How do you define friendship? Over the years, my concept of friendship is that of a relationship between people who care and nurture each other to be the best of what they can be. I believe that friends are those who immediately notice that you are not okay even before you utter a single word of complaint. Friends are those who celebrate with you in times of success and cry with you when the going gets rough. I believe in the existence of this ideal friendship. I just wished I didn’t take that too literally and narrow-minded as before.
This year, a lot of great things happened that made me changed the way I see friendship. And I am very glad it did.
ME BEFORE THEM
Some millenials see my lifestyle as one mirroring their current dreams – living independently from my parents before I reach my mid-twenties, continuing my graduate studies in a top university, staying in a nice condo all by myself, traveling around the Philippines and 23 other countries so far, and having full autonomy of my life.
However, breaking the beautiful façade one can see the lonely truth of this lifestyle. When the excitement of having my own space started dying, I began feeling lonely – trapped in a box on the 29th floor, watching the world goes by with only my furniture and gadgets with me. I started actively seeking company– going out almost everyday to meet friends, asking people to visit me often, offering to swim with me in the pool, among others. But life happens and I get disappointed when I wanted to hangout but friends have school, work, family and love obligations, etc. I started questioning whether they are really my friends. Why can’t they sense that I am lonely? That I need company? Is the horrendous traffic really a strong deterrent for meeting me?
DAWN OF A NEW DAY
It started early January of 2016. As a frequent traveler, I have heard about several apps for travelers, one of those is Couchsurfing. Basically, Couchsurfing is a global community of travelers that believes in the idea of a paying-it-forward hospitality. Members are encouraged to host other members traveling in their country or hometown and provide them free accommodation and opportunity to know a local and understand the culture from within.
One day, I was chatting with this Swiss national who was in New Zealand at that time. He asked if I could host him in my flat in Manila. I had Couchsurfing hosting experience before, but only for females so I was a bit wary offering my home to a complete male stranger. He fully understood where I was coming from and we both agreed that I could at least meet him first and decide from there.
However, I totally forgot the date of his arrival and it was only two days after when he also messaged me and said that he had found a male host. I was both happy and relieved. Later that day, as I was eating lunch prepared by my new Korean neighbor, I spontaneously invited her and a Filipino friend to come over for dinner at my place. As an afterthought, I also sent an invitation to the Couchsurfer.
The Fateful Day: 11 January 2016
On that momentous day, I hosted a simple dinner for my Korean neighbor, fellow Filipina blogger friend, and the Swiss traveler. It was love at first sight, if there is even that occurrence for friendship. From 8 PM of that day, we talked nonstop until 2 AM when I finally voiced my concern of the lateness of the hour. It seemed no one wanted to leave. The company was simply that great, conversation easily flowing, atmosphere friendly and uplifting.
Sometimes, we meet people who we feel very good instantly with – from the very beginning of meeting each other. There is this lightness in the feeling that you can trust this person. That you can see yourself being friends for so long. That just upon that meeting, you see this person can be part of your future.
On that day, the Stinky Project was born. Well, our group didn’t have that name until a weekend after when we went for our Banaue-Sagada trip and were followed by stinkiness in the air. Long story, but filled with fun memories.
TRAVELERS BOUND FRIENDSHIP BY TRAVELING TOGETHER
Below would be several photos taken during our travels around the Philippines together. Sometimes, I would bring my Canon DSLR to our trips to come up with better quality images. However, I often complain on its weight and bulkiness. Besides, I want to be a traveler and not a tourist and the DSLR screams very touristy for me. I mostly prefer using a smartphone because it’s lightweight and handy. However, it sometimes cannot produce high quality photos especially when zoomed and the battery won’t last an entire day especially while I am wandering around and snapping photos of beautiful landscapes.
For now, let me share some memories of the friendship captured in these photos. Most of the time there were only three of us because Sunny’s school schedule couldn’t match our free time. However, we try our best to spend time together whenever we were in Manila. She’s my neighbor anyway. 🙂
The weekend after our first meeting, we had a spontaneous trip to Banaue and Sagada. It was a litmus test for the newly formed friendship. Will we return to Manila as friends or enemies? That was a senseless question. We had so much fun like old souls who have known each other for so long!
Our first climb together. Due to Sunny’s school schedule, she couldn’t join.
For our first flight, I was very excited to show them Cebu and Bohol. Both Eyah and Marcel had never been to these islands which happened to be two of my favorites in the country. We keep on remembering how Marcel, being a Swiss with four official languages, keep on pronouncing tarsier as /tar-syee-yay/ with a French accent. Haha!
Cebu captured our hearts. It was simply beautiful. We did not want to leave. As I look back, perhaps I can blame that statement for what happened later. We arrived in the airport few minutes after the boarding gate closed and the final call was announced. We missed our flight. I expected this would ruin the mood we were in, but boy I was so wrong. I think we only got disappointed in less than five minutes! Can you believe that? No complaining, blaming, or finger pointing. We were all chill and even laughed at the situation we were in. Friendship tested during stressful times!
These photos and videos are testaments that we really met in this space in the world and had forged friendship which I hope would stand the test of time. The proof that my friends, no matter where they are in the world right now, exist and I was lucky enough to meet them. In these digital files, I tried to capture those moments when friendship and companionship are in the air, when we were all strangers in foreign places and have only each other to rely on.
TIME TO SAY GOODBYE?
However, Marcel’s journey had come to an end. With a heavy heart, we said our goodbyes along with tearful messages of gratitude for a wonderful and intense friendship. We hugged each other tightly, not wanting to let go for fear of being forgotten as we slowly put distance from each other. Promises were made, future plans and hopes of meeting again were said. On the 16th of February, The Stinky Project bid farewell to one of our friends.
Do all good things really have to end? What about those promises? Are those simply empty words to console those who would be left behind? Despite the intense friendship, I had a moment to doubt him. I had many foreign friends who simply forgot about the Philippines and me as soon as they arrived back in their countries. Will Marcel be different?
ONLY TO MEET AGAIN TWO MONTHS LATER
Exactly two months since Marcel flew back home, I found myself in his homeland – Switzerland. I am taking my exchange program in Germany and was traveling around Europe with a friend when this happened.
Just look at our goofy faces! Finally reunited. Half of the Stinky Project was in Europe, while the other half was in Philippines. Talk about balancing. 🙂
Even before this day arrived, The Stinky Project made true to its promise. We keep in touch. Our group chat remains active and loud. We do Skype video calls despite the wonky Internet connection wherever we are. Whenever we are free, we try to check on everyone and see if all is well. I am very touched. I honestly did not expect the friendship to come this far.
It’s as if nothing happened. Nothing changed. It didn’t feel like we were separated for two months already. I didn’t feel that he was only friendly to me because he was in a foreign land with no one to depend on. No. Marcel is the same person. Our friendship stands. The bind of friendship still holds. I was surprised with this. I didn’t know before that this can really happen. Like Charles Dickens once said, “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.”
After that trip to Switzerland, I continued with my journey. On the 11th of June, to mark our sixth month of friendship, we had a video call via Skype. Marcel was in Zurich, I was in Vienna, Sunny was in Quezon City, while Eyah was in Pasig City. We were all over the place. It was loud, we were talking at the same time, someone got disconnected sometimes, Internet connection got sloppy. It was very funny!
CHANGING THE WAY I SEE FRIENDSHIP
How can one define friendship? Well, I still hold to the ideal friendship I have formed in my head. However, I found out this year that it is possible to find wonderful people in the most unexpected ways. Moreover, I realized that friendship does not have to be about consistent presence and proximity. That friendship is not measured by how often you see each other or how near one person lives next to you. Daily conversation is not a validation of true friendship. The Stinky Project is a group of four people from three different countries, living from different sides of the world, who bind themselves in a friendship no matter the distance.
I am grateful that in 2016, the way I see friendship was changed. That no matter where I go, how long I haven’t seen and meet my friends, nothing will change between us. That the next time we will meet, we would still be the same crazy and loving souls we were from the beginning. I learned that to keep the friendship alive, we need to hang on, to stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for us. To value a friend, we should not give up. Do not be too busy or tired. Do not take them for granted.
Friends, they say, are the families you choose for yourself. I am glad I chose well. I am more grateful that they chose me. And I am beyond appreciation that we choose to be friends despite of everything – country borders, distance, colors, races, gender, languages, culture, and religion. I am confident that wherever we are in the world, the Stinky Project will keep the friendship alive no matter how busy we will be. And with us being avid travelers, I know it won’t be far before we find ourselves in one place in this world again.