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Coming home

April 27, 2010

“It’s like you never left, Isay,” a friend said to me as I licked the last of the rice off of my sticky fingers. They had cut letters out of construction paper that spelled out ‘Welcome home, Isay!’.

 “It’s no big deal that you’re here because you’ve been here the whole time,” the friend continued.

And yet I haven’t been.  My first day back in Davao I’d thought maybe it was true.  I reclined on the wooden bench in the living room and ate the eggs I helped cook over the propane.  This morning I got blisters on my feet from running in sandals and I nursed my wounds in a basin while I washed my clothes in a bucket.  ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘I’ve been here.’  I learned about the election race while watching campaign ads and I interjected my bad visiya inbetween jingles.

The power went out at 1pm- the hottest part of the day.  It’s not as though there is air conditioning in the building but the electric fan (which does wonders for keeping away mosquitos and sweat) was suddenly still.  In the thick heat, I felt the fish I’d eaten for lunch turning over in my stomach.  We sat togetherdownstairs and played guitar and read the newspaper.  By 3pm I threw up my breakfast and lunch.  Clearly, I hadn’t been here the whole time.  My body had gotten used to America luxuries again and resented the weather and food.

My faith can be so easily shaken.  My throat felt afire as I vommitted in the dark bathroom, sweat running down my back.  I am not meant for any of this.  I am pampered and incapable.  I got up from my knees and washed my face and neck in the sink.  One of the women from the office, Ann*, came into the bathroom and touched my hair.  Her children came near my waist, looking at me with concern.

“Vinegar?  Vinegar?” she said, in visiya.  (She’s an indigenous person and does not speak English.)

“What? What?  Uhh… I bought some yesterday.  In the kitchen,” I replied in broken visiya, my head still in the sink.  “Why?” I said in visiya.  What I wanted to say was “Why are you asking me this now?  Can’t you see I’m sick?”

I came out to the living room and collapsed on the bench.  I wanted to go to my room, but the upstairs was too hot without the fan.

“Did you vinegar?” another friend (an English speaker) said in visiya.

“Yes,” I replied in English.  “I know Ann wants vinegar, but I can’t get it right now.”

Everyone in the living room burst out laughing.  I quickly learned that suka (pronounced SU-ka) is vinegar and suka (su-KA) is vomit.

I haven’t been here. I’ve been living what constitutes as a life of luxury.  In California I have my own car and a bicycle.  The human rights work I do comes at no price of danger or even discomfort to me-  I learned about the Maguindanao massacre on a phone call while safe and comfy inside my Berkeley apartment.  When my friends say it as though I’ve been here, I’m unjustifiably honored. 

And yet the only person here who is bitter and conflicted is me.   The other hearts here are open and loving.

“Nagsuka ko sa suka pod. (I vommitted some vinegar, too),” I said with a smile, as I took the water Ann handed me.
 *name change

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