As we alighted the tricycle along the two-lane national highway, I could see from a distance the edge of the low cliff where as a child I used to play. Not far from my left is an old house, nearing its total destruction, most of which has already fallen apart. Along the highway is a big acacia tree that used to be my resting cum hiding place during siesta hours in the afternoons, when I absconded from the mandatory sleeping sessions.
The shade of the big tree gave me and my cousins a respite from the burning heat of summer sun. We traveled three kilometers from the Poblacion (where my cousin lives) to this place.
The cliff I told you leads us to a sandy river separating our group from Sinondojan, the place of my ancestors, the place that cradled the forefathers of the family. The family that has now scattered all over the world.
The river is about 20 meters wide and about 10 feet at its deepest. We have to use a bamboo raft attached to a rolling pulley to get to the other side. It was summertime yet the river could not be traversed without the aid of this vessel.
During my childhood years, we waded through the water to reach to the other bank. The water was only knee deep then. This river taught me how to swim. It taught me how to mingle and socialize with children of neighbors who were farmers and fishermen. I and my brother used to play “catch me” with the other kids during our swim. We would likewise gather native river shells which we call cagaycays and would bring them to our mother or yayay (Lola) for a savory soup. Lots of childhood memories engulf my mind as I crossed the already muddy deep.
It was around 9:30 in the morning yet the sun was already pricking our skins. We have to climb another low cliff at the other side of the bank. The tip of the raft touched the edge of the soft sandy and muddy bank. “This is at last, Sinondojan”, I told myself. When I was young, I would gallop to the top of the cliff in no time. As I looked at the peak of the mound of earth above me, it seemed to be an eternity reaching it. Rows of banana plants coupled with thin naturally-growing madre-de-cacaos lined the edge of this cliff. Atop is a newly planted field of corn, intended to be harvested sometime during the fiesta of the patron saint, Senior San Isidro Labrador, perpetually scheduled on the 14th of May of every year.
It could not be denied that this barrio is home to a small community of farmers or farm-hands discerning from their choice of patron saint. Most of the farm owners here are already domiciled in the Poblacion or some other cities in the province. They would only periodically visit their fields during planting and harvest times. My forefathers were then farmers here which also included my father and uncles during their younger days. But education made them leave Sinondojan for better pays; other than waiting for small incomes derived from palay harvests.
We walked for around five minutes until we reached the house of my uncle, a newly built house made of strong concrete and galvanized roofing. The paint is Mexican inspired just like any modern and contemporary house found in the Poblacion. It is fully furnished with running water, electricity, a very good home theater set-up, and a satellite-dish-aided-cable TV. This house was the endeavor of his son, who works abroad aboard a foreign vessel as a marine engineer. Adjacent to my uncle’s is the house of his daughter, my cousin, also built of concrete and galvanized roofing. Her husband also works as a seaman abroad.
The houses are far thought during my childhood years, where most of the abodes were made of bamboos and nipa thatched roofs. Strolling around the neighborhood, one would see similar sights. A few meters from these two houses is the house of our mama Ina (our auntie), a septuagenarian old maid. She was the one who took care of our yayay Edang (paternal grandmother). Our yayay died in the early 90’s. She is now left alone in her house that had become quite dilapidated if not for the generosity of some of her nephews and nieces who help her repair parts of it. A stone’s throw away is the house of another mama named Aunor. She is the eldest of the brood. She does not know her exact age but in my count she is already nearing a century. Her husband died three decades ago and left her with one of her oldest daughters to take care of her. She enjoys watching her noontime and nighttime telenovelas and teleseryes in her 14-inch television set.
Mama Aunor and Mama Ina both exemplify the generation that was left behind. They were stuck with the rural backdraft of the barrio set during those times when the only work known was farming. Yet, they get help from relatives and children who still care for them.
It was noontime already and we were ready for lunch. I bought fish and meat from the town market for grilling. We had a somewhat small reunion. We feasted on the the grilled food and lasted the whole afternoon, talking and talking, making up for the lost years we’ve been apart.
Sinondojan is still the same. So serene, so quiet, and still fragrant of the fresh grass I so long missed every time I woke up in the morning. The birds are still there. I fortunately saw one hawk soaring around the coconut trees. The afternoon wind came swirling a refreshing dervish to my spine.
By the time I know, it was already 5 o’clock nearing dusk. We have to catch the last tricycle passing by or else we will be forced to hike the three kilometer road to the Poblacion. Dusk is closing in and it was not anymore safe to walk at night. Gone are those days when we can still freely roam around with the moonlight over our heads. I also had to sleep early since I had a plane to catch the following day. We took group pictures to mark this day. We then headed to town.
As I was boarding the tricycle and darkness slowly draped the windy place, memories flashed to my mind of the days I had with Sinondojan. I can never deny it. I am a son of this lowly place in the heart of Panay Island.