Home is indeed where the heart is.
I was out of the country when a tragedy struck my hometown Bohol in the Philippines. It was at the airport when a friend called me about a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that ruined many buildings, churches, homes and left loved ones with less family members. I immediately called my mom and was thankfully able to connect to her. Her voice was shaky and she was talking about my brother not being home. After a minute, her voice turned panicky because another aftershock is happening. I could hear her running and saying that they have to go out to an open space. That was about 30 minutes after the big one struck. I could hear people around her talking nervously about what they need to do. Then another shock came, and they were shouting and running again. It took about an hour to convince myself to put the phone down and that they’re going to be fine. At that time, the aftershock was almost every other minute. It was a blur of news and messages days and weeks after that.
However, that was 2 months ago.
Flying from Manila to Bohol, the view from the plane was beautiful and familiar. Those small mounds of rolling hills dotted with some brown areas where the land sunk in, the long white sand beach, small roads lined with coconut trees, and the small airport that always makes me nervous whenever the plane is landing. As the plane skidded to a stop, I breathed a sigh of relief. I am home at last.
When I got to my parents’ house, I immediately saw cracks on the walls. However, those cracks did not really bother me. I was more bothered about how my family is doing. It was not the visible effects that I was concerned with; it was the emotional toll of the tragedy to my family that I wanted to know. The day after, I experienced an aftershock that lasted seconds. I was not scared but I was disturbed nonetheless. The aftershock made me realize how traumatic the experience was for my family and friends. A small aftershock can still rock a bed; I couldn’t imagine how the actual earthquake felt.
So then, I started asking questions. Expecting to hear sad anecdotes and heart-breaking stories, I tried to ask politely. However, the surprise was on me. When I asked people to recall their experiences, what I get are mostly funny anecdotes of how they ran for safety, or what they did. A cousin was talking about them running together to one place so that they can laugh and chat together. It is one of the characters of Filipinos to look at the brighter side of what happened. I have seen that before and was seeing it again.
Passing by some places that were heavily affected, I saw posters and signs saying thanks to those who helped them. Beside ran down houses and cracked walls and roofs, I saw children running and playing. The make shifts tents are the only proof that something really happened there. I saw old churches ruined, but people were having mass outside. I remember the priest saying that it is not the building that makes the church; it is the people who are the church. As long as there are people, a church is there. That is how a small island with mostly catholic people adapts to a tragedy. People help each other and laugh about it after.
It was a short but poignant visit that reminded me how time flies so fast. I met many people who I do not remember anymore because of how fast they have grown up. As I look around our house and at the neighborhood, I can still see the younger me; playing under that big mango tree, running around with my siblings and cooking imaginary food made out of flowers and leaves. Many things happened there, but I can still breathe that nostalgic smell of my room and be struck at how everything looked smaller. That is how home should always be like.
As my Cebu Pacific flight to Manila lifted up, I looked down to the small island that I have grown up. It is an island that taught me all about family. The people molded me into someone who can take adventures to other foreign countries but still maintain that Filipino character and spirit within. It is a beautiful island with wonderful people, and I know that I will always bring a part of that island with me wherever I go.