The Santa Claus of Caroan

Author: K M

Tags: Asia

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My face was so ugly that I made babies cry.

            Even though I felt extremely blessed to be part of my family’s mission trip to the remote Filipino village where my mother grew up, I still could not help but miss my bed, my laptop, and–the most luxurious of all–a flushing toilet.  To make matters worse, I could not even smile at an adorable, rotund baby without making him cry.  I blamed my braces, but my brothers claimed that I am just ugly. Whatever the reason might be, all I knew was that it was going to be a long seven days.

My family’s arrival in Caroan unwrapped like a second Christmas: pre-loved clothes grabbed regardless of size, disgusted faces frowned at the first taste of Snickers, and eager women marveled at Pantene shampoo containers–before only seen in sample-size disposable packets. Anxiously, the villagers watched us measure one-and-a-half teaspoons of Tylenol for cold-stricken Benji, who thought we were poisoning him with the mysterious bubblegum flavored goop.  Fortunately, the next day Benji was alive and healthy; unfortunately, he stole my only acceptable food supply—double-stuffed Oreos.

Seeing that Benji was back to his normal, mischievous self, the villagers returned back to their wooden boats and fishing nets. I accompanied them sometimes, tenaciously lugging a net that caught a 500-ton humpback whale—so I thought—until I found out that it was only puny shrimp. Other times I accompanied the women, using emptied-out beer bottles as makeshift rolling pins to make flat noodles for tonight’s dinner. I felt quite assured that they loved having me to help, as whatever I cook results in being burnt. Thus, I was directed to the children.

These children were stuck in a perpetual nightmare; they could not afford to attend school. While their next door neighbors carried backpacks stuffed with school supplies, they constantly dragged seeping buckets back and forth to their homes–one trip for bathwater, the next for cooking, another for washing clothes–all from an underground well of “purified” seawater.  As I pumped water for them, I then realized how grateful I was for my education, for my parents’ hard work, and for faucets.  The everyday things I take for granted are a dream considered too good to be true for my Caroan family.    

Speaking of which, the dream that I had initially wished for came true--too quickly, I may add; it was time for my family to return back to Quezon City like Santa Claus returns home to the North Pole. But sometimes, he stays there forever. After one heartbreaking realization in my nine-year-old life, he never came down my chimney again. The children of Caroan thought likewise; on the day I left, the schoolchildren handed me an English-written letter that ended, “How I wish that we will meet someday if God willing.”

I swear that will not my last time ever to visit Caroan.

Regardless of costs and time, I will continue this mission trip but with more than just three Balikbayan boxes full of bulk items from Sam’s Club. As an accomplished doctor, I will return, providing them proper care rather than meager doses of over-the-counter medicine; as a mastered engineer, I will return, bringing clean, running water and electricity to all families; and most importantly, as a friendly mentor, I will return, inspiring them with hope and determination for a better future. I am determined not to let them down.  

That trip was only seven, short days; it has stuck with me for a lifetime.