Fantastical Girls

Leaves of Havana
Blessing skin in the morning
With the breeze and sunlight
Feeling free to touch.

Bells chime and signal
The turns of the sea
And the ending pages of summer.
God promised we were safe.
I believe.

Romantic failures subside. We get by;
There’s still more promise
In the fruits of the garden.
Bewildered, breath stolen,
In each other’s arms.
Lost in the streets in adoration
Of the magic that could transpire at night.
Moments that we least expect
Reflecting off of Rhinestones and Remedies.


You are the girls I’ve been waiting for.
Praying as if children,
As if drunken,
As if in love.
Romance radiating in our vibrating voices.
Collecting in pools,
Blue and grey.
Swirling throughout theories of misery.
Diamond eyes and sincere smiles
Never fade but the songs we listen to.
We forget the kind gestures of strangers at bars, who stare
Whimsically within what we present as our souls.
Be they enlivened and feverish from the nocturnal essence
We evoke. Hallucinatory yet not absinthe or leaves of grass.
But bitchy and Vogue, urban and glamorous.
We are free people,
But we choose the party and deny the cars.
Because only once in a while do we give real chances to people who don’t understand,
Nor could ever dance to our rhythms
Of who we are and what we want.

Mashrou’ Leila / “One Night Project”

Tonight I got to experience something I wrote on my bucket list ever since I returned home after studying abroad in Jerusalem, and that is, I saw Mashrou’ Leila in concert. Mashrou’ Leila are a one of a kind indie band from Lebanon whose musical themes explore sex, sexual identity, politics, and other issues often deemed “controversial” since being based in the Middle East.

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Their lyrics exist as reactions that create reactions within the generally conservative political framework of the Arab world and music scene. The lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is everyone’s dream husband, including mine.

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ust look at him honestly.

I discovered them through an Arab girl I met in Jerusalem, a friend of a friend. I asked her to share Arab music with me and they were the first band she played for us. They were the band she was most excited about and as I continued listening to them and discussed them with other Arab friends, I understood why. They sing for the dreams of the modern Arab youth and their music, message, and poetry reflect the modern mindset that seeks higher purpose and equality in the Arab world. They evoke musical complexities, painting multi-dimensional states of being that smash cardboard stereotypes of what it means to be an Arab according to Western perspectives. They are quite simply, my favorite band that hails from the Middle East and perhaps my favorite indie band to date because of what they represent. Their spirit clangs with the rebel inside me. Their beats, their coos, their rhythms stimulate a feeling of rebelliousness and adventure. Unfortunately, their violinist Haig, was not available to join them because of crappy visa issues. He will receive his visa in time to perform for the rest of the tour dates however.
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Tonight was their debut U.S. performance which took place in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism as part of a conference entitled Alternative Narratives of the Middle East. From the website:

“The premise of the conference is that the primary western narrative concerning the Middle East often casts those who live there as simply perpetrators or victims of violence. This immense oversimplification can have significant impact on both foreign policy and the treatment of diaspora communities.

The event will highlight best practices and offer guidance to journalists and journalism students on covering the people of the region in ways that move beyond the recurring conflict motifs to reveal the diversity and complexity of world views and lived experiences of those in the region.”

I RSVP’ed to the morning conference but ended up only going to the evening panel + concert instead. It was really grounding and motivational to hear the band speak with such grace and awareness about the effects of their music. Hamed may be the most intelligent lead singer I have ever seen or heard. He spoke with all the cues of an academic, social justice advocate mixed with nervousness and an unforgettably cute and dorky quality unique to him. At one point, the moderator of the evening panel, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, said “it must take balls to write and sing about sex the way you do, especially being in the Middle East” and Hamed responded “or a really kick ass pair of ovaries.” Snaps, claps, shouts around the room. He is also an awesome and honest feminist. The most endearing part of the show was when Hamed said “I want to play in Palestine.” My heart melted, because of course, my heart always melts for Palestine, since many of my friends are Palestinian. The band went on to say that they tried performing in Syria in 2011, but things started getting bad, and they tried performing at the border of Syria and Lebanon but they sadly lost contact with the person who was organizing it. They hope to eventually play places like Syria and Palestine and bridge their fans in the Arab world.

Now on to the concert. Unsurprisingly, many of the attendees were Arab, but there was a surprising amount of people that were not. I saw whites, asians, some blacks, most likely people who were aware of who they are and what they do. They played so many of their amazing songs including Lil Watan, which he dedicated to his close friends and family that were in the audience tonight as well as all the Lebanese in the house.

They played their newest single 3 Minutes, which reminds me of an Arabic Justin Timberlake record.

Their own version of Get Lucky.

And even an Arabic version of Toxic by Britney Spears. When they announced their last song, it really was their last song. We all called for an encore and shouted “Leila, Leila, Leila.” But when they returned to the stage, they said they really couldn’t play more songs because it would be a disaster since they were having technical difficulties. Hamed’s earphones were broken so he couldn’t hear himself or the music, and the left stage speaker was going in and out. So we all reluctantly left, but with smiles on our faces.

At the end of the show, I looked around at the audience to gauge whether some of them were trying to stay and see if they would come out and meet their fans– One of my friends who saw them in Italy told me to wait after the show because the band meets with their fans. However, it didn’t look like it was going to happen so we just left. My sister and I followed some girls through what we thought was an exit, but happened to be the backstage area where the band was staying and preparing, and obviously retreated to after the show. We were stopped by one of the employees who said we were only allowed back there if we had bracelets, which was news to me because I never read about special backstage bracelets on the website or event page on Facebook. When we turned around to go through the regular exits, I looked back and saw a girl with a painted t-shirt, sneak back into the backstage area. I hope she got through. We on the other hand, left the building and decided to eat pizza. Outside of the building, I asked a Columbia security guard about the nearest pizza place and he told me how to get to Coronet. Before heading there, we decided to walk around the Columbia campus and almost immediately after we passed through the gates, on our left was a man standing outside of what obviously had to be the Miller Theatre where Mashrou’ Leila just performed, still wearing his stage outfit and distinct red jacket. It was Hamed Sinno. He called out to us from across the grass pathway and asked if any of us had a lighter. I remember meekly saying “no” in response. Then Micah told me she had matches and I asked her if she thought we should go to him. He was standing with an older man by the door, a back entrance to the theatre, surrounded by absolutely no one. The opportunity was ripe, the answer was obviously yes. So we went around the long grass pathway and Micah got her matches out to hand to him. As we approached him, the older man who was with him went back inside and now two other girls were standing with him while I was thinking of what to say beyond hello. Micah extended her matches towards him and he thanked her and told us that his cousin was walking around with a lit cigarette and that he didn’t need her matches anymore. After we said hello, he reached out his hand and said “Hello, I’m Hamed.” I shook his hand and said my name, clearly in awe of his presence. I told him how amazing he was and how much I loved his music. I told him that I was wondering if he was going to come out and meet his fans after the show, because that’s what my friend told me who saw him in Italy, and he sort of laughed and said “That’s a thing?” I felt I was getting uglier every second that passed standing in front of him. I said that I loved his moves, that he can dance. I told him that he is the ultimate package: that he can sing, he can write, he’s intelligent, he can dance, he has style, but I was too shy to say he was beautiful as well. Then another larger group of 7 or so people came and chatted for a moment. A woman who was clearly the leader of the group led the conversation with Hamed and told him to stop smoking. When the group left, I asked for a picture with him. Micah took a couple, then I said to make sure the lighting was good. I asked him if he didn’t mind taking more just to make sure, and he didn’t. So we turned around and angled ourselves and I put my arm around him as he just stood there with his hands in his pockets– classic Hamed. “Wait, this is awkward because I’m touching you and you aren’t touching me,” I joked. Eventually he put his arm around me and we took more photos. Then I asked one of the girls to take a picture of me, Micah, and him. After all the photographs, I said “I’m sad you didn’t play Shim el Yasmine. It’s my favorite song.” He said that it was his favorite song too and that they will play it in the upcoming shows. He asked if we were coming to any more and I said I was going to the one on Halloween. Soon enough, he expressed he wanted to go back inside to spend time with his family. We thanked him for meeting us, for the pictures, and the beautiful night of music. Thank you so much Hamed and the rest of Mashrou’ Leila. You are so incredible, incredibly superior, lovely, phenomenal. ❤
Mashrou’ Leila might be a one night project, but Part II happens Oct. 31.

Check out my favorite song by them, Shim el Yasmine, or Smell the Jasmine.

Seeking Faith, Building Hope.

Pt. II: Something brilliant happened in my church today. Something unexpectedly cathartic, freeing, and re-assuring. Throughout the years, my church has mostly avoided discussing controversial topics such as gay marriage and abortion [pretty much the only possible controversies the church needs to face]. That’s what I liked about it and still do. Out of all the Catholic masses I’ve attended in the history of my life, I’ve never experienced forceful condemnation for anything. As a gay church goer, I never had to hear “if you’re gay, you’re going to hell” or “Being gay is a sin,” and I am thankful for that. I’m thankful that the people in my church have enough grace to let the audience have a place to worship and pray and not have to be subjected to powerful political brainwashing. My church always focuses on the faith aspect, having it and living it. It stays black and white, pure and simple, which lets us all have our own minds outside of the church; It was always more focused on the message of the readings and praying for others and ourselves. During the homilies, the priests and speakers would connect the gospel readings to our present day– equating the values and lessons learned from the Bible and applying it to our lives for the moment and how to best live our lives moving forward.

But earlier today, for the first time ever, my personal favorite priest and speaker, Father Bausch, actually said the words “lesbian, gay, and transgender.” [I do wish he said bisexual.] It was like a Lady Gaga “Born This Way” moment for me. To hear those words in my church, where I go for communal worship, was a blessing. His whole homily was about addressing how to live on with Catholic faith in an ever changing world, a more secular world, a world that acknowledges that not all Americans are Christian, a world that has begun to acknowledge LGBT individuals as equals in society. Fr. Bausch, said “let’s get right to the nitty gritty.” Let’s get our hands dirty. I was nervous about what he would say. I was waiting to hear contempt and condemnation for this new queer and sinful generation. But it never came. Instead, he listed strong, encouraging statistics about Catholic families and their views on marriage, family, and homosexuality. Concerning our growingly secular society, he said that Catholics worry about passing on their faith to their children and grandchildren. How could they when they don’t go to church? What happens when my son brings his girlfriend home and they want a bedroom of their own? He discussed the effects of capitalist lifestyles. He mentioned divorce, reminding us that our church teaches he who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery on his first wife. And she who divorces her husband and marries another commits adultery on her ex husband. I was glad that he discussed divorce because it’s an issue that LGBT supporters bring up to Christians who think gay marriage is immoral. Kim Davis, who refuses to issue marriage licenses (breaking the law in the process) to same sex couples, has been married four times. To all the Christians who disagree with gays getting married, if you ever get divorced and re-married, I probably won’t judge you, but know that if I do, you judged me first.

For the sake of accuracy, I won’t list the exact statistics, because I don’t remember them. But he did say that many “Catholics view the traditional marriage of a man and a woman to make for the ‘ideal family’ but that ‘other families’ are fine too. Single parent families, divorced families, infertile families, and gay parent families.” Those are actually his paraphrased words and he had no qualms in saying so. He began closing by saying the church has always transitioned along with the times.

“We’re living in unusual times, with an unusual pope, one who has ambiguous views on gay marriage, in a society that is more secular and Christian suppressed, and we have to deal with this.” Christian suppressed, meaning socially religiously suppressed, which is a good thing since Americans are made up of more than just Christians. We are also Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhiest, Atheist, and so on. He said, “the Vatican Senate has formed to this new pope and the new world that we live in, a society with lesbian, gay, and transgender realities.” He hopes the Senate will be able to reach out to us no matter who we are. To hear those words come out of his mouth without a tone of disdain gave me so much hope for my place in the church. I hope to always have my faith, but being supported in my church would mean a great deal. Everyone knows the views of the Catholic church are very archaic, but the anointing of the wildly refreshing Pope Francis has been a welcome disruption for the entire world. Pope Francis not only met with the infamous Kim Davis, but also his gay ex student and his partner. The Catholic church is extremely slow when it comes to transitioning on any kind of issue, but to hear those words reflecting the deeper importance of Fr. Bausch’s homily today has rejuvenated me and my faith. His homily may have been one little pebble step in the right direction, but it’s still one step in the right direction and I’ll take it. Thank you Father Bausch.

Pt. I: Last Sunday, I was with my family and a million other people in Phildelphia to have mass with Pope Francis. It was an unbelievable day and sort of felt like how I imagine the end of the world to feel. Endless crowds of people with their families, waiting in line, the city a mess, and stores abandoned. As we waited in line to enter the public square where mass would be held, there was a particular looking man, dressed in a suit and wearing unfamiliar pins, standing in the middle of the crowd carrying a clipboard. He was asking for signatures for Catholics to be able to teach marriage in schools as defined by a man and a woman. I was instantly disappointed. But immediately after he said what the petition was for, a woman said, “I can’t sign that. I disagree. I think everyone should have the right to be married.” And another woman, who was standing right in front of the man, whom I was standing next to for hours, also immediately reacted. “Love is love. I believe in that. We have different ways to think and I respect yours, and I just need you to respect mine.” The man was spitting the regular Catholic rhetoric: “There’s one human nature, even from a biological standpoint. God created one man, one woman. That’s the true nature. That’s the one truth.” He’s wrong though. God has actually created billions of people throughout history, millions of which were LGBT 🙂 Thank you to those women who spoke up for me and all LGBT! With Pope Francis, these women, and Fr. Bausch’s homily today, my faith in the Catholic community is slowly restoring.

Now I leave you all with my favorite worship song of the moment.
I will call upon your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine.

Beautiful photo by: https://instagram.com/p/0_kewVmZsO/?taken-by=godsfingerprints

Glasnost

Untitled.

When I was six years old, I gave my first blowjob.
“It’s a game”, said He. “Don’t you want to play?”
It was too big, and I threw up on him.
He said I’d do better the next time.

When I was seven years old, I watched a group of fellow second graders cheer as a boy in my class tried to kiss me. He hugged me from behind, giggling all the while.
I threw sand in his eyes, and was sent to the Principal.

When I was eight years old, I had an elderly teacher ask me to stay behind in class. He carried me on his shoulders, and called me pretty.
“Teacher’s Pet!” my friends declared, the envy visible on their faces.
They ignored me at lunch that day.

When I was nine years old, an older girl on the school bus would ask me to lift…

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Call Me By Your Name

Dear Andre Aciman,

You have wrecked my entire fucking soul for the rest of my life and into the afterlife. The first time I read Call Me By Your Name was in 2009. I was 17, the same age as Elio. Then in 2011, and again now in 2015. My eyes are sore from bawling my life away. I am in awe of your ability to reach beneath my soul, knowing the exact code to break my heart. How did you do it? How do you know me so well? How do you understand who I am? Why did you do this to me? Why did you have to write that novel the way you did? I need to have a drink with you and discuss all of this. I want to know who you are– the mind that created all of this. You are the most influential artist in my life and you’ve given me the most important novel I have ever read. I know that when ever I read it, I will be left breathless every time.

You rip out my heart. You make me feel alive. You have written my soul on paper. Please be my friend. My mentor. My lover even. One of my life goals is to get all of my dearest friends to read your work. Let us sit in silence. You and I. Breathing. Sip. Exhale. Stare. Scrutinize. Question. Inhale. Sigh. Clementize. Sip again. Flirt. Look away. Then meet my gaze and never drop it. I want to speak with you. I want to learn from you. I don’t even have the words to write about you. You are the top of my favorite kind of person and leagues beyond anyone I personally know.

I just finished reading Call Me By Your Name for the third time. Every time I pick it up, I catch something new. It means something else. Another facet is revealed to me. The first time I read it I was 17, the same age as Elio, and I related to it in a more direct way. Now I’m 23 and closer to Oliver’s age and I’ve gained a different, more adult perspective when reading it. I will continue reading it for the rest of my life and hopefully will gain deeper understandings each time. I have not found security or intimacy with anyone the way that Elio and Oliver have, but one day I will. Yet I wonder when I finally do meet someone and I re-read CMBYN, will I become someone else? Will another piece of my soul be crushed the same way it did 6 years ago, 4 years ago, 30 minutes ago?

Thank you dearly for creating a masterpiece I will forever hold in my heart. I hope to meet you one day soon and share with you how grateful I am for what you created and how you have so tenderly touched my soul. Every day, I want to be you. But I could never.

The Only Place For Me

I haven’t unpacked my things and I almost don’t want to. At least not yet. My clothes still carry the smell of the room we stayed in in my lola’s (grandmother’s) home. I know my memories will fade, as certainly as I know, the smell of my clothes will one day fade until next time. The truth is, I don’t want to be away from them. We say goodbye, we think see you later, then they’re on my Facebook timeline and in the back of my mind until one day out of the unpredictable blue my mom asks me if I want to go the Philippines. Could my answer ever be “No”? I wish we could go every year. My heart goes out to immigrants everywhere that wish to be with their families but cannot for whatever reason.

Smell is the closest sense tied to memory. I hope the day never comes that I would ever forget the smell of the Philippines, the different scents of my home and the air. We returned five days ago and my luggage still houses my clothes and keeps the familiar scents embedded in them and I am lovelorn. My wishes are pearls and my tears are crystals that I drop whilst praying for the safety, health, and happiness of us all. I wish I had dollars- mountains of dollars that I could share with everyone so that we would never worry. And dollars that I would keep so I could always visit. Dollars for the things we really need and some for the things we want. I’m always praying- just like Lola every morning. I don’t know what she prays for, but I hope she says some for me. And I’ll say some for her.

There is no full happiness and appreciation for life and beauty without them. I will always pray for us and I will always fight for all of their love, big or small, smothering or invisible, distant or close, silent or loud. My eyes are tired from all the water that’s poured out. We all make mistakes. Lord forgive me for the ones I’ve made, including not knowing how quickly everything would come and pass. Life was dandy when I was 5. But what was it like for everyone else? The adults in my family and the ones to be. Did they also have a candy view of life? We were all much closer when we were younger. Has the fact that we’re not as close or as young changed the way we feel? Or is this how getting older makes all adults feel, that responsibilities that come with age make life less sweet?

I drag things out to the very end. I don’t unpack. I don’t clean. I pack until the last minute. I hope my future partner will forgive me these things. If something impacts me, I’ll hold onto it and I don’t let myself forget about it. My family is irreplaceable. We’re unforgettable. We’re a force for good. You’ll never forget us. You’ll always remember. The silver stars will twinkle and the dogs will always roam. The hearts that I’m surrounded with will always be my home. With you, I could never be angry, I could never be hurt. My spirit wrapped in your tenderness all the times you washed my shirt. Pink sorbet New Jersey skies are pleasant and bring me to the present. They make me miss where I belong. Memories pure in soft rock songs, bouncing from the radio. I wish we didn’t have to go, that instead I’d say “See you tomorrow.”

The night we arrived in the Philippines I knew it would crush me to say goodbye. Out of all the times I’ve ever visited, this time hit me the hardest. I first visited when I was infant, around age one, then when I was five, when I was 10, when I was 13, 15, 21, and now. That place has got a big piece of my heart. I’m not the best that I could be, but I’m trying to be. You deserve it all and I honestly don’t deserve all the love you’ve given me. But thank you for loving us anyway. You’ve all inspired me to love the same.

Love always,
Me.

Gallivanting The Green Menagerie

Yesterday was probably my favorite day so far here in the Philippines. My mom, and sister and I went with our two cousins from my dad’s side to Danasan Eco Adventure Park in Danao City. It was literally our first time spending time with them and having actual conversations. We’re all in our 20’s and never connected until now because we were always shy when we were younger. Now that we’re more mature, it’s easier to let go of that and simply be real and connect. As I get older, I look to remove old layers of myself and my shyness that have prohibited me from growing and expanding my relationships with people and my place in this world. At times I forget that I am in control of my life. But then I have those periodic moments of soul rejuvenation where I realize I am in control of my destiny and that I have agency over how I want my life to pan out when given opportunities. When I’m at a celebratory family dinner and my relatives are in front of me whom I haven’t spoken to in a while, I realize I have the ability to speak and breathe life into those connections. I have a voice, I have a charm, I have a personality, as well as my family in front of me. We don’t have to stay mum and sit idly as time passes us by. We have a choice to make the most out of each day and every moment.

According to the Danasan Park website, it “boasts of 133 hectares of beautiful outdoors. The Park has three (3) caves, a waterfall with three (3) astounding drops, several fresh water springs, and a man-made lake. It also has a wide range of eco-friendly activities that will surely satisfy one’s thirst for adventure. All Park facilities are fully environment-friendly and were carefully planned so as not to cause any harm to the natural beauty of the environment. The Park leverages on nature’s splendor after all.” The activities offered include zip lining, wake boarding, caving, trekking, rappelling, tyrolean, ATV riding, horseback riding, 8×8 off road trailing, and you can also rent a bike, camp, and swim in their infinity pool. There was also a new activity called the SkyDrop, which was basically a launch swing where you’re hoisted high up in the air. I would have done it, but we didn’t have enough time. We arrived at the park at 1 pm, and had lunch at a cute and slightly fancy eatery within the park. We finished lunch at 2 and since the park closes at 5, we only had time to do the ATV trail and the joint activity of zip lining and horseback riding. It was a wild day of many firsts, including hanging with my cousins! It was my first time riding an ATV and my first time riding horseback! Unfortunately, my guide kept smacking my horse in the face with a branch of leaves, albeit lightly. My horse seemed tired and kept lagging off to the side of the path. I wish I knew how to say “Please stop hitting the horse.” [I think I could have said “Ayaw pak-pak si ya.”]

The ATV was our first activity and definitely the most adventurous. I’ve always wanted to ride one and own one myself, but during my first couple moments of riding it, I was scared I would be thrown off. The path was super rocky and seemingly unsafe, but thank God I never fell. We faced a few metaphoric bumps in the road: my mom initially tried riding with us, but after bumbling to the side only a few meters ahead and being stuck on a rock, she decided not to move forward. At one point, my vehicle uncontrollably veered to the right and I almost crashed into a fully grown albino horse that was eating. It jumped to the side in fear and I thought I would hit and that it would trample me, but I was able to swerve away and back onto the path. We all eventually got a better hang of our vehicles and were able to tear through the edgy terrain in amusement.

Although the park was fun and wonderful, the real adventure was getting there…
From Cebu, there are four ways of getting to Danasan Eco Adventure Park.
1. You can call the park and have them shuttle you directly.
2. You can drive all the way there.
3. Take a bus from the North Terminal to Danao and then walk 25 km to the park.
or 4. Do what we did and once you arrive in Danao, habal-habal, or ride with random dudes on motorbikes and pay them to take you to the park, which is the way most people go that don’t schedule a shuttle.

Riding on a motorcycle was another first. In Israel, many dudes have these cute little moped like bikes, but in the Philippines, we have actual motorbikes that many people buy because they’re cheaper than cars. Once we were in Danao and got off our little van, we walked in the direction of a sign that read “This way to Danasan Eco Adventure Park” and went to a sari-sari store, which is a mini convenient street store that sells packaged goods, foods, and hygiene sachets, owned by many families as a main source of income; you can see hundreds of them in cities here. The woman who owned the store told us that the park was far and that the only way to get there was to “habal-habal” and find guys who would be willing to take us there for a price. Soon enough, a couple guys rode up to us and asked where we were going. “Danasan Park” we said. One of them went off to find a third guy to take us and once they found him, we started to negotiate. It was a very interesting process because it seemed like the men were total strangers who banded together for this job. They said it would be a 2 hour ride to the park, which at first sounded so unthinkable to ride on the back of these bikes for that long, but it was our only option because there is no other transportation to this park. We finally agreed that we would pay 550 pesos per bike for round trip and that the three of them would wait for us at the park until we were finished.

After we did a quick gas fill up with gasoline that amazingly looked like red soda, we were off! I had no idea what to do with my hands when I hopped onto the bike except grab onto his shoulders, because that’s what I always see on screen of people being romantic and in love, but then he motioned for me to put my hands on his waist instead. I was initially scared I would get hit by a car and thrown off the bike because the way people drive in the Philippines looks so reckless and lawless, but there really is a method to it. On a more personal note, my cousin’s father died after crashing into a tree while riding his bike. In a strange way, it felt like all of us riding on the backs of these bikes was a weird step into adulthood and coming to terms with who we were all becoming, especially since we were traveling together.

We traveled winding roads with the island wind blowing in our faces. We ascended and descended upon mountain slopes with the sunlight beaming overhead. My eyes were transfixed upon the picturesque revealed in front of me. I was right in the thickness and glorious beauty of the Philippines. When I turned my head left, I saw elevated fields of green, hillside rice paddies, banana tree farms and young green coconuts crowning palm trees. When I turned my head right, I saw slender trees that stood tall and straight with loose vines that dangled down above the heads of children and delicate wooden bridges drenched with a provocative musk of rustic adventure I so desperately wanted to explore. I wanted to ask my biker to stop so I could walk along and take photos and touch and live inside the scenes I was viewing. The artful tropical landscapes set off fireworks in my mind and left me breathless. I couldn’t believe this was the adventure I was living. From being in the Middle East one year ago, and now returned to my motherland of the Philippines, riding on a mountain on the back of this dude’s bike, holding onto him and passing by the people on the street, life couldn’t be sweeter and I couldn’t have asked for more. My sister sat behind me, my mother rode with my cousin Clifford, and his brother Shane rode alone with his biker. Our biker was the best. He was always first and was certainly the fastest, although he never made it a show to be. He led without trying to lead, and the majority of our ride there and back, we were so far ahead of the others that they weren’t in sight behind us, so we pulled to the side a few times throughout and waited for them and let them pass us until we caught up and led once again.

Along the first quarter of the way, we passed under grey clouds and looked to the rain in the distance. Soon enough, we felt droplets of rain and I imagined we would continue traveling like this: swiftly darting in between the raindrops as the air cooled our skin, our senses delighted in the ever changing atmosphere as I pondered my life and how my cousins felt about our bike ride. But we took cover under a wooden shelter because our bikers sensed greater rains ahead. Then the rain really began to pour and the air cooled down and I was grateful for this shelter and for our bikers and their nuanced senses of travel and the weather. There was a house and sari sari store across the narrow road that housed whom I imagined built this protective space. Residing in the shelter beside us was a slender and playful goat that Micah fed with grass; it kept jumping above the wooden bench and crawling underneath it to come closer. We snacked on syrup encrusted banana chips and spicy chicharon [pork rinds] while we waited and drank water and apple juice wondering when the rain would end. It calmed me to watch the heavy rains pour on the greenery below. The rainfall was so thick, it looked as if massive nets of glimmering water were lashing in the air, pounding the trees and spreading across the fields. For a moment, I was worried that this was what our ultimate hangout with our cousins was going to be, sitting and watching the rain, asking each other questions and exchanging friendly, curious glances with our bikers. But thankfully, rain storms in the Philippines, despite being heavy, are relatively brief, comparable to thunder storms in New Jersey minus the thunder.

Eventually the rain softened and we hopped back onto our wet bikes. We raced through the light rain, as the water pressed against our bodies and into our eyes, momentarily blurring our vision, but never dampening the inescapable air of romance and adventure that soaked into this incredible sensory experience. The rain cleared and the sun was out again with skies of blue as we raced through barangays, or small towns, upwards into the mountains and towards this uniquely remote and isolated park with the weirdest and most unbelievable road leading to it. I felt like a high fashion model beyond the realm of Chanel, working an extremely extended, once in a lifetime, otherworldly photoshoot for Vogue or similarly exclusive ad campaign, proud to model in a stunning location in the Philippines; I wished Mario Testino was there to capture the whole thing. Only those who have habal-habaled to this park know what this was like. I knew once I hopped onto the back of the bike and saw the fields of green, that this was going to be one of the days I always remember. The entire journey was visually and physically stunning, and simultaneously tinged with an extremely personal and intimate layer of what it means to be family. Riding with my cousins on the very cause of their father’s death, truly being with them for the first time, witnessing the irreplaceable land of my roots and the pearls of my heritage, feeling like a world class model, latching onto to the back of a stranger, being physically close as he seamlessly guides us on an enchanting yet obscure road, cutting through rain and mud and mosquitoes flying into my eyes and me blinking them to their deaths, as my eyes lock with the dozens of residents throughout the barangays, wondering about their lives and who they are, them wondering about me and who I am. Yesterday was a blessed adventure I never knew I would have as well as a physical demonstration that life and living is about the journey, not the destination.

Header photo credits: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonicdao/

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