the homesick weekend

I didn't think I could go back to Clark. It had made me too sad. In fact, the Philippines was filling me with grief. I spent the weekend at a lovely resort-type place on Subic, all by myself, crying about the poverty I had seen all week long outside the compounds where I lived and worked, railing against the effects of long-term colonialism in the Philippines, grieving for a past I never made peace with, and journaling long into the night.
 I was confused by what I didn't understand, and I was exhausted from the work week, from the jet-lag, and from the homesickness. Homesick for my parents who died seven years ago. Homesick for who we all were, for that time in our lives. Heartsick about Clark and wondering how memory and time works on the heart. Homesick for a sense of comfortability and safety in a country with infrastructure and without armed guards at checkpoints along the roadways and at entrances to private compounds everywhere.
And yet, even in the midst of the noise and dirt and poverty and pollution of the cities, there was such beauty and amazement -- and a rainforest. It was like whiplash to be here.
I didn't think I could go back to Clark. But as I journeled in my notebook, and as Sunday's quiet, still, beautiful day worked its magic on me, I got some perspective, and on Monday, as Rose Austria, the lower school librarian at Brent Subic, picked me up with driver Jay, I said, "let's go," and we went back to see what we could see.

We left the parade ground and drove up to hill housing again, where Rose worked her magic and a supervisor was called, and we were allowed to go through the gate, as long as we left the car and walked the whole way, which we did.
Colonel's families lived here for years and years. Now it's going back to jungle, and there are only ghosts. The guards passed us on motorbikes now and then, and some walked with us, unsure of us at first, but then trying to help me find my house. I knew where it was.
 Jay and one of the Negrito guards made a path for us.
I told the story of how I stood under that overhang at night with a boyfriend delivering me home after a date, how I kissed him goodnight at the front door, and how my father watched us from the bathroom window. They all laughed.

Below, the overhang with bathroom window on left, and front door next to that. i was kissed there. I am mulling and mulling now, about the changes that time brings, and what it means to memory. Of course, that is a big part of the thinking behind my fiction as well. I know this trip will inform my work. And my heart.
Everyone was willing to be in the pictures now. We celebrated finding the house.
By now we were friends. (That's librarian Rose on the right.) I rode down the hill on the back of a guard's motorcycle -- really! --  and then we were invited for lunch. What a rare gift.

Rice spread on banana leaves, fish soup, and adobo.  Below: where lunch was cooked, on an open fire at the back of the nipa hut/guard house:
Time to say goodbye. The man wearing the goggle-glasses built the hut. He is also a pastor.
What a difference a day makes. I left Clark having made friends and having found the place where I'd lived for that pivotal senior year in high school. Time has changed everything. Is that not time's purpose? I don't know. I know that I felt better. I had Rose and Jay and a lifetime of memories in the car with me as we drove the hour back to Subic and the room that would be my home for the next week.

We drove past a river that had been completely destroyed as the lava flow from Pinatubo sucked up its water twenty years ago. We drove past rice fields in various stages of cultivation/harvest. We had left behind the paper shacks of Manila and the poverty in Angeles and Pampanga and we drove toward Subic Bay.

Earlier in the week I had been talking with Westerners about my ambivalent feelings about Westerners' history in the Philippines and what had developed as a result. A new friend said, "The Philippines will break your heart, if you don't learn how to live here and give back in a meaningful way."
 I spoke with a Filipino in Manila, about the same thing. He had said, "I like the Americans being here. There is such danger here, which is why you see guards at checkpoints and private roads and so much security -- there are car-nappers, kidnapping, there are gangs, there is much to be afraid of... and you are right, there is little infrastructure. There is so much poverty. I like the American presence. It tempers the dangers..."

And so I thought about Clark -- and now, Subic. Had it been a good thing that the Americans had been such a strong presence in the Philippines? It seemed so, and yet it also was such a complex thing -- it was impossible to answer it in black and white terms.
 So I journaled through my ignorance and asked my questions and wondered if I would ever become clear. And then, I began my work at Brent Subic. One thing I was sure of: this experience was changing my life.


  1. Deb, I can't wait to read what you write out of this experience--and ambivalence. Thank you for sharing this journey.

  2. Goggling homesickness brought me here... I'm quite a homesicker too.. :(


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