Tuesday, January 01, 2008


I was with Nanay during my first airplane ride, for my first visit to Iloilo. She flew back home often to visit her sisters and her mother. I had always been Nanay's favorite, being the first grandchild, and I got to tag along. It was an evening flight, but it was still quite a thrill for me to be on an airplane for the first time.

A few years later, the summer after I first went to school, I got to fly back again to Iloilo with Nanay and a cousin of mine. I don't remember much about the trip itself, but I remember being very excited about it. I guess Nanay and my cousin and most of the other people on the plane shared my excitement, because when the captain announced that we were about to land in Iloilo, a spontaneous applause broke out. Around me, there were people asking everyone where everyone else were from. Everywhere, there were happy voices conversing in lovely Hiligaynon tongue, belonging to people who sounded really happy to be home.


After landing, we would usually head straight to La Paz, where Nanay's sister Auntie Edna lived with her husband Uncle Dondon and their children. When we arrived, Uncle Dondon would usually be hanging out by the porch of their house having a beer with his cousins, who were also his neighbors, while Auntie Edna made sure that there was a modest feast waiting for us for dinner.

During my first visit there, Nanay was showing me off to everyone, with my full bibo self on display. My three-year-old self was having a grand time, between all the attention and the tasty tocino we were having. Then, Auntie Edna, trying to encourage me to eat further, told me, in her awkward Tagalog, "Kain ka nang kain ha, walang hiya."

I started bawling; why did Auntie Edna call me walanghiya? I had no idea what I had done wrong. It wasn't until later that I was pacified enough that everyone explained to me that what Auntie Edna meant to say, Huwag akong mahihiya.

Later, the incident would become part of family lore. Every time I'd come to Iloilo to visit, I'd be reminded of the walanghiya incident, and all I'd have for them is my sheepish grin.

Even later, I'd find out about Auntie Edna and Uncle Dondon's story. They were quite the star-crossed pair, with tales of love and infidelity and death-threats worthy of a telenovela. Somehow, through it all, they still remained together.

A few years ago, Auntie Edna passed away due to complications with her diabetes. Uncle Dondon died a few months later. I'm sure there was a medical condition that would explain his death, but most people in our family never bothered with the explanation. It was apparent to all of us that when he died, it was because of a broken heart.


After our short pit stop in La Paz, we would usually hire a van to go to oma (which is, I think, the Hiligaynon word for countryside). It was in San Enrique, a small town just outside what is now the city of Passi. Nanay's mother, Lola Pilig, lived there with another of Nanay's sisters, Auntie Lina, and a bunch of other relatives.

While her other sisters all left home for Iloilo City and later, Manila, to try their luck, to study, and to fall in love, Auntie Lina stayed behind to take care of her mother and to take care of the farm. She never married. She spent all her time tilling the fields, or feeding the hogs, or caring for Lola Pilig, or making sure everything went well. Her poison of choice was the Tanduay lapad that all her other farmhands drank. A farmer through and through, she was never quite comfortable wearing shoes or even slippers, so she spent most of the time barefoot.

That last nugget bore quite an impression on the precocious little kid that was me. One afternoon that summer, in front of everyone, I told her that when I grew up, I was going to buy Auntie Lina slippers so she'd have something to wear. Touched, Auntie Lina gave ne a hug and kissed me. This incident would again end up being part of family lore, one of those stories told on every family occasion when we were in Iloilo, and Auntie Lina would tell it even after she had started to finally wear slippers.

One of my last trips to Iloilo was a sad occasion. I was in high school, and it was Auntie Lina's funeral. She had passed away a few months after Lola Pilig died.

Nanay was already at oma when we arrived. A few moments later, Nanay and I were talking, and I told her that I never ended up buying Auntie Lina the slippers I had promised. Nanay began to cry again. I started to wish that she didn't, but more than that, I started to wish that I had bought Auntie Lina those slippers.


Nanay died a few years ago. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with her, in the days when she was young enough on me when I was little, and when I was in college, when I used to spend my weekends visiting her in the weeks before she passed away.

I realized that I haven't been back since she died, or even since her health started failing her and she couldn't travel anymore. I guess, without her, there hadn't been much reason for me, and for everyone in our family who lived in Manila for that matter, to go back.


Last night I was on a flight to Iloilo, my first trip back in almost nine years. The plane was much nicer, and there were a lot of people, a lot more than those in the old domestic flights that we used to take. The flight itself was a non-event, and at the end of the trip, when the captain announced that we were about to land, there was no laughter or applause or any form of excitement in the air. I guess plane rides and trips back to Iloilo aren't such big deals anymore.

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