy to finally find mutually understood gestures to communicate with Ha.
My hard work had paid off as we were finally out of the office building on our evening walk. We were a little nervous as we had not gone out so late in the evening on our own. But it was ‘Vietnam’ giving strength to ‘Kashmir’ and vice versa. It was kind of funny as the pathway I chose for our evening stroll made Ha a bit nervous. I could see the nervousness on her face.
So with these feelings of fear, happiness, and excitement to be on our own in a new country; enthusiasm to click pictures so that we could share them with our friends on facebook, all together made that evening one of the best we spent in Philippines.
Throughout the evening we communicated with each other through the language that needs no words i.e. through gestures and common emotions. Ha was leaving no stone unturned to make me understand that she is really enjoying my company.
After two hours, we came back to our apartment and helped each other cook dinner, which was completely different in taste and style. It was a mixture of Kashmiri and Vietnamese cuisine. For the reaming part of my stay in Philippines, I felt completely at home. Ha, Shabana and I would sit for long hours together and talk about our life back home.
Apart from bag full of gifts that I bought home I also carried memories of that evening which I had spent with Ha. Spoken words are not always the shortest distance between two human beings, humanity, mutual trust, and respect for fellow human beings transcends all barriers.