Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic

Image

My older brother and I, circa 1984

My big brother and I were born just 1 year apart. We grew up in a rural town in the Philippines. Our childhood in our hometown was as simple as being perfect. We were happy growing up with loads of playmates and infinite playing space — from the fields to the mountains and the long sandy beaches.

Image

Riyadh, KSA, circa 1988

This was taken in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1988; we moved away from our hometown in 1986 when our parents had to work in an entirely different country. It would have been a traumatic experience having to leave old friends and playmates…but having my brother around all the time made all the difference ūüôā

This was inspired by the weekly photo challenge¬†and a tribute to my brother on his birthday ūüôā

I love you big brother! ūüėÄ

Children of the Rain

http://coconuter.blogspot.com/2009/03/traditional-filipino-games-larong-pinoy.html

photo  from here

It’s ¬†June in the year 1990, I was 7 years old then.

A gust of cold wind hit my face and ¬†I saw through my window the confluence of ¬†gray, angry clouds hovering like giant cotton balls in the sky. Then comes what I have been waiting for —- a downpour ¬†of ¬†pitter-patter on our iron roof which draws a smile on my face. I am joyously happy when it rains. Rain is not an excuse to stay in, it’s the perfect time for me and my brother to go out and play with the rain gods. ¬†And the Hawaiian frogs in our garden are vocalizing so loudly as if summoning us to celebrate this gloriously wet afternoon, inviting our itchy feet to play on the puddles and calling us to shake the rain-kissed branches of the hibiscus in our garden.

My brother and I have been waiting ¬†for this day, the first rain of June . We haven’t seen rain this generous for a long time since we lived for 2 years in a place where sandstorms and hailstorms never gave us a reason to play outside safely.

Rain is more friendly, we believe so.¬† Days like this are priceless, it’s not everyday that you can take a bath in the biggest shower room created for a moment by mother nature. I say a silent thank you to my parents that we came home to this country where almost half of the year ¬†is purely a season of rain and unwelcome typhoons.

Oh how we love rain! Rain that soaks us and creates all sorts of puddles —big, small, deep and ¬†shallow. There’s all sorts of ¬†muddy puddles where I can sink and stomp my feet in and the crystal clear ¬†puddles on the road where I can see my ¬†Philippines-to-Timbuktu smile staring ¬†back at me. The rain washes away my old childhood longing of the Philippines and fills my thirst for the 2 years I missed doing things like this. ¬†I close my eyes and lift my head to feel the drops of rain on my face. ¬†The songs of the ¬†frogs continue all afternoon — we share their joy as rain creates a whole new playground for us without the sun to spoil it. We played games, hugged trees, smelled the flowers and as a final reverence to the rain, I stick out my tongue to taste a few drops of rain— i take it as a kiss from heaven. As my brother and I race to the shower room, we look back and send all gratitude and love to the beginning of the rainy season, as it blesses the ground and everything it touches including us — ¬†children of the rain as we call ourselves.

Yes, we are indeed children of the rain.

After we shower , we dry out and head to our dining table to join the rest of the family.  Our grandmother then hands everyone  hot mugs filled with her  homemade dark chocolate made of pure cacao tablets and we gather around  as the rain pours in the background of family chatter and the amphibian melody goes on all night. One sip of  the hot chocolate and the love  just goes straight to warm our hands and bring solitude to our young energetic souls. It warms our hearts which were soaked already with happiness from the rain but with  plenty of room to receive  the boundless gift of freedom that only  childhood can impart.

A dance in the rain, a chorus with the frogs, capped with hot chocolate shared with the love of family — that to me is the perfect rainy afternoon of my childhood.

This memory was inspired by this
.

Keep Moving Forward

I love rainy days but I hate thunderstorms. My trip to a caf√© with reliable WIFI access¬† was cut short by a thunderstorm in the making. Crap. My internet connection at home has been disconnected for a month now and¬† I’m forced to taper my internet use to once a week or less. Then it‚Äôs a good thing too because I’m currently on community rotation which means no 24-hour duty from May to June—a good two months of rock-a-bye-baby sleep and more time to catch up on studying—a goal that I haven’t accomplished yet.

Last month was tipped towards family than academic goals which still spells balance to me. My cousins from Manila were here for a month .Then 2 weeks ago,had a bonfire and stargazing session with my cousins from Davao at the beach where we reminisced the way it was when we had all the time in the world. Summer seemed endless and it meant soaking at the beach¬† everyday like fishes who can never get enough of the ocean even if we were¬† close to being charred.I was always sunburned…no pink glow for my skin type, I always get a tan which means my shade of brown gets close to dark brown. Haha. There were pauses in the conversation because everyone, I assumed, seemed to go back to whatever memory they had and I was mentally making checklists of all the things that have changed . Now I really feel old. Everybody seems to be nostalgic which could mean that everyone is in their own stage of crisis. Mine is a quarter-life crisis.

I do feel stagnant; Two of my best friends in college have gotten married lately.For two successive weekends¬† I have been bringing toys and free samples of vitamins to my high school friend who gave birth last month and is now on maternity leave. Another friend I grew up with got married in December and is now on the road to motherhood. I’m happy for them but I can’t even feel an iota of jealousy.Spare me. I’m on shaky ground when you put me on such circumstances. I can’t imagine myself on either stage of that life cycle.I’m fine with the “unattached young adult” stage. I’m not stuck, I’m just moving slowly, but I will get there before the age of 35 when my pregnancy will be classified as high risk and I will be labeled as an “elderly primigravida”.Imagine the injustice of being called “elderly” at 35;¬† but that’s the proper medical term used by the OB-Gynecologists for women age 35 and above having their first pregnancy. After delivering more than 100 babies from January to February this year, all I could say is this: I wish I were male. The dorsal lithotomy position with the feet on stirrups is not sexy at all.

I wish I could go back to that age when Pluto was still a planet, when my energies were spent chasing dragon flies and crying my heart out on the cartoon film The Land Before Time. To that age when my precious 24 hours were not spent figuring out how to keep someone alive for another day but on watching reruns of Voltron and Rainbow Brite, reading volume after volume of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Sweet Valley. Before, all it took was cold milk to shut me down, now it’s anti-histamine tablets because they make you drowsy– really drowsy— and that means I’ll get shuttled off to dreamland without counting sheep.

We all grow up.

All we have to do is to keep moving forward . (Yes, I’ve been watching cartoons this week, that‚Äôs a gem from Meet the Robinsons). I have downloaded the movie Annie but I refused to watch it because I don’t want to reinforce this nostalgia for childhood. I’ve been watching Independent films lately, watched C.R.A.Z.Y, a Canadian film with a coming-of-age genre about growing up gay and another Independent Canadian film –Everything’s gone green— in one night. At least they don’t have strings to my childhood and makes the experience fresh and flash-back free.

I am moving forward. I had to prove that even to my big brother who keeps accusing me of secretly not wanting to leave our house in Jaro because of what he calls “my memories”. We are moving out this July and I was stumped when my father told me to look for a new place. It’s bad timing because I have 4 months left then I’m off again to Manila or Cebu (If I’m crazy enough) for my medical board review . Why can’t they find a place after I finish my internship this October? I can complain but I take orders from up above. We found a new place and it’s conveniently near the hospital where I’m on internship.Honestly, I wanted a place near our old house but 2 weeks of searching and it was a failed mission.Nada. Zilch.Have to move to Mandurriao, but I’ll still inconveniently hear mass at the Jaro Cathedral and do my groceries in SM Supermarket Jaro, as well.That is me refusing to let go of the things I’m used to.

It preserves my sanity so just leave me alone big brother.

Losing Lola Sing

picture169

I can’t seem to get over my Lola Sing’s sudden death. It’s very hard to swallow another loss when there is still a lingering sadness over Lola Lord’s death last December. People keep telling me that it’s okay because they’re old and death seems inevitable. I’ll never understand what that means. Death completes the symmetry of life but what makes it hard is when the timing is just so abrupt. One day you see them alive and the next day they’re gone. I feel like she was stolen from us.

Lola Sing dropped by on my father’s birthday on the 27th of March and we had afternoon tea with chocolate cake. I gave her a big hug before she left; In between chuckles she refused when I offered to carry her groceries for her and walk her to the street corner where she rode a tricycle home to the village where she lived.

The next day she collapsed in front of the stage while watching her grandson, my cousin Matthew performing a modern dance on the stage. She was so elated that she was crackling with laughter before she fell on my uncle’s arms, unconscious. I didn‚Äôt see that unfold. I saw her minutes after the event at the emergency room of our district hospital, her small frame on a stretcher—pale, cold and pulseless. She was pronounced dead on arrival. I was so shocked and I wept like a child.

The grief that I have is that of a little girl who grew up having grandmothers who are present on any given day. They all gave me the fundamentals of a happy childhood and beyond. My Lola Ning, my maternal grandmother has 6 sisters and 1 brother, all of whom have been active while I was growing up. Years ago, I pondered on the idea of what it would be like when I start losing them. There is no pondering and wondering anymore, it’s real-time unfolding of the things that will never be the same. Lola Lord’s house on the other block has lost its luster. What used to be a backyard full of children—one group doing a mock fashion show on the balcony ledge while some huddle over the pond poking water lilies—is now a house with boarded up windows.¬† It breaks my heart that I never cast a look at the house whenever I pass by because the flood of childhood memories and echoes of past conversations on the front porch are just overwhelming.

Now, with Lola Sing gone too, a mass of childhood memories comes flitting on the surface of my consciousness. I feel like I’m in a time machine where the first destination is the year 1990.I’m 8 years old all over again. I’m transported back to that summer afternoon when I packed my bag and headed for Lola Sing’s house at the farm, one tricycle ride away from the town where I lived. Lola Sing is one of my maternal grandmother’s sister and she has this house on top of the hill beside the village Elementary School where she was a teacher. After the dusty tricycle ride, I scrambled through the bamboo bridge that connects their hill to the main road, then I went up the stone pathway where my Lola Sing awaits with a smile that makes here eyes disappear into small slits .I can hear her signature chuckle as a greeting. I don’ t remember if I gave her a hug or what but I probably did because that’s how it has always been for us, a hug, every time we meet. We spent the afternoon rummaging through her wooden chest, where I found a bunch of foot-long wooden pencils with a carved design on the base instead of an eraser, that bounced when you write and a couple of note pads. She let me keep everything that I liked. The best part was when I helped her pack her stuff in her classroom because she was retiring that week; she handed me a story book and let me keep it as well. I have it up to this day.

The funeral was two Mondays ago and it was not as emotional as Lola Lord’s but it was the most peaceful our clan has ever had. There was no wailing and no monologues of regret from anyone because Lola Sing died with laughter on her lips. She was happy up to her last breath and we all know that.

This little girl in my heart clutching a story book will miss her so dearly.

Finding Ailene

image08132

It has been 19 years years since I last heard from her. Our last communication was in 1990 when she sent me  a letter together with a Sanrio notepad via my father, 6 months after my Mom, my brother and I left Riyadh for good. It was our last exchange. She migrated to the US with her family in 1991.

When I was 4 years old, my blissful barriotic childhood was¬† abruptly interrupted by my family’s sudden move to Riyadh,Saudi Arabia because my parents were both hired to work at the King Abdul Azziz Hospital. I was too young to feel loss or separation from my playmates because my mind was more preoccupied about riding a huge plane and seeing the desert.

I don’t really remember the first time I met Ailene.I think it was in a party for the laboratory employees where her parents work as well. We were introduced because we¬† enrolled not only at the same school but in the same class in kindergarten.

We shared the same carpool, forever seatmates from class, in the school bus and in all our class pictures. After school we were  always the last to be dropped off , together with my brother Nikki and her older brother Allan. We were buddies with the driver and when only the 4 of us were left on the bus he would stop at an ice cream parlor  and treat us all. For the four of us nothing could be more perfect than free ice cream after school  in a hot Arabian weather.

On weekends, we spent hours playing in our flat because my parents had this bright idea to convert one of the rooms in our apartment to an exclusive playroom—the only room in our flat where we were allowed to scatter our toys and have our own corner. Ailene and I spent endless hours in that room playing with our dolls, constructing Lego houses, creating imaginary friends and gossiping about our classmates. We watched Annie together hundreds of times, memorized the theme song and filled our apartment with our out of tune rendition of “Tomorrow” and once had a trivial fight about who is more fitted to play the part of Annie. I almost wished I was born a redhead with curls and freckles.

In school we were inseparable like conjoined twins. We shared crayons, Ladybird storybooks, lunch and defended each other against bossy classmates. That’s girl power in early childhood.

I have been looking for her since Friendster was created but no profile of her existed. Last week, I created a Facebook account and searched her name first.

Bingo.

Found her.

We have exchanged long emails since.

She still remembers our childhood antics in and out of school.

We were both nostalgic about our childhood in Riyadh.It’s amazing how we had so much fun memories even in such a restrictive environment.As children we knew no limits, oblivious to the gender inequality and the strict Sharia laws in the country. All that mattered to us were the games that we played, going to school at the Philippine Embassy School in Riyadh (PESR),watching cartoons after getting off from school and the huge toy stores we visited every weekend plus the endless supply of chocolates.It was fun because we were kids; it wouldn’t have been the same if we were in another stage of life.

The photo above was taken one afternoon, after we got off from the school bus outside our flat. ūüôā

Forbidden

pouting_by_gingerarielI watched my grandmother as she mixed her early morning drink in a cup before breakfast. I was beside her looking innocent as I stirred my chocolate drink. She had no idea  my attention was on her cup; I was committing every teaspoon into memory. At the table, the aroma was arresting, unlike my boring chocolate mixture.

They all made it clear though, from my parents and my two grandmothers that I was not allowed to have that drink.

One lazy afternoon,the timing was just right. My parents and grandmothers were having their afternoon siesta and I refused to sleep. I hurriedly concocted¬† the drink, just the way my grandma did step by step, until it was perfect.I¬† sneaked under our round Narra table in the dining room, sipped sinfully from a yellow cup , which i chose because it was opaque and I could tell anyone who catches me that I’m simply drinking juice and get away with it.

The smell was a giveaway and I was stupid to hide under the table because it only meant that I was up to no good. I could have done a smoother approach. My mother caught me and confiscated my precious drink¬† and dunk it into the sink before I could utter¬† the monosyllabic word, “juice”.

She said I was too young to even have a teaspoon of it.

There goes my cup of coffee.

I wanted to bawl.

Not fair.

I was 6  years old.

I have my rights ya know.

They gave me my legal right to drink coffee when I was in high school.

I settled with Ovaltine, Milo, coffee caramel and Kopiko candy  in between.

I call that delayed gratification. :-]