Time changed me. The very means of living made a drastic change in me. How I see life and live life is different from the way that I have perceived it to be a decade ago. This, the things that I do, the activities that I engage myself in, at this very moment, are those things that I have never thought I would be doing in a lifetime. But who are we to follow such blueprint that carves every single one of us to fit in a societal mold? Eventually, we deviate. Eventually, we make that conscious choice not to fit in. Eventually, we become free.
There are days that I work on design projects along the shoreline, with the sound of the waves crashing on the reef, the view of eagles and birds flying high above me on a stark blue morning. My feet pressed on the tiny grains of sand and the hermit crabs crawling over, the brush of sea breeze on my face, the colorful sails of the local boats passing on the horizon, and I was still working.
There are days that I wake up early to jog along the road, push my body to go over the hills, pass through majestic trees on a small curve, and see children carrying their empty pails to the nearest water source. There are days that fresh air blow through my face and there are days when tiny droplets of rain shower me on pink-sky mornings. There are days that are so fascinating, you get to see the view from above the mountain, feel your sweat running down your neck, and give thanks to a simple yet extraordinary life given at that moment, that moment where you, a small human, are towering over the cliff, overlooking the bay and the lush green living things below you.
There are days that I walk on mud, march on knee-high murky waters to spread the net and gather some fish, pick them out one at a time, and dodging from the hyperactive ones which could hit your face. There are cold nights too that I walk on mud, not to catch fish, but to slowly walk behind mud crabs and prawns with a huge catch net on my hand, these creatures all seemingly staring at you with their steely white, round, eyes. And some young nights, while the moon is full, I get water snakes strongly wrapping themselves on my wrist and feet.
There are days that I give life to plants, vegetables and fruits that I love to consume, those days I get my hands dirty, touch the earth and play with fat wiggly worms, and nurture the soil that feeds us. Those days I bask under the sun, stab the ground countless times to till it, spread the seeds that were harvested from their mother plants, and wait for time to work its magic. There are days that those tiny seeds sprout, grow more leaves, and bear fruit, and there are also days that those tiny seeds die because of harsh temperatures and heavy rains. There are days you get to see them all, the life exuding from them all, cabbage, lettuce, spring onions, ginger, lemongrass, coriander, baby carrots, cucumbers, radishes, sweet potatoes, peanuts, butternut squash, pumpkins, bitter gourd, turmeric, chili, bell peppers, lemons, tomatoes, okra, eggplants, and some other colorful finds.
There are days that I take solitary long walks by the coast, dipping my bare feet on the salty waters, walking over the anchored ropes of the locals’ fishing boats. There are days that I feel like a floating spirit, wandering the shore without anyone noticing, observing their daily routines and warding off dogs trying to snatch their sun-dried fish. There are days that I feel insignificant, alone in a culture I never grew up in, and there are days that I feel so alive, helping locals pull together a fishing net that was cast on the beach, slowly pulling it closer and closer to the shore until different types of fish come splashing on the waters. There are days too that I feel so rich, that these people provide you with a bucket of fresh catch, fresh fish for you to consume, even though you have spent a little of your time and energy to help them pull.
There are days that I pass by farmers, men and women, young and old, planting and harvesting rice and there are days when I see them play in the fields, ride the water buffalo, and asking me to join them too. There are days that I forget about the life I have left in the city, in exchange for a life like this where you get to see children smile, play, enjoy themselves on the mud puddles, surrounded by the love of their families, the rice field, their playground. There are days that I could never recall about my childhood because I grew up in a grey-colored world, boxed in four corners, without any idea about the changing colors of rice stalks and rice grains. There are days that I have wished that my childhood would have been this colorful, this free, this liberating. There are days that I feel happy for the people I am seeing, detached from the cables of technology, because this, the way they live, is an envy to many, especially to me.
There are days I climb hills and visit the highlands, where I pass through corn fields and century old mango trees, small waterfalls and creeks, where I get to play with goats, cows, water buffalos, and horses along the way. There are days I get to experience the life of a strong woman, a farmer and a mother to her children living by mountains. I get to join her in her daily routine, passing through narrow pathways, skipping on platform rocks through the river, helping her gather and tend her animals, help out in harvesting sweet potatoes and bananas, and engage in life-altering conversations. We spend an afternoon of talking, beside a waterfall, and her children bringing us fresh coconut juice right from the tree, sweet bananas and mangoes to savor. It was a life I never lived and an afternoon I never had experienced before.
There are days I stay inside a pen and play with pigs, touching their snouts and grabbing their quadruple chins, flaring their ears and patting their tummies. There are days that I bathe them, clean them, feed them, and talk to them like they are human. There are also days I cry on these animals because one day I know they will be gone. There are days too that I take care of native chickens, feed them with cracked corn and watch over their eggs. There are days I rescue those newly hatched chicks and give out my own body heat to help them survive. There are those days that instead of seeing bacon and chicken wings, you see innocent animals, and you see right through their eyes, those look of innocence.
There are days that I escape the world and go for a swim when the tide is high. I put on my snorkeling gear and glide through the water as if it is a personal pool, a luxury that is never bought. I swim above a thriving community of creatures below me, fish, mollusks, and other sea critters living there. I pass by sea urchins, sea cucumbers, small and colorful fishes, crabs, and baby octopuses camouflaging themselves. There are also days that the tide is low and the sea grass is exposed, and the entire community flocks on the damp terrain with their flip flops on, in seach for sea urchins and shells to eat. There are days that I join them in search for those creatures and enjoy a meal of freshly caught, delectable sea urchins and jumping shells by the beach.
There are days that I paint the things I experienced, and use art as a medium to tell the story of the lives of the people around me. There are days that children see their faces on the artwork and there are days that they identify the types of fish I am sketching. There are days that they would be interested in learning about watercolor and there are days that they simply need help on their elementary algebra lessons. There are days that I stand by as a sister and a friend to these children, while their parents are out in the fields, working. There are days that I wanted to make a huge change in the world and there are days that I just want to make a difference in one child’s life. Painting is an outlet and I love every second every time one child, even one person, gasps at the look of an artwork. There are days that I feel so happy for doing something that I really love, without anyone ever telling me to stop.
There are days that I thrive in silence, nurture every piece of thought and idea floating in my mind. There are days that I stare blankly into the nothingness of space, or count the impossible number of stars above me. There are days that I write my random thoughts and there are days that I sketch my dreams, bewildered by the magnificence of the creative human mind, I am entertained by the intertwining fabric of my imagination. There are days that I listen to that voice inside my head and there are days when I choose to say those countless things out loud, and there are strange days too that all I do is pray, meditate, reflect, and react to the world around me in inaudible expressions. Those days taught me the values and principles that I carry with me, to detach myself from the material things and live, and truly live in the moment.
Those days kept me grounded, that no matter what I have or what I do or what I achieve in this life, I stay firmly on the ground. I stay true to myself, to the people that accepted my presence in their village, to the children who look up to me, and to the friends and relatives that have supported every crazy, wild, weird, and “it’s so not you” ideas I throw to them. I will remain still, both feet pressed firmly on the ground.
And no matter where my feet would take me next, the three or more years that I have spent in a welcoming fishing community like this, will always be the stories and memories that I will constantly return back to. It is because of stripping myself from monetary and material wealth that I have really witnessed myself grow beyond any means, grow and mature and appreciate the littlest of things and the tiniest of gestures, that was never taught in any class that I have attended.
I just learned how to be human, to give love and receive love from everyone, to express myself through pure human emotions, and pursue a undying, yet still flaming passion – without the selfies, without the check-ins, without the constant social media updates, without the check boxes, without the tweets, without anything that would draw any attention to me or to what I do.
I just learned how to live in peace.
Who am I to follow such blueprint that carves us to fit in a single societal mold? Eventually, I deviated. Eventually, I made a conscious choice not to fit in. Eventually, I became free.