A young mother and her six children stand and pose for a photograph in front of their small wooden home in the countryside near Busuanga Airport where I just bid farewell to my friend Yolande who flew back to Singapore today. It’s funny to think just how close Singapore is to here, but how in many respects life in Singapore is worlds away from life in this rural community in the Philippines.
Despite not really being very far from Coron town, life in rural Palawan is very basic. There’s no power, no water, and no mobile phone coverage. For most of us, life here would be unimaginably difficult.
I spent a little while with this family who live just ten minutes away from Busuanga Airport. Between us there was no common language, but using sign language we were able to have something of a conversation. I learned that this young mother’s youngest child here is just 5 months old, and her eldest is around nine years old. The children showed me how to play a skipping game and the little boy showed me with great pride how fast he could get his ‘toy’ tire to go while he ran beside it keeping it moving with a stick.
In many respects life here is very difficult, but a part of me is envious of how wonderfully simple it seems to be too. Could you imagine giving a western child a used motorbike tire and saying, “There ya go Johnny, have this instead of the X box.”
As the mother proudly showed me their little wooden home that comprised of a single room, I thought about my friend Phil and Kerry-anne who have just welcomed their new son Isaac into the world. I tried to compare their life in New Zealand, surrounded by toys and baby care equipment, with this single room hut here in an unpowered place that often floods in the monsoon season. I imagined a situation in which the two families swapped lives for a month, and what they would both learn from an experience like that.
It still amazes me that in this hyper-connected busy world we all live in, there are still vast numbers of people for whom reality is almost unthinkably different. Where my digital camera and mirrored sunglasses look like artifacts from the future or at the very least a world that is far far away from them, when in reality it’s not that far at all.