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Someone once told me that to truly heal, and move beyond the wounds of a painful experience, one must return to the waters of your birth, where your vibrations are in tune with the vibrations of the world.

For me, that place is Dumaguete, where the gentle waves of my earliest memories lap against the shores of my soul.

Duma gives me a sense of safety and serenity, bringing clarity to my mind. When life’s frenetic pace demands a pause for introspection, Duma beckons me home.

Nestled between the majestic Cuernos de Negros mountain range and the shimmering Tañon Strait, Duma is a university town where young people dream and prepare themselves to seize the world’s many possibilities; it’s a community where writers and artists gather, weaving magic from the tapestry of their imagination.

To me, Duma is more than a dot on the map. It’s where I truly belong, where many of my most enduring and steadfast friendships blossomed.

Here, amidst familiar streets and the comforting embrace of lifelong friends, I find solace and strength.

I returned to Duma shortly after a tragedy at home and at work brought me back to the Philippines.

I reunited with my closest friends since high school who took me to KooKoo’s Nest, a secluded beach about an hour’s drive from the City. The four of us have been friends for years, having met since our grade school days. But it was really in college when we became close friends through our active involvement in the school paper, the debate team, and the student government.

While these involvements broadened our horizons, and afforded us many opportunities to grow and reach for our dreams, the real gift was the bond it forged among us. Sometimes, that bond transcended friendship–it felt like family.

In the Philippines, we have a name for these enduring friendships: barkada, from the Spanish word for ‘boat’ or el barco. In Spanish, barcada literally means ‘boatload.’ This concept resonates deeply with me.

Pre-colonial inhabitants of the Philippine Islands and neighboring Southeast Asian territories traveled with their families in large boats to distant places.

Often, they were under the mercy of the elements. They depended on each other for survival as they navigated the wind and waves.

Similarly, we ride the same proverbial boats with our life’s truest friends, navigating its currents, weathering storms, and staying afloat together. It is the collective experience of overcoming challenges together, and being with each other through sunshine or storm is the glue that cements these relationships into lifelong bonds.

Saltwater is not enough to heal everything. We also need the enduring presence of kindred souls.

In Duma, amidst the ebb and flow of life’s currents, I often rediscover two timeless truths: First, that true healing is found in the embrace of those who know and love us for who we are – their presence is a sanctuary where we can be our most vulnerable selves, where wounds are tended with gentle care, and where we find the strength to mend.

Second, that true friends are guiding lights who lead us to discover and define who we truly are. While they open our eyes to the beauty and potential we sometimes struggle to see, they also help us confront the painful truths of who we are.

Before coming home, my close friends and I had not seen each other in a long time. Our careers eventually led us to many diverging paths, and it would be months or years before we truly reconnected.

But whenever we get the chance to see each other again, especially in Duma, we would immediately pick up from where we left off. Over coffee surrounded by the lush foliage at The Henry, or at a quaint cafe by the boulevard, we would circle back to the same old things we talked about when we were still in Silliman: Why do people hurt each other? What is the point of all this toiling? How can we treat each other with more compassion and be better human beings? Why did you not say ‘Yes!’ to so-and-so?

Back in school, the weight of academic standing and involvement in extracurricular activities often consumed us. The pressure to excel was relentless, yet, these things did not singularly define our experience.

For me, the relationships that were forged, and the friendships that were nurtured added depth and meaning to what could have otherwise been just another phase in our existence.

Through our friends, we learn the profound value of belonging and community. Conversations, whether deep or mundane, open our eyes to new ways of seeing, allowing us to view the world from a new lens – even through a glass darkly.

By being there for one another in good times and in bad, we come to understand in real and visceral ways that the meaning of life is truly defined by the quality of the relationships we cultivate and cherish.

Friendship for me is, therefore, not just a way to pass the time or a means to an end. It is a transformative experience I consider the beating heart of my existence.

This view surprises most people who only know me solely from a distant, professional lens, in business and diplomacy–two worlds largely governed by the adage, “There are no permanent friends, only permanent interests.”

Yet, while these worlds have given me a fair share of energy and exhilaration, I hardly consider them my spiritual homes. My true spiritual grounding lies in the way I experience friendship, and the profound ways it shapes my growth as a human being.

It is no wonder that when someone asks me what I consider the best and most memorable stint in my life so far, my answer always points back to the places where I met the people I consider my ride-and-die.

In my workplace, milestones are often measured by promotion, position, or posting. In reality, the real milestones are people – those who have made a lasting impact in our lives, and in turn, those whose lives we have become a significant part of.

The real gift from the friendships I formed in my years growing up in Duma provided a framework from which I would perceive the thicket of relationships I would eventually encounter much later in life.

Through our friendships, we are able to wrestle with life’s biggest, and most fundamental questions. It is our friends who continuously challenge us to ponder difficult questions, who push us out of our comfort zones into a space of growth, change, and evolution.

When I reflect on my life, and contemplate what makes me feel most human and alive, the answer always circles back to the cherished friends who have been with me through life’s tumultuous seas.

Together, we weather storms, bask in the sunlight of shared laughter, and find healing in each other’s understanding.

In their presence, I am most alive, most human, for it is within the fabric of our shared experiences that the colors of my life truly shine.

Each conversation, each shared glance is a thread that connects us in camaraderie and belonging, a vivid reminder that amidst life’s vast ocean, it is the companions on our boat who make the voyage worthwhile.


Author’s email: thedumalady@gmail.com


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