Can the country's new leaders help provide answers to Lhyanne's questions?
By Marilyn P. Rayray
PARIS, France--I was behind our door ready to ring the bell when I heard my 10-year-old daughter asking her father to help her out with something. She sounded so excited. I heard her repeatedly saying, "Please, Papa..." I decided to eavesdrop for a while and find out what my daughter was up to.
In mixed French-English-Filipino words she said, "Tu peux m'aider (could you please help me), Papa? I have to do this exposition about the Philippines when I go back to school, but I cannot do it alone. It's not easy. Please, Papa..."
"Lhyanne, antayin mo si Mama at sigurado marami siyang alam (wait for your mother, I'm sure she knows a lot)," my husband replied.
"Pero Mama is toujours occupée (But mama is always busy)." Hearing this, I rang the bell. After kissing them, I asked about what was worrying her and assured her that my work schedule would not be so tight in the next two weeks since it was spring break. I would have time to help her out.
"May exposition ako about the Philippines, I have to present the geography, culture, history, commerce, etc. I have two weeks. I have to explain why Filipinos are called 'people of the sea,'" she added in French.
Out of nowhere, my son jokingly butted in: "Mga syokoy daw mga Pilipino, yun ang alam ng mga Pranses. Manood ka kasi ng TV Patrol (Filipinos have fish tails, that's what the French know about us. Just watch TV Patrol)."
My daughter flared up. "That's nonsense, Kuya. They're just scary stories...Fiction!"
It was time to meddle and calm her down before a quarrel erupted. I promised Lhyanne that night that we would work on her presentation together and that she would have the best exposition ever presented in her class.
My children weren't born here in France. I brought them here five years ago, (my daughter when she was five and my son when he was nine). Life is never easy when you're abroad, but it is not any easier when you are away from your children. So no matter how hard, my husband and I decided to have them with us here in Paris.
They spoke good Filipino when they had just arrived. We made sure that Filipino would be the language at home as they might forget it if we only speak French. Later on, I decided to integrate English as well because it is a necessity. My son is coping fairly well. My daughter, well, she has all the three languages mixed up. We don't worry about it and hope that she will sort them out in time just like my son. For sensitive issues, my husband and I talk in our native dialects--Ilocano and Pangasinense.
Love of country
For the entire spring break, my daughter and I worked head-to-head to come up with a well-presented exposition about our home country. My tiresome day would vanish as I listened to her enthusiastically retell what she had learned from Wikipedia.fr, enumerating our country's scenic spots (I knew them by heart when I was younger).
Her eyes would glow as she proudly recited the history of the Philippines, from Magellan's landing to President Arroyo. With our joint research, hers from the French website and mine from stock knowledge and informative Philippine tourism websites, we came up with a beautifully designed, well-sequenced--complete with photos--"Philippine exposition."
The last few days were spent training her for the oral presentation. "Mama, what if they ask me to sing the national hymn?" she suddenly asked in the middle of her presentation practice. "I surely would not be able to do it."
I printed out "Lupang Hinirang" and taught her how to sing it. This won't do, I thought. She barely understood the lyrics, how much more if she were asked to translate them. I foresaw a disaster. While singing the last lines, a familiar tune began humming in my ears: "Ako ay Pilipino, ang dugo'y maharlika..." I sang it out loud and started moving my hands to the beat, singing it with all my heart. My girl seemed enchanted. She listened closely and was startled to see tears falling from my eyes. I, myself, was surprised. I got carried away.
You see, I'd done that for years in my school days, leading the song at the flagpole area where everyone gathered for the flag ceremony every morning. "That's how we pay tribute to the Philippine flag and show our love for our country," I dreamily narrated to her.
"You are sad, Mama kasi nami-miss mo ang Philippine, no?" I answered her with a kiss on the forehead and we both continued to practice singing "Ako Ay Pilipino" until bedtime.
She slept with a smile on her face and it felt so great seeing her that way. When was the last time I put her to bed myself? I just could not recall. A realization came flooding in. For the past few years, I have been so preoccupied with how-to-survive concerns in this part of the world (I work 10 hours a day to keep up with the European pace of living). I have barely bonded with my children. I am even surprised to see how much they have grown.
This Philippine exposition awakened me to the fact that I am a mother of two. That despite the fact that we are living in the Western world--which is not so family-oriented--we are still a Filipino family, bound by love and need. I shook my head determined to make up for lost time. It was not too late.
Proud to be Pinoy
Late afternoon of May 3, I received a text message from my husband: "Hurry home, Lhyanne has a surprise." I came home to find my daughter waving her cahier de correspondence, a notebook where teachers and parents communicate through notes and messages. There was a message from her teacher saying how brilliantly she had presented her exposition and congratulating us, her parents, for having a smart daughter like Lhyanne.
My daughter was so proud that she monopolized the conversation over dinner about how her classmates were amazed by the islands and the historical places she presented; how they admired the beaches and the culture of the Philippines.
She really had delivered her presentation so well that her classmates had voiced out their plans of asking their parents about visiting the Philippines on their summer holiday.
Nothing can compare to the feeling parents have when they see their child so overjoyed. We knew it wouldn't end there. Knowing our daughter, we expected a series of happy stories about her exposition.
The next day, she spent hours browsing Philippine websites for local animals, pearls, and the islands. She had a pile of printed pictures she planned to distribute to her friends the next day. Before bedtime she remarked, "Philippines is really a paradise. I love the Philippines so much." I nodded in agreement and bade her goodnight.
Thursday night, I came home late from church. I expected my daughter to be sound asleep but she had waited to ask me a question: "Ma, I told the class the Philippines will have a new president because there is an election on May 10. My maître (male teacher) asked me how many presidential candidates there were."
"There are nine, anak. Go to sleep now, it's way past your bedtime."
On Fridays, I get off from my job early. It marks the start of my three-day cooking schedule which ends on Sunday night. I rang the doorbell a couple of times but nobody seemed to hear me. This is weird, I thought. Where's my daughter, who rushes every night to open the door for me? I kept pressing the ringer until I got tired and dialed our phone number instead. My son picked it up. "What's taking you so long," I complained.
Apparently, he was in the bathroom and expected his sister to open the door. I walked into our bedroom looking for my daughter. There she was on our bed, lying on her stomach, sobbing.
"What's the matter, anak? Are you sick?"
"Is it true, Mama?"
She sat up on our bed and gave me a look of disbelief. "Ma, my friends said what I said in the exposition about the Philippines was not true. Their parents said they don't want to visit the Philippines, kasi c'est dangereux daw. There are many crimes and terrorists. And my teacher said our government is corrupt, maybe that's why so many want to be president. This isn't true, huh Ma? I hate him," she said and burst into tears.
I held her tightly to my breast. I too was heartbroken. I couldn't say a word. I pacified her somehow because she stopped crying and her shoulders steadied. She rose and asked, "Why are we here, Mama?" She bombarded me with her whys. "Why did we leave our country? Bakit po, Ma? Ang Philippines ang pinaka-beautiful country, di ba? Why do we live here? Can we just go back and stay there, forever?"
I bit my lip. I closed my eyes; I didn't know how to answer. I pulled her back to my chest and kissed her head while caressing her hair gently whispering, "You'll understand in time, mahal ko."
Last June 30, I felt my daughter approaching while I was undoing the laces of my sneakers. "Ma, I watched Noynoy kanina," she said, referring to the televised inaugural address of President Benigno Aquino III.
I sat up straight and grabbed her two hands while examining her eyes. "So how was it? How did it go?"
She sat on my lap, her nose wrinkled. "He spoke Tagalog. Ma, I would like to understand everything that he said."
"Sure thing darling...Go turn on the computer and I'll follow after putting the groceries away."
Editor's note: The author is an English tutor and editorial assistant in Paris. Lhyanne, by the way, had another talk with her teacher and feels a little better. A sequel to this story, said Marilyn, will be posted next week on www.mnnetherlands.com.