Fridays during my stay in Manila were bible study days. I would read or study or write in another room while Lola and her girl friends prayed and talked and reflected together. Afterwards, we would go to lunch. Having lunch with a group of old ladies is very interesting. There’s the lady who keeps eating pork and beef even though she’s under strict instructions by her doctor not to.  There’s the lady whose daughter just came home from the US bearing treats and goodies that made their way onto our table. There’s the lady who is always righteously angry at the world for how cruel it is to her friends and relatives. There’s the lady who is always sick or going through a crisis, no matter how kind and sweet she is. My Lola is the one with the sly eyebrow raises and cheeky comments. And me? I was the young granddaughter from Palawan, and a new topic of interest. They discussed my homeschooling while I nodded and smiled politely, until they eventually moved on and focused on more important matters, like the qualities of the different hospitals in the city or how a friend of theirs got scammed and cheated on and oh, “ang hirap na ngayon! Nung bata pa ako…”

When we got home after lunch, we were greeted by my younger cousins. One of the little boys would cling to my legs as we walked through the door, flashing a toothy smile. The other one bombarded us with questions: “Where did you come from?” “Where did you go?” “Why?” The two older sisters greeted us and stuck around for some stories about where we went and what we did, giggling and laughing at the right parts. The youngest of the bunch yelled, “Lola!” and followed us into her room, clutching a toy firetruck and babbling about his day. We would disperse when we needed to start addressing the water shortage, making sure we had enough water to last until the next day. With only two hours of running water a day and a household of nine people, bathrooms and kitchen counters are covered with containers and pails of water. Paper plates have replaced porcelain dishes, while cups and glasses are set aside to be reused multiple meal times.

Lola likes to sew during the afternoons. She has a state-of-the-art Singer electric sewing machine which has sewn multiple bed sheets, pillow cases, torn pockets, and altered a prom dress for yours truly. While I haven’t learned how to use it yet, I was taught how to set it up just so for her, facing the machine in the right direction on the table, and threading the thread through the needles. I also learned how to do an invisible stitch, pulling together two pieces of fabric and connecting them with the daintiest of stitches. I sewed two blouse sleeves together and found out I’m good at putting a piece of thread through the tiniest of needle eyes. Lola was impressed with my work.

Phone calls from my family were something I couldn’t go without. This wasn’t my first time away from my parents, or the longest, but somehow this trip was different. I looked forward to hearing the jokes and kalokohan of my brother, chatting and catching up with my mom, and ranting and telling stories to my dad. It’s funny, normally when people move or go away, the tendency is to grow apart or to have a hard time keeping in touch. But for me, these phone calls after dinner were precious, and I would always feel loved and reassured as these calls would drag on late into the night.

What is the point in all these little moments? They weren’t life-changing. These probably don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But I guess, for now, they mean a lot to me: Listening to the wisdom that comes out of the conversations between old friends, spending time with my little cousins who are growing up so fast and who live so far away from me, the skills my Lola is passing down to me,  Knowing that my family is just a phone call away, and that I can always turn to them when I need them.

Growing up isn’t always going through incredible hardship or overcoming impossible hurdles. It is the little things that form and shape you as a person. Even filling up a pail over and over again, to help keep the water available, is a tiny, yet important step in my journey and for that I am grateful.

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