Then my father-in-law died. Heading back, I wasn't quite sure how I'd feel. I haven't seen you in ten years. Was I ready? No. But there was no time to prepare. When you gotta go, you gotta go.
Upon landing at the airport, I started whining – how the heat and humidity was curling up my hair, and how darn hot it was. Then I realized it was up to me to decide whether I'd waste time whining or simply dealing with it. I decided to deal with it.
To my surprise, this time around, I fell in love. Hard. I couldn't get enough of you. Even though I was sleep-deprived, jetlagged and exhausted, I was raring to go. I didn't want to sleep because I didn't want to waste time. I didn't want to miss a thing.
Yes, you, the Philippines – the country of my birth, though no longer of my nationality. After 10 years, I gained enough experience and perspective to appreciate all that you are and more.
How could I have stayed away so long?
Sure, I found the heat unbearable (even if December's supposed to be cool already). Sure, I was annoyed that my hair and humidity just can't get along. Sure, the crazy Manila driving drove me nuts, which was why I kept my eyes closed as a backseat passenger. Sure, pedestrians running for their dear lives while crossing C5 scared the hell out of me. Sure, the humongous billboards irritated me for being such an eyesore. Sure, the reverse discrimination (Filipinos rendering better service to foreigners than to their fellowmen) we encountered rankled on me big time. Sure, an airline canceling its flight without notice had me mentally drafting a letter of complaint. Sure, I ended up with bruises, bug bites and scratches as a result of my various adventures and misadventures. But nothing stopped me.
The Philippines is far from perfect. It's part of the charm. It's what made the Philippines what it is.
I wanted to consume everything during the short time we were there – the sights, the sounds, the tastes, and yes, even the smells. The first morning we spent there, I woke up with a start, totally taken aback by the sound of a rooster crowing. "Welcome to the Philippines," my husband said with a laugh.
We chomped our way while we were there – banana cue, Red Ribbon's chocolate mousse, suman, kombo, R. Lapid's chicharon, green mango with bagoong, among others, including an endless array of seafood, and delicious fresh fruit juices and shakes. Our friends knew that they'd have to drag me kicking and screaming if they brought us to non-Filipino eating places. Even their mere mention of Starbucks drew sharp glares from me. Great friends that they are, they allowed me my quirks. Believe it or not, even seeing nilagang saba being sold in the streets was a sight to behold, simply because we do not have saging na saba where we live.
We came for a funeral, but also stumbled upon the birth of Amelie Jeanne and the wake of my dad's best friend. Too bad there was no wedding to attend. We went to places, both old and new to me – Boracay, Banga, New Washington, Numancia, Kalibo, Cupang, La Mesa Dam Ecopark, Tagaytay, Caleruega Church in Nasugbu, Bonifacio High Street, Serendra, Quezon Circle, UP Ayala Land TechnoHub, and of course, UP Diliman. I learned how to ride a scooter, and how to wipe out in a magnificent manner. I ate freshly picked rambutan and even puso ng saging for the first time. Even paintball was a first (hence the bruises). I saw the Aklan River – the river that overflowed during Typhoon Frank. Even hanging out at the barrio turned out to be great fun. We went island hopping and snorkeling in gorgeous Boracay. At night, we sat outside on the beach until midnight, looking at the sky, drinking wine and exchanging stories with new friends.
Days flew by fast. I wanted to hop on a plane and see more of this country. Sadly, we didn't have enough time. Then again, when is time ever enough? On the day we were leaving for the US, I was inconsolable, sniffling in the backseat of my best friend's car. Every step I took, every mile flown took me away from you.
But reality beckoned. We had to go back to the life we have now. After falling in love with you again, I had to go. But this time, I will not stay away too long. We will not stay away too long.
Thanks for welcoming us back. And yes, it's only goodbye for now.
Until next time.