KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – I made a trip to the Turkish embassy in Kuala Lumpur today to get a visa for my upcoming trip to Istanbul.
On my way there, I got irritated at the cab driver for insisting that the address I gave him was wrong.
“Are you sure this is where you want to go?” the cab driver asked as he reluctantly parked in front of the building.
“Yes, this is where I want to go,” I said, a bit annoyed at his petulance. The whole time he kept asserting that we were going the wrong way.
“But you said you wanted to go to the British embassy. This isn’t the British embassy,” he said, pointing at the metal plaque on the gate.
“Yes I can read that,” I said. “I didn’t say I wanted to go to the Brrrit-ish embassy. I said I wanted to go the Turrrk-ish embassy.”
“Oh. Sorry, I couldn’t understand your American accent,” he said.
What American accent? The words “Turkish” and “British” sound quite different enough for accents to not even matter at all, I thought. But then again, the “ish” part was probably what threw the cab driver off. As I got out of the vehicle, I wondered how different it would’ve been if I tried saying it with a Malaysian accent instead. “Tuh-kish.”
Language and accents can be such a hindrance to understanding each other sometimes.
When I finally entered the premises, I was surprised to see that the Turkish embassy was actually an old house turned into a consular office. Inside, it still had a homey feel to it albeit a bit derelict in some way. Instead of counters and desks, they had a living room and even a swimming pool in the backyard.
What surprised me was how warm the diplomats were to me. “You’re Filipino?” said one of the consuls with a smile, looking at my passport.
“Yes, but apparently with an American accent,” I mumbled as I continued filling up my application form on the coffee table, half expecting to be served warm soup and bread.
After submitting my documents, they immediately asked me about the victims of Typhoon Haiyan and how the country was coping with all the damage to life and property. They seemed genuinely concerned and eager to hear from a Filipino.
“Is your family all right?” they asked.
“Fortunately Metro Manila, where my family is from, was spared. I can’t say the same for the rest of central Philippines though as thousands are now dead and millions homeless,” I said.
I then recounted all that I knew and read and heard from the news and they listened to me intently like children captivated by a scary bedtime story. And I felt like Anderson Cooper (okay maybe that’s a rather long stretch).
I recalled this news story I saw about how much aid the Turkish government has given to the Philippines for typhoon victims and even remembered how their lead representative in Tacloban was crying recently on national television describing the devastation he just saw. He said it wasn’t like anything he’d ever seen in all his years in international relief operations.
After I gave them the lowdown on the current situation, I took the opportunity to thank them—the Turks—in person, for all the help they’ve extended to Filipinos so far.
“Thank you,” I said. I felt a lump in my throat and at that moment, tears just fell down my face.
I tried to hide it and hoped they wouldn’t see it, but I couldn’t help being swept with so much emotion as I thanked them personally for their generosity. I then thought about all the other countries around the world that have rushed to our side and poured so much resources on our weather-beaten country, while treating us with dignity and respect, and even being humbled by our strength.
How can anyone not cry while thanking the people who’ve helped you during a time of despair while seeing the compassion in their eyes? How does one say thank you to those who’ve gone over and beyond their own capacity to help? I had no others words to say.
“Thank you,” I said again through tears. And that was all I could really say at that moment. “Thank you.”
Then I was surprised to see them tearing up too. I felt that we all knew that what was happening in that living room was something so much bigger than any of us. We just sat there, quietly acknowledging each other as fellow human beings.
I was shocked at how personal this whole thing suddenly felt, standing face to face with a race, a people who have graciously extended a helping hand, not even to me in particular, but to my country as a whole. And it was even more astounding to feel how much they truly sympathized.
Perhaps they saw in me the millions of Filipinos now suffering and in need, and I in turn, saw in them the generosity and kindness of their people.
These are the precious times when you know that despite all our differences, we are all capable of seeing our own humanity in each other.
Gratitude is truly a language we can all understand. And yes, we don’t need to have the same accent for it.
So to all of you who’ve helped the Philippines in one way or another during this truly difficult time, my heart says thank you. Maraming salamat po.