I went home in April, and it was wonderful and therapeutic. Going back to where we come from has this way of providing perspective we otherwise miss in life; the kind that reminds us everything is relative to something else.
Things like how I went there wanting to slim my stomach, but family friends did nothing but point out how thin I had become since I first left. And I was being hard on myself for the slowness of my progress in life, but there I saw how much I had actually grown and changed.
Things like that.
Today marks my fourth anniversary with Manila. Four years since my plane landed here and I started a brand new life. It’s been crazy. I faced culture shock, homesickness, and existential crises. I started over and over and over. I asked myself why I was doing what I was doing, or what it was that I really wanted. There were days when all I wanted was to pack up and go back home. But I couldn’t.
The good news is that I survived it — all four years of rocky, ill-fitting times. Just barely, but at least I’m still here to write and rewrite the story. And I do rewrite it a lot, because there are good and bad things to tell about everything.
I just can’t go back to who I was before it. I always remember Paramore’s song Franklin, which talks exactly about going home and realizing it isn’t what it once was; not because home changed but because I did.
I have become both softer and tougher; more cynical but also more empathetic. I hit the ocean floor so many times I started to like how sadness looks on me. I know I’ve grown a lot, more or less for the good. I know better and (sometimes) do better. But I constantly feel under attack when I just really miss feeling safe.
I took my time, but I did manage to find a new home in Manila. I fell in love with its dusty charm and its potential, slowly. I found this odd thrill in commuting, this roar in watching its people fight an identity crisis. In my deepest heart I am dreaming of a happy, healthy, and prosperous Philippines, and wondering what I can do to help it get there.
One thing I haven’t decided is whether a person can have two homes. We even discussed that in my last Literature class (“Contemporary Fiction of Filipinos Abroad,” phew). Is home where you choose it to be, where you’re used to, or where your heart is?
My favorite answer comes from Abraham Verghese: “Not where you are from, but where you are wanted.” It fits the drifting image I sometimes paint of myself, and allows me to believe that I have several homes because I am loved in several places. Bahrain, Manila, even a quiet fishing village called Nigui.
But they are all different kinds of home who have given me different kinds of love. Manila has always been about tough love. Mostly I feel its toughness alone, but I know that it’s because it’s going through a rough time too.
And love is for rough times, so here’s me loving you even though you often suck, Manila. I know you’ve got a beautiful heart. Happy fourth anniversary to us :)