December 20, 2006

Milk and Honey

I just received an e-mail from a very good friend of mine who migrated a few months ago with her husband and son to the United States. After sharing with me some of her enjoyable experiences living in the land of supposedly greener pastures, she ended her missive with the inadvertent question: SO WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU STILL DOING THERE IN MANILA?

Given the alarmingly increasing number of people I know who have chosen to leave the Philippines in search of a better life abroad, I am understandably confronted by this same query more and more often these days. And with the disheartening onslaught of negative news and events that our poor nation has constantly been battered with, I find myself having to probe deeper and harder within myself for an honest, plausible answer.

There were many instances in my life when I could have packed up and gone – easily. In fact, if I wanted to right at this moment, I would have no problem stuffing my belongings in a suitcase and leaving tomorrow. I am one of those fortunate to have never had much trouble getting a U.S. visa and having it renewed as needed, to the consternation of the hundreds, nay thousands, of desperate souls out there who have tried to move heaven and earth to overcome their literal state of constant denial.

I am sure I can easily find a good company to work in overseas, armed as I am with a resume’ boasting of a Master’s Degree in business management, a lengthy list of academic achievements that would seem almost made up, varied work experiences and awards in top multinationals and glowing referrals from my very well-connected former superiors. Heck! I know I could have my folks gleefully rolling in remittance dollars by now if I really wanted to actualize my potentials in a more industrialized foreign country.

Ah, and there lies the rub: If I really wanted to. As hard as it is to believe, I have never found myself ever really wanting to.

I admit that I love to travel. I fall in love with each new country I visit. I love to experience the magnificent thrill of new places – the sound, the smell, the sight, the taste and the feel of them. I love uncovering their startling nuances, admiring their novel beauty and marveling at their outstanding uniqueness. I love going abroad and staying….but only for a while.

Always, for just a while.

It is not long before my heart and soul yearn once again for home –the Philippines. For despite the chaos and madness, the cruel injustices, and the hurtful betrayals that this country spuriously inflicts, I realize that I am helplessly in love with her. Tell me, how can one not be drawn?

I close my eyes and sigh as memories of life in these islands warmly embrace me and engulf my senses.

I inhale the romantic scent of gorgeous pine trees and savor the cool mountain air in Baguio.

I feel the soothing comfort of fine powdery white sand underneath my feet as I walk the shoreline of Boracay while taking in the breathtaking sunset that emblazons the horizon with a bursting prism of pink and orange.

I taste with unbridled relish the large juicy pineapples, luscious bananas and sinfully sweet avocados that can be bought for a song from the smiling market vendors in Tagaytay.

I hear the familiar multitudinous noises upon entering yet another new mall in the metro – the musical ringing tones spewing from the celfones of teen-agers hanging out after school; the delightful giggles of children as their parents bring them to their favorite toy stores and game amusement centers; the excited chatter of women ready to unleash their spending power as a Midnight Madness Sale hits the area on payday (usually accompanied by the disgruntled muttering of their unfortunate male companions); the cooing of oblivious lovers strolling while holding hands as if they were in a middle of a park instead of a shopping center; the clinking of beer bottles as tired office workers roll up their sleeves and relax with their buddies in a bar; the inevitable audible mixed commentaries of a procession of moviegoers coming out of a theater after watching the latest touted blockbuster – all these and more make up a mixture of sounds that may be considered odd, almost cacophonous even, but still are able to come together to provide a scintillating, one-of-a-kind experience.

And then, I gaze up carefully from where I stand and take in the sight of the Filipino people. I see the public school teachers patiently engaging in light banter with their enthusiastic pupils who are carrying schoolbags bigger than them. I see the kids helping their grandparents cross the street towards church. I see the vendors perseveringly peddling their assorted wares to earn a decent living.

I see the excited townfolk preparing sumptuous roasted pigs and other mouthwatering delicacies while hanging colorful banderitas for their upcoming town fiesta where all and sundry are invited to join in their celebration. I see the young and old together fervently reliving the passion of Christ during the Lenten season and then sharing in the joy of the Resurrection during Easter Sunday. I see the throngs of families braving the worst of traffic jams just to be able to return to their hometowns and pay homage to their dearly departed during All Souls’ Day. I see the housewives putting up Christmas trees while humming carols as early as October, eager to usher into their homes the joyous spirit of the yuletide season which lasts a record duration of three months in this country. I see the dazzling display of fireworks light up the sky during New Year’s Eve.

I see that Filipinos who are among the kindest, most hospitable, most helpful, most talented and most caring human beings on the planet surround me. I am amongst people who wear their heart on their sleeve, who toil hard daily not for themselves but for their families, who are generous despite their poverty, who have hope when all seems lost, who hang on to their faith despite the worst of trials, who laugh amidst their tears, who treat friends as bloodkin, who love without condition.

Suddenly, I am filled with a deep sense of awe.

Simply, I am enthralled.

So again, as the question arises…why the hell am I still here? I look you straight in the eye and answer: WHY THE HELL NOT??? You can have your milk and honey. I’m happy with mine, thank you.


Lizza said...

Hear, hear! I feel much the same way. Other countries have something new and different to offer, but glorious Pilipinas -- with all her flaws -- will always be home and so it will remain. (At least for the two of us!)

Merry Christmas, Iridescent One!

ShadowFalcon said...

Every country has something to offer. I whine about how cold Britain is and other stuff but I could never live anywhere else and love is half as much.

Though a holiday over on those tropical islands of your may be in order!

You have my envy

Menchie said...

Oh Irene, I feel the exact same way. There are times when I really think I want to but deep down, the thought of leaving makes me want to weep.

I don't love the corruption, the poverty, but I love the values and I want my kids to grow up having those same kind of values which you just can't get anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Home truly is where your heart is.

Brian said...

Hi Irene,

It is very true, that the soil of your homeland always calls to you. Many, many Americans would say the same thing about our country.

Thank you for the virtual tour, I have never been to the Philippines but know something of your history and the bonds between us.

Maybe next time you travel to the States, come to Florida and stop in and see us. :)

Odat said...

Wow...that was truly heartfelt...makes me want to come there as a matter of fact...follow you heart...yours seems to be where it's supposed to be....

Irene said...

Lovely Lizza: I'm happy to hear we share the same sentiments when it comes to our homeland.

Mabuhay at Maligayang Pasko!!! c",)

ShadowFalcon: I'd love to visit Britain sometime! The cold weather would surely be a welcome respite from the fierce tropical heat. =)

Mench: I remember we talked about this when we were still singletons dorming together at grad school. It's nice to know we've held on to our beliefs even now that we have our own families. (",)

WonderMom Janet: EXACTLY! =)

Brian: I've been to different states in the US, but have not visited Florida yet. I want to bring my son to Disneyworld in Orlando, so I just might take you up on your offer! ;p

Odat: As Janet so aptly put, home is where the heart is. At the end of it all, you should stay where you are happiest. Peace back to you! =)

Brian said...

Well, we live about an hour north of The Mouse, so that would be so cool to meet you and your family. ;p

starbender said...

What a beautiful post Irene! It's hard for anyone to give up what they know and Love for someplace new.

Happy Holidays!

: )

jase said...

... and I am sleeping in melbourne but dreaming of the Philippines :)

... beautiful beautiful post!

SQT said...

What a lovely tribute to your beautiful country.

I spent some time in Japan as a student and as much as I loved it, I yearned for home. There's something comforting in the familiar.

Irene said...

Brian: Woohoo! Promise to let you know when we plan to conquer your part of the world. c",)

Starbender: Happy holdays to you, too!!!

Jase: Sweet dreams to you then, gorgeous! ;p

SQT: Japan is another country on my must-see list. =)

laitera said...

oh, you are so sweet, just like dilimon. or choc-nut. or sangkaka. or macapuno candy.

Irene said...

Laitera: I love chocnut to death! ;p

Dorky Dad said...

Well, they say home is where ... wait, what do they say now? Anyway, if home doesn't have a broken screen door then it's not really home, isn't it?

Stewart Sternberg said...

I think people have a tie to the land in which they were born. It's stronger than we give it credit for being.

I had a good friend from your country, and I always admired her sense of family and her fondness for her culture.

You can visit America. Come along. But I wouldn't gamble money on you leaving home for good.

Let me wish you and your's peace for the holiday if I don't happen to return this way before then, although something tells me I shall.

Claudia said...

Irene, I think it's wonderful. People always assume that things are better in the US but that is not always the case. Every place in the world has it's good points and bad!! And really, why leave if you're happy? I agree with you!!
Merry Christmas!

Mimi Lenox said...

I love the fact that you are so in love with your country. It shines through your blog. Mimi is in love too. With Peace Globes. Please join us again on Christmas Eve. Spread the groovy word. Let's light up the world again with those lovely little globes. It's time.

krystyna said...

Hi Irene!
Have a wonderful time enjoying whatever is fun to you, this Christmas.

Irene said...

Dorky Dad: True! One's home's may not be perfect, but you learn to love it despite its infuriating flaws. =)

Stewart: I'll definitely travel to the US again... and I'll definitely come back home again. =)

Have a wonderful holiday season spent with those who mean most to you!!!

Claudia: Merry Christmas, too! I hope you're truly happy and content in your nook of the world. c",)

Queen Mimi: My globe will most certainly be up on Christmas. Peace! Woohoo!

Krystyna: Thanks! Enjoy the holidays as well, my friend!

Susan Abraham said...

Only the heart knows what it wants, doesn't it, Irene.
You have found your island in the sun.
A beautiful post indeed.
Thanks for sharing the charms of your country with us.
Here's wishing you a truly merry christmas & a happy new year for 2007.
lots of love

Michael C said...

Beautifully written!! Do you want another citizen? It makes me want to bring my family over. Really, that was so well done!!

-Princess Shin- said...

Home is still home no matter how terrible it is. I totally agree with you.

Now with the prospect that i am going to leave my home country, i am truly torn.

phaedrus said...

hey preggo,
where were you educated? your english is excellent, (grammer as well as your ability to convey your ideas with beauty). what is the language spoken normally (when you are with your friends) in the phillipeans?

love ya,

Ces said...

Irene I am usually a quite visitor of your blog. What an eloquent essay. I find myself agreeing with every word except I CANNOT, with all my love and loyalty for my family, the longing for my roots and to be close to the burial grounds of my ancestors, tolerate the MOST CORRUPT, INCOMPETENT government of the democratic word. It is almost a total disrespect to the people. To date the Philippines continues to spiral into a downward slope, it is becoming more depressed, soon will have it's own label maybe a Fourth or Fifth World. For example why is it that in this modern times there is still no viable human waste treatment program nationwide? The basic necessities such as potable water supply is a dream. Those are the questions I would like the government to address, nothing major but BASIC human population needs and they cannot even address them because no matter what foreign aid is pumped into these programs, the government officials will make sure they have their bribes first and foremost. Then there is a lack of women's rights. That while women are active and productive citizens, they are still subject to spousal abuse and violence, that the husband has the right to beat his wife and there are no laws to protect them until they are severely injured and it is incumbent upon them to prove that they are victims.

Sidney's blog tells it all. The government is not by the people. It has forgotten the people.

At any rate, I wish you and your beautiful family a Merry Christmas and I sincerely wish better times and better lives for the Filipinos. They deserve nothing less.

Anonymous said...

Cool blog - find it hard to believe that you have put this much effort into blogging about just this though - why not try blogging on thermostat digital recorder sometime?

It's me, T.J. said...

A sense of pride is a very good thing.

Just wanted to stop by to let you know that I am praying that you have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.


Irene said...

Sweet Susan: Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, my friend! =)

Michael: I'm already looking forward to your family's visit. ;p

Enjoy the holidays!!!

Princess Shin: It's okay to leave if you really need to. You can always return someday. Home will always be there waiting with open arms. =)

Phaedrus: Great to see you again. I've really been missing your rainy blog! ;p

English is the language of instruction in Philippine schools so you'd be surprised how many Filipinos speak and write good English. If you check out the blogs of my Filipina friends, you will see how conversant they are. I myself think and talk in English at home and with my friends, but I also have no problem speaking Tagalog which is the most widely-used local dialect. =)

Love ya right back, girl! Hope you're having have a fabulous holiday season!

Ces: Thank you for sharing your views. I respect and understand your sentiments, which is precisely the same sentiments harbored by many of those who have chosen to flee our country in search of better ways of life.

However, if everyone talented or educated or morally upright packs up and leaves in disgust, how will the country's problems ever get solved?

I may be a sentimental fool but I am never one to give up hope when it comes to things I love. The Philippines can be at times a traitor but I still believe that the inherent goodness, perseverance and faith of the common people will see it through to better times.

I honestly feel it my duty to stay and continue with our business that provides jobs and uplifts the standards of living of other Filipinos. It is my family's own little way of making a difference and finding fulfillment where we are.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your loved ones, Ces! =)

TJ: Thanks for your prayers! Merry Christmas to you, too!!!

Anonymous said...

Nice photo! Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

Hi Irena!
The best post!And comments!
I agree that
home truly is where your heart is.
Be happy Now!

Anonymous said...

Hi Irene!
Sorry for the misspeling your name. In Poland we say - Irena.

Irene said...

Urban Butterfly: Thanks! Happy Holidays to you too, beautiful!

Krystyna: Hope you're having a wonderful holiday season, my friend!

Love from Irena (I kinda like the sound of that!)

thethinker said...

Wow. That description makes me want to move to the Philippines. I'd never be able to describe my home in a way like that. Texas just isn't... well, it just isn't any of those things.

slaghammer said...

The grass is hardly ever greener on the other side. I am a serious admirer of nature and beauty but I’ve always judged a place by the hearts and souls of the people.

Irene said...

The Thinker: I'm sure Texas has its own wonderfully unique charms. =)

Merry Christmas, Profound One! ;p

Slaghammer: You are truly a wise man. ;p

Hope you're having a merry holiday season! My warmest regards to your family. =)

Tom Atkins said...

A lovely bit of writing. Like you, I love to travel, but I find home something special. We need to live where our heart is, not where the stuff is.


Irene said...

Poet Tom: It's great to have you back! Hope you had a Merry Christmas!!! =)

wolfbaby said...

Thank you so much for sharing that, you have a powerful way with words!!

rmada said...


It's funny but after being here for 20 some years, I still refer to the Philippines as home. And regardless of the negative things you read about it, I am not about to disown my motherland. Never.

Irene said...

Wolfbaby: Thanks. =)

Rmada: That is truly good to hear. I find it sad and disappointing when our own fellowmen diss our country as if they had nothing to do with it.

I wish you and yours a happy, prosperous, love and laughter-filled 2007!

GSM said...

Hello :)

I stumbled on to your blog and I am glad to know that in spite of the negativities surrounding our country, there are still a lot of people who decide to stay.

I actually cringe when people describe Pinas as a "godforsaken place".

I myself have been asked numerous times whether I don't have any plans to leave. Yes, I would want to explore the world and experience the places, but as I get older, I realized that Pinas will always draw me back.

And my standing philosophy is if you're not happy here, you will never be happy anywhere. It's all a matter of finding joy and contentment in everything that you see even though others have turned blind against it.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely with you it agree. Idea good, it agree with you.