Mabuhay: A Look Born in the Philippines
My husband has a certain look. He gets that look whenever he talks with someone who knows, like he does, what it meant to live in the Philippines. It is a look of tested peace, a hidden crucible of understanding that connects those who have experienced it. He spent two years as a religious missionary in the areas surrounding Bacolod and Iloilo and spoke Ilonggo, a local dialect. For me, my husband’s look has a slightly different meaning. It signifies the Philippines and what the Philippines became to me. That meaning took on greater significance when I went back with him a few years later to keep a promise he had made that he would go back. A promise that brought tears into the eyes of one matriarch of a family who lived on the top of a mountain. She had remembered his promise, and he had fulfilled it.
The Philippines first became a place that helped me become strong and hopeful because it connected me to a dear friend. Yes, it is the place that separated me physically from that person, who later became my husband, for a time, but it also uniquely connected us as we wrote letters every week, sharing experiences from our separate sides of the globe. I truly grew to love and appreciate the Philippines; simply thinking about it brought joy and a smile to my face. It is appropriate that Bacolod City is called the City of Smiles. Whenever I would meet someone from the Philippines at that time, I got excited and talked about things such as balut (a Filipino delicacy), and asked where they were from, hoping that they might be from areas close to Bacolod City or Iloilo. I laughed at some of the experiences my friend wrote to me, such as how he and another American, both tall redheads, were walking through a remote area of the bukid (mountain) and came across a child. The child screamed and ran from them in terror, having never seen the strange sight of two tall, white-skinned redheads. My own heart jumped as I read about the typhoon that whipped through an area he was in, changing the face of the land, and creating rivers that almost swept him away never to return.
But he returned, we were married, and a few years later, we went on a trip to the Philippines, where I was able to see for the first time the places he had written me about and meet the people he came to love. It deepened my understanding and love that I already had for that place. We traveled along the beautiful coast, visited spectacular beaches, and rode up a mountain on the back of a motorcycle to a small village. We haggled with vendors. We sat in a classroom and laughed with Filipino teenagers as they tried to make the sound of a Gecko as “gecko” because their word for the same type creature was “Toco” because it made the sound “toco.” We rode jeepneys in the city. We got caught in a deluge of rain near a sugar cane field as our tricycle driver tried to race down a bus we needed to get on. We saw about 20 people riding a tricycle meant for 3 passengers. We saw a large black spider that was about twice as big as my hand hanging in a tree above me. The family with us at the time laughed and said the spider was “delikado,” or dangerous, and then proceed to play with it. On our way to Mambukal, a beautiful waterfall tourist attraction, we approached a completely packed vehicle, ready to jump on the back and hang on like many Filipinos, but we were ushered to the very front seat, displacing other passengers, to sit next to the driver as if we were celebrities.
Yes, the Philippines is a place of strength and hope for me. Before I loved it for what it signified between me and my husband, but now it is even dearer because we’ve experienced it together. I’ve been to the places I read about. I’ve talked to the people and seen their humble lives. I’ve tasted a mango from Guimaras. I’ve ridden on the back of a caribou. I’ve eaten fresh coconut harvested with a machete. It is our place not only because of the connection it signifies between us, but now the connection it has with us. Filipinos have a greeting, “Mabuhay,” which, in Tagalog, is literally the imperative form of “live.” To live is to bring together knowledge, understanding, and experience. My husband knew what it was like to live in the Philippines. My experience with the Philippines helped me better know what it means to “live.”
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