ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 06 June) — I have talked a lot about my hometown Marawi on my blog in a negative light. There is so much that I despise about our city, from our dirty politics to the heaps of trash that grow into mountains on our streets. Marawi is imperfect, yet my people thrive in its imperfections on top of our glorious history, of our crumbling infrastructures, overlooking the majestic Lake Lanao. In its imperfection, it inflamed a love within me that I have nurtured all my life.
My heart cried with hot tears, only God knows, upon seeing the photos of what have become of my beloved Marawi. The streets are littered with decaying bodies and fragments of buildings hit by bullets and bombs. I can almost smell the stench of decaying flesh. I can almost hear the muffled cries of civilians, almost imperceptible but you know it’s there. Our school has burned down. I will never smell again the old books in its library. My memory of childhood in Dansalan College, the innocence that I associate with its old walls now tainted by terror. I cried for my brothers and sisters in Aleppo last year, I weep for Marawi today.
And so I resolve to commit to memory all the days we had before the siege. These memories shall remain beautiful, unspoiled by war.
The week before the siege, I was home in Marawi. Two of my cousins were graduating that week. I am not a great cook but I take pride in baking cakes. So I was home baking cakes for the family. I get so much joy when I bake a cake that is just right that it vanishes off the buffet table in seconds.
Forty kilometers away from Marawi, not knowing if my family still has a house to go back to, if my baking utensils are still in the cupboard, I still cannot be anything but grateful for our safety. One thing that this crisis has taught me is the importance of family. We go on with our lives every day chasing material dreams that in an instant can perish and sometimes we forget what is truly priceless. We may lose wealth, bombed in a snap, but we will never mourn as much as losing a family member.
Our house may not stand still, but the memories of the laughter that we shared within its four walls, I will forever carry in my heart. I will look back with joy to those times we struggled as a family to make both ends meet. In our humble home, we built dreams on our empty stomachs. In the absence of luxury, we tempered our values.
We built a life in Marawi, brick by brick. We slowly filled our shelves with books until it overflowed. My mother tended her garden in our backyard. We have two papaya trees bearing the sweetest papayas with pink flesh. We have a housecat we named Portia that we spoil like a baby. Last month, I became an aunt when my brother had his first baby named Marzia. She has become my greatest joy. Two years ago, I met the man I love in the heart of Marawi City.
I used to run at 5 a.m. around Quezon Avenue until daybreak. I love how the sleepy city slowly awakens to the soft light of the rising sun. Sometimes when I am feeling extra athletic, I would run across the bridge, the bridge that the Maute has barricaded last week, and I would slow down on the bridge to marvel at the mystery of the Lake, its shores blanketed by fog in the cool early morning.
We lived modestly. We lived with integrity. It was a life that is enough for me.
Marawi will always be home to many of us. When the gunshots have dissipated and the land no longer shakes with the explosions, we will go home to our ingud a pilombayan (land of our childhood). We will love it more, more than we have loved it before. We will heal its wounds, each bullet hole on the walls. We will scrub our streets off the blood that stained it. We will paint the burnt walls with vibrant colors of hope. We will embrace each other and swear to never again let them humiliate us. I see us Dansalan College alumni and our friends on the soccer field looking up our burned classrooms, singing our anthem, vowing to rebuild a better Dansalan because we are her sons and daughters.
Our days after the siege, In Shaa Allah (if Allah wills), will be better than the days before the siege.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Our Marawi is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her thoughts on what is happening in Marawi City, the country’s lone Islamic City. Sittie Ayeesha Dicali, 28, is a Marawi-based blogger).