That idea I had about where the passport was, it wasn’t there. So I went back to all the places I looked before, just in case I overlooked something. Up in the hall closet was a box where I hadn’t yet looked. I took it down and opened it up and came across some old stickers and supplies for the children’s Sunday School classes. I looked through a few pouches of old photos. A small plastic bag held even more photos, and it was tied shut at the handles. I was fully prepared to look through all of the photos, because I’m a sucker for nostalgia. I untied the plastic bag and I saw a small brown booklet. Vinyl cover, light green, textured pages. The title on the outside reads “Pilipinas Pasaporte” with the seal of the Philippines between the two words. I took it and held it in my hands and opened it immediately to the page with the photo on it, probably to make sure it was me, it was my passport, and I raised it in the air and looked toward the sky, and I let out the biggest sigh of relief of my life. I tossed the passport over to the couch, and I folded my arms and said a very grateful prayer. Then I opened my eyes and picked up the passport again and commenced dancing around the living room. There was jumping up and down, too. And maybe even a few tears of joy.
So yeah, I guess that’s me. I was eight years old. And that’s probably the cutest shirt I have ever owned. Why don’t I wear clothes like that anymore?
On page 4 is a stamp that reads in all caps, “Immigrant.” On page 5 is a stamp from US Immigration, the day I returned to Guam from five weeks in the Philippines. On page 6 are two stamps from Philippines Immigration, the dates I arrived and departed that country: June 9, 1984 and July 16, 1984.
No other stamps.
My mind is flooding with memories from that time in my life. I got baptized just the week before. When my mom, brother and I arrived in the Philippines, we took a cab to my mom’s cousin’s home, and on the way there, I had to roll down the window to throw up the chicken I had just eaten at the airport cafeteria. The vomit stuck to the side of the car, and it was kind of pink.
We spent some time in the city, then we went to the country to visit my grandparents, where they lit their bamboo home with oil lamps and listened to a radio made out of scrap wires and other parts. They lived up in the mountains. They owned chickens and had a grove of guava trees. The view was magnificent – rain forests for as far as the eye could see.
My aunt, mom’s younger sister, lived in the valley with her daughter and husband. They owned a little candy store adjacent to their hut. My brother learned how to bite people from my cousin.
We ate lots of rice and fish and vegetables, and I got to see my uncles slaughter a chicken once for dinner. I craved things to read, but I learned to play with the other kids and I picked up a little bit of Tagalog while I was there.
I had pretty smart and beautiful cousins, but most of them were quite a bit older than me, and they weren’t around very much, so I really didn’t get to see them. My mom’s the ninth out of ten siblings, so the only cousin even close to my age was mom’s younger sister’s daughter.
I got to take a shower at a small waterfall on the side of the mountain. It was early in the morning, and the water was really cold.
At my grandparents’, people used the bathroom sitting on a 2X4 plank laid over a square-foot hole into a large chamber. It had to have been 15-feet square by at least 8 feet deep. I remember being scared I would fall in. There was toilet paper, but no flushing. There was a bamboo shelter built over it in case it rained. It was far enough away from the house for privacy. It was self-composting, and it didn’t smell. I’m not sure why I remember this.
The countryside is beautiful. The city is exciting, but dirty and crowded. Running water is a luxury. Hot, running water is even rarer. I bathed in a large metal basin and ladled cold water onto my body to rinse off.
Those five weeks were an incredible experience. More happened than I can remember right now, but I want to remember.
It’s time to go back. It’s time to visit and explore and see things with these eyes that are 24 years older.
It’s time to go back. Curious and fascinated and longing for old roots and family I’ve never met.
It’s time to go back. As an official American.
A United States citizen.
Which, I almost am.
It’s SO close.
Everything is good.