It was a 24 hour flight from Maryland to Ilo Ilo City, Philippines. It was how my family and I spent our Christmas, which was also my older sister’s birthday. But it was a dream we had all shared since we were little, when we made hundreds of situations where we met our Lola, or grandmother.
At the hotel we met some relatives and cousins. My cousins Stephen, Shelia-Mae, and Sonny-Ray all knew English. Stephen and Shelia-Mae spoke it incredibly well. Sonny-ray was deaf and dumb but texted with clarity and an obvious grasp of our language. I felt guilty that my mother had never taught us her home language aside from our little phrases. But regardless of our first language, we became very close, very fast. By then end of the week Shelia-Mae and I felt like best friends.
Our second day we met our Lola. She was frail and quiet. The nice clothes she wore to meet us clung to her bones-all of which were very noticeable. She did not know English but she knew us. She showed her pictures of us and wiped her tears. She pinched us and hugged us and I wondered how strong a woman so small and tiny could be. She was hardly up to my shoulder.
The next day we went to the barrio, the small village of our family, to visit her. They were preparing us a feast. It took us two hours to reach their city, Passi. Thirty minutes of travel on a bumpy, winding, mountainous path led us to the barrio. We stepped out of the car and I was tempted to step back inside. Over one hundred people stood staring at us. I felt nervous. My mother whispered to us that our relatives wore the clothes we sent them. The others came to see the Americans. We slipped down the muddy hill. They remained still; staring.
My Lola came out and showed us her house. It was the only-non bamboo house. She had shrines of us with our old toys and pictures. In the tiny kitchen was Filipino food and cakes dedicated to us. They sat us down and filled our plates. Everyone was staring still. We took a bite and the room began to eat; they couldn’t eat till we began. After eating we broke the silence with our other cousins. None of them spoke any English. Sonny-Ray danced, I sung a popular Tagalog song I knew and my sister played with children. Afterwards I was shocked to see my mom shimmy up a coconut tree. I followed and so did my brother and soon the tense atmosphere left. Too soon the day was gone and we left in the van. The children ran with us and stopped at the end of the road and waved till they couldn’t see us anymore. I waved until the mountain was gone. Then, I cried. It was my first time the whole trip. I cried because my Lola would die before we returned. I cried because I would miss them all terribly. I cried because they lived in poverty. I cried because when the flood seasons came and the winds blew at their leaf roofs, all they could do was cling to each other and hope the bamboo held. I cried because I was born lucky and they’d never have what I took for granted.
Nearly two years later we remember them. It hurt when we were home, a lot. My mother returned alone and brought boxes of food, clothes, and toys home. She said, “They miss us, too.”
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