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LOLA GOT'S LUTONG BAHAY IN AMERICA: Starting Over. By Margot Marfori PDF Print E-mail
Written by Margot Marfori   
Friday, 15 January 2010 02:06
Chapter 1: Starting Over

So here is the time to asses what the year before had brought and taken. New Year’s resolutions aside, there is always an amount of confusion that lingers in my house when the kids have gone back to their lives, and I find the silence strangely different.

And so, you hunker down to the tasks your mother always said to make sure you do before the first day of the year comes; one, that food must be well stocked, and, two, that the house must always be clean before the first hour of the next year. Or else - you suffer the entire succeeding year perennially staving off starvation and a dirty house. 

Here in America, I find the first, stocking up on food, some kind of a curse on my own well-being. Coming from a “Third World” country, I find myself stocking up on bacon, eggs, ice cream, steak, chicken, pork-chop, soda... all that is not really good for an over-fifty (and overweight) individual. But these are the first things that I put in my grocery cart, which are so large (as in dako gyud), for this very important mission. I wouldn’t want to starve in the 365 days ahead, especially since all these things are so available and seem so affordable. Until I translate them in pesos! Susmaryosep!  Advice so often given, do not convert daw!

Okay, so most of it I put back. But okay lang. I have Tuyo ni Gus in stock anyway. So, instead, as is more practical, there has to be tomatoes, and a sack of rice. What else? Hmmmm..... fish would be good. Especially after all the going-out-to-eat celebrations with the children during the holidays. And so, since there is no salay-salay or even the small galunggong or caraballes, which would make for a good paksiw (the best after-Christmas potaje) I opted for a pack of tilapia fillets, only to discover later that it doesn’t taste as good even if I use Silver Swan or Datu Puti vinegar. I think maybe because it’s here in America, (American paksiw?) I try cider vinegar, mas wala gihapon. I think maybe it’s the small fish that make it taste the way it does in Davao. Or maybe, I left that taste-bud behind? murag di muuban gani... I made a mental note to ask my daughter to bring Magic Sarap when she comes back from Davao next week.

I told this experience to someone who has lived here longer than me. She said it’s the fish bones that contribute to the taste. Maybe. 

This is one very hard task, I am finding out, cooking the food I so love in Davao. I always seem to be waiting for something. I think maybe it’s the taste of home. 

And so, we went to the Asian food markets, which are mostly in Chinatown. There you do find the things you want. All the ingredients you would need for the homegrown kind of cooking you have been dreaming of. Even those you do not even know how to dream about! No need to substitute. So, okay na din. Even if the fish is not so fresh. 

Cleaning the house is another thing. You wouldn’t believe the amount of available kinds of cleaning implements and chemicals on the grocery shelves! Some seem like puzzles you have to put together before use, some you just spray and wipe, most smell good, others have a funny smell, especially the ones in the 99¢ store. But, okay nalang, kay barato man!

At first ka lami! It was so good to see everything sparkle so fast. No maids here, so you have to do everything. It becomes irritating though when the floor you just mopped, in as little as a few minutes, becomes tracked in with shoeprints from the other people in the house. But what can you do? You wish someone can invent shoes that hover.....

Ang walis diri way lami! That is something we have that cannot be matched, I think. Their brooms here are so coarse, made of plastic and very hard to use with one hand, as I am used to, because most are heavy. They have these long handles that sometimes are a pain because you cannot maneuver them the way I would a plain old walis tambo. I saw some for sale in a Filipino store, but the price seems so over naman! Imported daw kasi.

Actually, even a tabo here costs more than buying a bottle of Thai patis!  Imported din naman yun ah!  But then, everything here is imported. I have to do some reverse thinking. Ang imported sa atin, hindi imported dito. Tama ba? Okay, the things I am so used to thinking are so ordinary in Davao, are not so ordinary here. They have to be bought and can be found only in specialty stores that cater to the Filipino community or the Asian population. (They even have durian! Frozen lang nga, and from Indonesia.)

I am reminded of the first time I was brought to a grocery store, one that sold food for less, I felt so out of it. Like there was so much to choose from, and so much to explore. No such thing as tingi here. Everything seems to be in large portions. And this was not even a regular grocery yet. This was a discount store! It felt like you want to try everything. I never thought I was so easily awed. But that first time, like most first times, was really so unusual. And I think maybe it was because I never thought I’d even end up here.

But then, I am here reluctant immigrant though I may be. My children are all here. Their lives are now American lives and I want to live within that loop. I do not wish to be the foreigner in the family. Though at fifty-four, what kind of compromise can I still really and truly give in to? I do not want to give up tuyo (regular not kay Gus), or bagoong, or tangkong (saw this in a Filipino store, binisaya...), or fried fish and kamatis.... All that makes me who I am, taga-Dabaw gud, trying hard to be murag mercano... 

Adjusting to this life in America, I realize, is like a game with no rules the difference being that you do not know if you are doing it to win or not. I just hope that it isn’t about winning. I hope it’s about the process and the journey towards a kind of winning. That, there will be victories of several kinds, sizes and shapes, and that even if I feel like I sometimes lose, I will still be a winner after all. (To be continued)

(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews' effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their experiences in their adopted countries. Dabawenya Margot Marfori is a writer and visual artist who continues to live the Davao she loves. She taught at the University of the Philippines in Mindanao from 1996 to 2002. She is now based more times of the year in Henderson, Nevada, while her youngest son is studying at UNLV, and, where her two older children in San Francisco is near enough to visit).