I haven’t written anything down in a few weeks. Thoughts here and there, but nothing too substantial. I realize there’s been an internal struggle that I’ve been trying to make sense of. Riding the constantly changing waves of life and energy that flow to me and through me. Being in the cool air of Baguio, the caves and mountains of Sagada, the traffic of Manila, the streets of Quezon City, the markets of Quiapo, the sites of Bataan, the organic farms of Los Banos. Seeing the museums, cemeteries, churches, houses, malls, neighborhoods rich and poor. Philippines is vast and wide, varied and complex.
I guess I’ve just been searching for something to speak to me…
Something, an energy, an aura, a presence, a spirit. This is the country that my parents, their parents, and their parents parents came from. My blood descends from the people that have lived and died here. And yet I feel only a partial connection. Well that’s not true, I do feel a strong connection when it comes to talking about stories of our family from ages past. But what I’m saying is the sense of belonging or “my people”, is a flickering fire within me, a constant flux of burning strong and dimming down to a small flame, an ever varying back and forth flow.
The truth is, you can’t accept one world, say from where your blood comes from, if you don’t also accept the world where you learned to function and grow in the first place. I was raised in Canada, and therefore have the mentalities of the people, the systems, and the media from that part of the world. But being in the Philippines for the past 3 months has helped me realize that my home life, of family, relatives and Filipino friends, was very much shaped by the beliefs and practices from this place, thousands of miles away from where I was raised.
So I can see now that being here is a very important part of my journey in this realization process of identity and self. There are thoughts and actions that my parents would often take, that didn’t make much sense to me growing up in Canada, but are now crystal clear having been exposed to everyday life here. The term ‘hiya’ in particular comes to mind. There’s a constant way to carry oneself in this country, no matter where you are or who you’re around.
The best way to translate Hiya is to think of it as the decorum that is expected of you in your relationships with others. Expectations are put on you the second you’re involved in an interactive situation with another person here. There are things you “should do” and things you “shouldn’t do”, and whether you know these rules or not, you will most certainly be judged by these unspoken guidelines that are put before you to follow.
There’s just too many situations to get into here, but suffice it to say, you’ll get a first hand chance to experience hiya, the longer you stay in the Philippines. I like to think of it in the way that “you haven’t really been to Philippines unless you’ve offended someone”. It’s just a part of the way of life here that stems from the generations of growing up with a colonized system of thought, mixed in with the tribal society of life before that. The guiding idea is that your actions are not just about yourself, but of the people that may be affected around you. My Tita said to me this morning at breakfast, “you can do whatever you want, but if your actions will affect the family, then you have to report to everyone about what you do.” Hmmm, some interesting food for thought from my dad’s oldest sister, and the 3rd of 10 in the hierarchy of my family elders.
I guess that’s the big difference between growing up in the North American practices of Canada. We’re often able to live very independent solitary lives, checking in with our family at regular intervals when it’s appropriate or convenient to do so. Holidays, weekends, time off, are often when we can catch up with the fam and say ‘what’s up?’, but in the Philippines it is very different. What you do daily can have an affect on everyone around you, and if that’s case, which it often is, you will be held accountable for the outcomes of those actions. Including any debts, insult, or lack of respect that may occur.
The good news is that most family situations can be settled by accepting responsibility for the mistake, and taking action to make the wrong things right. But I can tell you from the upbringing of where I grew up, it’s not the easiest thing to admit you’re wrong, when you didn’t even know about the unspoken rules in the first place. The concept you’ll often here, when you listen to Filipinos talking about other Filipinos, is as simple as the notion “I shouldn’t have to tell them, they should already know.” And sometimes us Balikbayans really just don’t know. But we’ll certainly get to learn what to do for next time. Seeing that most likely we’ll screw up in the process during our initial times out and about, meeting family and friends over here in the Philippines for the first time.