I feel like I’m trying to taste the ocean by eating a spoonful of sand. Like I’m not quite there yet, but maybe its closeness to the element at hand is good enough. Like licking little nuggets at a time will give me the full experience.
For the last week now, I’ve been trying to acquaint myself with my home country, the Philippines. I left it when I was three years old, and haven’t been back to visit for 12 years now.
I don’t know what prompted this powerful urge to familiarize myself with my mother culture. I guess all my life, I’ve been ashamed, but now that many aspects of my life are starting to solidify, it feels wrong not to know, and not to be able to relate.
I am heavy into context. So, of course, I simply started this reintroduction process by taking a crash course on Filipino history—the early days of island trading, the Spanish Invasion, the rebellions, and the US takeover. I’ve never been a great history student. I could never make myself feel the blood and struggle through mere words on a page—well, in my case, words on a phone screen. It felt human enough though, reading about José Rizal, feeling sympathy for one of the most beloved Filipino nationalists, struck down in his prime at Bagumbayan Field, fighting to free his country of oppressors. Imagining the love his fellow Filipinos bore for him made my heart sick.
After hours pouring over my phone screen, going from one hyperlink to another, I decided I’d polish off my weekend making Filipino ulam, meaning ‘dish’ or ‘main course’. (No pics of the finished result! My mouth was too fast for my camera!)
My most recent connection with my Filipino roots was this evening, on my way home from work. A Spotify playlist of Filipino love songs. The app on my phone that usually detects lyrics didn’t work this time around; the foreign language rendered it impotent. So, I used Google Translate for what phrases I could catch.
And suddenly, it all became too much. I don’t know if it was the words I was translating, or my sudden realization of what I was doing, but I felt my face grow warm and tears form in my eyes. I half-recognized the futility of all my efforts and half-reminisced on what I could remember of my few visits back home.
I mentally shook my head at my naive attempts over the last few days. Did I really expect to know my country just by reading about it, eating its food, and listening to a few songs? I looked around at my surroundings.
Where’s the stiff, unwavering heat of Cebu City? Where’s that sense of being surrounded by family? Where’s my lola, fingering her rosary in mass? Where’s rice wrapped in coconut leaves? Where’s the bustle and honks of jeepneys, and the crazy backrider who spreads out his pesos on one hand like cards? Where’s the cement staircase of my father’s house in Banawa Hills, the zapote tree in the front yard?
I suddenly felt homesick. But, how could I feel homesick for a place that’s never really been my home?
As naive as my endeavors are, maybe this is how people do it. One bite, one song, one history lesson at a time, maybe I’ll find my way back to Cebu.