12 years overdue

It was almost twelve years since the last time I had seen the Philippines. I hadn’t gone back since I arrived here in America because I had always been saving up for a place of my own in case I need to move out for a TV job somewhere far away.

My prediction came true. I found a broadcasting job in a small town in Oregon. The money I saved did help. And when my contract there ended, I had some budget to transfer back all my belongings to my aunt’s place  (where my parents, my sister, and I stay).

After settling back in the Bay Area, my previous employer re-hired me. And when my family announced their plans to go back to the Philippines, I couldn’t find a better timing but then to join the trip.

The whole preparation worried me. “Will they treat me like a a tourist?” I remember when I still live there I used to pamper my Filipino American cousins whenever they visit us and treat them like royalty. I don’t want my relatives there to treat me like a princess, I thought. So in an effort to avoid that kind of reception,  I left all my pricey outfits and brought only enough amount of cash. I also dissuaded my sister from checking out fancy resorts, especially those filled with foreigners-places such as Boracay and Subic. I wanted to be a commoner again. But how could that happen when living there seemed like a past life ago?

AT THE AIRPORT, My parents and my sister kept double checking everything. “Nasa iyo na ba yung cellphone mo rg?”. My dad asked if I have my cellphone with me and I replied yes. Obviously, they were more anxious than I was. I hadn’t even comb my hair yet. In fact, I was still taking a shower when they knocked on the door and told me they were going to wait in the car and that they were all ready to head to the airport.  I had no idea we had to leave the house more than two hours earlier than scheduled.

12 hours plus a stop over in Taiwan. We’ve met some Filipino passengers along the way, each one has his or her own reason for going back to the Philippines.

15 hours and 45 minutes later, it dawned to me. I’ll be in my motherland at long last. I looked out the window and couldn’t see anything but clouds but I knew I was home. All that pain from long hours of sitting, waiting, and no blood circulating to my feet went away.

Not so long after, I heard the captain’s voice announcing that we are now landing in Manila. I felt something in my tummy. I was anxious.

As soon as we stepped out of the plane, I noticed the Manila airport was actually cleaner than I had imagined. The place was spic and span, and comfortably air conditioned. There was no smell of smoke or stink. My sister kept pointing out every major improvement she finds. A big poster of a Filipino movie actor, Piolo Pascual, welcomed us. I couldn”t remember what he was endorsing.

My dad told us not to worry about our balikbayan boxes because we are US citizens. As we were trying to find the customs department, one airline employee waved his hand and signaled us to get to his line. My dad followed and handed the man something. The man nodded, cleared our luggage, and signaled us to move along. Maybe not all things have changed, I thought.

We were heading out when, like theater curtains, the exit doors swiped open, unfolding different sorts of scenarios. People overcrowding the sidewalk, some waiting to be picked up, others walking, looking for those who have arrived; Cars and Jeepneys tailgating, honking, and overpassing one another; Street vendors loitering, yelling at the top of their voices,  traffic controllers in the middle of the streets, somehow managing the tangled traffic. A gust of humidity hit my face. I broke a sweat instantly despite the pouring rain. Oh yeah, I’m in the Philippines alright.

My two aunts, my cousin, and a family friend rushed towards us. “AAyyy!!” My aunt Idad, or as we call her, Mommy Idad, exclaimed. My relatives hurriedly gave us a hug and helped us with our luggage.

We rode to our family friend’s (Tito Emil) passenger truck, or as we call it in the Philippines, FX. During the ride, my aunts couldn’t stop pointing out different landmarks. “Oh ayan, iyan yung Tropical Hut restaurant, naalala mo pa ba?” (That’s the Tropical Hut restaurant, do you still remember it?).  Then all of a sudden, a stranger hopped on the back of the truck like a weightless ninja. I was startled but my relatives seemed unmoved.  The skinny man was peeking through the window, looking at us with unabashed eyes. My aunt Nita reminded us to make sure the doors are locked. She said not to worry, that the man was just going to ask us for some money.

arriving

My dad and I, with my Aunt Nita helping us with our luggage.

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