From the Bottom

“If you want to be a good writer, you have to know what the bottom looks like,” my godfather told me as he lifted his beer bottle to his lips. Rain was pounding down outside, the humidity disappearing with the strong blast of the A/C.

I looked him in the eye and nodded, because after two weeks in the Philippines I knew exactly what he meant.

***

Growing up in Canada I have always been reminded to count my blessings and that I “have it so much easier” than my parents ever did. Growing up, I was always told stories of hour-long commutes to school, of not having enough food to eat, of hand-me-down clothes, and single-parent families.

And growing up, I would hear it but I wouldn’t completely understand it.

But in the summer of 2014, after 18 weeks in New Zealand, after two and a half in Australia, after three weeks at my Lola’s house in Montalban, I got it.

That summer I did and saw things I only dreamed about as a child. Did things I thought I had the guts to do. Saw things I wouldn’t find at home.

I sat in the tricycles, held on for dear life on the jeepneys, ate the street food, shopped through the Divisoria, visited Fort Santiago and met people I never got to before.

I think my first reaction upon arriving in the Philippines was how cheap everything was. You could get food for less than a dollar, travel for less than two, and watch a movie for five.

Yet as I experienced the country, paid for the things at a cheap and super, affordable price, telling myself this isn’t bad at all, I also passed by these children all the time, these families all the time, who sometimes have nothing.

And it was a terrifying and emotional sight to see, because when you’re faced with the reality of a huge portion of the country you couldn’t help but wonder: If I had stayed there, wouldn’t that be me?

***

I have seen both sides. I have lived both sides. And I have learned to embrace both.

Drake’s song sometimes plays in my head when I think about it. My great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, my father, my family…

Now we’re here.

But my uncle is right: I had to see it first, know it first, understand it first… so I could be good, but also do good.

I once was there.

And I can’t forget that.

 

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