“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
“Be safe, Ate (big sister) and send us some chocolates!” and they were all standing there – my parents, my siblings, cousins and friends, waving me goodbye in the busy Manila International Airport. It was buzzing with activity; people were coming and going, full of excitement and anticipation, the voice on the public address system announcing that flight 112 is now boarding at gate 10 or calling for someone to go to the nearest courtesy phone. My heart skipped a beat and with a heavy sigh and trepidation, I looked back one last time before I proceeded to the check-in counter. I was 22, armed with a degree in Chemistry, enthusiastic to see what’s on the other side of the world, eager to find some adventure – my very own Wonderland.
“It’s snowing, it’s snowing!” A week after I’ve arrived in France, it started snowing. I couldn’t believe my eyes; the whole world was blanketed in white! It was so incredibly gorgeous and perfect, no footsteps in it, just lumps and bumps where plants sat in the gardens and cars entirely covered in snow. I was mesmerised. As soon as I’ve felt its powdery texture, I thought to myself, “This was the White Christmas people were dreaming about.” I couldn’t imagine that just a week ago, from sweltering morning – traffic starting to build up in Manila. The noise of cars, taxis, motorcycles, vans and jeepneys beeping and honking, children going to school and adults to work, street vendors selling taho (soya) or peanuts. Such a difference! A normal hectic day in Manila compared to a peaceful, snowy one in France.
Ethiopian Mission in the UN Office in Geneva. I couldn’t speak French and I couldn’t type, but there I was after 6 months, working as the Ambassador’s Secretary. My English was my saving grace and possibly, my enthusiasm and determination. I was lucky, being there at the right time and at the right place. My Thai friend wanted to go to Thailand for her holiday and asked me to take her position for a month in the Ethiopian Mission. There were no computers then, consequently, I had to type with my 2 fingers. Statements were prepared for the meetings, diplomatic correspondences were typed, files were organised and appointments were made. I had to learn fast and think with my feet. I must have impressed the Ambassador and the other Diplomats that they’ve hired me later.
The Praktikum. I was accepted to have an apprenticeship with BASF Chemical Company, in Ludwigshafen, Germany. It’s the largest production site worldwide and the company’s global headquarters and research centre. I spoke no German, but then, I’ve survived in France and Switzerland without French, so why not? I’m convinced I’ll get by and will learn the language when I’m there. I was allocated in the Inorganic Department, producing and analysing some dyes. Herr (Mister) Raider provided me a name who was also working in the same building, but in a different laboratory. “He’ll help you get sorted,” he said. Hence, first thing in the morning, I knocked on Room 602 and a tall English man opened it, some parts of his white shirt still untucked from his trousers. “I am, indeed.” was his answer to my question and that hooked me! “Such an accent,” I thought. He helped me obtain my lab gown and safety goggles that morning and waited for me for lunch every day. “There’s your English man again,” my Laborant (laboratory technician) would say.
Hollywood. After the apprenticeship, I decided to stay with my father in Los Angeles, California. The Griffith Park Observatory was my favourite place. Perched atop a lofty hillside overlooking all of Los Angeles, you could see the “Hollywood” sign and few more stunning views. My English man visited me that summer and we went to see the astonishing Grand Canyon. Such an imposing landscape! It overwhelmed our senses through its colossal size. After that, we had to part ways again. He was accepted to do a PhD in the UK and I went back to the Philippines.
The EDSA Revolution of 1986. I was part of the crowd – a bizarre mixture of people coming and going in every direction, military tanks and cannons with their soldiers greeted with flowers and food, burning tires, activist flags and streamers, vendors selling their wares, vehicles parked everywhere and some beeping their horns, portable radios, foreign correspondents and religious altars. Strangers flashed wide grins at each other. People were marching, praying, crying and singing all at the same time. It was one of nonviolent protests that led to the departure of the then President Marcos and the re-establishment of the country’s democracy. I was there. I wanted to make a difference. I was part of that history.
I am not a writer. I don’t have a cause. I’m more of a traveller, a curious one and one who believes that every adventure is worth having. My journey continues. At 54, I’m happily married to my English man, a proud Mum to our 22-year old son who is doing his Master’s in one of the prestigious universities in the UK, and living in our gemütlich (comfortable) house in sunny Bavaria, surrounded by flowers, herbs, grapes and apple trees. I couldn’t ask for more. I am not a writer. But I believe that there’s a book in every one of us. I hope to write mine one day.
“I wandered everywhere, through cities and countries wide. And everywhere I went, the world was on my side.”
― Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy