A Visit with My Parents

A Visit with My Parents

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

A Visit with My Parents

Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings.

~Hodding Carter

While I was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines, my parents came to visit me. They arrived three days before my birthday. We rested one day in the capital city of Manila before embarking on the twenty-four-hour boat ride to the small island of Sibuyan where I was assigned.

The heat was intense inside the ship’s cabin. Rows of bunk beds with vinyl mats filled the small space, and every bed had at least one body. I had advised my parents to dress conservatively in below-the-knee attire to adhere to the cultural norms. Dad, who is claustrophobic by nature, sweated miserably in his pants and collared shirt; Mom fared little better in culottes and a T-shirt.

I lay on my bunk, accustomed to the discomfort and worried about how they would do once we actually arrived on the island. I lived in an eight-by-ten-foot hut by the ocean, without electricity, plumbing, beds or window screens.

Upon our arrival, we traveled to my host family’s house in a 1970s vintage motorcycle with a creatively welded sidecar. There waiting for us were my host mother Nanay, father Tatay, two sisters Gina and Nene, and brother Bindel. Like the timid first meeting of spouses in a prear-ranged marriage, my two families stared inquisitively at each other as we sat together in the bamboo rest house.

Both had been anticipating this in-person assembly. After the initial introductions were complete, my mother with wavering voice tried to express in broken and simple English the gratitude she felt toward my Filipino hosts for taking care of me as one of their own. In her eyes and in her words, I could sense all of the worries that she had harbored for me in this place so far from home, so foreign. Nanay looked into my mother’s eyes and smiled knowingly. She is the mother of six children.

We washed up at the river, then walked the half-mile through groves of mango and coconut trees, across the swamp outlet, and finally along the seashore to my hut. Mom and Nanay walked together.

As I watched them, I was struck with the awareness of my good fortune. These two amazing women are mine to learn from, to lean on, to love and to be loved by. Nanay possesses an enduring strength and peacefulness much like my own mother. It shows in the way she winnows rice in the wind until her arms won’t raise up any more, in the tender way she holds her first grandchild, and in the way she spoke to me of love, family and the responsibilities of women.

Approaching my little hut, my parents grew quiet as they took in the seemingly impoverished human condition of island life—my life.

Dad stood on the bamboo platform under my roof and cast his eyes seaward. His shoulders bespoke the sad and amazed bewilderment that his eyes would not show me. I had already been living on the island for over a year and was not prepared for how this lifestyle might appear to a “more comfortable” mind, especially my father’s.

He was farm-raised on the ideal that hard work will get you somewhere. When we visited my host father at work, Dad stood solemnly watching as Tatay, clucking and grunting, trudged through the thick mud of his rice field.

He guided a handmade plow with one hand, while wound around the other was a rope leading to the nose of the water buffalo straining against the plow. Tatay has toiled that way all of his sixty-seven years, and he will continue to do so until his body won’t let him. Tatay and Nanay know hard work. Tatay and Nanay have lived hand-to-mouth every day of their lives.

While celebrating my birthday with coworkers from the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources, we unwittingly ended up taking part in the confiscation and seizure of an illegal fisherman’s boat. It was full of dynamite that the fisherman would have used to blast a school of fish, consequently destroying the already damaged corals.

There was some shooting and a boat chase, and the birthday party was over when our group was forced to flee — confiscated boat in tow — for fear of retaliation.

My parents were not comforted in the least by this display of my work environment. I tried to ease their fears and my own threadbare nerves by explaining repeatedly that this was not a normal day on the job.

At night, we retired to the comforts of my bamboo floor and the darkness, where Mom and Dad cringed in horror at the sounds of rats and mice scuttling, lizards chuckling, palm-sized spiders leaping, and carnivorous cockroaches gnawing just beyond the flimsy mesh barriers of their mosquito nets. While I slept soundly, my parents had an altogether different experience. In my mother’s words, “It seemed as if dawn would never come.”

When dawn did arrive, we were up at the crack of it. And I was the one, this time, cracking the whip. Chore time! Water needed to be fetched, food scavenged for, laundry soaked and scrubbed, and a fire started to heat the day’s cooking and drinking water.

The day before my parents departed from the Philippines, we had lunch at a hotel overlooking the island’s shore. As we finished eating, I glanced over at Dad and the look on his face stilled me. I saw tears where I hadn’t seen them in years.

I asked him what was wrong. He shook his head and, looking deeply at my mother, he said, “We’ve seen so little of the world, other people, other customs, other ways of living.” He paused before continuing, “Thank you, Leah, thank you for opening our eyes.”

~Leah Burgess

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