I can feel the sweat pouring down my face. All I see are palm trees, farm animals, and people; I had to walk down a mountain to reach the house. There is no access to distilled water here, so the people drink boiled rainwater. With no wifi connection whatsoever, I did not know if I could do anything and if I could survive the three days that I would be living here. At ninety degrees fahrenheit, twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, the blistering, luminescent sun beat down harshly on everyone.
“Tricia, it’s been so long since I have seen you,” my lola greets me.
“I’m so glad to be back home,” I run into her arms again after seven long years. I am so excited to be with my family members again even though I worry that I will not have anything to do. After visiting the busy capital of Manila that never sleeps and staying at comedy bars until 2 a.m. in the morning, this place is definitely a shock to me. The last time I saw my grandparents was when I was eight years old but that was at their other house closer to the city.
“Let’s eat now,” my lola says. The growl in my stomach tells me that it is time to devour our food. When I sit at the table, I suddenly see all the food that I have been missing out on. My grandma really did it big for our visit back here. The grilled fish, the endless scoops of rice, and more familiar foods that bring me back to my Filipino roots. My grandma brings the soup to the table.
My dad tells me, “Don’t eat that. The water is collected straight from the rain.” Other than the new food, seeing all my relatives and everything they prepared at one table, such as the humongous grilled fish and spring rolls, makes me feel so thankful for coming back home. Maybe my experience here would not be so bad after all.
Knowing that it would be a while until I would be able to go out somewhere, I start thinking of everything I could do. Read. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Four activities is not that much to work with, but I know it will be soon until I can go back to America. “Tricia, come here!” my lola calls me.
“What?” I respond with a grin on my face, thinking that she came up with something fun I could do.
“I am gonna show you how to use some appliances here,” she tells me with a laugh. Bringing me to the restroom, I see the toilet. She begins to explain that there is no flush button for the toilet, and I have to pour buckets of water for everything to go down the drain. Then, going on to tell me that there are no showers, my smile slowly turns to a frown. I remember their other house that I went to when I was younger, and since they are considerably wealthy, I wonder why there is nothing here. All these thoughts flood through my head, bouncing back and forth in my brain. Of course, my curiosity cannot be contained. “Dad, why did they choose to live here?” I inquire.
“Considering that your grandfather was a region director of environmental issues for decades, it is no surprise that he wanted to buy another house that is surrounded by nature and wildlife in the middle of nowhere. They bought this house while keeping the other one; you could not even walk when you went to this house a long time ago, so you would not remember. He wants to live simply, and if an old man like him can, you should be able to do it too.” To me, this seems like a challenge and absolutely crazy. No wifi connections, no other people my age, and no automatic appliances.
This is gonna be so much fun. I go into my room to read Brave New World, the book I chose for English class. Taking into mind that I would be coming home at midnight and would have no time to reach the deadline the next day, I read as much as I can. Feeling bored after an extensive period of time, I step off the porch. It is time to explore. Skipping down the rocky terrain, I see the pigs and chickens roaming around. Living here your whole life must suck, especially for the animals. The dogs do not even have dog food; most of them eat leftovers because for most people, dog food is too expensive. Making my way through the colossal, stunning garden that my lola takes care of, I see the beauty around me. Beauty flowing in veins of the leaves, beauty roaming in the wooden house, and beauty lingering in the vast, baby blue sky- beauty is everywhere. I think I can make something of this vacation.
I wake up to a harmony of voices singing in unison outside the house. “Happy birthday, Lola!” I exclaim.
“Thank you. Now, let’s go outside to see who is out there,” she replies. We walk out, and I see a sea of unfamiliar faces. My lola whispers that she does not even know everyone; some are close family friends, but some are just nearby habitants coming to sing. It shocks me how people can just knock on the door at five a.m. in the morning and sing “Happy Birthday” to someone they do not even know. My lolo announces that we are going to celebrate her birthday on Saturday in a nearby city with a numerous amount of people since she is having a milestone birthday of 75. My eyes shift to the cake that they bought for her and for everyone to share. I cut myself some cake, which is a slice of paradise. Seeing the velvety brown chocolate icing and smelling the delightful scent, I have never been so excited to eat cake; it is finally food that I am used to. Do not get me wrong; my grandma is a great cook, but I am looking forward to eating store-bought food for once.
After we eat and converse with each other, it seems like so much time has passed. I glance at the clock, and it is only 10 a.m. The holiday of Easter means every shop is closed, and there are not a lot of places to go on a usual day anyways; I heard no whirring of vehicles on the road. I traverse up the mountain to see the house my relatives are building. Every component of the house is an estimate-the many slits between the bamboo walls, the slopped on paint, and the space in the rooms itself. However, it is enough to satisfy the people’s needs there and that is the beautiful part about it. The rain droplets come pitter-pattering down, and I rush back to the house. Having nothing else to do, I look through the DVDs piled up in the corner. Wanting to pass time, I watch The Accountant. After a few hours go by, it is finally time to eat dinner. Eating with dirty hands is definitely unsanitary, so I head to the bathroom. Opening the door, I hear meows echoing around the walls. Glancing inside, my eyes see not one, not two, but four cats; it is a family that made their way into the washroom! I hear another peculiar sound and turn my head ninety degrees; a scaly amphibian is racing around on the ceiling, I believe I am making the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest hand-washer in the world. My uncle is outside the door. “There are so many creatures in there,” I complain to him.
“Oh, that’s normal around here” he laughs answering. I eat the rice and chicken quickly because Hunger has been lurking in my stomach all day.
Soon enough, the sky is pink-streaked with spots of orange throughout it. Night is approaching quickly, and I am stunned that I am already leaving the next morning. Laying down in bed, I reflect on everything that has happened. Everyone lives simply, yet happily; it does not take much to put a smile on their faces. Even though the experience is already coming to an end, and I am not used to everything here, I am beyond thankful for it. Being closer to my roots while realizing how privileged I am in America is certainly a memory I will take with me forever. I was born in the Philippines but had forgotten how it actually felt to be living amidst palm trees only having the basic necessities. Tomorrow, I will go back to the city, but these memories on the farm that my grandfather has named after me will never fade.