An African confrere in the Philippines by John Itaru
I left Nairobi on the 16th of May 2012 for the Philippines. On that day, at Mass in Ngong Road, Fr. Roger Tessier prayed for me saying; “Instead of going to Europe for studies, John is now going to the Philippines…it will be a totally new experience…. Lord, hear us! ”
Roger was right! To be an African student in the Philippines is both an adventure and a challenge. It is said that “there is more fun in the Philippines”. Indeed, Filipinos are always smiling and sugar is added with almost every dish. Generally speaking, whoever is black is considered to be a Black American. So, quite often people look at me as being a Black American priest or even as a basketball player. The point of reference for the Filipinos is truly the United States.
The known Africa is the one presented by the Media; famine, wars, HIV, national parks and its abundant species of animals. Kenya is known for her top class athletes. DRCongo is identified by her persistent conflict and South Africa for the World Cup. In a nutshell, Africa is considered by the majority as being a single country, not a continent.
In Cebu where I am the majority of foreign students are from the Asian sub-region such as Korea and China. But Kenyan students are also quite numerous. It is estimated that there are twenty thousand foreign students in the Philippines. English is the official language though, should you need to interact with the Filipinos comfortably, you need to speak Cebuano, the local language of Cebu.
The Catholic Church in the Philippines can still be proud of a massive attendance in religious activities. Big parishes have six to ten Masses on Sundays, without counting confessions. Christmas in the Philippines starts from September and ends in February the following year.
As for myself, I am focusing on my studies in business administration (MBA), catching up with a basic knowledge of Cebuano and admiring the numerous religious devotions as also the pastoral work. Keep me in your prayers. John Itaru, M.Afr