Sunday, August 3, 2014

This used to be my playground

A week after Typhoon Rammasun (also known as Glenda in the Philippines) wrecked part of my house's roof, I received an SMS informing me that I have to visit Lola Batangas' house in Padre Garcia as soon as I could because it was damaged. So I went, the next Saturday, to have a look.

If I was stressed out right after the typhoon passed by my house, nothing could have prepared me when I saw what happened to my grandma's house...

Upon taking the final turn to my family's property, I started getting concerned because the view just had too much sky. Maybe the trees fell or the branches were torn off, I thought. The bananas were down, but that was expected because Rammasun's winds were really strong. The damage couldn't be so bad since I could see that the garage of our katiwala is still there, where his son's car was parked.

I wasn't prepared for what was coming next.

My initial relief turned into shock when I reached the garage of Lola's house. My jaw dropped when I first saw the house... or what remained of it. 

The bodega (on the left) is the last intact structure standing. Second floor decimated. Only the frames remain.

My dad says he used to deposit me here, in the care of my grandparents, when he had business transactions in Lipa City. There's a photo showing a toddler version of me in front of the bodega (I think) attempting to escape my grandpa's grasp to chase after free-range chicken. When I spent summer holidays here as a grade schooler, the first floor of the house was filled to the brim by neighbors watching television shows (some even watch outside through the windows) before the electricity was cut-off every evening.

The skyline was clear because there's no second floor blocking the view anymore! On the left, that used to be the bedroom's window above the bodega.

The second floor used to have bedrooms and a living room. Here, I pored through my elder cousins' old books and music sheets in the morning before Lola Bats would called us to pick vegetables which she'd cook for lunch and dinner. I remember that I really enjoyed going to the vegetable patch in the mornings, which was quite a hike away. My grandma used to have tomatoes, string beans, patani (lima beans), and malunggay (moringa) in the vegetable patch.

On the left, the mango tree where we used to eat lunch under (complete with table around the tree and benches). On  the right, the katiwala's house. In the middle, that used to be the outdoor sink and cooking area.

The mango tree was my very own Batibot (a local version of Sesame Street) set because it's like the hub of kiddie activity: we ate lunch there, played with beetles there, began our coffee farm hikes and water collecting walks (we used to get water from a huge hand pump in the middle of the barrio) there. On the other hand, I learned (well, watched my grandma, more like it) to cook rice and bulanglang (a vegetable dish) with firewood in the outdoor cooking area, imagining that this was Scouting 101. 

This is the view from the outhouse, where we were extremely afraid to go to at night because of the geckoes and the dark (no electricity at night back then). The window, on the right, was of the dining room of Lola's house.

The outhouse was a room that was the stuff of childhood nightmares for my sister, Anna. She's afraid of geckoes that go "too-koo... too-koo" and these sounds were loudest in the outhouse. We've never seen the lizards that make all that racket, which made them even more legendary. 

This used to be a roofed garage where my siblings and I had played hide-and-seek most of the day with the katiwala's kids. 

The garage used to house the barrio's very first tractor (and made my grandpa a figure in the village's history). We also used to ride in the trailer (the cart on the left side of the picture) as it's hauled behind the tractor round the farm and the barrio. What an adventure! That has got to be the best way to see the whole farm fast! It comes, however, as a far second to actually hiking in the coffee farm (now, sugarcane is planted; long ago, it was coffee). On the other hand, farm implements, piles of spare parts, and old tires were the best hiding spots for small kids. In the days before internet, cable tv, and cellphones, we were getting ourselves dirty and dusty here as we gathered circular plastic sheets that we then used as play money. 

This used to be a playground for me, my siblings, and my cousins.

I had my first navigating exercises in the farm because it's easy to get lost under the canopy of kakawate (madre de cacao) with vines of black pepper and distracted by the luscious red berries of coffee trees. No compass; no map (I was either in kindergarten or first grade, I think, because I only got introduced to road maps when I was in second grade)... My dad just pointed features of the landscape which I could use to orient myself in case I got separated from the coffee-picking group. The instruction being, if I get lost, I go directly back to Lola's house (homing instinct, check!!). I can never forget those exercises because I use them when I get lost, even when I'm in foreign land (the search for the Panda Hotel and Hanoi's water puppets come to mind immediately).

The elder cousins, I'm sure, have more stories to tell about this house and the farm. They also used to stay there when my grandpa was still alive. I often hear of them star-gazing for hours on end, or of them getting their first driving lessons from Lolo using the tractor, dragging the disc harrow across the field in bizaar shapes.

So many good memories! That is why it was simply heart-breaking to see the house in ruins. My chest literally hurt! I wish I didn't go alone. It turns out that I was the first of the family to drop by after the typhoon. Nobody else has gone back yet... But what do I expect? I am the one who's most frequently visiting anyway.

Now, the most important question: What am I supposed to tell my grandma when she asks about her house?!?