I am a Filipino. I was born in Argao. The place has yet to be swayed by civilization and advancement or exploitation perhaps.
In that southern part of Cebu, Philippines, houses are situated beneath green slopes, mostly concealed under a lush shade that seems to have existed long before my great-grandfathers. My own home lies up the field, a kilometer or so away from the town proper and across meadows.
So what’s worthy of reminiscing about a hometown with no street shops filled with popular goods or karaoke bars or KTVs to spend the night away in? Sizzling disco houses are still big dreams for the place even. No neon lights that light up the streets at night. No coffee shops that clone the coffee mocha at Cottonwood.
Huge bats circle the trees at night. Unpaved roads are traversed on barefoot. Trisikads (three-tire motor vehicles) roam the place in great numbers. Horses gallop in unison. And where can you find five people clinging to just one motorcycle, holding their breath as it dashes along a rocky trail? Dozens of these motorcycles convey commuters from the lowlands to our version of the Himalayas.
The town folks beat the sunrise, feed their hogs and chickens, tend the farms and wash clothes in the nearby riverside spring. They don’t worry about the water supply being cut off due to an unpaid bill. Most people live very simple lives – with only kerosene-operated lights flickering on rather hushed dark nights.
They cross roads, minus the fear of parting with a hard-earned bill for jaywalking. Anyone is free to paint the town red, without fear of catching respiratory diseases from smoke-belching vehicles. Oh, if one happens to be along the shore on early mornings, he may give fishermen a hand and go home with pounds of fish, free of charge.
Many years ago, I left for the city to earn a degree, as my avenue of escape, and to unload a 16-year-old boredom with my hometown. I wanted to make a difference in my life, to make a hit at my dreams. It’s a different thing seeing Terminator or Rambo kicking big on the big screen, going shopping till you drop or at least, checking out the latest craze in town. I longed for the pleasure the city had to offer.
But one day, I went hiking with a couple of friends in one of the exploited mountains in the metropolis. Terrible it was. The royal blue sky hovering over the city was partly covered with dark fumes. The city below and its wonders – towers and skylines, crowded streets and entertainment centers – seemed to be compressed into a small space.
In the vicinity were trees that offered no shade. Birds could not sing. Butterflies hungered for flowers. The silence could wake the dead. At that very instant, I was reminded of home.
I recalled my first trek to Cansuje, one of the mountainous barangays in Argao. I passed through a lot of quilt scenery: Mount Lantoy, famous for its “Maria de Cacao” myth (Maria is believed to be the lady who lived in a cave and sailed the rivers with her huge ark), the rivers and the currents and the thick woods all profoundly green. The cold morning breeze benumbed me. Like what I saw in jungle movies, monkeys used vines everywhere like a trapeze. Along the way, I saw people fetch drinking water from a nearby spring. Everything thrilled me into pieces.
I used to climb our chico tree with my brother Noel each time I was home for a vacation, without rhyme or reason. Who could ever forget Tiririt? She was the cute, little bird we restored to her nest. The chico tree is still there, with the birds that fly in summer skies, mountains that never fail to give a hush-hush morning greeting and water in abundance.
I now live in the Brookings where snow falls even in spring time, where things are run by technology and advancement. Argao and Brookings are worlds apart, and in moments of melancholy, I always think of the former.
Last night, I emptied myself into the luxurious city and then came to love a place I should have always loved. Home.