She was 26 when she had me. I remember us sporting the same hairstyle back in the day. She was my role model, I was her favorite accessory.
The bond that mommy and I share is more sisterly than it is mother-daughter. We share secrets, gossips, cosmetics, and for many, many years, hairbrushes. We share the same passion in writing too. When I wrote my first poem at 8, she gave me access to an old suitcase filled with diaries, with pages yellowed by years. Kept in each yellowed leaf were verses written for my father and those that she loved before him. I have not ceased writing since.
My love for travel, for instance, is an appendage that evolved from our shared affinity with words. We find poetry in bus stops; in the war between Welcomes and Farewells in boarding gates; in the smell of kerosene on the bunks of inter-island ferries; in tickets tucked between the pages of a hand-me-down book; in luggage tags.
Mommy’s idea of a literary reclusion came in the form of turning her back to the abundant living in the rice paddies and sugarcane fields of Iloilo to work as a volunteer nurse in the Muslim hinterlands of Lanao del Norte back in the 80’s. My one, on the other hand, came in the form of migration to the arse of the globe (to rake the necessary currency in funding a life of endless traveling). But the imageries I found in many of my travels didn’t completely rest on the pleasure of experiencing worlds where nobody knew my name. Part of it was the nagging reminder that I needed my mom beside me, so we can live the dream, exactly the way we dreamed the life— together.
The trip happened on Valentines Day 2 years ago. I invited her over to New Zealand and we explored half of the country by bus for 10 days. We took on the road barely a couple of days after she first flew out of Philippines, got lost in Hongkong Airport, almost missed the connecting flight from Sydney and arrived in Auckland, dismayed by the realization that there were no sheep grazing around. For a child, there was nothing more magical than seeing her mom giddy with excitement like a 5-year old who refuse to sleep the night before a trip to the carnival.
On the day of the trip, she packed sandwiches and boiled eggs, to my amusement. I told her it wasn’t necessary, but the nanay in her insisted. Not only that, she also packed a malong, a set of pajamas, flannels, and a huge bottle of Vicks vapor rub. She also kept cash and travel documents in million different places, “just in case.”
My usually noisy mother was very quiet on the first hours of the trip, taking everything in. She gushed at how I conversed with locals as a local and even naively commented, “don’t you compose a sentence in your head first before you speak? how do you do that– let English roll out of your tongue like that?” She was also amazed at how everyone swiped cards over everything– transport, food, shopping etc. I had to educate her that, yes, we very seldom use cash; yes, just because we swipe it, it doesn’t mean we use credit; yes, it is unlikely that we experience card fraud; and yes, we have insurance in the unlikely event that we experience card fraud. She also realized not long after that her sandwiches and boiled eggs weren’t advisable in fully-airconditioned buses, that there were always hot steak pies and coffee-to-go in most stops.
Between cities, I told her about how lucky we were to be in a country where people are generally trustworthy and helpful, where the crime rate is close to zero, where artists are the most important part of the society and where women are the most powerful. I wasn’t sure if I had her full attention, because she was looking out the window all the time, pointing at snow-capped mountains, geysers that unpleasantly smelt of sulphur and endless greeneries— “parang commercial ng Birch Tree,” in her words. She let out a yelp when she spotted her first sheep, then a second, a third, until she realized that they littered the fields like lice. She counted cows too, commenting that those were way bigger and cleaner than the ones we have back in the Philippines. Our bus was caught in traffic twice because herds of cows needed to cross the motorway, which made her understand what the cow symbol on the roadside signs were. It wasn’t until then that she let herself believe that she was finally in New Zealand.
My mom, like any other mother, was praning. But on the road, we saw a number of cars stopping for hitchhikers. During short stops, we left everything on the bus to have lunch by the lake or take pictures on the nearby gardens. In stations, I was used to leaving my backpack wherever to grab some leaflets on the information center or go to the loo. Mommy would either nag me nonstop or carry the bags herself. But when a couple of backpackers on the seat beside ours offered bottles of ginger beers, she gleefully guzzled one without suspecting that it might be poisoned. The trip somehow helped her to loosen up and be friendlier towards strangers and more appreciative and adaptable to all things new.
Also, what fun would a road trip be without adrenaline rush? A sunset bus ride along the very narrow and dangerous Manawatu Gorge left mom clutching to her rosary beads while the driver was telling stories of how landslides happen every time it rains (read: it was raining) and how a massive fault line run along the river. When she found her voice, mom asked, “how long until we get past this gorge?” The driver sighed, “7 kilometers,” unsure if it really was worth the question or not.
But when we finally got past the gorge, a mountain range of giant windmills greeted us, dirty white against the dying sun. We also stayed for a few days on a Scandinavian town, complete with Norse villages and Viking pseudo-ships. Mom and I, we talked one night. We thought of which was lovelier to see and experience: the things that one only sees in movies or those that one only sees in dreams? We have fallen asleep before we could agree on an answer.
Our last stop before we flew back to Auckland was windy Wellington, my first home in the country. I brought her back to my happy places– the walls I used to scale on weekends in Oriental Parade, the cable car that ran through the city’s botanical gardens and the second-hand bookstore near Cuba St.
After 10 cities and 10 days, Mom woke up with a renewed confidence and sense of self. She told me to grab hot chocolate and hash browns at McDonalds, while rolling my sleeping bag with the ease and precision of a pro. She put a bottle of Powerade on her pack’s side mesh pocket and put on army cap. While waiting for the airport shuttle, she very casually put her earphones opn and tuned her music player to shuffle mode. I laughed. She laughed too.
I am blessed that I was able to do what I did when my mother’s young enough to keep up with my sense of adventure. I am lucky that I have a mother whose maturity didn’t rob her of cool, of youth. She does not only know most Parokya ni Edgar’s songs, she also jetskis, rides the roller coaster, wears skinny jeans and plays Angry Birds on iPad. I call my family Bandmates, and my mom, the Royal Rockness.
“This country caresses your inner crazy, ” she told me.
“It is because of countries like this that make me not let go of magic, or madness,” I told her.
“Thank you for sharing to me part of your world,” she said.
But before I cry and turn into cornmush, I said, “Mom, you have to finish your Powerade. They don’t allow that in the plane.”