I had wonderfully strange summers growing up. Sometimes my cousins from Iligan would live with us and some summers I lived with them. (The latter was always more fun.)
Iligan, 1981. I still remember walking to the parish church grounds near my grandparents’ home. At that time the structure was under renovation and my cousin Bambi and I would climb the limestone mountains (really, they were just mounds). I don’t know why I remember the limestone mountains more than anything else. I can still hear the crunch of my slippers was we climbed (well, walked) over the mountains. (okay, mounds.)
If I were a bit older, I probably would’ve had the concept of taking one rock with me home as a souvenir. But I was young and souvenirs were for old people who were pessimistic that they’d never go back to that place again. And true to old-people-ways –they need reminders. So I just left Iligan, no stone in pocket, because I wrongly assumed that I’d be back there in no time. People don’t take souvenirs of their home. They take souvenirs of places they merely visit, I thought to myself. Of course I regret that now. What I’d give to have something in my hand to remind me of that time.
I also remember my cousins introducing me to their friends and some of them were Muslim. I was both fascinated and disappointed that my Muslim friends were just like me. I really wanted them to be different and more romantic and fierce like I read in storybooks. Other than the slight difference in our outfits, we all ended up as dirty as each other when we got home. Good thing, limestone dust is grayish white, so we seemed a little less dirty that way. It was cool, eventually I liked that they were just like me. Oh, to be nine and fickle.
Time flew even when I wasn’t having fun and my fascination for my Mom’s birthplace settled somewhere in the back burner of my brain. Then the Maguindanao tragedy of 2009 got me thinking of my childhood again and things of my Mother. How can I not?
Then my mind turns to a high school classmate of mine from Assumption. We were sophomores that year, still early in the semester when we got news that Ayesha was going to leave our class because she was going to get married. I was all of 15 years old and wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing, but it certainly was unusual. I was intrigued and curious but very afraid for her. Ayesha is a very pretty girl. I remember she always had a kind smile, great eyes and she was so soft spoken but I remember asking her many many many questions. I probably annoyed her since she was young herself and about to get married and withstanding all our curious gazes and bordering on impolite queries. But she was so graceful about it–even at fifteen. I wonder a lot about her lately. I tried to look for her on the internet and the closest I got was a woman of the same maiden name who is now a writer. She published an essay along with other young Moro writers. Something entitled “Children of the Ever-Changing Moon.” I will make it a point to get a copy one of these days. I wonder if that’s her? I want to look for her now, ask her if she remembers me at all because I remember her clearly! I want us to talk, as grown women. Does she have children? Did she think we were immature Britneys back then when we stayed in high school while she proceeded with her life as a Muslim princess. I remember seeing her dazzling wedding photo on the cover of (Bulletin Today’s) Panorama. I was so proud of her. I was so proud she was my classmate. I can still picture Ayesha and her groom staring back at the lens under a traditionally embroidered umbrella looking so noble while I felt so shallow and silly. I still had a lot of questions for her though so I wished she stayed a bit longer in school with us. She looked wiser than our entire class put together, that’s for sure.
Recently, I bought a Manobo jacket from a Rock Ed volunteer whose father works closely with the farmers in Mindanao. I wasn’t sure why but I fixated on it, so I own the jacket and I’m waiting for a chance to wear it. Maybe soon. The wimpy things we do to try to remember our roots, I thought to myself. Wala yata sa damit yon.
Lanao is the land of my Mother’s birth. There, I just needed to write it again. I’m waiting for that idea to become real to me. How can a search for home be so urgent yet so distant? Ah but that is the mystery of home and the times, I think. The roll of generations will always have to happen. And what a miracle that is. We are all given finite stints on this earth to do what we can to let the next batch of people carry on. We either ease the times for them or stunt them from progress by what we do today. Certainly a longing for forebears will always happen somewhere along this journey.
Sometimes I visit a place and bring home something to remind me of it. A refrigerator magnet usually- because it’s cheap and it makes our kitchen a lot more interesting. And I do think of those places when I see them. I think I still have a wooden durian sculpture from Davao or a slipper from Cebu stuck on our ref.
I do not have anything of Iligan, or Cotabato or Iloilo, or Makati, for that matter – I will never need souvenirs of home.
I say to myself again, so stubbornly, “My hometowns are mine and I will never need reminding.”
But this is not true.