I grew up not really being close to my mother. As a child, the moment I realized that I was alive, all I knew was that I have a mother and a father. And that I have four siblings. And whether I liked it or not, I have to treat them with love and respect because they are my family.
So I looked at my mother (whom I called “Nanay”) for who she really was to me, a mother. And I looked at my father (whom I call “Tatay”) as only my father. Persons who have power or authority over me because they are my parents. Persons who will tell me what to do and what not to do. Persons that I’d rather keep my distance because they are way older than me.
My Nanay was a graduate from one of the top reputable schools in the Philippines, the University of the Philippines. She took up Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education at UP Baguio then later on she transferred to UP Diliman, the dream school of many high school graduates. She was the eldest among five children. When they all became adults, the rest of her younger siblings went abroad to work and later became American citizens. My mother stayed behind because she already had a young family to take care of.
My Nanay got married fresh out of college. She fell in love with a man who was her opposite. While she was good in academics and had a bright future ahead of her, she fell in love with someone who came from a more simple background and doesn’t have a college degree. Some relatives told me that my parents eloped so they could be together because my mother’s parents were so strict, especially my mother’s mother. My Tatay loved her dearly because as far as I know growing up, there was never this “other woman.” Growing up, I hardly saw them affectionate or sweet with each other, in fact, oftentimes, I would see them fight over money. Over petty issues. And even if my Tatay only reached second year of college and would rather be married to my mother and work, he was very responsible and a good provider. Though we live in a patriarchal society, in our household, it was more “matriarchal.” It was my Nanay who would give orders and instructions to my Tatay. Yes, my Tatay was “under de saya” and I admire him for that. In his own way, that was how he respected my mother. We had a small but decent, comfortable home inside UP Campus. UP became my Tatay’s employer for many years until he retired. It was in UP Campus, in a boarding house of my Tatay’s uncle, where he met Evangeline, my mother. The love letters that my Nanay sent to him when they were still young and married, my Tatay kept it all these years.
As a mother, Nanay was very strict and very hands on. While my Tatay was responsible in bringing more money to the house, taking a second job as a basketball referee, being the “man” of the house, our Nanay still worked as public school teacher to assist with my father’s meager income while attending to us. Though she was strict and can be harsh with words when she was mad, it never dawned upon us to talk back the same way. We just keep quiet. We kept our issues and resentment to ourselves.
Just to prove how strict my Nanay was, when I got burned by a hot stove, I never told her about it. Because she would get mad if she finds out. So I did everything I could to hide the wound so she wouldn’t see it. I was able to find a way to cure it myself as a little girl using Terramycin ointment. When I became partially deaf due to infection, I never told her about it also. Because I was afraid of her getting mad at me. The only person who knew all about it was God. And He knew how I prayed so hard to heal my ear defect. I became partially deaf since I was ten years old until I was 24. So as a student, I had this loud voice when reporting or reciting in class. One teacher even got impressed with my loud voice during a reporting. At present, I am no longer partially deaf. It got cured when eight years ago this new employer, my fifth job, paid for my pre-employment medical checkup. Thank goodness that despite the decade or many years that I never had my ears checked up or told anyone about it, my hearing defect still got cured. I consider it a miracle.
Under our Nanay’s guidance, we all grew up to be well-behaved and homebodies. We’d rather stay at home than go out that believe it or not it was rather our parents who would encourage and sometimes force us to move out of the house, to play in the streets and be with other kids. We also turned out be obedient children so we did what they told us to do, especially if it was an order from our Nanay. So I played “Langit at Lupa,” “Tumbang Preso,” “Patintero,” “Taguan,” “Habulan,” and other street games with other children in our neighborhood. So my older brothers mingled with other boys. So our eldest sibling played volleyball with her “contemporaries” in our street. But by the end of the day, we remained contented just staying at home watching TV, enjoying Voltes V, Daimos, Bioman, and Shaider, our Asian superheroes. There were also “McGyver” and “Transformers,” American shows that molded us into hopefully good individuals. We also watched “Batibot” and “Sesame Street,” the children’s shows that we never outgrew and will never forget now that we are old. Of course, she let us watch “Eat Bulaga,” which is our favorite noontime show through the years. A show that I believe assisted my mother in turning us into well-rounded individuals than paying a visit to the church. This was how our Nanay reared us. She let us watch TV. She was never into censorship. She trusted us. I never heard her “Don’t watch this, it’s sinful to watch.” I felt that she trusted us. And because of that, at least on my part, I don’t feel like I am repressed or something.
When we were young, she and Tatay would bring us to the Church to hear mass. This was how we came to know Jesus Christ, about this invisible higher being looking over us. But she was never the religious type. Unlike our Tatay, she never forced to pray the rosary. She never forced us to go to mass. She just let us be, she never interfered in our faith growing up. But if she knew that we did something bad, that’s the time that she wouldn’t think twice of monstrously reprimanding us. She had this bad temper. Like for example when one of my brothers kept failing his subjects in school, out of disappointment and frustration, she grounded my brother by not putting him to school for one year. We are not rich so it was heartbreaking for my Nanay that one of her sons was just wasting their money paying for his college education.
Did I mention that we were not close as mother and daughter? But despite that, I was her constant companion or alalay when she goes out to buy groceries or to do her shopping. I remember dining with her in Goldilocks as a little girl then later as a teenager and there we were, never striking a conversation. We just sat and eat quietly and as a child, I didn’t see anything wrong with that. I thought it was just normal. But despite that, she was my greatest musical influence. She loved listening to the music of The Carpenters, Paul Anka, Abba, and other ballad songs in the ‘80s and those are types of music that I grew up with. She collected cassette tapes and LPs. I also later on collected cassette tapes and compact discs. She also stored up a lot of books at home but she never forced us to read it like other parents would do. She just let us be and since we always see her reading something, most of the time a magazine, whether we liked it or not, we just imbibed it. And soon, all of us are into reading.
We are not an I-love-you-hugs-and-kisses kind of family. Maybe it was because even from the kind of families that my mother and father once belonged, they were also not the I-love-you-hugs-and-kisses kind of families. So it became a cycle. Since my mother grew up under a super strict mom, she reversed her strategy when she became a mom herself. She was strict, yes, hot-headed, yes, a nagger, yes, but she could also be lenient and thoughtful. She never put us under curfew. Because she trusted us that we will go home within decent hours, we all indeed went home within decent hours without ever reminding us about it. We just did! Like as if it were already programmed, a value system already built-in.
We are not what you would call a closed-knit family but none of us, her five children, ever got into drug addiction, got pregnant by a boyfriend (or impregnated a girlfriend), or became criminals. And I wonder how my mother did that despite all the drama?
Oh, how she loved delicious food! It was from her where I learned that even if you are not rich, if you have extra money, buy yourself a delicious food even though it is expensive, even just for once. In her own way, that was how she enjoyed life. So even though we were just a lower middle class family, my mother brought home delicious desserts and food and we tasted what probably the rich have already tasted, or perhaps, not yet tasted. And that’s what I am doing now as a single adult. I pamper myself by going to my favorite restaurant, La Creperie, in Robinsons Galleria and order for my favorite crepe called Mango Hazelnut au Chocolat. Each time I go there I would order the same item over and over again.
My Nanay was 31 years old when she had me. I am her fourth child in a brood of five. When I was 21, a sad event that I never thought will happen to us happened. On April 10, 2000, she died of colon cancer. She was 52. This was how I came to know what death looks and feels like. And of losing a mother.
She was born on September 23, 1947. She would have been 65 years old today. Though none of her children turned out to be a lawyer, a doctor, or one with a high stature, I just hope that who we are right now, whatever jobs we are doing right now, the choices that we made, would still make her proud. After so many years that she was gone, she now seems like a distant figure. I don’t miss her at all. Because her spirit is right inside my heart. The spirit to make the most with my life here on earth. To remember my mortality by remembering her death and by remembering I will be reminded that life on this earth can be fleeting, that everything on this earth – happiness, sadness, richness, fame, popularity – can be fleeting. To make the conscious effort, even though it is hard, to move on. To keep going. To live my life in the fast lane and just do whatever it is that I want to do because life is short. And I am happy to be able to write this piece, regardless of whether I wrote this in perfect grammar or not, for my mother. Because should I be informed today that I will die tomorrow, this is what I really want to do today, to be today. A writer about my mother’s life.
Hapon ng August 2004 nang una akong dumating sa Jeddah. Mula sa bintana ng Saudi Airlines, kita ko agad ang pulutong ng mga lalaki na akala ko’y mga pari. Nababalot kasi sila ng puting damit mula leeg hanggang binti. “Thobe” ang tawag don, isang tradisyonal na kasuotan ng mga Muslim na lalake. “Abaya” naman ang para sa mga babae, kulay itim na telang tumatakip ng kanilang kutis mula ulo hanggang paa.
Hiwalay ang daanan ng babae sa lalake. Paglabas ko sa pinto, ramdam ko agad ang init na tila umabot sa 48 degrees. Kaya naman wala akong kagatol-gatol kong nasambit ang “OMG (Oh my God)!”. Napalingon naman ang isang nagbabalik Pinoy sa harapan ko. Hindi nya pinamukha ang pagkainis sa akin, pero basang basa ko sa kanyang mga labi ang mga katagang “ang arte!”
— Kapeng Arabo (Manny A. Garcia)
Matagal na akong curious kung ano nga ba ang kalagayan ng mga OFWs sa Saudi Arabia na sa aking impresyon ay pinakasikat na dayuhang bansa na pinagtatrabahuan ng maraming Pinoy na nais magkaroon ng magandang kinabukasan para sa kanilang pamilya.
Bata pa lang ako, aware na ako sa bansang “Saudi Arabia” kasabay sa pagiging aware ko sa bansang “America” o “Tate”. Marami akong kamag-anak sa parte ng Nanay ko ang lumipad sa bayan ni Uncle Sam para makapaghanapbuhay at ngayon ay American citizens na. Sa parte ng Tatay ko, may mga pinsan naman akong nagwork ng maraming taon sa Saudi Arabia. At kalaunan, sa hindi inaasahang pagkakataon, sumunod din sa kanilang yapak at sa iba pang maraming Pinoy ang kuya ko. Kung hindi ako nagkakamali, dalawang taon sya sa Saudi.
Hindi makwento ang kuya ko tungkol sa mga karanasan nya sa Saudi nang bumalik sya sa Pilipinas. Kami naman ay hindi naman din nagtatanong. Kami kasi, makita lang namin na buo at mukhang okay ang kuya namin, sapat na iyon. Basta ang hindi ko lang makakalimutan ay yung araw ng pag-alis nya. Sa akin lang sya at sa nakababata kong kapatid nagsabi na may plano syang pumunta ng Saudi pero ang hindi namin alam ay yung araw na ‘yun mismo pala sya lilipad papuntang Saudi. Ang nakakatawa, Tatay ko walang kamuwang-muwang na nakalabas na sya ng bansa. Kasi nang mapansin nyang ilang araw nang di nya nakikita ang kuya ko, doon na sya nagtanong sa amin. At labis ang pagka-inis at pag-aalala ng Tatay ko na umalis ang kuya ko na hindi nagpapaalam sa kanya. Naging Nurse ang kuya ko sa Riyadh.
I think it was last year nang una kong makita ang librong “Kapeng Arabo”sa Bestseller Bookstore sa Robinsons Galleria. Nababalutan sya ng plastic so hindi ko masiguro kung okay sya. Hindi ko kilala ang awtor. Pero parang gusto ko syang bilhin. Parang lang. Dahil hindi ako sigurado at kulang naman ang pera ko, hindi ko na lang binili.Matapos ang halos isang taon, nakita ko uli sya sa Bestseller sa Robinsons Galleria at dahil may pera akong extra, binili ko sya. Naging malaking factor na hindi na sya nababalutan ng plastic so I was able to get a glimpse of what’s inside and in fairness, mukhang okay naman. Excited akong basahin. Sa katunayan, isang upuan lang tapos ko na ang libro.
Mahirap. Mahirap magtrabaho sa ibang bansa lalong lalo na sa bansang Saudi Arabia na maraming ipinagbabawal sa pangkultural, ekonomikal, at pang-sosyal na pamumuhay ng tao. Katulad ng mga sumusunod:
- Huwag na huwag makikipag-usap sa babae, ni tingnan huwag susubukan, at baka bugbog at kulong ang abutin mo.
- Huwag magsuot ng damit na may prints na hindi mo kayang ipaliwanag, at baka akalain nagpapalaganap ka ng satanismo.
- Huwag magsuot ng mga alahas, para lang daw yon sa mga babae.
- Huwag lalakad nang mag-isa sa daan, baka mapagtripan at halayin ka.
- Iwasan ang mag-ahit at sikaping magpahaba ng balbas para hindi mapagkamalang kerengkeng, at baka mapagtripan at halayin ka.
- Kapag tumatawid sa lansangan, ugaliing tumingin sa east, west, south at north directions bago tumawid. Kung saan saan raw kasi sumusulpot ang mga sasakyan. Mahirap na at baka mapagtripan at… sagasaan ka.
Isang malaking adjustment din ang klima ng bansa na nagdudulot ng pagkakalbo o matinding paglalagas ng buhok sa mga immigrant workers. At ang pinakamatinding pagsubok: kalungkutan. Dahil alam nilang mag-isa na silang nakikipagsapalaran sa isang bansa na milya-milya ang layo sa Pilipinas, sa bayang nakagisnan, sa mga pamilya’t kaibigan. At dito sa librong ito nagkaroon ako ng pagsilip sa hirap na dinadanas ng bawat Pinoy sa Saudi. Pagsilip dahil ayon nga sa awtor na si Manny Garcia, na nakasanayan ang paggawa ng technical papers, gaya ng feasibility studies, thesis at research, at mga news item, wala sa hinakap nya na gagawa sya ng isang paglalahad na may pagka-MMK (Maalaala Mo Kaya) o kaya’y MM (Magpakailanman) ang dating, lalo’t pansarili pa.
Medyo kinulang lang ako kay Manny pagdating sa pagbabahagi ng sariling nyang karanasan. Parang mababaw ang mga paksa na kanyang naibulalas. Pag tungkol na sa kwento ng iba, doon na sya nagiging malalim. Kadalasan kasi mas gusto nyang magbahagi ng sariling opinion o kuro-kuro tungkol sa gawain ng ibang Pinoy sa Saudi.
Bilang mambabasa mas tumagos pa sa puso ko yung paglalahad nya tungkol sa karanasan ng ama nya na piniling maging American citizen at ng iba pa na pumunta ng Amerika pero bumalik sa Saudi dahil nahirapang makapag-adjust. Naging eye opener sa akin ang kwento nyang yun, yung tungkol sa mga Pinoy na nagwork sa Saudi as stepping stone para makatuntong ng Amerika. At nang matupad, matapos ang sandaling panahon ay nagmamadaling makabalik sa Saudi para doon na lang magtrabaho. Hindi ko makalimutan ang paglalahad ni Manny tungkol doon.
Kasi kung titingnan mo kasi ang ibang naninirahan o nagtatrabahong Pinoy sa States, ang projection nila sa atin pag bumalik bayan sila ay para bang masagana at nakakariwasa na sila sa buhay. May slang na din ang kanilang pag-i-Ingles. Para bang natuntong na nila ang “happily ever after” ng buhay nila. Ang totoo, mas mahirap pa pala mabuhay sa Amerika kaysa sa Saudi, ayon sa ilan nating kababayan na ikinuwento lang sa akin ng awtor sa pamamagitan nitong libro.
If you find yourself asking, “What the heck am I supposed to be?” Know this: Exactly who you are right now and ROCK it to the fullest!
Thanks Ms. Tyra Banks!
First time I heard this song while inside a department store shopping for clothes, I fell in love with it instantly. I couldn’t get over the song. I’m not a fan but this is my favorite Katy Perry song.
I said, “Well, I thought a lot of things. But mostly, I thought that your being sad was much more important to me than Craig not being your boyfriend anymore. And if it meant that I would never get to think of you that way, as long as you were happy, it was okay. That’s when I realized that I really loved you.”
She sat down on the floor with me. She spoke quiet.
“Charlie, don’t you get it? I can’t feel that. It’s sweet and everything, but it’s like you’re not even there sometimes. It’s great that you can listen and be a shoulder to someone, but what about when someone doesn’t need a shoulder. What if they need the arms or something like that? You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things.”
“Like what?” I asked. My mouth was dry.
“I don’t know. Like take their hands when the slow song comes up for a change. Or be the one who asks someone for a date. Or tell people what you need. Or what you want. Like on the dance floor, did you want to kiss me?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Then, why didn’t you?” she asked real serious.
— The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)
A book about high school life. About crushes. About sexual awakening. About growing up. About facing one’s insecurities. And this book, in one of its chapters, made me cry real hard. And there were many moments in the story when it made me smile and reminded me how it feels to be young and in love. The pain and exhilaration that are happening simultaneously when loving someone, when inspired by someone. The joys of friendship, the comfort of knowing that there are people who are willing to accept you for who you are despite your flaws, despite your mistakes. And the family that we never choose to be part of, only designated by fate, who we can be sure are the ones who will be there for us through thick and thin regardless of our sins.
Many books were written talking about the same things I listed above but what made this book extra special is Charlie. Who started high school awkward and scared, a mere observer of the things around him, only wondering about them. Until he got to meet Patrick and Sam. Until he got to meet his teacher, Bill. Until he got to meet other people that Patrick and Sam and Bill are acquainted with. Until he got himself into trouble for punching somebody defending another person. And along the way he learns many gems of lessons and realizations as a 15-year old boy who at that age knew already how it feels to lose a family member, who at that age had to cope with his despair over a friend’s suicide, and left with no choice, forced himself to “participate” in the game of life instead of being a mere observer, a mere reactor of life’s happenings. And I am happy to be a witness of this boy’s life who reminds me of myself. (Well not exactly but almost.) And we both like the same things—movies, books, and good music! And I used to give mixed tapes to my friends, too!
If ever I meet Charlie in person, I won’t think twice of befriending him. And I hope he will like me, too. And if he likes me, we’ll go out and watch a movie or just listen to music together. Then after that we will talk about it over a delicious chocolate-flavored cake or dessert which is my favorite.
I failed. Again and again. Over and over.
Only two days after I made a promise to myself that I will never be late to work EVER again, I was late. Can’t help but just curse to myself. To say cuss words like “Shit,” or for a more better effect, the Tagalog expression “‘Tang-ina.” Out of disappointment. Out of frustration.
Great Teacher Onizuka forever! The closing theme song.