The moment they depressurized and opened the cabin door you can feel the joy from the audible cheering and clapping. All those Filipinos returning home. Some has been gone for work, some for a short period and some, like me, haven’t returned for a very long time.
It’s been eleven years since I’ve returned. But, somehow this place still feels like home. Although I came to visit for a month in 2007 all the memories attached to this place or that I can try to recall are from the first decade of my life. The smells, the taste, the language, and the heat. Ever since “denouncing” myself as a Filipino and becoming a naturalized American, I have felt the need to reconnect. “This trip will be good for me,” I thought.
We haven’t slept since I got here (not counting my mid afternoon 2hr nap). I stayed up all night listening to matriarchs of the family share stories and gossip. I recalled always being around this. Oral stories, filipino myths and legends, family drama, and religion, were the stories I listened to. My great aunt recollects a time in the past year when she cursed religion. She promised to never return to church. And, she was angry at the hand she was dealt. Unhealthy, un-wealthy and feeling desperate. That evening she cried herself to sleep but woke up to a vision of Christ. As she described the image I believe it to be the iteration of Christ of the Sacred Heart. Which she then prayed to at a distant church atop a hill, Grotto.
This casually shared religious anecdote reminds me how prevalent Catholicism is in Filipino culture. Tomorrow we travel to Orani, Bataan, my birth place, to the fiesta of Wawa, my birth neighborhood. We will partake in the festivities all of which is somehow connected to religion and the Catholic Church.
For lunch we visited one of my aunts. She prepared for us a meal consisting of nilagang pata, talbos kamote ensalada, manga (which was picked in my ninang’s yard), galungung, and baggoong na isda. The meal was fantastic and all I ever needed. There’s so much to be said about how food is directly connected to the soul. The highlight of lunch was being able to spend a couple of hours living the way this part of my family lived. I’ve been isolated for so long that I’ve forgotten about my privilege and the misfortune of others. But, the thing is, they were happy. Absolutely delighted, ecstatic and the most hospitable even with their shortcomings.
They lived in a one room house, if you would call it that. Walls were made of sheets that has been hung, roofing is patched with old scrap metals, a garden hose serves as plumbing and wiring consists of numerous connections of extension cords. It’s tucked at the bottom of a steep hill after a couple of winding side streets. They had chickens, ducks, and dogs. Some are roaming some are caged. We had our lunch in the front of the house, muddied from the outdoor bath in which the children just partook. The table was a contraption of two-by-fours and a large piece of balikbayan-box served as a tabletop. The meal was served. It’s was delicious and was made with care and love. There were only three seats available so of course the guest got to sit while the entire family had to make due with eating standing or on other makeshift tables.
It was such a humbling meal. The most humbling meal I have ever had. Meals like this, out of hunger, out of love, or out of hospitality beats any lesson a ritualistic communion can ever provide. Joy and awe, appreciation and admiration, washed over me along with realization that I am in a position to help. I’m in a place to share what I have to people that I love and admire.