Monday, November 22, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
I didn’t get to say goodbye to my favorite bakeshop. When I arrived, neglectful of the fact that my last trip to my town was on All Saints Day, it was shuttered up tight. I missed out on the promise of a free chocolate-oat bar.
I managed to bid goodbye to nearly everyone and everything else important, and many people had two or three separate farewells. My center sent me off with exorbitant thanks, and I can only hope they recognize how much more they deserve my appreciation than vice-versa. Twenty-five children and coworkers (chosen to match up numerically with my age) gave their wishes for me; we ate cake and took pictures; I gave my last speech, a fumbling mix of Ilonggo and English; and I received gifts, trinkets and hugs. Rain poured down my last night in Iloilo and kids splashed in puddles and kicked up mud.
The next day my supervisor, counterpart and a number of the youth picked me up in the city and took me to the airport. We reminisced, we joked, we said our ongoing goodbyes and we sang Bon Jovi.
It’s a sad thing to leave the place after two years, and a ridiculous thing to have planned it that way from the beginning. Maybe the countdown trivializes the time I spent in the Philippines. Literally speaking, I was never anything more than a transient. But I can say with conviction that on many, many occasions, it didn’t feel that way.
I’ve been very careful not to identify my town, my center, and especially my kids on this blog. I wish I could list the last here, post their photos and thank them each for what they gave me. I can’t. I trust that my coworkers know how thankful I am for their kindness and helpfulness, for their patient explanations of things I didn’t understand and for their willingness to work with me. For my kids, I hope they understand the impact they had on my service and the fact that they made my stay what it was – that talking with them, working with them and being part of their family was the core of my two years in their country, and that I probably learned much more from them than they did from me.
I fly out today for Japan, and for now I’ll avoid any mushiness about the Philippines staying in my heart, being my home away from home, et cetera. Platitudes cheapen.
But I’ll be on a bus tonight to Tokyo, and in my head I’ll be singing Bon Jovi.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Iloilo City isn’t my site, but it has been my refuge. I made the jeepney trip to the city on about a weekly basis, searching for coffee, wifi, food and a chance to escape the heat. In the process I learned the jeep routes (but not the street names), some shortcuts-that-are-not, where to find the best internet connections and which places charge a fee for using wall outlets.
Iloilo is dirty and polluted and sometimes is seems like nothing’s happening, aside from an ill-considered and long-running construction project to add another vehicle flyover to a not-that-important intersection. They are, however, now building the city’s first Starbucks.
But I’m going to miss Iloilo. I’ll miss its cheap pensions as much as its nice hotels, and the cracked sidewalks much more than the several shiny malls.
During the rainy season I cursed its slippery walkways. In the summer I despaired in its shimmering swelter. And after every trip I extracted the black residue from my nostrils, washed off the urban slime and wondered why I bothered.
And of course the reason was simple: it gave me a break. A break from my town, where (and this is not a disparaging comment) two roadside burger stands were as cosmopolitan as it got, aircon was almost impossible to find, and power outages left me in a heat stupor on a daily basis.
I started writing this post in the present tense at first and had to make a conscious effort to change it. I’m gone – hopefully not for good, but at least for the foreseeable future. On Monday night I made the last ride into the city with my supervisor, my counterpart and several of my center’s youth: it was rainy and cars’ tires slopped mud around the pavement, and lights bounced off the puddles and streaked windows.
The next morning, before my flight up to Manila, I couldn’t resist taking one more stroll downtown. I walked past the cafes I’ve frequented, down the streets I’ve walked a dozen times without really seeing them, and through one last market, its floors slick with freshly spilled pigs’ blood and its air smelling of bangus and pasayan.
And then I was leaving, riding the air over the City of Love one last time. Below, 400,000 Ilonggos continued their business; nobody looked up. But I looked down.