I swear after this weekend I would be completely satisfied if we had to pack our bags and go home. I really feel we saw and experienced so much of Filipino culture and hospitality in Cebu and we’ve seen gorgeous landscapes and beaches and we’ve lived in Manila. I’m satisfied. What I mean is I would be happy to move on somewhere new but it also means that since we are here I can spend the time traveling to other parts of Asia without feeling like I need to get to Bohol and Palawan and Borocay and Subic. If we get there, fine. If not, fine.
After our packed day on Sunday I figured Monday we could just sit and relax by the pool. Who knew it was the annual Family Fun Day, the day where they invite all the families of the resort employees to enjoy a day of games and fun in the pool?! I didn’t get a photo because I was too busy trying to keep track of Coco in the crowd but there were 40 to 50 children running around the grounds and splashing and playing in the pool along with their parents and cousins who were also there eating and drinking and playing music and having fun. It was pure chaos and anything but relaxing but Coco had a ball! After losing her in the crowd of children in the shallow end too many times I instructed her to put on her floaty ring and play in the deep end where there weren’t so many kids. It was there where she started playing with two sweet boys: Ethan- the chubbiest, most adorable two-year old boy ever – and his patient, responsible older cousin, Jeff. Coco was having a ball with them and the parents and I started making small talk when they offered her some food. As she splashed and ate chips and iced tea, they dug into their cooler and handed me an icy cold San Miguel beer. One beer led to another and some pork sisig, fried chicken and fish and more chips. Their English wasn’t perfect but we were able to communicate and enjoy the food together while watching each other’s children. A few hours later we had bonded so much that Juliet and Tony were inviting us to their restaurant for dinner. They told Jeff to stay behind a while and bring us to the restaurant later. Although I was stuffed and tired from a day in the sun, I was so moved by their invitation and kindness that I accepted. Here are a few pics of Coco and Jeff playing before we left for dinner.
After a quick shower and change of clothes, we got in the cab and headed to their barbecue restaurant. Juliet said it was open air and I am not sure what I was expecting but it was just like the kiosks and stores you see on any random street in the Philippines. It was on a very busy street open to all the dirt and exhaust of the passing cars. It was very basic with cement floors, plastic chairs and an open charcoal pit facing the entrance. And, of course, many flies everywhere. Attached to their restaurant was also their convenience store. She said the store has been there for 18 yrs and the restaurant for nine. I asked her if business was good and she said it was. She said it varies, some nights the restaurant might make P1800 ($41.50 ) others over P3000 (almost $70) which doesn’t include the money they also earn from the store. It doesn’t sound like much for a family of five but I still think it makes them fairly well-off compared to your average Filipino. For comparison, the going rate for a yaya is P3000 for a week so to make more than this in one day probably puts them solidly middle class at least. Certainly there are Filipinos who make far more than that but when you look around Cebu (at least in the part where I was) I am sure they are doing better than most. It’s enough to send their oldest daughter to university where she is studying architecture. In any event, they were clearly very proud of their restaurant. Juliet explained to me that she has to keep her restaurant looking as it does in order to attract Filipinos. She wants to decorate it and make it nicer but she explained that if she did that the local people would assume it was out of their price range and not frequent it. Dependent on them to make a living, she does what is necessary to keep the customers coming though she said she gets a fair amount of foreigners too, mainly Korean and Japanese. Her prices are the same for all though as she feels it’s wrong to have separate prices for locals and foreigners. “How much do you change for a skewer of meat?” I asked. “Eight pesos,” she said. Eight pesos is only 18 cents and the food was really good! Here is a sampling of what we were served:skewers of garlic and grilled pork (really, really good!)the rice was heated over the charcoals wrapped in woven palm leavesshe mixed up this dipping sauce with calamanci, soy, vinegar and chili peppers
Despite the flies and the fumes, I really enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. I loved how close the family was, who were not just Juliet, Tony and their kids but nearby Ethan and his parents, other cousins and the grandparents. All born and raised and still living in Cebu plus owning a business in the same place for close to twenty years means their neighbors are like family, too. I really got the sense that they were really happy and satisfied with their lives just being together as a family. Americans always seem to need more and more material things or adventures or degrees to feel accomplished and content, yet these folks without all those things were close-knit and grateful. To me they appeared to be much more present and focused on the joys and gifts right there in front of them: good food, healthy children, laughter, family, community. I found myself almost envying them in a way! Here I have an advanced degree, a passport that allows me access to almost any country in the world and more way more money, yet they were clearly happy with less. And Coco? She enjoyed herself so much just eating food and running around after the stray dogs and cats, looking at the cars and motorcycles, playing with Jeff.. it was all so simple and basic and she was really, really happy. I know she loves nature and bugs and food and people so much more than store-bought toys and television and shopping but it was a lesson I needed to see again. I already know that living simply and presently can bring joy but it’s so easy to be influenced by friends and society and constantly being surrounded by things you think you want. This is definitely factoring in as something to keep in mind for our future as I plan where to move and what to do next.Coco was so disappointed when it was time to leave. To keep my sanity I knew I had to get her bed at a decent hour. This is one of the sucky parts of single parenting. If I was there with my husband I would have felt more comfortable returning to our hotel late at night in the dark and I would have someone to share parenting the tired child with the next day. I know from experience that I manage much better when we are both well-rested so we said good-bye and headed back to get her in bed on time. Juliet and Tony refused take any money from me but I slipped 500 pesos under a mat and told Jeff to let them know after our taxi disappeared from site. They were so giving and so generous that I didn’t feel right after they fed us both lunch and dinner including alcohol for me! They were such delightful, hospitable people and it was truly an enjoyable evening.
The next day Coco had the pool to herself! She was disappointed she had no playmates but she made the best of it. She chatted with the lifeguard while I did some blogging and planning for our next couple of weeks: birthday party, moving and more traveling!
As I was typing and watching Coco out of the corner of my eye jumping and doing flips into the water I thought about how amazing it is to have her here with me. We don’t have the huge extended family around like Juliet and Tony. We wouldn’t even if we remained in the States. Our family, and certainly her family from birth, is spread out across the globe. We don’t have the good fortune of having a huge familiar support network to guide us and bolster us and celebrate with us. It’s just us, we only have each other. Traveling with my sweet baby is so special and helps to bond us when we are together 24/7 without teachers and friends and yayas. She is learning all the time and it’s so fun to experience with her. Just this trip she climbed her first tree, ate new foods, visited a new city and saw her first waterfall. I experienced some firsts as well and it’s so special to do that together. I felt myself thinking about her at age 8, 10, 12 and where we will be and what she will know. Will she be bilingual? On a swim team? A big sister? Will she have a dog? Be part of a large family? Still rock a cute ‘fro? I hope she appreciate what I am trying to do for her, for us, when she looks back on it. I hope that by making her a citizen of the world she will be more prepared for our global society and able to communicate and relate to all sorts of people. I also hope to find a place in the next few years where we can settle in and build a community. A place for her to call home and to make roots. I hope giving her the combination of experiences will help make her into a well-rounded, analytical, curious child. I know that by having her in my life I feel the push to make myself a better person, too. It’s really special, this parenting thing. Hard as all get out but really, really special.
After a few hours in the pool we checked out and had a late lunch. We grabbed a cab to make our way to the airport. “Where are you from, ma’am?” our cab driver asked. “What country?” “We are American but we live in Manila,” I replied. Whenever asked that I marvel to myself about what we really are. I am American and live in Manila, yes. My daughter is Ethiopia-born with an American passport and citizenship being raised in Manila. Is this really her life? Did I really move across the world alone with a child I adopted by myself? Is this really my life? “I hope one day I can go to America but I don’t have money.” “Yes,” I agreed. “It is very expensive to travel there.” As I spoke the words I thought back to the dinner with Juliet and Tony. They seem happy but do they want more? “I hope one day my daughter will marry an American so I can go, that is my plan. Many Filipino marry American.” Why by the luck of my birth and the country on my passport do I get access to the world? How is it that I am so fortunate to be able to do an international adoption and then pick up and move with my daughter and support us independently? Or am I not lucky? Is he the lucky one? “How old is your daughter?,” I inquired. “Oh my daughter? She is three. I think I will be old man before I can go to America.” I felt my eyes well up with tears. His dream is many years away and until then he will continue to drive a taxi in Cebu. Will he ever visit the New York he has only seen in movies? Will I become part of a large extended family through marriage? Will Coco and I get the large family of siblings for her that we both want? Do people innately just want what they don’t have? We arrived at the airport and I paid our fare. I gave him a small tip and he thanked me saying it would help bring more food to his family. Stop!! Please! I almost whipped open my wallet and gave him all the remaining money but I am glad I still had some to donate to the blind musicians in their matching red jackets playing in the airport lobby.
It was all too emotional and I arrived at the airport counter 30 minutes before our 4:00 flight ready to check in and get on the flight only to be turned away at the counter. You must arrive at Cebu Pacific 45 minutes before the flight, no exceptions. We had no luggage to check (I packed super light with only a few changes of clothes, a laptop, camera and swimwear in our backpacks) and we had ample time to get to the gate. Irrelevant. No grace period with Cebu Pacific! I was told to go to the ticket office and rebook on a later flight. Seriously? Yup, they were serious as a heart attack. I entered the crowded booking office and waited for my number to be called. When I met with the agent no amount of whining and complaining got me anywhere. They let the plane leave with our seats empty and told me to rebook for the 6:00 fight. Agitated about the hour and a half I was going to have to kill I was really pissed when she told me there would be a rebooking fee of 800 pesos. I whipped out my calculator: $18.50. Each. Ouch. Then she took my eticket printout, looked up our flight and then delivered more bad news: “Oh, you got a sale ticket. If there are no more seats at that price (yeah, right) you will have to pay the difference in the fare.” Of course there were no more sale seats so the amount owed? 5550 pesos or $127!!! What could I do? Pay or remain in Cebu for the rest of my days. “Fine,” I grumbled. “But can you charge the same credit card? I don’t have enough cash and I didn’t bring my credit card. “No ma’am, we have to swipe it. You can pay in cash, there is an ATM on the other side of the lobby.” “Okay, fine,” I said as I stood up. “But ma’am just so you know, there are only four seats left at that price.” “AND THEN WHAT?” I responded especially aggravated now and trying my best to keep my voice down at an appropriate level. “If they sell out before you return,” she said calmly, “you will have to pay the next highest price or wait for the next flight at 10:30pm.”
I snatched Coco’s hand and raced across the airport like a contestant on The Amazing Race. I swiftly withdrew P5000 and dashed back to the ticketing office. While waiting my turn my thoughts returned again to Juliet and Tony, the employees of White Sands resort who got to enjoy the pool for one day, the taxi driver and the musicians. I was able to make 5000p materialize when needed in a pinch. We made our flight and while Coco entertained herself by pulling the paper off of her crayons and making them into a crayon family I reflected on the turn of events. Why was I given certain advantages and others not? If given them then isn’t it our responsibility to take advantage of them? For all of us who can travel and go to college and afford adoption and experience all the world has to offer, shouldn’t we? By not doing that are we wasting our opportunities in a sense? Yes, I want a strong family unit for me and Coco also but is fair to it to have both? So many deep thoughts as the plane took off and we headed home. Home to Manila where our yaya was waiting for us at the front door.
Cebu was so much more than just a short beach vacation at the end of the school year! Who knew it was going to cause so much thought and self-analysis? So many thoughts as I type this from my dining room table this morning. Coco is off on a playdate and I am about to tie up the loose ends on her birthday happenings tomorrow. I have to pick up the cake and some wrapping paper. I also need to confirm with the movers for Saturday and register for an online graduate class. We are back to our crazy busy lives over here and I find myself missing the simplicity of Cebu. And tomorrow when she blows out the candles on her cake it will be just me and her yaya clapping for her and celebrating her turning four.