Umbrellas shield Cebuanos’ faces from sun. I watch
how folks move through streets, selling sweet
biko, bottled water, & sunglasses—their heads laden with wet
towels and hats. A stray dog limps away, his back
leg injured. Trees, maybe narra or kaningag. Many dogs on leashes: cuddled
by their owners. A mother waits for the next jeepney, toddler in tow,
their fingers interlaced. Though trash litters every corner
and crevice, boys in their flip-flops and shorts play
a high-spirited basketball game. An older child serves
bowls of soup from his parents’ outdoor kitchen. Sir. Ma’am.
Homes: built of bamboo, wood, sheet metal, and other scraps.
Flimsy, small, teetering. We pass majestic buildings—
the Rizal Memorial Library and the University of San Carlos.
Like the students with backpacks making their way
through the crowd, I am here to learn, too. I am
mostly unlearning: to peel off privileges, to not think
one way of life is better or worse. To recall my mother’s life
in the province of Zamboanga, how they all slept
on the floor, one room, how she had only a few
outfits to wear to school—which were always pressed,
presentable. I see now shirts, shorts, sheets hanging on
lines, pinned high to dry. Somewhere, a rooster crows
magandang umaga. Sweat runs along my back and brow,
but it is the kind of humidity that I don’t mind. I shove discomfort
into my wallet mixed of pesos and dollars. When I pay
with a Visa for my titos’ clothes at the megamall
and I am asked for my ID, I feel flustered, fumbling
for my passport. My other tito’s oldest daughter just moved
to Daytona, Ohio, last week. He is proud: she is a nurse.
Over wine he tells me stories—
seaman work, an injury, the joy in this home
he had built for his family of five. His wife does not sit
with us to eat; I am told later that this is the custom—
the preparer of the food will eat later. Instead, she stands behind
him briefly, as he sits, dines, bellows at the head of the table.
They are parents hoping that also the second daughter will make it
into the U.S. Clean streets, money flowing like honey,
which they imagine sticking to them, too. They ask me
about comparative costs in San Diego—housing, cars, gas, salary.
I remain open, refraining from coating both ends
of my nest with propolis. I resist the swarm,
choosing instead to channel what feels good
to my pinay soul, to hover and harvest the sticky resin,
to uncover the comb in these caves and hollowed out trees.