Baptism by Water

     A large splash.

     Silence.

     I open my eyes and take a long breath. I’m in another world, specifically, off the coast of Moalboal, in Cebu, Philippines. I’ve been diving here for the past five days, and everyday has provided me with new reasons to shout mindless obscenities into the air, for lack of a better way to express my complete and utter astonishment at the world we live in.

     Today, I’m diving with what looks to be about a million sardines. All I can see are these agile little fish darting back and forth to a symphony only they can hear. It’s a beautiful day, and the beams of sunlight break through the ocean surface. These rays of light reflect off each individual fish scale, creating a sea of diamonds. At any moment I genuinely expect a “Wizard of Oz”-like face to materialize and explain my greater destiny to me. Ten minutes later I am disappointed when nothing happens and head back to the surface.

     Back on the boat I look back at Pescador island, my dive site and home to the occasional whale shark and manta ray, and I silently think to myself that if I didn’t owe so much in student loans, I would love to recreate an episode of “Survivor” and live on this island by myself. Then I realize that watching episodes of “Survivor” wouldn’t even be remotely possible on this island, and I return to better senses as the boat heads back to the mainland.

 

 

 

The Mango

     Later that day I realize that I have a lot of time to kill, so I head into town. In town there are many fruit vendors, and with a quick glance, I immediately zero in on the mangoes being sold.

     Cebu, this small island in the Philippines, is probably the most famous mango-producing location in the world. You’ve probably seen their dried mangoes packaged in your nearby supermarket.

     I make a beeline to the nearest vendor and ask for the freshest mango she has. The woman working at the stall complies and slices up the mango for me so it is ready to eat.

     Think back: Do you remember your first kiss with that person that you really cared about? How perfect was the world at that moment? That moment in time will stay with you forever. Now, think about how special that moment was, multiply it by ten, and you may get a sense of how I felt while I ate that Cebu mango.

     The following is a brief transaction of my thoughts while I ate that wonderful fruit:

     Bite. ‘Oh my goodness, this is good.

     Bite. ‘Hate doesn’t exist in this world; everybody loves each other!’

     Bite. ‘I’ve never liked cats, but why? They’ve never done anything to me. I will love cats forever now.’

     Bite. ‘Jesus? Is that you?’

     Being from Canada, the mangoes I’ve eaten have usually been from Mexico. These mangoes usually have a very fuzzy quality to them and are sour. The mangoes I ate in Cebu were not only the sweetest mangoes I’ve ever had, but their texture was similar to that of a ripe peach. To this day my descriptions can’t do justice to how good that mango was.

 

 

 

What I’d Thought I’d Lost

     After my out-of-body experience, I went to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant where I had made friends with the owners. The meal I ate was wonderful, and after the meal, the store owners asked if I wanted to join them and some locals in a game of pick-up basketball. I eagerly agreed and off we went to the basketball court together.

     You see, as far as I’m concerned, there are three main religions in the Philippines: Roman Catholicism, Manny Pacquiao and basketball. Manny Pacquiao is the Philippines’ legendary boxer who graces the covers and billboards of, well, everything in the Philippines. However, other than him, nothing or no one is as popular as the sport of basketball in this country. I’ve played basketball most of my life, but when my friends at the restaurant asked me to join them and some locals in a game of pick-up basketball, I didn’t know what to expect.

     We arrived early at the basketball court. The run-down court was directly in front of what looked to be the town’s old city hall. My friends and I shot around until people started showing up. When they did I was a little surprised: They all came to play… in flip-flops! I wasn’t exactly wearing basketball shoes, but at least I was still wearing shoes. My misgivings of how they would play immediately disappeared once the game started.

 

 

 

     Immediately after the jump ball, I witnessed possibly one the greatest, most improbable athletic feats achieved by mortal men. These Filipino basketball players were running and jumping like gazelles in their flip-flops. After my initial shock, I focused on the game since there was now a fair-sized crowd focusing on me, the starting foreigner. I bricked my first two shots and thought to myself, ‘This is going to be a long game.’ However, later on, I started to find my stroke. I let my muscle memory take over and just shot without over thinking, and voila, my shots started going in. It was a close game and the crowd started chanting ’Lebron James’ whenever I shot the ball. It was the first time (and probably the last) I’d ever been called Lebron James, and the antithesis of what I’m usually called (something along the lines of ‘towel boy’). We ended up losing the game on a last-second shot. Tired and exhausted, I sat down on the sidelines trying to absorb where I was and everything that was happening.

     Having worked abroad in Japan for the past year, I had longed to return back to Canada; being so far away from family and friends, my emotional state consisted of frequent peaks and valleys. Yet, as I sat on that bench, in that small town in the Philippines, playing basketball with new friends, I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of clarity. I had finally felt at home, and this was the last place on Earth I expected it to be.

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