Remembering The Philippines

SOMETIMES, I get carried away. America is like paradise, the ultimate cool. It’s easy to get hooked, it’s a fun ride… But, at the end of day, my spirit shakes me like dark sky caving in on me. I remember floods that eat up an entire village and kids that sell roses in beer joints at past 12 midnight…

WHEN I miss the country of my birth, I miss the abject poverty and natural disasters—more than I miss the happy memories. Not counting beautiful memories of family and friends, it’s easier to forget moments that gave me joy compared with recollections of misery. Typhoons, floods, coup d’etats, hunger… These memories make my spirit stronger, make my soul alive—those memories of sorrow make me miss home so much. Those memories made me whole… made me a human being. 

EVEN before university scholars went up the hills and the coast—in the islands—carrying with them tablets of enlightenment and human equality, tribal women at that time were already independently strong and decisive. They helped carve rice paddies on mountain shoulders amidst rainstorms, they plowed ricefields with hulky carabaos—while they make sure that their bamboo shack’s foundations are safe for their kids as typhoons raged. There was no gender politics, just practical/logical co-existence with men.

BOXING, or any sports, in a country that is perpetually battered by misery—isn’t just about prize money won or personal glory achieved. A victory feeds the people’s hunger for hope and redemption; a loss doesn’t shatter their spirits—it just makes them strive harder.

IN THE ISLANDS, we chow down “throwaway” Spams and Oreos. We gobble up the entire chicken—meat, entrails, head, feet, blood. Not "bizarre food" but graces from God. Eating meat isn’t evil. What’s evil is to chase down burgers off our throats with magic oil spiked with blood of war…

IN THE islands, I was a fiery protestor of anything that suppresses freedom. So I journeyed to America where freedom flies like a bird… I am so amazed that I could actually be free here. I can even make fun of the President or protest naked—except that, I couldn’t enjoy a park beyond 10pm or the zealous barking of dogs, among other things. There’s so much freedom and un-freedom in America, that now, I am kind of confused. I can say this and that—as long as… I may speak my mind but I should not judge… I can start a bonfire but… I feel so free and weird, at the same time.

IN THE ISLANDS… the obligatory greeting when a visitor enters a house is: “Have you eaten already?” Food is always an object of offering or the centerpiece delight in any gathering—from formal meetings to spontaneous hang outs to funeral wakes. Filipinos eat three full meals a day: breakfast at 7am, lunch at 12, dinner at 7pm—at exactly at those precise hours. In between, meriendas (snacks) are served at 10am and 4pm, sometimes even at midnight… I never really gotten over my weird “food sense” all through these years, wherever country I crashland. I think about cooking and eating a lot. On romantic dates, friendly hangouts, random convergences… I always offer to cook or always inquire, “When are we going to eat?” 

I DO NOT understand. We risk our own lives to save other lives when typhoons, earthquakes, and floods come… but why do we drop bombs on an instant and kill the same lives that we saved just a year ago? Is this what we call “human”? Then, I’d rather be a stone—save me from the agony of feeling this misery. At least, a stone could comfort and keep company death below, without feeling pain mowing at my heart… [--Salvaged scribbling from a notebook that I used to file data while covering countryside strife in the Philippines many years ago.]

WHEN WE—from poor countries—speak about our misery, we sound unreal, or worse, martyrs. Hardships back home are very physical, upfront and blatant: food, medicines, shelter, basics. It’s hard to parallel that agony with mental/psychological and emotional sorrows that seem to pervade so much here. Such “unaligned humanity” becomes the basis for the space between us—a situation that is made more complex by language barriers. How could we translate in English the misery of another culture whose language was borne out of its condition? Meanwhile, English is a warm language that was ushered by a relatively comfortable, affluent, and non-colonized culture. The words love, great, beautiful, peace and sweet are said so many times.