Penman No. 126: Friendships Old and New

IMG_5878Penman for Monday, December 8, 2014

 

OUR THREE-MONTH American sojourn has come to a close, and by the time you read this we should be back in Manila, a bit wobbly in the knees but glad to be home. I’ve gained back too much weight—the price to pay for all that scrumptiously greasy diner food and the cold spells that excused me from my daily walks—and I’ve begun to miss my morning tinapa and my suppertime tinola. But I’ve hit my research targets and more, and am eager to hunker down to writing the book that should come out of all this. I know that in a couple of weeks this vacation will be another happy memory, and I’ll be stuck in Christmas traffic on EDSA, sweltering and muttering why the heck I didn’t stay out there for another month or two.

Before that happens, let me thank some very fine people we met during this visit, which apart from the work was marked by new friendships made, existing friendships strengthened, and old friendships revived. I’ve already thanked my interview subjects in a previous piece, but there were others behind the scenes who made this particular journey pleasant and memorable. They include Sonny and Ceres Busa, Nomer and Camille Obnamia, Erwin and Titchie Tiongson, and Jun and Myrna Medina.

They may just be names to those who’ve never met them, and indeed they’re not the kind of A-listers you’d find in the glossy magazines that make virtual libraries of Metro Manila’s beauty salons. Even among Filipino-Americans, just a few names keep recurring in the social registers, either titans of industry or doyennes of fashion—leading one to wonder, where’s everybody else and what are they doing? Surely the rich and famous have no monopoly on everything that’s interesting and important? So let me introduce these friends to the world at large, by way of celebrating the non-celebrity whose quiet deeds lend substance to the sparkle of those better known.

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Sonny and Ceres hosted us twice at their postcard-pretty home in Annandale, Virginia and introduced us to the satisfying simplicity of Ethiopian food. The Waray-born Sonny had been a US consul in Addis Ababa, among other places, and his hilarious but spot-on insights into the American mind enlivened our every conversation. Ceres helps oversee a caregiving company for seniors in Virginia, a job eased by her patience and cheerful disposition, of which Sonny is luckily the prime beneficiary.

Nomer had been born in Sampaloc, Quezon and joined the Navy, where he met Camille in Hawaii; they’ve settled down in Columbus, Ohio, and our friendship began in the most unlikely circumstances. A committed conservative, Nomer had responded sharply to a column I wrote here years ago on artistic license, and our email conversation turned into a more gentle exchange of ideas and gestures. An expert in government procurement, Nomer had freely offered his counsel to our agencies and opinion-makers many times on ways of curbing corruption, but much to his dismay, his letters didn’t even merit the courtesy of a reply; I sadly felt obliged to tell him why. He and Camille took us into their home in the American heartland, where again I was reminded of the complexity and yet also the civility of much of American society, the challenges of Ferguson notwithstanding.

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As I wrote in this column two weeks ago, Eric and Titchie showed us, through their documentation of the Filipino presence in the capital area, that remembering the past need not be the preoccupation of the old, but has to be a continuing project for future generations to appreciate. A freelance journalist who’s been recognized for her work, Titchie wrote a fascinating article (http://www.oovrag.com/essays/essay2013b-3.shtml) about how a pretty stretch along the Potomac River was inspired by the Luneta, thanks to First Lady Helen Taft, who wanted the new park to mimic what she had seen in Manila, where her husband had served as Governor-General.

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Jun and Myrna Medina are old friends from the early 1970s, married four days after Beng and I got hitched. When I met Jun after being released from martial-law prison, he literally emptied his wallet for me, and later helped me get a job, a favor that in turn allowed me to propose marriage to Beng. Jun had also been a newspaperman and a fellow activist before martial law, but what many of his friends didn’t know was that he had eagerly volunteered to join a group of cadres bound for the Visayas, only to be turned down because his Capampangan origins would have marked him instantly as an outsider and gotten him killed (as, tragically, would befall everyone else in that posse). Another spin of the wheel of life took Jun to America, where he and Myrna have devoted themselves to their charismatic ministry. I hadn’t seen Jun in at least 20 years—only to discover that the Medinas had been living barely ten minutes away from my sister’s place in Centreville, Virginia, my virtual second home.

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Of course, let me add our family—Elaine and Eddie Sudeikis in Virginia, Jana and Senen Ricasio in New York, and Demi and Jerry Ricario in San Diego—to our list of hosts and sponsors (led primarily by the Philippine American Educational Foundation, the Fulbright folks). Other friends new and old like Mitzi Pickard, Reme Grefalda, Susan Brooks, and Moira Madrid-Spahr also contributed their time and attention to my visit.

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I was hosted by the George Washington University, and from GWU I have to thank English Department chairman Robert McRuer, creative writing program head Lisa Page, and old Manila hand and law professor Ralph Steinhardt. Ralph helped prosecute the Marcoses in Hawaii for human rights abuses when he was a young lawyer, and I’ll always remember his story about the response of a plaintiff whom he warned against the rigors and the costs of fighting the Marcoses: “I just want to be believed.”

In the end, that’s all we can hope for, and may my forthcoming book be worthy of all these good people’s graciousness and generosity.

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