(Phelan, CA USA)
I retired from teaching in California few years ago and enjoyed a retired life without deadlines and classrooms to manage. My time was spent more on reading, writing, and painting in watercolor.
Last year I went to my hometown in the Philippines after an absence of 20 years. I grew up in a fishing village in one of the 7000 islands that comprised the Philippine archipelago. The island is called Daram.
Daram, no matter how isolated, could not escape the influence of the modern times. From a simple fishing village my hometown has developed into a small town. Most of the houses which used to be made of bamboo and nipa palm leaves are now made of concrete and galvanized sheet roofing. Today, there is electricity and tap water. People, however, still wash their clothes in the river beating their clothes with a wooden paddle. There are no air conditioner, washing machine, or microwave oven that sophisticated households in the U.S. and Japan have.
The place is not that modernized yet. Progress in my hometown was made possible by remittances from relatives working in foreign countries in the Middle East, Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia and in Japan. There are motorbikes, cell phones, tv sets and laptops although there is no internet access.
Most of my friends are still around although some have left the island or are already dead. Familiar places like the old church on the hill, the pier where we used to fish and the clusters of huts by the sea are still there, almost changeless through the years. The main transport facilities are the outrigger canoes that ply passengers and goods among the villages around the island.
The chief livelihood of the people are fishing and subsistence farming. Everyday, fresh fish, squids, shrimps and oysters are available at very low prices right after the fishermen land in from the sea.
I came back to California after five months stay in my hometown. Despite the simple and easy life in the island, the socialization with friends and relatives, the cheap and nutritious food and the services of househelps I still long for bookstores, including the used books at Goodwill and the Salvation Army thrift stores, the swap meet, the Chinese restaurants and the joy of driving along the busy freeways of California. And I missed the malls where you can window shop free during hot days.
Right now, I'm in the Philippines, in an internet cafe typing this email. My wife and I will return to our hometown on May 6 and on June 15 we are going back to California for the summer.
I've written a poem which I'd like to share with fellow retirees...
I am still wondering
Why I keep coming back
Like the salmon
To the island town
Where I was born.
The place is backward
People and their ways
Remain unchanged for ages
Caught up in a lethargy
Almost final and complete.
It used to be a fishing village
It still is, in a way
Clusters of thatched roof dwellings
Neatly arranged on stilts
To give way to the tide.
Very few stay all their lives in the island
The young go somewhere else
To the city or to foreign lands.
Perhaps, I keep on coming back
To refresh the ties with things familiar
The faces and places of my early years
For the island is a repository of memories
Where life is simpler
And time is reckoned
With the rhythm of the seasons
And the ebb and flow of the tide
Where glimpses of youth and innocence
Rejuvenate the battered souls.