This post is a part of EmpowerU Life Writing’s Final Exhibition: check out this post for more information!
written and performed by Veronica Lorenzo-Payumo Mateo
Each of us has a storybook. Opening your own book and turning back to each page brings back emotions and pictures that seem just like they had happened yesterday. My story is not a fairytale, nor horror or sad. It’s a real one! It’s the story of a girl who fought a strong storm that she thought would never end but just like a bamboo can still stand straight and strong after a great storm.
I grew up in a two-story modern filipino bungalow house, a few blocks away from the market and my primary school, and beside the busy public highway. At an early age I can say I already experienced modernization, using high-tech gadgets and electrical appliances that only people at the middle or elite class could have in our town at that time. But when I was seven years old, my family needed to move in with my grandparents on my father’s side, after my grandpa met a horseback riding accident leaving him with a limp.The farmhouse was five kilometers away from our town house. There was no means of transportation, only a cart pulled by cow or carabao, a chariot pulled by horse, or a heavy vehicle like a wrangler jeep or dump truck. So my siblings, my parents and I needed to wake up early to not be late going to school and for my parents not to be late to their work. Luckily we had a wrangler jeep to use.
When I first saw the farmhouse I was so scared because of its view outside. It looked like a haunted house in a horror movie. It was surrounded with different kinds of fruit trees that almost covered the house and betel vines climbing on the bamboo walls at the ground floor. But as you entered the gate, you could see gardens of different flowers and wild orchids in the backyard. It was an old traditional Spanish Filipino two-story house, made with nipa roof, nara wood walls, floor and doors and a woven bamboo window at the upper part. At the ground floor it was made with bamboo walls that were almost covered with betel vines and woven bamboo doors and windows. Seeing those and knowing that there would be no modern gadgets and technology and even electricity made me feel bored and lonely but what amazed me was what I saw inside the house. It was full of wonderful pots, vases, figurines and furniture that were made, molded and curved by the patient hands of my grandparents. There was an old battery-operated radio where my grandfather heard his favorite station and anchor on the left corner of the living room, and an old sewing machine that my grandmother used to sew our wonderful clothing at the right corner of the terrace beside the door.
We lived at the lavish ancestral house twice larger and bigger than our town house in the middle of 20 hectares of land, with my loving grandparents, a responsible father, a caring mother, three adorable and understanding siblings including Cecilia, my only sister. People always call her “Latina” because of her skin color and rounded wide eyes that she got from my Spanish Filipino grandparents and they call me “Chinita” because of my narrow eyes and fair skin that I got from my Japanese Filipino ancestor. She's the life of the party but I'm the kill joy of the party because I love an intimate and solemn atmosphere and she likes it when it is crowded and noisy. We are only similar in our studying and some values and traditions that our parents and relatives taught us or doing some naughty stuff to annoy and make fun of the elders. But besides those she's really the opposite of me. She's obedient, and like my dad it seems to cost millions for her to speak. You don’t hear her complain, not like me. I'm so vocal about what I feel. Like when we were still kids, if there was a gathering like the harvest festival, birthday party or other occasion, our elders asked us to wear baro't saya or filipiniana or shirt and skirt, the national dress of Filipino woman, and we would dance the tinikling, the national Filipino dance. I really hated it because firstly, the dress is so hot and the texture of the clothes is so rough and itchy. In the tinikling my feet are always caught by two bamboo poles as they tap open and close.
Next to my sister is a boy named Francis Mark whom they say is the male version of my mother. His narrow eyes, brown skin complexion, or kayumanggi, he really takes from my mother. He is our protector because he was always the one who saved us from the bullies and hid our mistakes and he was my grandparents' favourite. He was always the one who saved food for me if my grandmother punished me when I had done something wrong. Just like one time when my grandmother found out that I had fallen asleep in the middle of praying and attending Sunday mass. Although it was the first time that the elderly lady found out, it was not the first I fell asleep. It was only the first time I fell down from my chair. After the ceremony my grandmother sent me to my room and told me to reflect on what I did and that I wouldn’t eat until I prayed the holy rosary. Because I was so stubborn and I didn't actually even memorize the whole rosary, I went to my room and then a few minutes later my brother knocked on my door carrying a backpack full of food and water that he sneaked out from the kitchen.
The youngest was named Igy Joyce, the carbon copy of my father from head to toe. Even his actions were similar but because of his name people thought he was a girl, so he always argued with my mom. Like my dad, he is a moreno, with fair skin and wide rounded eyes. He was our savior and the best actor because every time our grandparents or anybody in the family got mad at one of us he would act or do something to make a scene to get their attention, like one time when me and my sister broke the vase that my great grandmother molded. When my mother wanted to hit us with a stick he went behind my mom and cried so loudly, holding his stomach so my mother panicked and put down the stick and immediately asked him what was wrong. Then my other brother told us to run. It was so funny. Being with them was chaotic but interesting and exciting.
Every morning I woke up with the crow of the cock from the poultry farm a few meters away from the house, instead of the noise on the busy street near our town house or the shouting of the parrot clock hanging in our living room. The smell of freshly baked bread and boiled milk that my grandma prepared made my three younger siblings and I hurry to get up without washing our faces. We could see each other’s faces were drawn with charcoal makeup and free eyebrows due to the smoke of kerosene lamps. It was scary to see my face in the mirror yet it was funny because I could scare the cat who always meowed beside me while I was eating and the dog in the backyard that always barked in the middle of the night. But it made my mom nag us so early in the morning: “Kids, remember to wash your face, brush your teeth, and tidy up your beds before going to the dining table. It's shameful seeing your messy and dirty faces when the people arrive.” This was our music before eating breakfast.
After our blessed breakfast, my siblings, my parents and I prepared to go to school and work. But before we left visitors would have already arrived, not really visitors though because they came everyday despite the long travel time and hard road. Some of them came to help my grandma make jams, jelly and pickles from what they picked at the fruit trees farm and veggie field, while the others made cheese and candy from the milk of the cow, goat, carabao and sheep on our pasture land. They also came to learn how to make pots and jars from my grandpa or embroidery and knitting from my grandma, or some just came to visit to get free fresh food and veggies. This made the farmhouse busy for the whole day, even on weekends and holidays, and that really annoyed me. At night it seemed like we always had a campfire because my father always lit firewood covered with animal manure beside the animal stable in the pasture land, piggery, and at the poultry farm to keep away the insect bites and to keep the animals warm on cold days.
On holidays and weekends we all had routines before doing our homework. I used to scrub the floor while reciting the multiplication table but I always snuck out, going to the rooftop of the poultry farm where my mom harvested fresh eggs of duck and chicken to make egg pie, leche flan or salted egg. Its rooftop became my hiding place from my angry granny if I was naughty because it was covered with a bunch of mango leaves and betel vines that climbed along it. Hiding in the bunch of mango leaves on the rooftop was really amazing and funny as I would see her holding a stick, calling me back and forth. Or sometimes I just stayed there to avoid the noisy crowds of people who came everyday. But most of the time, to avoid my grandma or mom’s commands, I would go with my grandpa to the animal stable to get milk and play with my loving horse named Pony.
My two brothers, they always went with my dad to the fishpond to catch or harvest different kinds of fish to cook. Or after harvesting time they would help him gather rice straw to make rice hay for the cow, carabao and horse.On the other hand my sister's routine was to sweep the backyard, but just like me she would sneak out, going to the rice, corn and veggie fields to get some fresh fruits and veggies to sell to the villagers who came but she would end up crying because they took her harvest without paying. But my dad always said, “Be kind and generous, and remember they are your relatives. Blood is thicker than water. You know someday if you need something they are the one who will help you first, not other people!”
My mom always added, “God always provides for the people who have a great and beautiful heart.” And since my parents said so, we believed it without a doubt. What could I ask for? Even though it was far from modernization and there was no electricity, just candles and kerosine lamps that served as light on the darkest night, we still felt blessed.
At the age of 15, after graduating high school, I went to Manila to pursue my tertiary level of college because the course that I wanted to enroll in was not yet offered in any universities and colleges in our region. I also wanted to hide from my father because he didn't like me to take any media courses like Mass Communication. My dream was to be a journalist and writer that had the freedom to say what was in their mind, vocally condemn unlawful things, and see themselves through their pieces. I wanted to be like Oprah and Ellen Degeneres or Mr Boy Abunda, and other international and local media personalities. I wanted to be a photographer who could tour the world and document everything. I wanted to be on the radio like my grandfather’s favorite anchor and disk jockey, who always made him smile. But my father wanted me to take medical courses to help people in need, especially in our province, because at that time our province needed lots of people on the frontline.
At first living alone at university and far from my family was not easy. After school I needed to clean, cook, wash clothes and do everything by myself. At this point I remembered what my mother told me when I got mad about the people coming everyday to the house. "No man is an Island," she would say. Yes, it was true that I was a loner, but still I was not used to living alone and far from my family. On top of that I was not used to the busy and noisy surroundings. But my aunt, the oldest sister of my father, my greatest fan who believed in my talent, always encouraged me to follow my dreams and never listen to what people said. She told me that I was a flexible person who could easily adapt in any environment. In just two months I was already used to my new conditions and environment.
At the university some of my batchmates called me a nerd because I wouldn’t really go out with them. I would rather spend my spare time in the library or computer laboratory, rather than going out with them, to enhance my knowledge and write some poems for our literature class, create drama for our theater and articles for our journalism class. Or I would just go back to my apartment and sleep or go to the house of my aunt, the youngest sibling of my mother, who lived in Bulacan, one of the provinces near Manila, because my parents didn't want anybody to come and help me. They wanted to teach me to be self-sufficient but the funny thing was they kept on checking on me through my landlady. At the school they also called me a “promdy”, which was what they called the people who came from the provinces. And on summer vacation I would go home to our province. It was really hard to get to our province because it was mountainous and at that time still far from modernization. Farming, fishing and logging were the industries of living for the people there. It was an eight-hour journey via bus or van from Manila. It was the youngest province in Region Two and was named by our late President Elpidio Quirino. But now I'm so proud to say that even though it's far from Manila all the mountains and caves, falls and river banks where I would spend holidays with my family were made into tourist spots.
I admit I also dated some guys, but not at our university. The first one was from computer school. He was generous but the only thing that I didn’t like about him was that he was an easy-go-lucky party person. The second one was from military school. I met him when we went to interview prisoners and wrote about their stories and lives. He helped me a lot with my story and script writing. He pushed me to the limit and brought out the best in me. Thanks to him I got a high mark and my script was chosen to play at the theater of our school. I thought we would end up together and I can say that he was my great love. Unfortunately he was killed on an operation in Mindanao in 2005 when they deployed and had an encounter with the rebels. After him I also dated others but ended them easily because I always chose my dream and family. On the other hand I also wanted to fulfill my grandfather's will to marry one of the grandsons of his best friend even though I don’t agree with arranged marriage. Luckily before I went home from working in the Middle East and came to Hongkong, he impregnated one of his neighbors, so the agreement and wedding were off.
My life seemed easy and perfect, right? But destiny is playful. The tornado came. The termites slowly devoured the columns of the house before we could notice and a venomous snake slowly preyed on my ancestor, a snake and termites who destroyed our life and dreams. I couldn’t have imagined even in my wildest dream that my own flesh and blood would cut my wings and bury me alive.
A year and a half before I would have graduated college, my grandfather passed away, and because of her sadness, my grandmother lay down to rest three months later. Later that year, my father got ill and died a week before my 18th birthday. The same day after my father’s funeral, when my mom, my three siblings and I got home from the cemetery, we saw lots of armed men guarding the farmhouse. They told us not to enter but let relatives and friends inside. When my mother asked why, they said it had been ordered by my father's oldest brother. That day was the beginning of our Calvary. They attacked our territory, invaded our privacy and didn't care about our agony. I never forgot that day.
“What took you so long at the cemetery? Your tears won’t bring my brother back to life,” my father’s oldest brother told my mom. As we got out of the wrangler jeep, he was standing on the doorstep wearing a white shirt and black pants, holding an envelope. Looking at him, he really resembled my grandfather. He had dark brown army cut hair, fair skin and the only difference between him and my grandfather was his height. My late grandfather was six foot tall like my dad and they were both slim. But he was like a bull frog and only five feet tall. My mom didn’t answer. She just looked at him without an expression.
As my mom, three siblings and I were trying to enter the house, his two brothers-in-law blocked the doorstep. “You and your kids are not allowed inside these premises without my permission. These properties are mine,” my father’s brother said loudly. Relatives and friends who were there were shocked by this revelation but nobody dared to ask because they were afraid of what he might and could do. “Maybe you think after my parents and brother died, this property will be put in your hands? Well, well, well, you’re wrong because before my brother died he gave it to me,” he said, showing the documents to my mom, and everyone. The crowd began whispering while looking back and forth between him and my mom.My siblings and I were shocked by that man's behavior toward us. It seemed like he was not the person we used to know. He used to be a meek sheep in front of our ancestors, but now that they were gone he looked like a hungry lion who could eat you raw in the blink of an eye. “Foolish woman, you think everyone likes you for all these years? We just bear with you to take good care of my parents, but now that they are gone, you are nothing! Go back to where you belong!” he added, giving a devil’s smile.
My mom didn't say anything despite all the humiliation that she heard. But you could see extreme anger in her eye looking straight into the eyes of the two men who blocked our way. When they opened the door, she turned to me and my siblings and said in a weak but emphatic voice, “Pack your things as fast as you can and get only the things you need. The dump truck is waiting outside. Don't worry, we have our real home. This is not ours.” After saying that we all went to our rooms and packed.
I heard my oldest aunt tell the devil man, "How could you do this to them? Aren't you ashamed? They are your flesh and blood!!!"
"What do you care? My property, my rule. If you don't want what you see, you're free to leave!!" the devil man replied.
When we were about to leave, he shouted, “Remember we are not related at all and I don't want to see your face anymore,” following and pointing his finger to us while we are going to ride the wrangler jeep.
My youngest sibling, Igy Joyce who was only 13, replied, “If there was a way, from this moment I would change my surname!” and I saw everyone around look at each other whispering, “Sooner or later the land that you stole will be your graveyard.”
My third sibling, Francis Mark, 15 years old, seconded before driving the wrangler jeep away, followed by the dump truck that my mother hired to carry our stuff. But I, the eldest among our four siblings, and my sister, Cecilia, 17 years old, told them not to answer, just like my mom was doing because we knew my father wouldn’t have liked this to happen.
We left the farmhouse which had been our home for more than a decade with a heavy heart and we went back to our old village house. As we got nearer to the house, the picture of it flashed back in my mind. It was a modern Filipino two-story hut, with a galvanized roof, nara wood wall on the upper level and cement on the ground floor. It had glass windows and nara wood doors and stood in a small area of a residential lot. It was really different from our farmhouse. It was smaller, and the surroundings were so noisy. In front of it was a busy public highway. On the left side was the house of my primary teacher and on the right side was a pavement where some of the villagers dried rice or corn or teenagers sometimes used to play basketball. It’s true, it was really different from the farmhouse that was so calm and far from everything, but the good thing was that it was my mother’s property, so nobody could take it away. I wondered if the house was still fine to live in despite our years of absence.
When we arrived in front of our village house, all my worries were gone. It was still dawn, but the surroundings and inside of the house were full of light. Nanay and tatay, the parents of my mom, and my two aunts, the second eldest and the youngest siblings of my mom, together with their husbands and kids were there standing at the patio welcoming us with mixed emotions on their faces. My mom and three siblings jumped out of the wrangler jeep and ran towards my relatives as soon as we reached the gate. They cried like a child separated too long from his mother. I hated seeing this scene of hugging and kissing because it reminded me of my grandma and grandpa on my father’s side welcoming me back to the farmhouse after a semester studying in Manila. So, I just slowly got out of the car like a turtle and moved away from the crowd, walking directly inside the house.
As I entered the house, I was amused because it was clean and everything was in its proper place, just like when we left when I was seven years old. The noisy parrot clock that I hated was still hanging in the living room and despite all those long years that we were not there was still working. The wooden rocking horse that my third sibling always rode when he was just four years old was still beside the window of the living room. But the sofa and chairs and even the dining table were still covered with white cloth.
As I kept wandering inside the house, I heard them all coming inside. Then I heard the voice of my Nanay beside me. "Your mom and dad always wanted to come back to stay here. That’s why they asked us to keep it clean and maintain it the way it was when you left."
I just looked at her with a smile and hugged her, then I whispered in her ears, "Thank you, Nanay. I don't know where we would be without this house." Those are the only words I uttered before I left her standing beside the dining table in the dining room.
Everyone was busy and happy unpacking and arranging their stuff with the help of our relatives on my mother’s side. It seemed like nothing worse was going to happen that day, but I felt so heavy and lazy so I went up to my old room. I fixed my bed, put on my old Hello Kitty bedsheet and pillow case, then lay down and stared at the wall where I had stuck all my drawings when I was in kindergarten and primary one. I covered my ears with a pillow in order not to hear their noise downstairs and pretended to sleep, hoping that it was only a dream and that later on I would wake up from my nightmare. The loud sound of the car horn brought me back to my senses, the sunlight peeking through my curtain but not enough to disperse the darkness throughout the room. I got up and walked down the stairs slowly, then snuck out to the garage, planning to drive the wrangler jeep to go visit my father's grave, but I heard sounds in the kitchen so I just took my brother’s bike so that my mom wouldn't notice that I was leaving. Unfortunately, my mother’s youngest sibling met me at our gate, so I immediately rode the bike as fast as I could. I heard her calling me, but I didn’t care even though she could have woken the dead with her screams. What was only on my mind was reaching my father’s grave as soon as possible.
As I arrived in front of my father’s grave, I threw the bike and sat beside his tomb. I cried like a child whose toy had been stolen. I also screamed and shouted while crying to him, "You said blood is thicker than water but why did your brother do this to us!!! Now I know blood and flesh are the greatest enemies and predators!" I asked him also why he entrusted all the property to his older brother and left us nothing, not even a single penny. I also questioned his love for us. I told him about what his big brother did to us. How he ruined our hopes and dreams. How he belittled my mom. I didn’t stop shouting and screaming while crying until my mom came and picked me up and hugged me so tight.
As the eldest daughter and eldest sibling, I needed to drop out of school. Cecilia was in her third year as a medical technologist at the same university that I was studying at, Francis Mark had just graduated secondary, and Igy Joyce was in his last year of high school. It was really hard for me to do this because I had already given up studying at the university in Manila after my grandparents died, transferred to one of the universities in our province and done my on job training at one of the local radio stations. Then when my father died I needed to give up all my dreams and my ambitions to help my mother provide for our family because her salary as a clerk in our municipality was not enough for our family expenses and to support the studies of my three younger siblings.
Day and night I cried, asking God so many questions, blaming Him for our misery. "Where did we go wrong, why did you let this happen to us?" Those were the questions that I always asked God. We ate congee or egg and sweet potatoes, sardines, and noodles from morning till night. We could only see plain rice, meat, chicken and fish if my mom got her bonus and salary from working day and night. We always had dinner with a candle light or kerosene lamp because we didn’t have enough money to pay for electricity, and we only had bread and champurrado for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But my mom always said, “Always thank God for the blessing that He gave us. We are still lucky we still wake up in the morning and still have strength to fight in the battlefield.” Hearing those words for the first time made me annoyed but as time passed by, it became music to my ears, so I just smirked, but in my mind asked God to prove to me if He really exists. To show me if He really helps His creations that are in need. Or If He really provides for the people with a great heart.
Growing up with a silver spoon in my mouth and then in the blink of an eye someone stealing it away from me was really the greatest and most deadly challenge. But God really has His own way to show his unconditional love and prove His existence to His creation. I was worn down from seeing my family struggling, tired and stressed, as I worked two jobs as a sales clerk at the pharmacy in the morning then as a disk jockey at night. Then I met a paralyzed couple in front of where I worked as a sales clerk and disk jockey, beside the bus stop where I always waited for my bus to go home.
That day I almost gave up and ended my life but then I noticed a handicapped couple with a baby. It was my first time seeing them or maybe they’d been there for a long time and I just hadn’t noticed them before because I was always in a hurry. But that day the bus was so late. The lady had short layered black hair and wore a checkered blue long sleeve and black pants. She was seated on a wheelchair carrying what was maybe a 10-month-old pretty, innocent toddler on her lap, while her husband was wearing a black cap, black shirt and pants and holding a crutch because his left foot was smaller than his right. They were selling coconut juice, exotic Filipino street food and rice cakes in a push cart with a big umbrella to protect them from the sunlight and rain.
When the lady caught me staring at them, she smiled at me sweetly and waved the hand of her baby. “Hello,” she said. I waved back but I didn’t answer. It was like I was hypnotized by her smile and the giggle of her baby. I went closer to her and she offered me the chair beside her. I sat beside them silently. “Aren't you the sales clerk of that pharmacy and disc jockey on that station?” she asked, pointing at my workplaces to break the silence. I looked at her and nodded. “You know I admire you. When I see you sitting in the booth, I immediately turn on the radio. The liveliness and energy of your voice is contagious,” she continued when I didn't speak. I was shocked by her revelation. I didn’t quite imagine that despite what I'd been going through I could still make people happy and alive. I tried to compose myself but my tears fell down involuntarily.
“What's inside the rear view mirror is not really how it appears.” Those were the only words that came out of my mouth. She tapped me on my back to calm me down.
“I can't imagine that the young lady that I admire is crying beside me,” she said to her husband while giggling. Luckily they didn't have any customers at that time.
Her husband commented, “We don’t know what you’re going through, but whatever it is we hope that sooner or later God will heal you. Look at us, we are victims of a hit and run. I lost my parents and my in-laws at the same time in that accident, leaving me and my wife in this situation. Luckily my daughter is safe and healthy and I sell everything to pay our hospital bills.”
I stared at them thoroughly. Their faces were very pleasant despite their tough times. Hearing their story made me change my mind. Giving up was not the solution. And I told myself, "If others can, why can't I!" I said thank you to them. They both stared at me, wondering, but I told them before I stood because they already had a customer, “I'm saying thank you for having a great and wonderful talk.” But deep inside me their impact was more than that. They saved my life and they brought light into it.
Before I walked away, the lady grabbed my hand and whispered in my ear, “If you need someone to talk to, I'm always here. I promise I will never leave. I’ll keep on watching you. Always remember that everything happens for a reason. Just trust God’s timing. And when the rain pours, the plants grow, so just face your own storm because after the storm the sun will shine again.” After she said those words, my bus arrived so I hurriedly hopped onto the bus. I just waved and told them I would see them tomorrow with a wide smile.
While I was on the bus, her words kept running through my mind. Then my bus suddenly stopped in front of a church. I felt really strange. I remembered that the last time I went to church was at my father’s funeral, so I closed my eyes and started to ask forgiveness for what I’d done and then asked for His guidance and sign. While praying I suddenly remembered my grandma’s answer when I asked her what was her favorite part of the house. She said, “The kitchen. It's my shock absorber and stress reliever. Through it you can transform your feeling into a unique recipe.” That flashback of my grandma’s words made up my mind on what to do. I would try to express my feelings through cooking like Grandma did.
When I arrived home, I ran to the kitchen and immediately started my experiment. My mom and siblings were shocked and asked me if I had the flu or if I ate something because they knew the kitchen was the last part of the house I would usually go to. I spent the whole night cooking my first ever recipe, the traditional Filipino steamed rice cake. Luckily we had all the ingredients and equipment. In the morning, when I let my family try it, my mom said with a smile but with tears in her eyes, “The last time I ate this kind of steamed rice cake was the last birthday of your grandma. It's exactly the same as your grandma's recipe. Nobody can make this except her.”
I looked at her thoroughly, thinking she was joking but my siblings simultaneously said, “Yes, Mom is right.” They said, “You really inherited all the traits of her: her face, her attitude and now her cooking ability!”
My sister added, “Maybe we can make money out of it!”
And that was the beginning of me loving the kitchen. I started cooking other Filipino dishes and some experimental dishes like chicken feet with kimchi, cow intestine with kimchi, egg roll fried rice, vegetables omelet,and other snacks and breakfast like pancakes with salted egg. I asked the handicapped couple that I met in front of my workplace the day that I planned to give up my life to help me sell some of the food that I cooked. They were so happy because they would not have to wake up so early to go and get stuff from the market to sell. They just had to wait for me at their stall.
On the other hand, my mom sold the food in her office and we accepted orders also. Everything was falling into place because by cooking and selling some food we earned money to pay for electricity, so my sister and brother wouldn’t spend time doing homework or eating by candle light and wake up with charcoal make up due to the smoke of the kerosene lamp. We earned money to buy gas for the stove so that my siblings or mom wouldn’t have to get up early to cook with firewood. But my mom got sick and she needed to stop working. She got a heart attack in the middle of our fight while I was asking her permission to transfer to Mindanao as a radio researcher. I told her I would go but she didn't like it. She was afraid that what had happened to lots of journalists, who were ambushed and killed by the rebels, was what would happen to me.
After what happened to my mom, my sister needed to stop her studies also and help me. I declined the work transfer and continued to work as a DJ and sales clerk at the pharmacy and also continued to cook. And my two younger brothers started to climb the mountain with our fellow villagers to cut wood and make charcoal every weekend and on holidays for them to have extra pocket money to go to school and buy some school supplies too after selling the charcoal that they made. But it was still not enough because we needed more money for the education of my two brothers and medication for my mom, so when a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to Malaysia as a domestic helper, I said yes because in Malaysia they were accepting 20- or 21-year-olds as domestic helpers.
Three months later, I was already in Malaysia. My employers there were not Malaysian but Syrian-Lebanese and French. They were great. I can't say anything bad about them. After working for one year with them, the parents of my guy employer came to visit Malaysia. While they were staying in Malaysia they learned that I worked in a pharmacy and they asked if I knew how to do injections and take good care of a diabetic person. At first I felt hesitant but they offered me double my salary just to be their private nurse and be with them wherever they went and whatever they did, as they were both diabetic, so I agreed. First because of the salary they offered and because of their kindness and generosity. I can't say anything bad about them either. They treated me like a real family member, so I went back with them to Lebanon. I worked and stayed with them until my lady employer died of breast cancer.
Leaving the family who became my second family was not so easy. While I was working overseas, my two brothers continued to climb the mountain and make charcoal on weekends and holidays or any day that they didn’t have class just to have extra pocket money to go to school. My sister went to work in the pharmacy where I worked before. My mom continued what I started, cooking and giving food to the paralyzed couple to sell. By working overseas as a caregiver and domestic helper, I helped my brothers finish their studies, paid for my mother’s treatment and processed the documents to take back our properties. After 10 years of staying overseas, not taking any leave or vacation, I finally went home with a big revelation. Before going home I had already contacted a friend of my dad’s who was a lawyer to handle our case. I asked my friend who was in the main office of the Philippine Agrarian Reform to take the original copy of our land title and we filed the case.
After my uncle learned that I was suing him and his wife, he went to our house early in the morning, shouting and screaming inside our backyard. "You vagabond," he shouted, pointing his finger in my mother’s face. "Where did your daughter get the money to sue me? Did she sell her body? Put it into your mind, you family of ambitious, illiterate prostitutes, I will die first before you get that land! And I will kill your eldest daughter when I see her!” He continued shouting in front of my family and neighbors who were already awake because of the mess that he had made.
After hearing those words, despite the advice of the lawyer that I should not let people see me before the trial, I couldn’t contain myself. I jumped down from my bed, took the papers from my drawer, ran down the stairs, picked up the samurai sword hanging under the staircase and pointed it at his neck. My hands were shaking. The only thing I wanted to do at that time was finish him. I didn’t care about what would happen afterwards. It seemed like at that time seeing him and hearing what he said, reminded me of everything he did to us. All the sacrifice and sufferings that I encountered came in flashbacks, and the flame inside me flared up. When I was about to push the end of the sword into his neck, I heard the voice of my brother, as loud as the roar of a lion, “Don't lower yourself to his level!”
Those were the only words I could understand and they brought me back to my senses. I stopped but didn’t remove the sword from his neck. I showed him the papers I was holding and said, “Let's just meet in court. For now leave before my eyes get dark and I use your blood to water my mother’s plants.” They left immediately and silently. When I looked around, I saw fear and shock in the eyes of the people around me. I closed my eyes and started to cry, mixed emotions and thoughts coming into my head, and started to get scared of my own self, thinking that I almost became a killer because of him. Then a gentle hand held me, trying to calm me down, slowly taking the samurai sword from my hand. When I opened my eyes, it was the eldest sister of my father, our silent savior, the one who was always there for us since day one, but she couldn't do anything either because like us, my uncle took their property. They were also left with nothing.
After that incident at our house, my uncle and his wife got into a car accident and before the first hearing they called us at the hospital. His eldest son came and begged us to go and see them, and as expected my mom, with a heart as soft as mammon bread, agreed so we needed to go. He was on oxygen and his wife was alive and safe but paralyzed. They said he was not opening his eyes and they were just waiting for his time but when we arrived he opened his eyes. He tried to reach us. There were tears in his eyes and he tried to speak. I just looked at him but my mom went near him and held his hand. At that moment his ECG monitor started going up and down and the nurse and doctor came to attend. Everyone was crying except me and my three siblings. The youngest sister of my dad came near me and asked, “Please say something. Maybe he is just waiting to hear your voice. That’s why he is still fighting.”
So after they revived him, I went closer to him and whispered, "Thank you, but I'm sorry I can't forgive you right now." I saw tears running down his cheeks after I uttered those words. After we left a few hours later they called us saying he passed away peacefully.
It was a painful and tragic ending for him and maybe a punishment to his wife because she became paralyzed, but what happened was a great blessing to us and his siblings. We got our property back. And we all hope and pray that no more tornadoes, snakes and termites will come between all of us. Although the farmhouse is gone, the wonderful memories and lessons remain and I will cherish them till my last breath.
Looking at my family makes me happy and proud. Because after all the tragedy, me and my siblings can still find a way to achieve some of our dreams. Even though I did not get my widest dream as a journalist, I am happy because I have almost toured all around the Middle East and also some Asian countries before I came to Hong Kong to work as a domestic helper. And even though I’m here, I still find a way to learn and study. My sister Cecilia followed in my footsteps and she went to work overseas and worked while studying. My third sibling, Francis Mark, after finishing his education he didn't get employed because he failed the army training and exam so he ended up being a farmer and now he is happily married with a wonderful daughter. And our youngest, Igy Joyce, after taking his degree in information technology went to work in Korea. Although we are in different places and countries, we still communicate with one another and I always remind them that whatever happens we will not follow in the footsteps of our uncle and will let God be the center of our life.
Staring at myself in the mirror makes me smile, thinking how the tornado and storm made me grow into a stronger and better person, as strong and flexible as a bamboo that no matter how harsh the circumstances remains grounded but flexible enough not to break from the pressure. And although the tornado twisted us and almost pulled us up from our roots and tore our leaves and made us bow down, still we tried to crawl slowly and grow up stalk by stalk. Yes! It's true they broke our wings and buried us alive but there are a million reasons for us to rise up. Thank you to the stone that they threw at us. We made stairs of success with the help of our Mighty God. And I promise myself that I will try to change history by always reminding my siblings that whatever happens we will not follow the footsteps of our uncle so that history never repeats itself.