"I feel sorry for our homestay," Mickey told me yesterday morning. "I know lots of families who have homestays and they have big houses and nice cars."
We have neither. Our old townhouse, though spacious for our family, is smaller than the monstrous homes so common here. I drive a 1991 Honda Accord that has no airconditioning and lacks a visor on the passenger side. When our guest arrived, we had a plumbing problem that got fixed only a week later. (LHB, I was charged only $40/hour.)
Mickey was right in a sense. We are not the ideal homestay host family.
"Well, you know, what is more important is how you treat them. These kids are homesick. They need a caring family more than a big house and a nice car. That is what they will remember more," I said.
I could say that from experience. My first job at the University of the Philippines took me travelling a lot to very depressed areas in the countryside where I did not know anybody and where there were no motels or inns. I had to rely on total strangers to take me in, always through referrals. I sometimes travelled with a team and often by myself. I knew what it meant to be lonely in a strange place where I did not speak the language.
My host families were mostly simple rural folks who lived in very humble homes. I experienced staying in places where there was no running water, electricity, bed, or a normal toilet. But these people had big hearts and treated me like a VIP. It was very humbling because, really, I was a nobody from the big city. But with everything they had, they gave me a haven.
On the other hand, I have been in large, beautiful homes, with a place for everything and everything in its place. It was like stepping onto a page of Metropolitan Home. Or the set of Martha Stewart's TV show. And yet, I felt very uneasy. My movements were calculated. I couldn't wait to be out of the door.
My homestay seems quite comfortable in our house now. He interacts with the family and lingers in the living room. He slurps his food with gusto, which is a compliment to the cook (that's me), and his bedroom is beginning to look like my sons'. He must be feeling at home.