Ah Manila, my stomping grounds. Such a terrible and fascinating city you are. Your days may be unbearably hot but your nights are cool and long, with the lawlessness of the road and the wind in my hair, the fear and the rush, the terrors and the beauty. I will miss you, wretched beast. Your stench, by God, and the fumes you belch out, but the smiles you produce, there’s nothing quite like it, no, no doubt. Oh, what the sweat, the tears, the blood on your cracked pavement, and all those years tearing through you and circumventing the grave meant. Accept these, our last hurrahs, as we escape from the belly of the beast and wrestle through your jowls. I came to you all on my own, braved you independent and strong, but I leave having been broken to pieces and reassembled as part of a much greater thesis. I’m not just me anymore, I’m a part of my daughter and her father, and together we three have fought through the slaughter and we’ve done it with laughter in the face of disaster. Indeed, Manila, you are no longer our master.
Today it’s official: I’ve been living in Metropolitan Manila for eight years. It’s significant because that’s actually the longest I’ve ever stayed in one city and the most consecutive years spent in any country.
Yes, I’m 26 and I came here eight years ago; that means I moved here at 18. I suppose my “gap year” out of high school to volunteer abroad turned into a bit more than that.
So much has happened in the past eight years and so much of who I am now has been shaped in the Philippines that it’s a bit of a challenge to wrap my head around it.
From volunteering to becoming a teacher to studying and starting a family to founding a corporation and running a nonprofit, I’ve had quite the life here.
Leaving, however, will be bittersweet. I met my companion here, eight years ago. For part of them, we were married; we moved into a cute little house and I gave birth to our daughter in it.
First, it was just the two of us on a motorbike; then we had a car and a baby, then a dog, then a cat. We had a garden and we planted trees in it. We had an aquaponics system full of fish and they were part of the family too, even though we ate them.
“Huisje, beestje, boompje.”
Little house, little animal, little tree.
I will leave my companion here at the end of this year. He will continue practicing permaculture but for the time being, he will do so alone–something we have come to realize is necessary for both of us.
As people, as parents, we must have the courage to make choices that will tear our hearts out, turn our lives upside-down, and force us to move beyond our comfort zone into the place where we become who we are meant to be.
I do find comfort in the knowledge that a part of my heart will remain here, living, breathing, and doing amazing things to make the Philippines a better place–a dream we have shared for years but can no longer pursue together.
Truthfully I cannot imagine it will be long before I return to these islands, if only for a visit, although we never do know what the future will hold.
Nonetheless, the memories will always be there.
Stepping out of the airport into the heavy heat and looking out the window of my ride transported me back to my family’s arrival in the tropical Ivory Coast from the cold, gray Netherlands when I was seven.
Making my way around Manila, I sat many a time in the front of open-air buses on the congested highways, riding alongside daily commuters and truckloads of pigs, getting ear-to-ear smiles from the boys behind me.
I laughed in shock at “KKK” monuments, the “MILF” rebels down south, and “Let’s Talk Dirty” laundromats and tried to keep a straight face when addressing formal acquaintances by their frankly ludicrous nicknames.
I bought a motorcycle that I didn’t know how to ride because I was jealous of watching how easily they zipped around in this potholed maze of a city. On the ride home, I learned how to shift gears while navigating road traffic for the first time in my life.
Only in the Philippines, indeed.
We spent our first new years eve together on the beaches of Puerto Galera, talking and dancing, laughing and crying.
We traveled to mountains and waterfalls, desert islands and white-sand beaches.
We sat at the breakfast table and shared our biggest, boldest dreams. We wrote two business plans together.
We took shifts pacing the living room all through the night and into the early hours of the morning with our newborn baby who refused to sleep.
My little girl and I, we leave the Philippines in good hands and I look forward to bringing her back here to see her father and the world-changing work he has begun.
To continue this moment of nostalgic indulgence, then, here are a few more of the most memorable pictures from my first year in the Philippines.
From wonderful experiences volunteering in Manila and Cebu to enjoying affairs more unique to the Philippines, there has always been lots to see and do.
Indeed, if there is one thing I can say about Manila, and the people of the Philippines, it’s that they know just how to laugh and sing in the face of just about anything.