from pp. 344 – 345: Barack meets with his half-brother, Mark.
“Other things move me. Beethoven’s symphonies. Shakespeare’s sonnets. I know — it’s not what an African is supposed to care about. But who’s to tell me what I should and shouldn’t care about? Understand, I’m not ashamed of being half Kenyan. I just don’t ask myself a lot of questions about what it all means. About who I really am.” He shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I should. I can acknowledge the possibility that if I looked more carefully at myself, I would . . . ”
For the briefest moment I sensed Mark hesitate, like a rock climber losing his footing. Then, almost immediately, he regained his composure and waved for the check.
“Who knows?” he said. “What’s certain is that I don’t need the stress. Life’s hard enough without all that excess baggage.”
We stood up to leave, and I insisted on paying the bill. Outside we exchanged addresses and promised to write, with a dishonesty that made my heart ache. When I got home, I told Auma how the meeting had gone. She looked away for a moment, then broke out with a short, bitter laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“I was just thinking about how life is so strange. You know, as soon as the Old Man died, the lawyers contacted all those who might have a claim to the inheritance. Unlike my mum, Ruth has all the documents needed to prove who Mark’s father was. So of all of the Old Man’s kids, Mark’s claim is the only one that is uncontested.
She believes it was fate that brought her here, after all these years in California. Fate is what guided her. Yes, some invisible hand drew her here and lifted the scales from her eyes and also put people in her path who were able to help her.
It all began almost two years ago, when self was invited by Karina Bolasco of Anvil to be on a panel of the International PEN conference in Cebu, December 2010. It was fate that led her to pass by Bacolod instead of heading straight home to Manila. It was fate, or perhaps all those years in America, and/or all the books she’d written, that nurtured her independence. Without that independence, she would never have developed the strength and resourcefulness to be where she is now, that gave her the will to fight.
And even during this, her seventh visit to Bacolod in a little less than two years, fate leads her to Daku Balay, and tells her, Woman, the answers are here. Here in this grand old house that your grandfather, the most ambitious man in the island of Negros, built from nothing. You, American granddaughter of Lolo Gener, you will fight anyone who says you don’t have a right to be here. You’ve come full circle now. Fate brought you to the house of your father’s youth. Fate chose you.
Self still has a stack of local papers to read through.
On p. 3 of the Oct. 30, 2012 issue of The Visayan Daily Star, there is an article on poor, sick, old ex-President of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Gloria used to be self’s economics teacher in high school. She was very erudite, but not particularly interesting: So it was quite a shock when self discovered that her economics teacher had become president of the country.
When Gloria was self’s teacher, she looked like a 12-year-old. She had a round face and short hair. She was very small. But, she was also very direct, one of the most direct teachers self ever had, growing up. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Former president Gloria Arroyo refused to enter a plea yesterday on a graft charge that could see her jailed for life, as she appeared in court wheelchair-bound and wearing a neck brace.
Arroyo sat quietly as Judge Efren de la Cruz read the charge that she had plundered 366 million pesos (approx. nine million dollars) in state lottery funds during her time as president from 2001-2010.
* * *
Arroyo ended her time in power as one of the country’s most unpopular presidents, amid allegations she had cheated to win elections, embraced feared warlords as allies, and was involved in widespread corruption.
Her successor, Benigno Aquino, won a landslide election after vowing to fight corruption and prosecute Arroyo.
* * *
Court resolutions to these cases are expected to drag on for years in the country’s slow justice system.
In pictures, self barely recognizes her. Why did this vibrant woman turn overnight into this almost unrecognizable invalid? What happened to her?
Self will finish up with yet another quote from Dreams of My Father, by Barack Obama. In the passage below, Barack’s aunt Zeituni takes him to seem some relatives who are so destitute that Obama is ashamed for not being able to give more money:
My aunt turned away and, forcing a smile, waved to Auma. And as we began to walk forward, she added, “I will tell you this so you will know the pressure your father was under in this place. So you don’t judge him too harshly. And you must learn from his life. If you have something, then everyone will want a piece of it. So you have to draw the line somewhere. If everyone is a family, no one is a family. Your father, he never understood this, I think.
In Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Barack Obama writes:
What is a family? Is it just a genetic chain, parents and offspring, people like me? Or is it a social construct, an economic unit, optimal for child rearing and divisions of labor? Or is it something else entirely: a store of shared memories, say? An ambit of love? A reach across the void?
One thing about America: You make your own family. It can consist of a cat, a dog, a beloved teacher, a neighbor or neighbors, your best college chums, your editor(s), your publisher(s), your friendly local librarian — the permutations are bewildering and endless.
Self was in the Daku Balay again. She even braved the inner sanctum and took pictures of a few of the employees of the family corporation, Genen.
Self promised to bring over 10 boxes of pizza, next time.
You don’t really understand power unless you’ve lived in Bacolod. At least, self didn’t.
America is about privacy. The suburbs swallow you up, and you become just like everybody else. John Lee Hooker, the great R & B/ jazz singer, lived in Redwood City, just blocks from self’s home, and she found out only after he died, in 2001. This deep privacy can be either a comfort or a form of erasure.
Self’s quote of the day comes from Mongol, a movie about the early life of Genghis Khan, directed by Sergei Bodrov.
(BTW, that was one wiiiild movie, dear blog readers! Borderline cheesy and over-the-top! Just the kind of movie self thoroughly enjoys!)
Here was one trenchant line:
Do not scorn a weak cub, for he may become a brutal tiger.
Amazing, there are crosswalks on Lacson Street. How is it that self never saw them before? It took the kind proprietor of Burloloy, a jewelry store on Mayfair (She went there to shop for Christmas presents and other fabulous indulgences. Cousin Mae introduced her to the designer, Richard, in March), to point them out.
Self was complaining that every time she crosses Lacson Street, she feels as if she is taking her life in her hands. She’s been wanting to go to Burloloy since she first arrived, she told him, but she just never managed the energy to walk to Mayfair. Richard took her to the sidewalk and pointed. There, before self’s disbelieving eyes, was a crosswalk. Wide as all get-out.
Bacolod fries her brains! Disorders her thinking! Makes her crave masahe every day!
Today self had a one-hour Swedish massage in Bacolod Spa (Only 250 pesos: about $6!).
She got rice cakes and turon from the Bacolod Organic Market.
She bought the Negros Daily Bulletin (Front Page Headline: DRIVE VS ILLEGAL ACTS DOES NOT EXEMPT COPS!) and the Visayan Daily Star.
She finished the Valerie Trueblood story, which she will use to end this post.
And she found out that burloloy = the Tagalog word butingting.
Anyhoo, self bought this fabulous burloloy for 280 pesos (about $7). Isn’t it bee-yoo-ti-ful, dear blog readers? Goes so well with her neon pink blouse!
You know, it just feels so right to be buying things like this in Bacolod, when ordinarily the words “bling” + “self” simply do not go together! Especially back home in good ol’ Redwood City! Where the most significant outings of self’s day are to the library or to Redwood Nursery! Lately, the biggest thing on self’s social calendar is a movie at the local Century 20!
The other thing self noticed about herself when she is in Bacolod is that she likes to use her brightest, reddest lip gloss, almost every day. Sure, Bacolod is a grungy provincial town, not particularly beautiful. But self feels vibrant when she is there.
Anyhoo, self promised to end with a quote from the Valerie Trueblood story, “Suitors,” and she shall. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!
What were those big white flowers in the next field? Where? There, in the grass. He threw back his head and laughed.
The laugh, Lali had said, is an attribute of the man, and if you delight in it, go forward.
“Flowers! Those are calves.” He was still laughing, bent over with it. “Herefords. That’s their white faces.” The calves were lying down, hidden in the thick grass.
“I’m a vegetarian,” Meg said.
He remembered she had mentioned that. He had a good recall, it turned out, for everything she had said at that first meeting. He was ready to change many things, though the difficulty would be in changing himself. Never mind that, she said.
The next story in the collection is called “Choice in Dreams” and begins:
Molly was hoping to have a dream in which she didn’t disgrace herself, in which she got to be an innocent tourist.
Last night, having dinner on Sixth Street with her cousins, self discovered that the wife of her Manong Monching was in the iconic Peque Gallaga movie, Oro Plata Mata. Manong Monching’s wife has a few seconds in the party scene, filmed in the Gaston House in Manapla.
Self nearly faints. Vicky is so pretty. She has short hair, like a boy’s, and very fair skin. She has two gorgeous daughters.
Self thinks about all the books she lugged to Bacolod in her suitcase and girds her loins. She will make one last attempt to recover her equanimity and read.
This morning, she’s reading a wonderful Valerie Trueblood story, “Suitors,” which is in the collection Marry or Burn. The daughter in the story, Meg, reminds self so much of the placid daughter in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. But, in contrast with the Coetzee novel, this Valerie Trublood story is about love. Love which flowers unexpectedly in the hearts of the most ordinary, plain-looking people.
Meg has acquired two suitors through a dating service. She chooses Kevin. The “Lali” in the excerpt below is the manager of the dating service Meg used. “Sam” is the narrator’s husband, and Meg’s father.
One day Kevin was standing in front of his high school juniors happily scanning “The Wanderer” when his aorta burst.
In Marfan’s syndrome the aorta can be as weak and decayed as a strand of old kelp, and no one will suspect it.
After he died Meg stopped going to work. She locked the door on the apartment where they had lived, without even cleaning it, let alone subletting it while there was no salary to pay for it, and came home. It may sound as though we were the kind of parents who secretly wanted their daughter back, but in this period we came close to telling Meg she might be happier staying with Lali, who had invited her. Because there was nothing we could do but get up and go through the day with her, while hopelessly trapped in the parental obligation of rescue, with Sam already wandering the house new to his retirement and susceptible to despair. She had not come home to be with us, though, so much as to be as she had been before, thereby repudiating, even obliterating, the happiness of two years. Finding this impossible, she mourned with a silent concentration.
Yeah, she knows. She knows! She would have given anything to be able to cast her vote for Obama. Now she can only pray.
The only other time she missed the election was in 2004. She was a visiting writer in Miami University in Ohio. The campus was alive with trees in autumn splendor. Football games were in full swing.
Self would return from teaching her class and watch The Daily Show. The night of the elections, she watched in stupefaction as Jon Stewart called state after state for Bush. In the end, there were only two little smears of blue on the whole map of the United States. They enclosed the red heart of American states like two parentheses: one on the East Coast, one on the West. There might have been little blobs of blue here and there, self can’t be sure. “If it makes you feel any better,” one of her students told her the next day, “it was close.”
Self is still enthralled by the Obama book. She’s just begun Part III (It’s taken her weeks to get here). Obama, on his way to visit Kenya, his father’s native land, is “a Westerner not entirely at home in the West, an African on his way to a land full of strangers.” Self feels she and Obama have similar journeys.
On the way to Kenya, he stops over in Europe. All through his European sojourn, he is “edgy, defensive, hesitant with strangers.” He writes:
I hadn’t planned it that way. I had thought of the layover there as nothing more than a whimsical detour, an opportunity to visit places I had never been before. For three weeks I had traveled alone, down one side of the continent and up the other, by bus and by train mostly, a guidebook in hand. I took tea by the Thames and watched children chase each other through the chestnut groves of Luxembourg Garden. I crossed the Plaza Mejor at high noon, with its De Chirico shadows and sparrows swirling across cobalt skies; and watched night fall over the Palatine, waiting for the first stars to appear, listening to the wind and its whispers of mortality.
And by the end of that first week or so, I realized that I made a mistake. It wasn’t that Europe wasn’t beautiful; everything was just as I’d imagined it. It just wasn’t mine. I felt as if I were living out someone else’s romance; the incompleteness of my own history stood between me and the sites I saw like a hard pane of glass. I began to suspect that my European stop was just one more means of delay; one more attempt to avoid coming to terms with the Old Man. Stripped of language, stripped of work and routine — stripped even of the racial obsessions to which I’d become so accustomed and which I had taken (perversely) as a sign of my own maturation — I had been forced to look inside myself and had found only a great emptiness there.
Self spent all morning in her room, attempting to work.
She waited until noon to emerge from her nest.
Then she lunched at Café Uma which, along with the Negros Museum Café, is one of her two favorite restaurants in Bacolod.
She was trying to reach 21 so she’d have a way to compare their Extra Special Batchoy with the Café Uma Batchoy, but she got distracted (as usual) and ended up having lunch (crab cakes and mango salad: Yummm!) at the café.
Dessert today was cassava cake and vanilla ice cream. Heaven!
Afterwards, it was too hot to do anything, so she headed back to her room. Of course, she first encountered the smiling staff at the front desk: Pauline, Jessa, Grace, Ferdinand. All of them have been here since the very first time self visited the hotel: December, 2010.
They’ve all met Zack. And anxiously await self’s future visitors — perhaps sole fruit of her loins? Perhaps The Man himself?
Just another weekend in a sleepy, provincial city!
Self spent the morning in Santa Fe Resort. She poked around among the cottages, got a peep inside the “Oscar Villas” (Very nice!) and had some tanguingue with rice with brewed coffee. She certainly wasn’t hungry, but the way self sees it, there are only two ways to go: One, she can continue losing weight as she did (drastically), her first week here. Her driver disappeared (paid off, ha ha ha, by her loving familia: she hopes he is rich now and able to buy his own punong) and that was quite an unpleasant surprise.
Or, two, she could force herself to regain her former appetite and return to a semblance of her usual rotundity. She of course chose the latter route. It is best not to attract notice by shrinking to half one’s size in one week. Especially since she had the misfortune to acquire a seriously disfiguring black eye, only her second night in Bacolod, and gossip was going around here, there and everywhere (Exhibit A: Chef Guido at the Negros Museum Café, overwhelmed with curiosity only 30 seconds after meeting her: “How’d you get the black eye?”)
Anyhoo, self ordered the tanguingue, produced by a very excited chef (Junior, self thinks his name was), and since she ordered it, she of course had to eat it. With rice. And then the coffee. And then she could hardly sit up straight, her jeans were so tight.
Never mind! Self did get to see the ruins of Cactus Hall, which used to be the venue for elegant parties, with all the prettiest belles of Bacolod, including Dearest Mum (The first time she came, everyone seemed to want to call forth memories of her Dear Departed Dad. As her presence has grown more and more familiar, however, now everyone seems to want to call forth memories of her Dearest Mum)
Then self returned to her hotel, just in time to avoid a really thunderous downpour. Then she went to the Salon one floor up, to be healed by yet another “blow-dry” (Her hair is now moussed and hairsprayed to the max. If her hair were longer, her “do” might begin to resemble Imelda’s beehive). Then she tried to call Philippine Airlines. Then she called her home in California, and The Man picked up. Upon learning when self would be returning home (When self left, she kept the date “open”), he said: “No one will come trick or treating because there are no Halloween decorations up. You are going to have to eat every single last piece of candy you bought.” Since self bought 4 lbs. of Snickers and Milky Way bars, that is quite a daunting prospect, dear blog readers. But self has no compunction about gaining weight in California. For one thing, over there, she has no social life. She could go around 24/7 in a duster and flip-flops, and weigh 250 lbs., and no one would notice. Oh, the wonders of America! All you have to do is breathe the air and, self swears, you gain five pounds!
Then she went to 18th Street Pala-Pala and ordered a dozen fresh oysters, and specified she wanted them grilled with plenty of garlic. She ate everything in something like 10 minutes. They were teensy oysters, not the behemoths she had last March, in Punta Taytay. She made the waiter swear she would not get an upset stomach by eating so many oysters in one go. He kept nodding and smiling encouragingly.
Now she is going to try and catch a ride to the airport so that she can change her damn ticket and head back home in time to vote for Obama. (On second thought: she took one look at the driver and she just could not imagine herself making small talk all the way to the Bacolod Airport and back. No offense, dear driver, but self has been chattering like a magpie with sundry curious people, since early this morning. She decided to pursue the ticket change thing tomorrow. So now she is once again ensconced in her room, wondering what that brown bug with the two twitchy antennae is, the one that’s crawling down the white blinds at this very moment. It doesn’t seem to be a cockroach, which is a relief. On the other hand, self hates the thought of falling asleep and having the unknown bug crawling on top of her and perhaps taking a bite out of her while she is unconscious. She stops blogging to hunt around for a slipper to smack the brown bug with, but by the time she has armed herself, the bug has disappeared. Eeeek! It might even have crawled up to her bed!)
Oh! Self almost forgot: This morning, she shot her first handgun with live rounds. There was a terrific noise, and because she was holding the gun very limply when she fired it, the weapon ricocheted and she cut her thumb. Why does everything have to happen to self?
Well, at least she hasn’t killed herself, yet. Which is something The Man is constantly telling her she will do, one of these days.