On the 1st November in the Philippines, it's All Saints Day, a well known occasion that all Filipinos celebrate. My host family has been talking about this for weeks before, and they insisted that I must come along. Until I heard how they celebrate it.
They go to the graveyard, the tombstones of their loved ones and bring food and drinks. It's like having a picnic, sitting down on the grass with them, and flowers are laid out, candles are lit. The graveyard was packed. Not one tombstone was left empty. When it turned dark, it was so pretty. All those candles and lanterns, beautiful lights, and to see families circled around the tombstone, drinking and laughing together is heartwarming.
My host family were telling me that some people camp there, they get drunk and have parties. Yes, in a graveyard.
We visited the graves of my host mother's parents, which were right next to each other. Soon after we ate, my host mother got out a bracelet, a bracelet made of bamboo and put it on.
"It's time to do the prayers."
I didn't know what to do so I just remained silent.
"Gemma, you lead the prayer."
I laughed, thinking she was joking.
She then told me what to do. My host mother was facing the two graves, kneeling down and I had to stand from behind, putting my hand on her head and read out a passage written on the paper.
Honestly I was terrified. Out of the family she picked me to do it, and she knew I wasn't religious!?
Everyone went silent, as I was reading it out loud. Once I had finished, she turned around and prayed for me, for my success and that my stomach would get better. And she thanked everything that I had done for her.
For the rest of the night, she lay there with her mother and father's graves, talking to them. It was heartbreaking. I couldn't watch.
All Filipinos do this every year. And I was thinking, they must see the same family next to us every year because of their family's grave.
I watched other families. They all looked so happy, spending time together, children playing and the atmosphere was great. In a graveyard.
Ariel, the host mother's son explained that other graveyards, the ones owned by the government aren't nice, they're so crowded and everyone usually gets so drunk and it involves the police.
Today, the 2nd of November is All Souls Day. They do the same thing, visiting the graves again. I'm glad I had the experience of this celebration - although it did feel a bit strange!
Back in September, if you looked at me and my host family, you'd probably think, what a dysfunctional family.
But now, I've had my first argument with my counterpart. I've had my first sort of, bicker with my host mother. We're a perfectly normal family. It's amazing what the 3 months are doing to me!