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Young Blood

Our humble home made of wood

In 2004 when I was four years old, I started living in a squatter community. The fishy smell, both from the narrow pathway we called a street and the cold breeze coming from the seashore, is still vivid in my mind. I remember the greetings and smiles of our neighbors as I walked past their humble houses. “AJ!”, they would call out. This was a common scenario since everyone seemed to know each other.

Our neighbors were very friendly but never silent. Shouting was the common way of conversing and “tito/tita songs” blasted from speakers every single day. The houses in the neighborhood were very close to each other to a point that three families would share a single house. As I walked home every day from school, I naively thought that it was just like any other normal neighborhood.

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We lived on the west side of Navotas City, the commercial fishing hub of the Philippines. The coastal city was also infamous for floods. Most people may disagree but, for me, this was the city’s charm. I have numerous stories about the floods, not all delightful but they helped me attain real consciousness. But among these stories, those about our old home are my favorite. This was the home of my beautiful grandparents, and where I spent my childhood.

When I first stayed in my grandparents’ house, it was all made of wood. Sounds of animals such as lizards and mice could be heard through the walls that supported the house. Almost all houses in the area looked the same. Looking back, life then was not so easy. The streets and the entire community would always be overwhelmed by rancid rainwater every time there was heavy rain or a big typhoon. Living near the seashore made it extra hard. The strong waves would sweep our neighbors’ fishing boats to the crowded street. To help my aunt save our home, we had to carry all our appliances and important furniture up to the second floor.

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But it was not all sad stories. Even when we were anxious about the flooding, I still looked forward to my favorite champorado and tuyo that my grandmother would cook during the rainy season. My friends and I would boast about who worked the hardest in carrying and saving things. Though I was never allowed to try it, I would see other kids enjoy swimming in the murky flood. I would watch them from our home with a hint of jealousy. There were times when our neighbors, my aunt, and even my lolo would still use the karaoke in the middle of a heavy downpour.

We had good memories and learned to truly adapt. By this, I mean renovating our house. I was in high school when my grandparents were able to afford a house renovation. Through decades of hard work selling shrimps in the market, our home became a spacious, two-story stone house with a balcony. My grandparents were considered “wealthy” by the other residents not only because of the house but because they had a car, a parking lot, and a flatscreen TV.

My grandparents have lived there since birth or for almost half a century. They were childhood friends and fell in love. In that community, my lola carried in her womb her firstborn child, my mother. That house was the witness to their whole life together. They have spent decades in that neighborhood considered a squatter settlement area. They called it their “home” so it broke my heart when I learned it was never “theirs.”

When I graduated from junior high school, I knew that soon, I’ll be leaving our home. I eventually did because I didn’t want to be a huge burden to them. Unlike my mother’s parents, my father does not only live in a gated subdivision but also owns a call center company, a pool resort, and a business that supplies seafood to big Japanese restaurants in the country. Not long ago, my father took me as a last resort because my grandparents had indefinitely left. They are together now and at peace, not with me but somewhere nice and cozy.

I would always think that when nobody wanted to take me in, my grandparents’ home in the squatter community accepted me. Their house has taught me humility. My grandparents didn’t own sports cars and multiple houses like my father, but they have given me more than everything. They have given me a real home. I may be living now in a different environment but there is still nothing like my real home.

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Arleen Joy V. Amador, 22, is a biochemistry student at the De La Salle University-Manila who loves to honor her grandparents.

Stories from the young Filipino

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TAGS: Arleen Joy V. Amador, grandparents’ home, Navotas squatter community, Young Blood
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