2004 – the year I first left The Philippines to work on a passenger cruise. I can still remember how excited I was, my dreams finally coming true after all the hard work, tears, and mentally draining struggle away from poverty. Finally the long waited moment was here – my first time to ride an airplane, something that would change my life forever.
To work in a passenger cruise isn’t all glamor; it wasn’t the dream job I thought it would be. It was far from traveling the world for free and getting paid for it. There were so many more reasons to abandon my ‘ship of dreams’ than to stay, and so I left.
Soon enough, I was doing all the odd jobs I could to survive in Milan. As the eldest in the family, I was expected to help provide for my family after my father died when I was 16 years old, and that was also the end of my childhood.
In Milan, I worked numerous jobs from housekeeping, caregiving, dog-sitting and whatever else I could do to finally avoid being homeless.
Yes, not all people know, or even friends and family, that I have spent days at the church benches to keep myself warm, slept couple of nights at the park bench in the middle of a cold snowy winter.
I was lucky enough to have relatives who offered me a roof over my head for some time. I’m still grateful until now (I will forever be), and a foster family who kept me like their own when I have nowhere to go and fed me when I had nothing to eat. I was cold, I was homeless, I was hungry but I didn’t give up even on the verge of wanting to.
One low point came when I was almost raped by my employer. I thought it was the end of me. That was when I called to God and surrendered. When I looked and stared at my perpetrator’s eyes, I felt his grip of my wrists loosen and so I took advantage of the moment to push him away, quickly grabbed my stuff and ran like crazy. It was just the beginning of the worst days of my life. It was a turning point for me, realizing I was on my own and I had no one to turn to.
When it rains, it pours, just like the tears I shed after hearing one piece of bad news after another. It felt like it was never going to stop.
Since then, I’ve become a different person, I’ve become stronger, and I see things clearer now because of that.
Switching on the light
From that experience, I thought at that time, I should start living my life now. Though I tried, I honestly struggled to find my path again, realizing that everything I once knew was not real. I went back to the Philippines and took my Masters in Psychology. I wanted to find answers to my questions. "My life doesn’t stop here,” I said to myself.
Then, I embarked in a supposed 2-week retreat to Thailand and there I met my Australian ex-boyfriend, who introduced me to backpacking and blogging. The two-week retreat became a year and a half backpacking trip around Thailand, Vietnam, and Australia but it didn’t work for us and again, I went back to the Philippines to work at a call center.
Courtesy of Lindsay Cabildo
After saving up a bit, I tried my luck to get a job in Singapore as a receptionist in a high-end salon, but after two tries getting a work permit, I left. Not wanting to go back to the Philippines just yet, with the saved money from the last job, I went to Cambodia. There I met a female backpacker from the US who encouraged me to backpack on my own.
I told her, “I wish I could do what you’re doing too,” and she replied to me “Of course you can do this! If you want, let’s travel together to Sihanoukville!”
At that time I didn’t have enough courage to do it, but I kept in mind that I could do it, too.
After Cambodia, I went to Vietnam. The owner of the hotel I was inquiring at approached me and offered free accommodation in exchange of an hour teaching English to Vietnamese kids at their local community. I did it for a couple of weeks then traveled around Vietnam for 3 months. I went back to the Philippines again, saved money, and took a TEFL class online. I was brewing a plan.
The plan was to backpack on my own for a long time and teaching English would be my ticket to travel around the world. As soon as I finished the course, I was off to Thailand. Five days later, I was sent to a small town in Southern Thailand for my first English Teaching Camp. A 4-day all-expense paid trip and 2,000THB/day pay – I felt like I hit the jackpot. Soon after my arrival in town, I met with the teaching team, explored the town, enjoyed teaching funny kids. I was living a better dream.
Travel buddy, travel hubby
We had a blast in that strange town and little did I know that our sweet, nice, and gentlemanly team leader would end up as my future husband. When we went back to Bangkok after the camp, we started dating and I was swept away by his thoughtfulness and big heart.
From there we taught English together at the same colleges, traveled around Thailand, and moved to a townhouse in Southern Thailand where we lived for almost 2 years.
Last August, we traveled to the Philippines for him to meet my family, explore the northern countryside before heading back to the US. This is while I’m waiting for my US Visa interview to eventually meet him there and get married.
My travels weren’t always happy. It was a rollercoaster ride, a great adventure that made me the person I am now. But through it all, I learned this: when your dreams shatter, dream again!
*This article was first published by Rappler.com, a Manila-based social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change.