Been in Manila since last Thursday, Sept 4th. Catching up with my Tito Ben-ben, Tita Bian, and cousin Jewel has been very good for me. Like it has always been, when I am reunited with my family in the Philippines. Current Location: Jewel's BoudoirCurrent Mood:
My Tito has always been a favorite. He was responsible for so many happy memories from my childhood. Being here with him and his family reaffirms and validate all that I’ve seemingly forgotten while living in the land of rush and plenty. When I am home I am once again shrouded in family, love, generosity, loyalty and tradition.
I am once again a Filipino. Rhezie eating with her hands, feasting on all the dishes she has longed to masticate on. Reliving and wandering, in all the too familiar, favorite, and soothing tastes, scents, and feelings of identity and heritage. I have culture after all.
I feel rooted and secure when I am with my family in the Philippines. Even a mere act, such as watching Filipino comedy movies with my cousin, brings much joy. I laugh wholeheartedly and truly enjoy myself. I can let loose with reckless abandon. There are no pretensions.
This is the place that holds much meaning in the littlest of things done. When a nick or name is said, it bears affection in the voice. When I am back home my name really sound like music to my ears when addressed. And, in turn, there is reverence and respect, when I greet a family member or old friend.
I think of Lola and Kongkong, and of Lola Payeng. My uncles and aunts all looked a bit older every time I came home. I am pretty sure I’ve aged myself. It’s a bit disconcerting, really. I wonder about all the family and friends that have remained, even the help that have serviced, and have been with our family since the beginning.
I wonder about Tia Baleng…her daughter, Melba. What of Nong Kire? I remember the man who used to come to the house on the weekends to scrub and polish the wooden floors with a coconut husk, dug a couple water wells, and helped my Lola with yard work and gardening. He was browned well from the Pacific sun, bobbled with a shiny, balding head, armed strong, with kind eyes, and an omnipresent smile. He supported a wife and loads of children. One daughter, around my age, would sometimes accompany him to our house to play with me. I liked that a lot.
I remember Nong Kire would have his lunch in the little prep kitchen in the back. Lola would not let him have any of what we had inside for lunch. He was always given a big mound of leftover rice from breakfast, boiled or sautéed vegetables, and fried salty fish. I would sometimes peek over through the screen door and watch him eat. He always ate with gusto, with his hands, and washing down every other mouthful with a gulp of water, the glass from an old Nescafe instant coffee jar.
It was a different time then, so I was told. It never occurred to me that time to question why Nong Kire was hardly given meat to eat. Looking back now, I feel my Lola might have been a bit mean. Was she that selfish or cheap? Did social class play a part? She wasn’t from a rich family. Was she ever subjected or experienced the same? Was she trying to prove something?
Nong Kire knew his place. He never asked for more, and worked hard and honestly for the 40-60 pesos my Lola would pay him for a full day’s work. I heard that he worked doing construction during the week. That’s bona fide backbreaking work that does not pay well, if hardly, at all.
I wonder now how hard it must have been for his daughter to come and play with me, and to see all the toys, and goodies I get to have. And, after a while, he stopped taking her with him. He must have been weary and sore to the bone most of the time for he must’ve had to work every day of the week to feed his family. He must have been a great father and is much loved by his children.
A few years back, at one of my homecomings, I inquired regarding Nong Kire and Lola Payeng informed me that he had passed away some time ago from some illness. I was saddened to hear of this news. I fervently wished that he didn’t have to suffer or had much pain. And, I sincerely hoped that his family was doing well.
Every time I come home, there are many things that remind me of what I used to be, what I am now, and what I can be. I look forward to having leftover rice with fried salty fish, eating with my hands, with each handful sustaining that hunger for the cherished past, present, and future.
the hum of the AC