Moving Mattresses

Living abroad has the ability to move you out of your comfort zone many times. I’m all for that. It makes you grow. And sometimes it’s just the kind of push you need to do something great.  It’s also a good way to help you to just get over yourself. Sometimes we need to just get over ourselves to give room for momentum to do its thing and to prevent a very shallow lived life…Oh man, deep thoughts that was birthed by a very “non-deep “ event.

The other day we had to move some stuff from the Hillsborough house to ours. By “some stuff” I’m referring to a mattress, a TV, a mop, a bucket and a broom. (Remember the “Liewe Heksie” broom in a previous post…I now have a normal one).  This means, all of that, and us, on the orange vespa. Comfort zone shifted and laughing our way through the shifting. We moved it, looking confidently stupid while I avoided eye contact with everyone we passed and I processed through “just- get- over- yourself” thoughts.

Another mattress needed to make his way into our life, and so one more mattress mission was in sight. When Stoffel asked me to go with him to SM to buy it, I blushed before we went out the door. I knew what was coming. What went through my mind was, is this really us looking incredibly stupid or is this just another new normal. Probably a bit of both…

With all the discomfort, embarrassment, weird new normals and more, this sure is a fun adventure. I’m glad I could remind myself of that. Learning the big stuff through the small stuff makes the bigger things we sometimes have to deal with easier.

Hope you have a chance to just laugh at yourself this week. If you don’t, then laugh at these pictures…

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There are times when I believe being an onlooker is okay, especially in a place where I am still trying to find my bearings. When you’re surrounded by sounds you don’t yet fully understand, it’s easy to let yourself fall into the background and just observe.

I would find myself observing even while I’m communicating. Where is the communication taking place? What are the topics we talk about? Observing how tall I suddenly feel…

The past week was filled with a little more interaction than previous ones, and I can feel it in my thoughts. Pieces of the culture puzzle slowly fall into place and my big picture gets a bit more form.

There was a language class that boosted my confidence in the communication   circles. There was an attempt to join a cell group (which turned out to be an all male group…) but sharing faith and fellowship felt good. There was visiting a ministry of a new friend and getting glimpses of the journey they’re on helping the kids of Cagayan. There was a little bit of dressing up and dancing to the beat of “Uptown Girl” in a circle of new acquaintances. (Most of the observing took place here, as stomach cramps kept me on my seat more than on the dance floor…). And finally, there was a Zumba party, where I lost all inhibitions and shook my booty to the hip-hop beats, while being amazed at how the over- fifty ladies were shaking it with me!


Through all the observing, I’m learning.

“Buscopan” here is called by the same name and I will know that next time the stomach decides to cramp for three days. Dancing at gatherings also happens in circles and cheers are released when the brave one boogies in the middle.  Many other western folk are jumping in and rowing the same (but different) boat we do by living in the Philippines. I still want my mother with me every time I feel a bit off… And, I can still throw a few hip hop moves like in the good old days.

When I lived and worked in South Korea a few years ago, our group of friends would always laugh at ourselves for how many times we said how thankful we are for each other in our emails. “I appreciate you guys so so so so much!” or “My heart is so so so so thankful!” I think I’m starting to get into that gear again… I’m so so so so thankful for what I can observe and so so so so thankful for what I am learning. Even this morning, sweating like a racehorse after cleaning the house and cooking our meal (even though it’s cooler, it’s still hot??), I can sit here and have all of these moments in my mind to write about. Yup, thankful.

Our ‘Hood.


Our street

When we first arrived in the Philippines, my means of transport looked like the following:  I would walk to the gate of our “subdivision”, greet the guards in their snazzy navy and white attire, wave at some guys waiting under a tree in their yellow and blue vests, and get my 20 pesos ready as one of them comes scooting my way. I’d jump on the back of this random oke’s motorbike and ask him to take me to either SM (our Super Mall…), Rika’s Drug Store (located in the same building as Stoffel’s office), or Hillsborough Pointe (where James and his family used to live). Those guys on their motorbikes got to know us first and it’s still a jolly “honk honk” here and a “honk honk” there whenever we pass them on our Vespa.


I managed to take a picture of one of our guys!

The guards I mentioned are the best unofficial language teachers around. Because of them, we can now say good morning, good afternoon and good evening in Cebuano without any hesitation. The guards rotate between the different subdivisions, which explained the random shouts of “Mr Bornman!!!” we would hear as we drive around town.


The guard/language teacher

When we walk around the block of our subdivision (their name for what we would probably call a security complex) we mostly talk to the inquisitive kids who call us American or English people, and really have no clue when we mention we’re South African. (By the way, there is so much confusion about South Africa being a country and not just a part in Africa, and, of course, the white skin thing).


Neighborhood kids

I thought the staring would be settling by now, but when I walked out of our flat the other day, the boys passing by on motorbikes literally stared for at least 10 seconds while driving… I understand, we look different and they probably really don’t expect us around, but we’re not the only foreigners here…surely they must have noticed the older western folk sitting at “Coffee dream” EVERY day…

We love our ‘hood. Some days we feel a bit isolated, but I think the people are starting to get used to us. They greet us, we greet them. Sometimes we attempt conversation, sometimes they attempt conversation. Walking around the subdivision the other day, a random man asked us if we enjoyed our run that morning. Huh? Oh! He probably drove past us on his bicycle. Yay! Community! Sort of, slowly…

And then we met the Mayor’s son the other night (yes, we have high rolling neighbors…) and he told us about the Rafthon event they will be having in August during the Cagayan de Oro Fiesta. He didn’t even have to ask if we will join! Rafting and running? In a team? YES! We’re in. New friends.

Then we met a young American couple who lives just a few kilometers from us through our wonderful Filipino friend, who has dinner with us almost every week. Then we met a couple who is running an orphanage and lives in the subdivision right across from ours. Then we met Aunt Jenny from England who teaches music to the kids at that orphanage and also lives in the same subdivision, and we realize that slowly but surely our community of friends (and foreigners;) is growing.


Little feet.

This morning while our nurse friends shared what they are thankful for during our bible study with them, my heart just jumped with appreciation for the fact that we can get to know these people, and share –even just a small bit- in the journeys they are on at the moment.

How good it is to be part of this ‘hood.

Highway stories and more

Stoffel was supposed to write a post about the time we decided to go for a relaxed Sunday drive to Duka Bay and back. The post was supposed to be about how it wasn’t relaxed and we almost didn’t make it back.

Driving on the highway in the Philippines is definitely not the same as what we are used to. Only one lane. Houses and little sari- sari stores all along the highway. (Sari- sari means variety in Tagalog.) You feel like you can’t blink or you might hit something. By something I mean: The oncoming bus- IN YOUR LANE, the truck, the motorella going at 20km/h, the dog, the crazy driver in front of you, the motorbikes, a person or a chicken…

So this time around, having to travel the same road again, we took the bus. (…We HAD to take the bus. We don’t have a car. We had the “bakkie” for a weekend only and after testing the “relaxed-sunday-drive-idea”, I think we don’t mind not having a car…)


I wish I could show you all the mental pictures I took while staring out the window of our yellow bus. (Avoiding the window curtain like a snake…bus window curtains for some reason gross me out…) The stories that play out while we’re passing are truly picturesque.  You wish you can stop and hear everyone’s background and life story. We just flew by them, taking in a moment of each person (or animal) as we drove by. Children buying sweets at a sari- sari store. Two siblings picking up their umbrellas in a synchronized fashion, while their mother works in the field. Chickens sitting on poles…(why are they sitting on poles?). Old men, lazy on benches smoking cigarettes. Hundreds (thousands?) of coconut trees. Broken down Filipino style houses and the hustle and bustle of the little towns we pass through.

After almost nine hours of taking mental pictures (okay, maybe three, I slept for six…), we arrived in Surigao, from where we would take a ferry the next morning. We bought our tickets, entertained the locals by just being foreign, and had sushi.




We sat on the hard wooden benches of the LQP ferry by 5am, all wrapped up in our favorite color…Two and a half hours later arrived on Siargao Island…and …we …fell in love…

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We were welcomed by the usual craziness of arriving somewhere. The moment the taxi/habal- habal/motorella drivers spot you, they try to convince you to take their ride. We picked our guy – Marlin – and he took us to our accommodation.


Emerald House was pure bliss with the Swiss touch to the Filipino cottage we stayed in. We unpacked, made coffee and relaxed in the hammock on our “stoep”. After that, the exploring began. The island has so much character. It reminds me of something between a small west coast town and our beloved Jeffreys Bay. People here are much more use to foreigners, and we are definitely not the first and only tourists to fall in love with this island. There are many foreigner-owned accommodations and restaurants.

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Our first stop was the beach, of course, and then Hippies Surf shop to rent our boards and ask when high tide is. Got the boards, swimsuits on, and awaaaaay we go! Surfed for two hours straight and experienced one of those zoom-out moments when I turned around and faced the shore, while the sun set in perfect island style with the coconut trees doing their thing.


We hired a motorbike and bought some food at the local market to cook in our cottage kitchen. Love watching the locals at places like these.

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We drove (in circles, we found out later) the bike until we had a flat tyre…AGAIN! After fixing it we went for some more exploring and experienced “Salvacion” beach, which is a beautiful stretch of white sand and blue blue water. Met an old guy who started a one sided conversation with us in Cebuano/Visayan, telling us (we think!) about the cottages they are planning to build in that beautiful area. We nodded and smiled and pretended to understand and walked away wondering how he felt about the planned development… On our way back we met some kids, got lost in translation again, and turned around to capture this little guy on the water buffalo…

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We watched the rugby at a local (aussie owned…) bar, and watched the Jbay Open final at that same bar while witnessing the crazy shark attack in our home town.


Our best morning was spent on a boat, heading towards different surf spots along the coast, and finding a break in the middle of nowhere. Surfed it for two hours and had those waves all to ourselves while our boatmen caught a nap in the shade. Was a pretty cool experience.  We have the sunburn to prove it…

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Had a very expensive pizza on our last night and woke up again at 4am to catch a ferry back to Surigao. Ate McDonalds for breakfast (desperate times…)Took the long bus trip back, passed more stories and pictures along the highway, and arrived safely back in CDO. We were met by a fowl smell coming from the fridge as we entered our flat. What a welcome. Luckily we managed to find the culprit and we are now able to breath again.

Stoffel still checks windguru to see how the waves are in Siargao…we miss it already:) Hopefully soon we’ll be able to surf some more and lavish in the beauty of that island.

Peace out.


Our New Normal

I just walked into the house again with my helmet still on my head. Having a helmet on my head has become a daily do for me here in the Philippines. So has a lot of other, previously strange, things…


Again, back to the helmets. Since all the other South Africans that were with us for a while has left the Philippines, we are the lucky owners of a bright orange Vespa. Love it. With riding the Vespa comes wearing a helmet. Still one of the funniest sights for me to see myself and Stoffel look like lollipops. A red one and a black one.


Driving in the rain on the Vespa while holding an umbrella, is also normal. It’s funny, you see the locals do it and you don’t even think twice before attempting the same stay-dry-method.


Renting the flat here in “The Courtyards” from Mr. Ong, has also made us the (un)lucky owners of bright orange curtains. Shiny bright orange curtains. We couldn’t bare the orange glow in the living area for too long, but having them in our bedroom has become a normal sight for our sore eyes;)


People we didn’t know by a bar of soap, we now see almost every day. Having them in our lives is a wonderful, welcoming new normal.


Having his hair cut by a “I -look- like- a- dentist- barber”, was new to Stoffel. He was somewhat nervous during the session. Not just because the barber looks like a dentist, but also because the guy never spoke a word and we weren’t sure whether he understood Stoffel’s instructions. Everything went well in the end. Soon, this will also be normal:)


Of course, eating funny looking food is a given to become normal while living in a different country. We’ve tried some, and the lechon (the piggy with an apple in it’s mouth…) and turon (deep fried banana), for example, were both liked.


I now clean the house with my little “liewe Heksie besem” without thinking it’s weird. It’s wonderful. No… it’s not, I would like a normal one…


When you’re cooking with new ingredients, brands and just different tasting food, it’s sometimes soooo nice to have a little normal in our lives to spice it up with! Another orange friend owned by us…


What a treat when the new normal is just plain amazing goodness in the form of TIMTAMS!!! slam slam!


The fact that I don’t have an oven in the kitchen, calls for innovative no- bake cookie recipes. I am working on my food photography skills….;)


Although I’m driving the Vespa like a pro in our neighborhood, driving down-town on the Vespa was a first for me today. We bought wood to have a braai in our new normal barbeque thing. And we did it Filipino style. This picture was taken in the safe streets of our security complex, that’s why I don’t look so nervous…).


For some reason, even I drink a beer whenever the occasion is there. Probably because of the lack of good…no, affordable…South African wine.

So, cheers! To “new normals” and the adventure that comes with it. 20150605_222043

Cagayan de Oro, becoming home away from Home!

Yesterday I went to the immigration office downtown to go and renew my visa. That means that I have been in the Philippines for 2 months now. What’s more is that I went there on my own and I braved the journey there on a scooter! It is situations like this that makes me realize how we are slowly but surely adapting to life here in the Philippines.

I’m sure there will be some of you that would be able to relate to the feeling of arriving in a foreign country with no family with you. It’s a strange feeling going to bed that first night and not really knowing what your immediate surroundings look like. For the first day your world is as big as the house you are staying in or the room you are sleeping in and often you ask yourself, how am I going to make it? At least this is what I experienced.

But then you get bored with the house and you go outside. In my case I first started to explore my neighborhood. Then I ventured a little further to SM City, our local shopping mall using a motorbike taxi. My first experience of the madness of downtown Cagayan de Oro I experienced from the relative safety of a private vehicle but it wasn’t long before I took the bold step of going down there with a taxi. And now me and Katrien often go down there in the Jeepneys(one of the cheap modes of transport).

To be honest, Cagayan didn’t impress me at first. It didn’t seem like there was much to do here but as we started to explore and got to know our surroundings we realized that there are lots of gems waiting to be found. Katrien has mentioned some of them in her previous blogs. In the last 2 months we have had some amazing experiences as we have become more used to our environment and ventured into the unknown areas of the city. Now we add a new activity to our to-do list every week.

We have also come to know the friendly Filipino people better. And this has also made us feel more at home. The people are really friendly here. You would often find a random guy on a motorbike screaming HELLLO….. and waving as he races past you. Our neighbors and the people in our community have also started to engage us more and more in conversation, greeting us and practicing their English. And we would in return practice our Cebuano to their amusement.

I have realized that we as humans have the ability to adapt very quickly. That as you start exploring your surroundings the unfamiliar becomes familiar, the neighborhood that seemed ugly actually becomes pretty, the strange people become friendly and even friends, the downtown area that seemed like a madhouse you become very comfortable in and the thought of a year in your new city starts to excite you. And I think that’s where we are now. Cagayan de Oro is slowly but surely becoming home away from Home for us!


Cheers to the Moment!


A few years ago, I can’t exactly remember where and when, I came to the realization that whenever I did something, like running or hanging out with friends, or reading a book, I would think up a Facebook status…

“What an awesome run in the rain…”

“Having so much fun with the girls…”

“Totally loving what I am reading right now…”

I didn’t like it. So I stopped updating my Facebook status…I was worried of being sucked into cyber reality and not my own reality…

Yesterday, while hiking in heat that left me feeling a little bit dizzy afterwards, I came to the realization that I am thinking up blog posts…and I liked it…:)

I feel that it’s like writing a book. Sort of. I am definitely more challenged than with just writing a one- liner… So even though this is very new to me, I think I am going to enjoy it. Here’s trying out blog post number two.

Sometimes, when travelling and discovering new things, you find yourself in those moments where you realize that what you are experiencing now, is a rare moment that you only have because you are at the right place at the right time…We had that moment Saturday late afternoon just before sunset. On our way back from a failed attempt to hike the trail we actually managed to hike the next day (the one that left us all feeling dizzy and me thinking about blog posts…) we stopped at a random little bar because Meg wanted to take a picture of the even more random Starbucks sign. Stoffel was thirsty so he went in for a Coke. Moments later I heard the words: “There’s a karaoke machine! Just one song! ” I didn’t even think twice.

Philippines, like most other Asian countries,LOVE their Karaoke. Or Videoke as they call it here. People have videoke machines in their houses and you’re very likely to hear someone scream an Aerosmith song next door…

If you can’t beat them, join them. So we did. Even Stoffel sang a song all by himself. What?! And the best thing was that it was this old school, red juke- box kind of karaoke player. Literally in the middle of nowhere, we sang our very first Filipino karaoke song. We overlooked the city and the ocean in the background, while the sunset left the sky with an orange glow. Off course, we ended up having a San Miguel (Filipino beer) to cheers the moment.



A very WARM welcome.

My first encounter with the friendly Filippino people was when a teanage boy and older lady woke me up from my Manila airport sleep to ask if I am also on the next flight to Cagayan de Oro. With a grateful but “deur -die -blare” yes I followed them to the Cebu Pacific airplane that would take me to my new home for the next year.20150517_175001

Stoffel told that me the airport at Cagayan de Oro (CDO) is “cute”. I understood why when we landed. A building so small the eager pick ups must wait outside for their loved ones arriving on the plane. It wasn’t hard to spot Stoffel in the waiting crowd… reunited at last!

Jumped in our taxi and the journey began. Palm trees, wooden shacks, crazy traffic and …the…heat…

It’s been a week and and a bit and the heat is still on but you get smart.  We have explored a bit of our surroundings, driving around on the back of motorbikes, in motorellas, in taxis and the famous Jeepneys. Sometimes we borrow James’ Ford bakkie and Stoffel drives through the crazy traffic like he has done it before…

We’ve had some really tasty dishes and the stories we’ve heard about the Filippino food being bland hasn’t proven true …yet? I love buying food in the supermarket. It’s different and a big discovery the entire time you push your trolley through the wide isles.

The Filippinos are really friendly and we’ve met some wonderful people. Through Stoffel’s work and me helping out with some of the projects, we see them a lot and can really get to know them. It’s been great to have James and Lee Anne’s (Stoffel’s empoloyer and his wife)  house close and to just pop in for dinner or to hang around there.

My first morning in the Philippines I got introduced to my new best friend…the mango. Oh, how happy I am that these sweet yellow fellows are cheap and delicious! So much so that we named our blog after them:)

Mango love, some pictures to follow soon.