Sunday, December 15, 2019

My guardian angel was a kabayan

The statue of the Risen Christ at Monasterio de Tarlac.
My flight was nine in the evening. Anxious and excited, I left Dubai for Yerevan, traveling solo.

That was in May last year. Aboard the FlyDubai's Boeing 737 Max aircraft, I took a three-hour flight bound for Armenia for the purpose of leisure and tourism. For this trip, I didn't research. No plans. No itinerary. No nothing. It was a spur-in-the-moment trip. And with all honesty, I knew nothing about this country; all I knew was, during those times, I could vividly remember I was so sad and stressed and devastated that I wanted to climb up a mountain to shout out all the problems I was carrying and to reevaluate myself of the things that had gone wrong in my life. Saving my sanity was the only way I could think of, so I decided to follow my heart to go on a vacation.

On the plane, as soon as I saw my assigned seat, I readied myself to sit down comfortably. There were already two people seated before me. I excused myself, informing them that I had the window seat. They smiled and gave way for me to squeeze through.

With their kind gesture and my habitual nature of talking to whomever was beside me, I started asking them where they were from and what places they were going to visit in Armenia. I learned that they were South African couple of Indian descent. She was Samantha, an expat in Al Ain, working as as an English teacher in an all-girls school. He was Les, in his 50s, visiting his wife and exploring Armenia to spend a holiday. Throughout the flight, we just chatted, sharing fascinating travel stories and talking about random stuff that interested all three of us.

At past twelve midnight, the plane landed at Zvartnots International Airport. As I stepped off the aircraft, I sensed the cold Armenian air blowing right through my sweater. Spring had just begun and while the weather was still a bit cold, my body started to adjust and slowly got used to the low temperature.

Once off the plane and with my 35-liter  grey backpack, I joined the wave of passengers, along with my South African seatmates, and headed toward the Entry Visa Payment—the first section where tourist needed to queue to get visa on arrival. As a Philippine passport holder, my securing a visa on arrival was a prerequisite. There were four lines and four immigration officers in charge at the counter processing the visas. The visa fee was $7 dollars or 3000 Armenian drams.

When it was my turn, I observed the Indian guy, standing closely adjacent to me and paying in US dollars, while I was counting my dirhams. Here came the problem. As I handed my payment, the immigration officer, a good-looking guy with golden-brown hair, hazelnut eyes and a good set of white teeth, told me that they didn't accept dirhams. Only US dollars and Armenian drams were accepted. So I asked him if there were money changers nearby. He said yes, but at this time, they were closed.

After I heard his answer, my face started to sweat. My hands were shaking as I wiped the waterfalls of sweat off my face. I felt that the 90% water composition of my body was coming out in the form of Pagsanjan-sized sweats. At the same time, my heart pounded like a time bomb about to explode. I became worried. I was in a foreign land with no one to help me. As I left the counter, Les tapped my shoulder inquiring what went wrong. I told him they didn't accept dirhams as payment, that US dollars and Armenian drams were the only two currencies accepted. Unexpectedly, Les offered to exchange my dirhams. Checking his wallet, he found he had only $15 dollars left, just enough for his and Samantha's visa fee.

Disappointed because I didn't plan this trip, I had no one to blame but myself. So I went to sit on a long stainless bench to loosen up and think about what should I do next. I looked around, observed people, and prayed silently. I saw four Filipinos from the same flight. They were still at Visa Entry Payment, waiting for their visas, but I had no courage to ask them for help. I was ashamed. I just prayed again. In my prayer, I asked God to send someone who could help me.

A world UNESCO heritage site called Sevan Cathedral.

Samantha and Les came to inform that they were leaving to pass through the immigration. They were sorry they couldn't do anything to help. We hugged each other and promised to meet in the UAE. After all, to leave was not the same as being left.

Shortly afterward, after praying several times, God answered my prayer. Prayers are powerful and so is God. Heaven sent an angel to resolve my dilemma through another wave of recently arrived passengers. Among the new arrivals, I saw from afar a typical Filipino walking toward the queue. She was a morena, wearing eyeglasses, 5'2" in height, with long black hair. Seeing her, I immediately asked her, "Kabayan?" She joyfully confirmed, with radiant eyes and a smile that was so contagious. Then I asked her name. She was Jocelyn Ebora, an Overseas Filipino Worker, working in a factory in Taiwan. She was in her mid-20s, both demure and coy. She traveled from Taipei to Yerevan via Eva Air because her contract had finished and she wanted first to give herself "me-time" before going back to the Philippines. 

This time around, I had the courage to ask for help. Straight and direct, I explained to her my dilemma. Without any fuss, she asked how much I needed. I said I needed $7 for the visa fee. She gave me $30, more than what I had asked for. I thanked her profusely, shaking her hands and hugging her, letting her know how grateful I was. Her kindness, her empathy, and her willingness to help those in need without expecting something in return were unfathomable, and no amount of currency could repay that. But I insisted in paying her back. I gave her 150 dirhams, more than the equivalent of the money she gave.

Soon after, I queued again to pay for the visa fee. The immigration officer, who catered my visa processing earlier, remembered my situation and told me how lucky I was to have received help from someone from my country. Then he accepted my payment and processed my visa. Finally, after a couple of minutes, he handed back my passport with my visa stamped in it. Tears fell from my eyes. I cried not because I was sad but because I was amazed at God for doing wonderful things, for using the right person in my unfortunate situation. Tears of joy and relief, I supposed.

I looked around searching for Jocelyn and saw her smiling widely, queuing to get her own visa processed. Waiting for her was the least I could do. After ten minutes, she was done.

Right away, she started sharing with me what she sensed about me and my situation. I was surprised with her revelation. She said the first time she saw me sitting on a bench, I looked so problematic that she thought she should talk to me. She knew I had a problem. She read it when she looked at me in the eyes. She was actually waiting that I would approach her. And I did. I was so needy, she joked. Kidding aside, she expected I would come to her. What was more shocking was, she told me, while she was walking, someone whispered in her ears saying someone needed help and she should help him. I felt goosebumps. I was both scared and intrigued by her story.

Then we walked toward passport control, passed through immigration, and went straight to the baggage counter to pick up her luggage. From the baggage counter, we trod slowly, holding her two luggage, to the exit gate of the airport terminal. I hugged and thanked her a million times. Before we bade each other goodbye, I took photo of her boarding pass and told her I would add her on Facebook. But later, when I looked for her Facebook profile, I couldn't find her.

Jocelyn's boarding pass.

Even so, I still consider my kabayan Jocelyn my guardian.

***Kabayan is a shortened term for kababayan, which means countrymen or fellowmen.

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