Warm Thoughts on a Cold Day

Last Friday, I drove to our new satellite clinic. This was the most distant one so far compared to our other outreach clinics, as it takes an hour and 40 minutes to get there from our main office. I go to an outreach clinic at least once a month.

It was a very cold day for a drive. The outside temperature was -2 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill factor of -20 degrees. The wind was brisk and it was blowing the snow that was already plowed to the sides of the road back into the road.

The whole surrounding was white as we had fresh snow that had fallen the past couple of days. There was also a shiny glaze on the branches of the bare trees as in addition to the snowfall, it was preceded by a freezing rain that coated everything with ice, including the roads, which layered underneath the snow. This made the travel more dangerous.

In fact one of my partners cancelled his trip to another one of our outreach clinics a day before mine, due to the snow, sleet and ice.

But on the day of my travel, though it was very cold, it was sunny. Thus I decided to press on. Besides, there were many patients that were waiting and expecting to be seen. Plus, I felt confident in my driving and in my trusty vehicle.

I felt warm though while I was cruising along the wintry rural highways of Iowa. My favorite feature of my car on a very cold day like this was the heated seats along with the reliable heater. In some countries, like in the Philippines, a car airconditioner may be a luxury to keep you cool on a hot day. But where I live now, we can survive without an AC but not without a heater. It is a necessity or we’ll freeze to death.

But there was something more that was keeping me warm besides the heater, the heated seat, and the heated steering wheel. It was the warm thoughts and happy memories of a tropical place I still call home.

Playing on my car radio was streaming music sync from my iPhone from an on-line radio station. What was the radio station I was listening to? Pagudpud Beach Resort Radio Station! (Pagudpud is a place in Ilocos Norte, Philippines with a year round temperature of 70 to 90ºF.)

photo taken few years ago in a beach resort in Ilocos Norte

I could almost hear the lapping waves as they break into the sandy shore and the rushing breeze bristling through the palm trees. A stark contrast from the view of a slew of ice and snow surrounding me. They say that you could take away the boy from the island, but could never take away the island from the boy.

It’s true, I was feeling homesick. It has been three years since I last visited my motherland. Perhaps it is time for a journey back to that very familiar place.

I know I’m not the only one missing home. Most of us, in one way or another, have wandered away and left our comfort zones in pursuit of a dream. And many times in our quest, the path we crossed was not easy, for it was uncertain and unfamiliar.

I was deep in this thought when a familiar song played on the radio:

Hawak-kamay,

Hindi kita iiwan sa paglalakbay,

Dito sa mundong walang katiyakan,

Hawak-kamay,

Di kita bibitiwan sa paglalakbay,

Sa mundo ng kawalan.

That was all I needed to hear, a reassurance that we are not alone in this journey.

I glanced at my car’s GPS. It indicated that I still have 70 miles to go, and an hour more before I reach my destination.

Well, I still have an hour to enjoy this “beach.”

(*lyrics from Hawak Kamay a song by Yeng Constantino)

Beyond our Shores

(This article was published in Manila Standard Today, Diaspora section, February 9, 2012. This is an English translation of my earlier post “Ibayong Dalampasigan.” The original Tagalog piece may be more nostalgic, but I hope the message transcends beyond the translation.) 

Eighteen years. It seems like yesterday.

It feels only the other day that I woke up to the music of speeding tricycles and the crowing of Mang Karding’s fighting cock. Not too long ago when I walked down our narrow street in Sampaloc. Only yesterday that I inhaled Manila’s warm breeze and the belching smoke of the jeepneys. It was like I just blinked my eyes, and yet eighteen years have passed since I left our motherland.

I am one of the millions of Filipinos who migrated to another country. I grew up in a world where one of the eminent dreams of many of our people is to leave the country. Though it may not be directly indoctrinated in us, but we often hear from older folks, “study good my child, and when you grow up, you can go to another land and have a brighter future.”

As a child I heard stories of our neighbors who went overseas. Like Mang Juan*, who lived three houses down from us. He left for Saudi and there he earned “tons of money.” Tons of money – at least that was what we conceived in our young mind. That money was what Mang Juan used to erect a small sari-sari store in front of their house, where my mother used to send me to buy vinegar.

Or Junior, the eldest son of Ka Linda who lived across our house. He became a seaman and sailed to different places around the world. I could tell if Junior was home, for he always threw a small party for his drinking buddies and there would be a noisy bunch of merry men in our street again. Even Junior’s younger brother also became a seaman. Because of this, Ka Linda was able to renovate the house they offer for rent.

And Nena, who lives in the apartment down the street. The slender and beautiful Nena. She went to Japan.

Even in my own relatives the stories were the same. There was Tata Emo, who sold a few hectares of their field in Bulacan, so he could go to Saudi. However he did not withstand the loneliness of Saudi. He came home and went back to farming. At least his carabao was happy to have him back.

Another is Tito Rey who also departed for the Middle East. He stayed there for a number of years where he endured the searing heat, homesickness and loneliness. There were many birthdays of his children that he was not around to celebrate. But in exchange he was able to send them through college, and they even afford to build a house of their own in Marikina.

There were also my two aunts, nurses who made it to America. I know that without their help I would not be able to chase my dream. Up to this day, these aunts of mine continue to support our relatives in the Philippines. May God continue to bless them.

(photo from here)

But not all who went out of the country had a happy ending. Let’s return to Mang Juan. I know that financially they were better of. However, one of his sons, and perhaps due to the fact that he grew up without a father figure, became lost and got hooked to drugs. I always saw him in our street, with eyes so red, while walking and flying at the same time. If Mang Juan only knew what would happen to his son, would he still have chosen to work overseas?

And Nena. The slender and beautiful Nena. What really happened to her?

Despite these, we do not dwell on the sad stories, for we need to do it for the future of our families. That is why it is not surprising that our generation followed the footsteps of the one before us, and we also took our chances to find our luck beyond our shores. I have cousins who are in Saudi, Singapore, Macau and Canada. I have friends who are now in Australia, China, Middle East and here in America. We are like dust, blown by the wind and scattered to the different corners of the earth.

If I really think about it, only a few of my friends and especially my classmates stayed in the Philippines. The great majority left for foreign lands. Such a sad state for our country. And just like the song of Gloc-9, truly “Walang Natira.”

Eighteen years have I been living in the land of Uncle Sam. There are many things that have changed. I shed my carabao English as my tongue is not twisted anymore, and I can speak English now with an American diction. I don’t call somebody by saying “Psssst!” anymore, but I still turn around when somebody hollers “Hoy!” I now prefer spaghetti sauce that are somewhat sour like real Italian sauce, rather than the typical Pinoy sauce that is sweet. However I still like dried fish and salted eggs.

But there are things that still have not changed. My nose is still flat and I have no plans to have it changed. My color is still dark even if I don’t spend a lot of time under the sun anymore. My Tagalog is still impeccable. Still coursing in my veins is the noble blood of my ancestors. True, I left our homeland, but that does not mean my love for her has changed. Never a day passed that the country of my birth, have not brushed my mind.

One more thing: The new generation of our people still dreams of getting out of our native land. Would it ever change?

(*some names were changed).

Ibayong Dalampasigan

Labing walong taon. Ngunit parang kahapon lamang.

Parang noong isang araw lang ay gumigising ako sa ingay ng arangkada ng mga traysikel at ng tilaok ng tandang na pangsabong ni Mang Karding*. Tila ba kailan lamang ay laman ako ng masikip naming kalsada doon sa Sampaloc. Parang kahapon lang ay linalanghap ko pa ang simoy ng hangin ng Maynila at usok ng mga jeepney. Parang kumurap lang ang aking mga mata, ngunit labing walong taon na pala ang lumipas nang aking lisanin ang ating inang bayan.

Isa ako sa mga libo-libong Pilipino na lumabas ng bansa. Ako ay namulat sa mundo na kung saan ang nangingibabaw na pangarap ng marami sa ating mamamayan ay ang makaalis ng Pilipinas. Hindi man direktong itinuturo sa aming mga bata, ngunit madalas naming marinig sa mga nakatatanda, “mag-aral ka nang mabuti hijo, at pag-laki mo’y maari kang mangibang bayan, at magiging maganda ang iyong kinabukasan.”

Kahit nang ako’y batang paslit pa lamang ay naririnig ko na ang mga kwento ng aming mga kapit-bahay na nakipagsapalaran sa ibang bansa. Gaya ni Mang Juan, na nakatira tatlong bahay mula sa amin. Siya ay tumulak papuntang Saudi, at doo’y kumita ng “limpak-limpak” na salapi. Limpak-limpak na pera – ganito ang dating sa musmos naming kaisipan. Iyon ang ipinundar niya upang makapagtayo ng maliit na tindahan sa harap ng kanilang bahay, kung saan ako inuutusang bumili ng mantika.

O si Junior na anak na panganay ni Ka Linda sa tapat ng aming bahay. Siya ay naging isang seaman, at nakapaglayag sa iba’t-ibang ibayo ng mundo. Alam ko kapag nagbabalik-bayan si Junior. Lagi itong nag-papainom sa kanyang mga kaibigan, kaya may maiiingay na namang nag-iinuman sa tapat ng aming bahay. Kahit ang nakababatang kapatid niya na dating tambay lang lagi sa kanto ay naging seaman din. Dahil dito ay napaayos nila Ka Linda ang kanilang bahay-paupahan.

At si Nena na nakatira doon sa may apartment malapit sa kanto. Ang balingkinitan at magandang si Nena. Siya ay lumipad patungong Japan.

Kahit sa aking mga kamag-anakan ay ganito rin ang istorya. Nandiyan si Tata Emo, na ipinagbili ang ilang hektarya ng kanilang bukid sa Bulacan upang siya ay makaalis papuntang Saudi. Ngunit hindi natagalan ni Tata Emo ang lungkot ng Saudi. Siya ay umuwi at nag-saka na lang muli. Naging masaya naman ang kanyang kalabaw na muli siyang makasama.

Isa pa ay si Tito Rey na lumabas ng bansa patungo ring Middle East. Mga ilang taon din siyang namalagi doon, tiniis ang init, pangungulila at lungkot. Maraming birthday din ng kanyang mga anak ang hindi niya nasaksihan. Nguni’t kapalit naman noo’y ay napatapos niya sa pag-aaral ang kanilang mga anak at nakapagpatayo pa sila ng sariling bahay doon sa Marikina.

Nariyan din ang dalawa kong tiyahin na nurse na nakarating dito sa Amerika. Masasabi ko na malaki ang utang na loob ko sa kanila sa pagtulong nila sa akin na maabot ang pangarap kong makatapak dito sa banyagang lupain na ito. Hanggang sa ngayon ang mga tiyahin kong ito ay patuloy pa rin sa pagtulong sa aming mga kamag-anakan doon sa Pilipinas. Nawa’y patuloy silang pagpalain.

Hindi lahat ng mga nangibang-bayan ay may masayang kasaysayan. Balikan natin si Mang Juan. Oo nga’t naging mas maginhawa ang kanilang buhay. Ngunit isa sa mga anak niya, dahil na rin siguro sa lumaki itong laging wala ang ama, kaya napabayaan at nalulon sa droga. Madalas ko itong nasasalubong sa aming kalye na pula ang mata at sumusuray na naglalakad, habang lumutang sa paglipad. Kung alam lang ni Mang Juan ang mangyayari sa kanyang anak, pipiliin pa rin kaya niya ang umalis ng bansa?

At si Nena. Ang magandang si Nena. Ano nga kaya talaga ang nangyari sa kanya?

Ngunit hindi namin inalintana ang mga malulungkot na kwento, sapagkat kailangan para sa kinabukasan ng pamilya. Kaya naman hindi kataka-taka na ang aming henerasyon ay sumunod sa mga yapak ng mga nauna sa amin, at nakipagsapalaran din na lumabas ng ating bansa. May mga pinsan akong nasa Saudi, Singapore, Macau at Canada ngayon. May mga naging kabarkada akong napadpad rin sa Australia, China, Middle East, at ilan dito sa Amerika. Para kaming mga alikabok sa lupa na hinipan ng malakas na hangin at ikinalat sa iba’t ibang lupalop ng mundo.

Kung aking iisiping mabuti, iilan lang talaga sa aking mga kaibigan at lalo na sa aking mga kamag-aral, ang nanatili sa ating bansa. Karamiha’y lumisan para sa ibayong dalampasigan. Isang malungkot na katotohanan ng ating bayan. At gaya nga ng kanta ni Gloc-9: talagang “Walang Natira.”

Labing walong taon na akong naninirahan sa bayan ni Uncle Sam. Marami nang nagbago. Nawala na ang pilipit ng aking dila at natuto na akong mag-ingles na parang Amerikano at hindi na ako “Carabao English” ngayon. Nag-iba na rin ang ilan sa aking nakagawian. Hindi na ako sumusutsot kapag kailangang tumawag ng pansin, pero lilingon pa rin siguro ako, kapag may sumigaw ng “Hoy!” Pati panlasa ko’y nagbago na rin. Gusto ko na ng maasim-asim na spaghetti sauce ngayon, gaya ng tunay na Italian, at hindi manamis-namis gaya ng sa Pinoy. Pero masarap pa rin sa akin ang tuyo at itlog na maalat.

Ngunit mayroon pa ring hindi nagbabago. Pango pa rin ang aking ilong, at wala akong balak magpatangos nito. Hindi pa rin pumusyaw ang kayumanggi kong kulay kahit hindi na ako masyadong nagbibilad sa init ng araw. Matatas pa rin akong mag-Tagalog. Nanalaytay pa rin sa aking mga ugat ang maharlikang dugo ng aking mga ninuno. Tutoo, linisan ko ang aking bayan, ngunit hindi nangangahulugang nagbago ang aking pagmamahal sa ating bansa. Walang araw na dumaan na hindi dumampi sa aking isipan ang lupa kong sinilangan.

May isa pang hindi nag-bago. Nangangarap pa rin ang bagong henerasyon ng mga Pilipino na makaalis ng bansa. Ang tanong ay hindi bakit, kundi hanggang kailan?

(*names have been changed)

Hindi Ako Bayani

OFW. Hindi ako bayani.

Kahit pa tinituring ng mga karamihan na kami ang mga modernong bayani.

Oo nga’t nag-buwis kami ng aming dugo at pawis.

Totoo na kami’y nag-sakripisyo at nakipagsapalaran sa kakapakanan ng iba.

Ngunit hindi pa rin maiiwasan ang katotohanang iniwan ko ang aking Inang Bayan.

Dahil sa pangarap na mapabuti ang buhay, ay naiuna kong habulin ang kapakanan ng pamilya kaysa ng bayan.

OFW. Hindi ako bayani.

Ngunit hindi rin ako taksil. Tulad ninyo, ako’y biktima rin ng pangangailan.

Sa kagustuhang magkaroon ng pagkain sa aming hapag-kainan, ay natulak akong mangibang bayan.

Pero kahit linisan ko ang bayang sinilangan, hindi ko naman tinakwil ang aking lahi.

Mahal ko pa rin ang ating bansa.

Dapat ba kaming kamuhian? Huwag naman sanang mangyari.

OFW. Hindi ako bayani.

Nguni’t marami sa amin ang nagpapakamartir at nagpapakabayani.

Meron pa sa amin ang nag-alay ng kanilang buhay alang-alang sa kinabukasan ng kanilang mga anak.

Tinitiis ang lungkot, pagod, at pangungulila.

Tinitiis ang pang-aalila at pang-aapi, maitawid lamang sa karukhaan ang pamilya.

Minsan, kami pa ang iniiwan at tinatakwil ng aming pinagpapagurang mahal sa buhay.

OFW. Hindi ako bayani.

Ngunit buhay ko’y kasing hirap ng mga naging bayani.

Dapat ba kaming kaawaan? Hindi namin hangad na kami ay kahabagan.

Kundi ilaan na lang ang inyong luha sa ating bansang Pilipinas.

Siya ang tunay na kaawa-awa. Hanggang ngayon, siya ay nagalugmok, nakahandusay sa kahirapan.

Kailan kaya makakabangon ang mahal kong bayan?

OFW. Hindi ako bayani.

 

(Para sa lahat ng mga kamag-anak at mga kaibigan kong OFW.)