My Birth Province

If Charles Dickens was a Filipino, he would have enjoyed living in my birth province called Cavite.  He would have had plenty of materials for his novels.

Officially, Cavite is the birthplace of Philippine independence and home to a thousand and one heroes and martyrs.  Historically, Cavite had been host to many a convention for freedom and the cite for struggle of the secret societies fighting for Filipino dignity as a people.  Recently, Cavite had gained international fame when its own son by the name of Efren Penaflorida was declared CNN hero of the year.  So what did Efren do be distinguished highly in the pedestal of the world stage? Literally, he peddled education to the gang oriented youth in his neighborhood.  With a pushcart loaded with school paraphernalia, he would stop someplace  where siga-siga boys hang out and improvise a makeshift classroom and teach.  And what did he get in return?  So long as those he taught had caught the discipline and the knowledge and the ripple effect had taken place, then he had as much been paid.  The CNN citation was an unforeseen bonus.  But it was a very much welcome bonus because it was an affirmation that his work was on the right track. And the prize money was much needed for more supplies like paper and pencil.  And of course, books.

What more could Charles Dickens want for a setting?  Cavite is rich with stories from the fisherfolks.  The land, the sea, and the people are one. The fishermen set out early, before dawn, to catch the fish.  The women, accompanied by the children, wait up at the beach with large banyera ( huge basin) for the catch.  Some they sell in the marketplace, some they sun dry or oven cook as daing at tinapa (salted or steamed fish).  Some they take home for family meals such as pinais or paksiw or sinigang.

Cavite is also full of tales from the farmers who tended the pineapple fields and the mango orchards.  And the unusually cold climate surrounding the famous but tiny volcano called Taal sort of made every angle seem correct for a powerful story.  Love story, adventure, action, name it, Cavite is set for it.

Once, not too long ago, the names of Tiagong Akyat (James the robber) and Nardong Putik  (Leonard the mud avenger) had been  household bywords.   So was the heroic Pepeng Agimat (Joseph with the amulet) .  Protagonist or not, these characters instill fear and hero worship amongst the common folks.  The people hail bravery and courage. An innate trait.

As of late, rumor has it that the belleaguered senator Panfilo Lacson, implicated for a decade-old double murder case, is just hiding in the rugged terrains of Cavite.  This is the safest hideout, so they say, because a fellow Caviteno would never squeal.  An inborn trait.

I do visit Cavite annually, not because I really want to, but because it is my obligation to pay the taxes.  I have, long ago, adjudged myself as  the uncaring child of this province.  Why so?  I find the drinking water rather salty.  Then there is the matter of fish smell in the air.  And the ordinary folks are as ordinary as they can get.   Young and old mumbo-jumbo in front of their homes at around 5 in the afternoon.  And their eyes follow you long after your shadow had already disappeared. And they would talk to you, too, and tell you your family tree. You cannot show disinterestedness.  That is offensive.  And the people has the capacity to remember faces and events way back to times best forgotten.

So I did make my yearly pilgrimage to Cavite day before yesterday.  Nothing much changed in the infrastructure nor the people. The vicinity where the munisipyo is located is still packed with vendors, tricycles, jeepneys, and drivers.  There is not a corner that hasn’t been turned into a male urinal.  And the foul odor pervades the air. A kanto boy disguises himself as a parking attendant.  The 5 peso tip is good enough for a couple of cigarette sticks, I guess.  And my daughter, whom I coerced to accompany me, was as disgusted as she can be. But  I cautioned her not to put a face.  Good or bad, the ordinary people make the world livelier for each one of us.

My Tita Luning and cousin Mike received us in our ancestral home.  The humble abode had become smaller through the years.  Or perhaps we had grown bigger and had taken for granted the once familiar things.  On fleeting glances, I noticed how every nook and corner had been kept clean and tidy.  Our conversations had delved on the personal and the political, aside from the skirmish or intrigue or gossip about some  kin.  No matter the differences in opinions, we did ROFL  and LOL about some silly thing.  But the pain and the longing is in the heart.  Cousin Junjun had decided to make the faraway Zamboanga his home.  Cavite had been the home of his growing up.  But not anymore.

And so perhaps did my parents who now reside in Los Angeles, miles and miles across the Pacific. And my aunties and cousins who had found some better abodes in alien lands.

My travels back to my birth province bring back beautiful memories mixed with sadness.  Sometimes, when I look at the waters, I remember my Uncle Tony who take in deep sighs at the sight of the blue horizon.  I remember my grandmother Lola Naty, too, who nary said a sad story.  She kept it all in her heart.

Perhaps Cavite would one day shine in glory again.  As of now, I know that my dad would never see it again.  But Cavite had been his springboard to life.  And my mom’s, too.  And my Uncle Tony’s.  Ad my Lola Naty’s.  And my cousin Junjun’s.  And because I was born in Cavite. it is my springboard to life, too.

Too bad Charles Dickens never knew the Philippines.  David Copperfield could have had more exciting adventures.

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