Not sure if I’ve mentioned this in previous posts or not, but our trip to the Philippines was a family holiday. We were travelling with my husband’s older brother, his wife and their two children (our niece and nephew), my husband’s younger brother, and my mother-in-law.

Since we were travelling with different airlines, we somehow couldn’t align our departing flights. So  my husband’s brother, his family, and mother-in-law travelled and arrived a day before us.

Let me digress a little bit here and recount a very unique experience. As soon as we got off the plane at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and trudged our way through the main terminal, we were greeted with a bunch of school kids playing a folklore-like tune on their musical instruments. Whether they were there to greet some very important contingent, or to provide a prelude to the upcoming ‘Ati-Atihan’ (big parade originating from Kalibo being held during the third week of January), we weren’t certain.

So…. passed the Philippines’ customs – check. Collected our luggages – check. Declared we got nothing to declare – check. We have asked my mother-in-law to pick us up at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) when we landed. We have told them that our plane would land at 4 in the afternoon. Fine and dandy… right?

My husband’s mother, in turn, had given us a set of instructions on how to get to our agreed meeting point (complete with demonstration on how to cross the road! – she is one of never leaving even the smallest details). We walked past the main lobby area right outside the final security screen, crossed the passenger drop-off area, down a set of ramp, and began scrutinising every single person that resembled my mother-in-law as we stood outside the duty free liquor shop.

Panic began to rise from the pit of our stomachs when we failed to find my mother-in-law. Believing that we mustn’t have been looking properly, we started staring at every single person (my apologies to one-tenth of the Philippines’ population who was there at that time). No, no luck. Of course, the first thing that crossed our mind back then was, “Maybe we have come to the wrong spot?”

"Honey, does any of these people resemble one of your cousins?"

Right across from where we were standing, there were a sea of people; I had been warned about this, because the number of people who were there at any given time was more than overwhelming. They could be normal bystanders, watching the type of people who walked in and out of the airport, and consequently watch the planes take off and land. They could be the vast numbers of relatives waiting to pick someone up, or waiting for their loved ones’ supposed planes to fly out.

Some of these people were waving excitedly, and it looked as though they were doing so directly at us. So our second thought was that my mother-in-law, for whatever reason, couldn’t get past this ‘general visitors’ section to pick us up. So my husband told me to stay where we were supposed to meet his mum in the first place, whilst he sauntered across the road. Now, he wasn’t the forward type to just march to a potential cousin and said “Are you my cousin? Are you waving at me?” So he basically just exposed himself in-between the spaces, looking as non-intimidating as possible, neck craned and eyes peeled wide open for anyone that resembled his mum, or any cousins he hadn’t seen for about 16 years.

Meanwhile, back across the road, I was sort of doing the same thing. With both hands tightly clutching the handle of our luggage trolley, I stood on tiptoe and craned my neck as far as I possibly could (the curse of being of average height sometimes), doing more scrutinising of people, especially women’s facial features, hoping that one of them was my mother-in-law. I was facing the other way when I heard a high-pitched “YOO-HOO!!!!!”

Turned out that even though she had left super-early, she had encountered that much traffic that it took them 15 minutes to crawl through the last 300 metres, stuck behind so many other vehicles lining up to get to the carpark of NAIA.

I never had any objection seeing my mother-in-law – I get along quite well with her. I have never been so relieved like I was at this particular moment to finally set my sight on her.

So, with my husband safely back from the sea of strangers (thank goodness he didn’t actually speak to any of them, thinking they were his cousins), we made our way back to the hired vehicle his Mum had organised for us. We met the real cousin and struck a conversation as we braced the peak hour traffic from the airport to our hotel in Makati City.