LIKE millions of other Filipinos, I belong to a “global” family. My eldest brother, Luis, is a Swiss citizen, having accumulated sufficient years in and knowledge of Geneva, Switzerland to pass that country’s stringent requirements. My other brother, Dionisio, is an American citizen and a longtime resident of Los Angeles, California. Every Sunday, we take to Viber to exchange our respective “chillax” photos. Of course, it is hard to top the entries shared by our two brothers and their families abroad.
Yet even when my “chillax” photos feature mostly panoramic views of the nearest mall, nothing beats home. I remember leaving the country to study for a year in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I loved the snow at first, till it kept getting in the way of walking. Autumn was my favorite season, because of the flaming transformation of trees that line the expressways from Cambridge to New Hampshire and back.
After I obtained my master’s degree from the prestigious Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, my goal was to enter an apprenticeship program at the World Bank in Washington D. C. or work for a publishing house in New York City. I was also itching to settle down somewhere in the east coast and try my hand at writing fiction. Those plans changed when my father said it was time for me to come home.
Today, a year short of 55, I am quite happy to stay in the Philippines until the shade falls on my existence. This is where unhappiness tends to linger and yet quickly moves on, because there is always a member of the family willing to share the burden. This is where you criticize policies and people through Facebook and get instant feedback from both irate and concerned mutual friends. This is where we talk over food, about food, and take “selfies” to show the food that we keep talking about. This is where we laugh and share the same memes, and cry over the same sad stories depending on what trends on primetime news.
This is where terrorism kicks our economy in the gut, kills our soldiers and innocent civilians, and lead children farther away from the brightest of futures. This is where we talk of peace across negotiating tables but never get to the point of obtaining it with permanence and progressive, irreversible gains. This is where we honor the sacrifices and courage of war veterans on special occasions yet ignore them for the most part because we now live in the age of the drones. This is where love is stored in “balikbayan boxes” sent by an overseas Filipino worker who keeps dreaming about the day when she can finally return home and retire.
Nothing beats waking up to the usual confusion over cancellation of classes due to heavy monsoon rains. Every morning, we listen to radio anchors pull apart the adlibs of a popular yet tough and straight-talking commander in chief. We come home to a bowl of hot soup, steamed rice and fish, and bananas on the side. We sleep with a silent prayer for our angels to look over us, and for God to forgive our shortcomings of the day.
This is our homeland, and the farther we are from it, the more we long for “champorado with tuyo” on a rainy afternoon. This is who we are: Filipinos with tender hearts, captivating smiles and the shortest distance between a handshake and a hug. Our country is progressive, though far from being exceedingly wealthy, but individually, we are truly blessed to have each other.
So, as we begin this work week, hectic as it may be, let’s just reflect on what makes this country great, and why we continue to stay here, day after day. It is our duty not to be diminished by failed expectations. Nevertheless, it is our solemn obligation to give our all, and be in constant motion, to build a country that is home to us, the people we love, and generations more to come.