Dreaming of Childhood in the Philippines
We’re going on a journey I’ve been through every day since my school years, from five to nine years old in a small town in the Philippines, when in youth we were weightless, and we conquered worlds as easy as turning a page in a book.
After school, I go out to play with my cousins, passing through squeaky, heavy metal gates, and as if stimulated from the sound, a splash of colour bursts on a bare white world, and the memories are suspended and displayed in a surreal four-dimensional space. Unlike the eerie hallways of an apartment building in a small city in Canada, with green rugs that stretch towards pink walls, and pink doors, and large, enclosed elevators squeezing the air out from your lungs. Living up on the 18th floor, so high that the sky, and the sun, and the clouds seem so close; once a pigeon rested on the window sill and walked in, only to quickly fly away; taunting and haunting you of things you had before but are now gone.
In front of me is a memory of my eyes suddenly stinging from pain, snot running down my nose, dust, rocks crunching in my mouth, and my mind and body cringes still; anger towards the cousin in front of me who caused it, and annoyance towards the sound of rocks grinding between teeth, which continue to haunt me till this day. It’s karma. It was most likely my fault. But my aunts always took my side, so my cousin was heavily scolded. Fights that you always had with family and friends you eventually forget because the most important thing is afterwards—you can play with them again.
To the right of my house, I can hear the loud sounds of two slobbering, stinking, supremely colossal dogs whose echoing barks always frightened me, but they never stopped me from climbing up the large stone divider between our house and theirs. I remember climbing up the side of our always green, and always ripe guava tree, climbing up the stone wall that I wasn’t allowed to climb up, and I would sit up there and bark back, and laugh as they try to reach me, clawing up the mossy walls with a crazed fervour of dogs that are never allowed to go outside. When I was eight, and over 4 feet tall, these dogs still towered over me like giant beasts, but they seem so small as soon as a hand reaches towards them, as they quickly lay down begging and ready to be scratched, and played with.
Across the dogs’ house is a large white gate with creeping vines climbing up, prettily placed, and placed perfectly in the middle of immaculate and straight-edged stone walls. I’ve only been there once, a birthday party with a large white and pink cake on a medium-sized white table placed in a very white dining room. It was blinding. Besides that, the cake was purple inside, ube-flavoured with young coconut flesh in a coconut cream in every layer of the three-tiered cake—it was delicious.
At the end of the road, on my right side is the smell of fresh baked bread, soft and enticing to touch, a favourite must-have especially when you’re running to reach the school before 7:30 AM (You have to tear the dinner-roll like bread in half, squish, and roll, and dunk in sweet, sweet black coffee to wake you up in the morning--a wonderful habit to have as a 6 year old child living with your grandmother). After school is over, it’s the house on the left that’s the interest of all. Everyone is walking home, and you can smell the smoky barbeque attacking your hunger, waking all of us from the tiredness from school; all of us rushing home to get some change from our parents to have a stick or two of chicken intestines (known as “Isaw”) or chicken feet on a stick (oddly enough called “Adidas”)—this was also delicious. (Food is a huge part of Philippine culture; so, as a heads up, if you’re ever entering a Filipino household, even if you are full, they will keep offering food to you).
At the end is a crossroad. Across to my left is a blank slate, I have no memories to recall, but it is easily forgotten when across to the right is the snake house. Its red and brown rusting gate with walls that seem to stretch forever in front of me and taking up a whole street to my right; I went back to the Philippines when I was 15, and it was just as daunting, yet exciting to see, as it was when I was young. That house is full of memories. I remembered the long and thin, green vine snake that I saw up the coconut tree in the front yard of the house, and how it twisted and coiled around a thick wooden branch that a man held as it took it down from the tree, and down to the snake house. Or the brown, fast snake that my cousins and I chased in one of their rooms, agitating it from under the bed with a stick, until eventually trapping it in the closet, and calling Papa (who is actually my cousin’s dad, but everyone has always called him that), to take it away. Or the wide and long, brown and black snake that bit a farmer and took three men to walk back to that house.
And whether from fear, exhilaration, or impatience, I quickly turn right and run straight through that street as if someone was calling me out to run, reminding me that I’d have more time to play if I get there faster; this feeling was only ever replicated in Canada when running through the narrow hallways of the apartment building; I’m running as fast as I can on bare feet on the dark green and dull carpeted floor from room 1801 to 1820, and pushing through heavy doors and going up the echoing room with grey painted cement stairs with pink metal fencing, until I reach the 24th floor. That was a bit more difficult, and almost suffocating, but it’s as freeing as you can get in a city full of cars and signs that tell you when to stop and run, where parks are too small and fields are scarce, and trees with branches too high to reach, to climb, and nothing to see but bricks that are dull and tired from living.
Compared to the wide fields of grass dashed with every colour of green on earth, where the dirty brown road worn down by the treasured journey of joyous children and weary, yet lively farmers divide the rice fields and my cousin’s home. Where the scent of wet grass, and rice fields, and manure from water buffalos that till the fields are still fresh. Where the sounds of crickets singing, dragonflies buzzing, frogs croaking, birds chirping, grass rustling; the ever- present wind, a conductor for the symphony that you can only hear in the wild. This is the end of the road. The rice fields are always wet, mushy, and busy. My cousin’s fields are free, filled with tall, wild grass, high enough to play hide-and-seek, and with enough fruit trees to abate any hunger, and tall enough trees to touch the clouds, and with enough fun things to play with to feel like you own the whole entire world. And I run towards the loud shouts, and the laughter still uninhibited and true; the pitter-pattering of rubber sandals and bare feet on soft, fresh grass unafraid of what’s below and what’s behind, only knowing to run forward; eyes that only look ahead; senses that are attached to the world still untainted.
I immerse myself in the memories of wide and expansive sky, white and blue, clouds thin and wispy. Air, light and cool and breezy. Sun, soft on the eyes, warm on the skin, and cleansing to the spirit. A world of childhood wonder and the fantastical where all things were conquerable, and yet were free, and the sky was the land where we stood to break the boundary of our limits.