A reader of this blog recently sent me an e-mail that had me thinking. He wrote, "I too come from a small town in Mindanao just like Lianga but live and work now in the United States. I often get desperately homesick and start making plans to return home and visit my hometown. But the pressures of work and the need to provide financial security for my family keep getting in the way of that homecoming. I keep postponing the trip year after year and now wonder if I can really get home before my hometown has changed so much that I will not recognize it anymore."
For people with roots in small, rural towns like Lianga, the need to occasionally to go back home and reconnect with the past is strong. It is is a deep, emotional need that goes far beyond mere nostalgia but has more to do with one's search for one's place and identity in the world.
As life goes on and people grow, change and mature, they begin to realize that for change to be comprehensible, it must be traced to its clear beginnings. The need, therefore, to "rediscover" one's "roots" is simply part of the process of self-discovery. To know, understand and accept the person one has become, one has first to know where it all began.
In my case, Lianga was something more than a physical place. It was also an idea, a vision, a motley of memories and an accumulation of stored reminiscences that I carry with me wherever I am.
When I lived in Cebu for more than two decades, there were times when I felt so homesick for Lianga that the longing felt like a throbbing emptiness inside me. It was during those times, awash in the din and bustle of the city, that I took refuge in the one thing that kept me sane - the mental treasure box of the sights, sounds and smells of my hometown that I have always kept jealously locked in my mind.
In it Lianga is always in the middle of a hot, drowsy, lethargic, languorous afternoon. The sky is a cloudless blue, the pale blue of early summer and the only the faint wisp of a sea breeze is blowing above the dusty, sun-scorched, deserted streets and sending tiny ripples through the heat haze outside the open windows of the town's houses.
The salty sea air is redolent with the pungent smell of sea grass from the exposed tidal marshlands baking in the hot, summer sun. There is also the clean, fresh, lingering scent of green leaves and freshly cut grass and the cloying perfume of sampaguita flowers. Overlapping the sound of coconut palm fronds twisting and rustling in the gentle breeze is the shrill, melodic chirping of the small birds that frequent the fruit trees in the backyard of the family house.
And there is always, from beyond the town's battered seawall, the massive, blue gray presence of the coastal sea, deceptively restless beneath the seemingly calm, placid surface, the gentle waves showing little of the menace and destructive power they could be capable of when aroused to fury and relentless rage.
Such is the Lianga in my mind.