Friday, November 03, 2006

An Ode to my Grandmother

October 14 - I’m on a plane right now as I write this, Philippine Airlines flight PR 104 from Manila to San Francisco. I think this is the longest airline flight I've had in a long time. The last time I flew to the United States was when I was twelve with my grandmother.

I was always my Lola (Filipino for 'Grandma') Luz’s favorite grandchild, and she took me practically everywhere. Actually, I was her first and only grandchild for some time, which probably contributed to the favoritism. Anyway, when I say she took me practically everywhere, I mean practically everywhere… she was an art and fashion teacher, and she would take me with her to class; she was also the school dance troupe adviser, and she would take me with them on tour; and if there was anything my grandmother was, she was the consummate bargain hunter, and she would take me on her infamous budget shopping sprees. When she brought me to the United States, she spent a great deal of her time dragging me from one garage sale to another. She reveled in finding treasure in other people’s throwaways. Growing up, one of my memories of America was that it was the Land of Garage Sales. Living on $50 a day, a Lola Luz mentality would probably be of great help.

On the way back from that first trip to America, I cried on the plane thinking I would never be able to go back. I don’t come from a very well-off family, and the only way I was able to make that trip was because my grandmother was a very intelligent woman who got a lot of scholarship grants all over the world. The mileage she earned from her trips – that small Asian woman backpacked all over Europe long before Lonely Planet – went a long way to bringing her favorite grandson with her to the US. As I cried, she assured me with unwavering certainty that I would be back. Twenty years later, she would be proven right, although she never got to see her prophecy fulfilled.

My grandmother passed away from breast cancer several years ago in the United States. She had emigrated when I was a teenager, and when she fell ill, my parents had planned to send me to see her or to at least attend her funeral. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as the consulate at the US Embassy didn’t think I had compelling reasons to return to the Philippines and my visa application promptly got denied. The next time I saw my grandmother was in the form of an ornate marble urn after her ashes were flown in.

In a curious twist of fate, several years later, it was that very same consulate – I don’t think I could forget him – who approved my visa to participate in the 5 Takes program. He did so with great reservation, apparently, granting me only the bare minimum to go – a single-entry visa that expires exactly on the day I am scheduled to fly back with a Report Back Letter that requires me to personally appear at the US Embassy when I return to the Philippines to prove that I was not, in his words, “bumming around somewhere in the US.” I have a great many things to say to that consulate, but that’s for another time, another story. For now, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for giving me a chance to prove myself.

Now, as our plane nears San Francisco, my journey officially begins. Our flight got delayed by two hours, which means I’ll miss my connecting flight to Las Vegas. I’ll be meeting the other TJs much later than I anticipated, but this is the kind of challenge that I relish. I’ve been booked for a flight early the next day, which means I’ll have a bit of time to kill in San Francisco. Even though I don’t have a video camera, I’ll try to take pictures of my short stay to show you guys how it goes. When I was young, my grandmother took me everywhere with her. Now, I take her with me everywhere I go. I know her spirit is with me, and everything I ever learned from her (which is quite a lot – the woman was a sage) will come to the fore during this trip. Lola Luz, this is for you. I hope I make you proud.


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