Once I stepped out of the airport and felt the sticky, humid air envelop my lungs, I knew I was home. It was a long time since I visited the Philippines. I came to America, eight years ago, when I was only nine years old.
Welcomed by the radiating smiles of my aunts and uncles, we quickly got into the air-conditioned van away from the moist air filled with sweat from everyone carrying their luggage. I looked outside as the car went along. I was saddened by the fact that nothing has changed. The shabby houses lined up with trash around their doorsteps, the crowded streets with cars not following the road lines, the emaciated people rushing to beg for money when the car stopped, everything was still the same.
The day started out with my Yaya, our old maid, making her House-special dish, Chicken Adobo, in our kitchen. I suddenly felt like a kid again. The whiff of the chicken frying in the pan had already loomed its way into my old room, mercilessly dragging my 8-year-old body towards its hypnotizing smell. She later found out that there was not enough garlic to make a whole plate. Usually she went to the “Palenke,” the Filipino market, by herself but since it was only the two of us, she had no choice but to take me with her. She took my mother’s car. It would be my first time going there and I was more than excited. The Palenke was a completely different world than the “Ralph’s” and “Albertson’s” here. It was outdoors. Stands of fruits and vegetables lined up along the streets and crowds of people wandered through them crossing the one-lane road as if the cars weren’t even there. When my Yaya finally parked the car. She left me behind. I sat impatiently watching intently on the surroundings outside. The faces, encrusted with dirt, looked troubled and busy. Their stained clothes were half ripped resembling the rags that were used to wash a car and some even walked the streets with bare feet. Suddenly, there was a loud banging on the side of my window. I turned. I saw her face. It was as if a face of a skeleton looked back at me but a thin layer of her dark-brown skin covered with dirt and sweat, concealed her fragile bones. Her red-blood-shot eyes which were partially covered by her grimy, black hair, pleaded as she shakily placed her boney hand out begging for food. On her weak, nine-year-old back was her little brother, the boy must have been sleeping because there was no response whenever his sister moved. He, too, was frail and weak. I looked beyond her and saw a file of scrawny kids dressed in rags sitting on along the street. Suddenly, my Yaya came back and she saw them. She waved her hand and simply shooed them away.
Born and raised in the Philippines, my eyes have seen all the extremes of the standards of living, from my snobby, badminton-playing neighbors to the skeleton bodies of the kids rushing to sell as much “trapos,” circle shaped rags, along the streets as the red light stops my car. Now I am 17 years old, about to go into college, and yet her face, every single detail, of the greasy black strand of hair covering her bloodshot eyes and the cheek bones protruding from her thin face still haunt me to this day. As I waited there so impatiently, I realized how lucky I am to have food to eat everyday. I have a different appreciation for my world now.
Honestly, I have no clue what I want to be when I grow up. But I know for sure that I will go back to the Philippines and create a camp or a safe haven for kids to be able to get the education they so desperately want and need. With all the resources available in America, there is no excuse to fail. I am reminded every time I go home to the Philippines of how blessed I am so whether I end up to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a some kind of camp director, I will become successful so I will have enough funding to start a branch of these shelters to help kids on the streets.
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