10 years could be a long time or a short duration depending on how you look at it. For me, not seeing my home country for 10 years was a long time. In that time period, I was able to establish a new life in a different country, United States. I developed new friendships, new routine, a new life.
After 10 long years (20 years for my sisters), our whole family decided to come home including my teenage nephews and my brothers in law who were all born in the United States. It’ll be their first time to see the motherland. There were 11 of us. We were “balikbayan”. Literally translated to “return to country”. Manila time is 13 hours ahead of Houston time. Day and night difference.
And after an exhausting 22 hours of flying from Houston to Minneapolis to Narita to Manila, we finally reached our destination, my hometown, Manila. We went through the Philippine immigration. All of us were given 1 year visas as we are all born or related to someone who is a former citizen of the country.
We claimed all our boxes. No lost luggage. Everything was smooth. After we went through customs and got out of the airport, there was an “alphabet” sign that passengers can utilize to easily spot their family and friends who would pick them up. Passengers with last names beginning with “A to L” goes left and “M to Z” goes right. I’ve never seen an airport like that. Pretty creative, I thought. It prevents overcrowding in one spot, especially in a busy airport like this.
The lively busy streets, cars and jeeps honking and pedestrians crossing everywhere were slowly bringing back memories on how it was here at home. My mom got us 2 vans. One van for just our 11 pieces of luggage and one van for us 11 passengers.
Inside the van and our way to our house, my sisters and I were giddily pointing to different restaurants or chains we know: “Oh! Chow King!”, “Shakey’s”, “Jollibee!” (our version of McDonalds). I looked around to try to figure out in which area of Manila was I, but nothing looked familiar to me. It was only towards the end, closer to my house, that I recognized where I was.
It seemed crowded to me. It didn’t look this crowded to me before. This was not how I imagined it to be. Everywhere I looked, there was a building. Things looked smaller to me. I used to remember the streets were wider, but now it looked tinier…or maybe I was just a kid then and everything looked relatively big to me…or maybe (not to sound snooty but simply finding an explanation), I got used to the United States, especially in Texas, where everything was big, so it looked like things were small here.
People were still out in the streets at past midnight on a Sunday. Neighbors were just outside their houses talking to people. I was reminded that people here are happy and content. They are warm. They know how to talk to their neighbors and help each other. You can knock on your neighbor’s house anytime if you need anything. I’ve been living in my apartment complex in Houston for 3 years and I don’t even know the name of my neighbor whose door is right in front of mine. We share the same stairs. People are always smiling here.
We arrived at our old house. Maids and another driver welcome us and brought the boxes upstairs. This does not look the same house I grew up in. It’s on the same location but my mother completely destroyed that old house and built a different one. No more small garden or fish pond or a little veranda outside. All bedrooms are now upstairs while the downstairs are rental properties. It looked crowded and smaller. The house didn’t have centralized AC but each room had its own AC.
I can hear our relatives talking while I unpacked in my room. This is what I miss…just sitting in the living room talking to people. I don’t have that in America. Life is simple again.
They served us dinner and fruits!…atis, lanzones, rambutan, lychee, pusit, adobo, puto, dinuguan. They also asked what we want to eat for breakfast. In other words, what other Filipino food we truly miss. We requested tapa, tinapa, longganisa and tocino. I know some of you would have no clue what these are, but these are the food I rarely get to eat in America. I have to go to a Filipino store to get them and I live so far from one. I missed this.
Mama had 2 maids serving us. My sisters were taking care of her own kids. She forgot that another person can do that for her (like get the towel or give the kids food, etc). I also helped clean up the dining table….but it’s funny to think that growing up, we didn’t have to do any of these because we had servants. One for each daughter, in fact. Now that we live in America, it is natural for us to do everything ourselves. We felt bad relying on the maids.
However, it was great to be served this time and relax. I had a feeling of gratefulness rather than “I am entitled to this service”. I remember growing up, maids were just kind of there to assist you and you expect them to be there and do everything for you. Now my attitude has changed. I felt I was asking them a favor to do something for me. I hate to say this, but I treated them more with dignity. My attitude has changed.
The maids set up a hamper for the laundry near the kitchen. A lady came every morning to wash our clothes by hand. My mama pre-arranged all these for us. She went home a month ahead of us in preparation for the reunion.
It was my first day back home. Though very few looked familiar on how I remember it, I still felt home.