Back in 2020 I started work on a new writing project titled ‘Wander Woman- Intrepid Tales Off The Beaten Track’. This was to be a collection of stories from women who have travelled ‘off the beaten track’, or have overcome adversity e.g. disability in order to travel.
I originally planned for this collection to be a book, but creating books, especially print ones, are a time consuming process. Because of this, I have decided to publish these stories as a blog series, with a view to publishing them in book form later.
The series begins with Megan Higginson, an inspiring fellow author from Victoria who shares her experience volunteering in The Philippines. Enjoy!
Megan in Manila
In 2013, I found myself single and waiting for my divorce to come through. One of my two adult children was still living with me. Having left a toxic and controlling relationship, I also found myself able to make decisions, to go wherever I wanted, when I wanted.
At church in March of that year, a one to two week mission trip to the Philippines was announced, for the purpose of running a Bible study in a small village. At the age of 38, I had never been overseas. I was keen to experience something different to the normal tourist destinations, and to experience a new culture.
My heart burned to go, and so I put my hand up. Inside I was wondering how on earth I was going to be able to achieve this. I have Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). The trip was going to take place in the middle of our cold Victorian winter here in Australia, which is when I’m at my worst and find it difficult to walk.
A meeting was held to discuss what the trip would entail, and the preparation we would need to do. As I made my way to that first meeting, I didn’t realise I would not only be going on this first trip, but also the next one six months later. These trips were life changing in more ways than one. Out of it I became a children’s author.
I think we had about three months to prepare for the first trip. This included learning basic words in Tagalog, the language of the ethnic Tagalog people, who make up a quarter of the population of the Philippines. I learned about the culture, dress code, and even how to go to the toilet. Closer to departure day we learnt about what we’d be expected to do, and we received our timetables. We were informed it was a flexible timetable and things could and would get moved around. We were also told some of the other activities we would be participating in: visiting local churches, possibly speaking at those churches, and visiting villagers and an orphanage.
Personally, I tried to get as fit as I possibly could in the lead-up to the first trip. Coming into winter in Victoria is never good for me health wise, so I didn’t get too fit. I was also dealing with a lot of physical pain, so I did wonder how much I would be able to do while on the trip.
On the day of departure, I was so happy, excited, and nervous as anything. Part of this was due to the fact that I had come out of a toxic relationship and was waiting on my divorce to be finalised. This trip was like the starting flag signalling the beginning of a whole new adventure in my life.
I was on the first trip for one week. I travelled with a team made up of our pastor, his wife, and several young people. I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived. We were driven to the resort where we were staying, and I remember following our guide underneath gently waving palm trees lit with fairy lights, hearing the waves crashing on the beach, and just sighing in delight of it all. After settling in, we had a most delicious dinner with the Philippine team we would be working with for the next few days.
Every day in the Philippines was different from the next. Even though we had a timetable, it was not strictly adhered to. We learned rather quickly to be flexible and live according to ‘Filipino time’. I found it relaxing. Due to Fibromyalgia I am in constant pain. I struggled walking, but I was determined to do as much as I could. The warmer weather helped tremendously, but there were some activities I was unable to participate in. When I was invited to visit a remote mountain village, I could not go because I was unable to walk far. I did have the opportunity to visit that same village on the next trip six months later. It was in our summer, and I was much more mobile and in less pain. It was an amazing experience.
My best memory from the first trip happened while I was helping run the Bible study in the small village. Once the Bible study was finished, the curtains were drawn back and a small table was brought out, laden with food and a birthday cake. They had found out it was my birthday and prepared all the usual birthday food. They had even learned of some of my food intolerances and had catered for them. They sang Happy Birthday, and it was such a happy and joyous occasion.
I was in better physical condition when the second trip came around. I was able to get fairly fit in preparation, fit in consideration of my health conditions. Again I was so excited on the day of departure. I was going with the same team, except the pastor’s wife didn’t join us this time. My daughter came along, and it was a wonderful experience to share with her.
On one hand, I was calmer as I knew what to expect. On the other hand, I was nervous. I had accidently booked for my daughter and I to leave Australia one day earlier than the rest of the team. However, I had a plan. We would stay in a hotel in Manila while we waited for the rest of the team to arrive the following day. This worked out well, as the rest of the team was able to come and rest in our room while we waited for our connecting flight to our pick-up point. We went for lunch together and were able to relax before the next leg of the journey.
Knowing how I would be, I needed to break the journey into stages. We left our home in Morwell on the train the day before our early morning flight from Melbourne and stayed in a hotel near the airport. Once in Manila, we took another flight to another town. We were then picked up and driven an hour and a half to our destination. Interestingly, when I suggested we stay in a hotel in Melbourne the night before we leave, the rest of the team was keen to do that also.
This trip turned out to be totally different to the first. We landed on New Year’s Eve, and were picked up from the airport and driven to a Fireworks Market. It blew my mind as it was so different from anything I had ever experienced. Several tables were loaded with all manner of fireworks, from firecrackers to rockets, including a massive one which I think was called The Bomb. Locals were milling around buying up big, and this included children. Afterward we were driven to a farm where a large gathering waited to welcome us and to celebrate the New Year. Our hosts had a huge party with lots of fabulous local food and, yes, fireworks! It was all rather exciting.
My second trip contains one of my favourite memories, of the day I handed out a book I had written and illustrated to the kids at the Spirit and Life Mission House Orphanage in Cabugao, Ilocos Sur. They couldn’t get enough of it. I had written stories for the children and sent letters to them almost every week between my first and second trips. It was wonderful to be able to create something special and give it to them personally.
The worst memories were of missing out on special activities due to being bedridden by migraines. I would then hear about all the amazing experiences I’d missed out on from the rest of the team. The other thing was not being able to make much of a difference to the lives of the many children we met.
I haven’t travelled overseas since, but during these two trips I learned so much about myself and what I am capable of. Having been in a controlling relationship, these trips allowed me to make my own decisions about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. Of course, I chose to do as much as I was able. It was such an adventure. I also learned that I could do things on my own and make good decisions. I came home earlier than the rest of the team both times, traveling with teenagers who had never travelled overseas before. It was a great boost to my confidence to navigate a foreign country, a capital city, and get us home safely.
If you are a woman, don’t be afraid to travel, but don’t be silly about it either. Go prepared, do your homework and be considerate of the culture you are visiting, and go with a sense of adventure.
2 thoughts on “Wander Woman: Megan in Manila”
Great initiative! It’s always important to share inspiring stories of women who travel off the beaten track and overcome adversity. Looking forward to reading more stories in the series.
Thanks Bruce! I’m excited to be sharing these stories. Enjoy!