Unlearning, Relearning by Daniela Sow

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.

Photo by Lenart Tange, used and adapted under CC.