LOLA MARGOT’S LUTONG BAHAY IN AMERICA: Finding the Time and Energy By Margot Marfori

February is already here. Time flies with the speed of a restless eagle. No matter how involved we were in 2010, it now seems so unreal. Here in my corner of America, I continue to try to store parts of my life in Davao, in places in my head. There, I hope to retrieve them sometime because I am not yet ready to give them up to the past. More than anything, as each day goes by, the realization that I am becoming more distanced has made keeping them safely accessible so much more important.

News of sickness and deaths, for example, from family and friends emphasize not only geographical distance but the helplessness of being content with sending sympathies through text or email, wishing you could be there instead.

While these highs and lows are normal, dealing with the lows sometimes tears a hole off the middle of the map we try to follow in the new environment we chose to live in. For a time we find ourself meandering through the dark patch. Remembering that it was a choice, thought out and acted upon, has helped in lifting up sinking spirits. And, knowing that the children are nice and near enough for visits and frequent calls make up for a large part of the negativity.

Making new friends seems to be the hardest to do. Specially since you are of an age when there are already set habits. When the details of living, you think, have been dealt with, and so focuses on other matters that involve life outside the home. Developing friendships when the novelty of being in America slowly dissipates, seems to be a task especially difficult.

Here in America, as everyone knows already, there are no maids to do housework for you. Unless, you hire someone to come every few days a week to clean, which will cost you a large sum, especially if you are still converting your pesos to dollars. So, inevitably, you have to do everything. And, because you are used to your surroundings in a constant state of clean (because your maids did that for you in Davao) you try to do the same in your new home. You discover how, if you want your house to be in the same state of clean, the task takes so much of your time and energy that doing it everyday is impossible. But even if you do develop a sense of organization and time management that seems to handle these things in the long run, developing a life outside the confines of your acceptably clean house now becomes another task to handle.

For one, it never crossed my mind that having to speak in English all the time could be so tiring. It never had to be so purely in English before, I now realize, even when I was teaching at the Ateneo de Davao or UP-Min. There were pockets of localization even during lectures. Here, they wouldn’t understand you when you suddenly inject “gani” or “lagi” or “bitaw” or “unya” or “gyud”… These little words which were so much an integral part of my everyday verbal diction now elicits suddenly blank looks and, “I’m sorry, what was that?” or “I didn’t get that.” or “Excuse me?” That one expression of emphasis somehow made all the English words before and after sound like Bisaya to them, I guess. (Hay, kapuya uy!)

The simplest and most basic path to finding your way towards new friendships becomes another challenge to conquer. Everything you say from here on seems to be phrased wrongly and misunderstood for something other than what you intended. It can be so frustrating sometimes that the only other option is to keep quiet. I tried that for a while, but it projected the typically Western archetype of the submissive and shy Asian who just sits there and smiles enigmatically most of the time. I realized this was what they thought of me when I did not join in the conversations during and after the Tai Chi classes I took last year. Truth of the matter was that my Tai Chi teacher took up most of the conversation most of the time, and interrupting him seemed so rude. So I did find myself nodding my head and smiling a lot.

Seriously though, having to mentally translate everything in your head first before actually verbalizing your thoughts is kind of exhausting too. There are times when you do hit the mark, in more ways than one because we are better English speakers than most immigrants here. Being careful is the key because there are so many nuances of American English that does not conform to what we have been used to. Some of the slang we know are no longer used. Like “pogi” sounds so archaic to the new generation of Filipinos? So, you find yourself either explaining or rephrasing yourself.

Language is fickle. It accepts, adapts and drops what it wants. Being alert to these changes can be daunting, but ultimately rewarding. Sometimes we have to try to forget what we had learned. The American English we know has changed, just as the Castillan Spanish we are familiar with has changed. Being in its milieu re-introduces us to its present tenses. The good thing is that we have the advantage of familiarity with the English language in general. Though there is the problem of Filipinized English, it still is English.

We have to adjust if we want to eventually draw comfort in the choices we made. If we are truly sincere in adapting to the new home we have chosen to be in, learning the language of America is something that has to be done. And, like earning to do housework without the benefit of maids, using American English must be part of being in America. Maybe it’ll just take a little longer when you’re in your fifties, because the energy you need to cope with all the new changes seems to fritter itself away too quickly, even as you wonder how you are going to phrase your next encounter with the possibility of new friendships.

(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).