Monday, February 4, 2013

No Homecoming

I had not visited Cebu City for more than half a decade so it was with no small degree of trepidation and lots of excited anticipation that I flew into that city last January 18 from Butuan in order to join in the celebration of the 2013 Sinulog festivities.  It was meant to be a short visit only - just two whole days not including what little remained of the extra two days that would be spent travelling to Cebu and back to Lianga.

I first laid eyes on the Queen City of the South in 1970 when I was first sent there by my parents as a raw, provincial, seven year old boy in order to start my elementary school education with the rest of my siblings.  Except for a two year absence during my high school years, I would spend more than two decades of my life that would constitute the totality of the years of my formal education in that city.

In many ways, Cebu City became my second home and because most of my formative years was spent there, I was for most of the early part of my life more Cebuano than Kamayo and it was only the periodic vacations to Lianga during the summer and Christmas breaks that essentially kept alive the familial and emotional bonds that tied me to Surigao and Mindanao as surely as fish are bound to water and birds to the air.

I was a young college student when the Sinulog Festival was born in the early 1980's.  Like many of the youth of that generation, I regularly joined the street dancers frenetically weaving their way to the city streets at a time when ordinary people were still allowed to join in the Sinulog parade. When I finally left Cebu for Lianga in the early 1990's, the festival was already becoming more of a spectator event, the mass of of ordinary Sto. Niño devotees and revelers being slowly relegated to the sidewalks while group contingents and commercial interests from all over the country began to monopolize the Sinulog parade which had become one of the country's hottest yearly tourist draws.

After more than twenty years in Cebu I felt then that I have explored practically all of its nooks and crannies. The dust and grime of its bustling city streets, the dark and secluded gloom of its small side streets and alleyways, the manic energy of its nightspots and hangouts when dusk turned to night, the rhythm and flavor of the rapidly growing and expanding city that Cebu was in in the 1970's to the early 1990's - all these including the relentless energy of the local people as they all lived their daily lives have become familiar and commonplace to me.

After I finally left Cebu, the opportunities to visit it again began to decline as the years passed. Before the turn of the century, there was nary a year or two that passed that I did not, even for a few days or so, go back there in order to revisit my old haunts and renew bonds with old acquaintances and friends.

Those early visits were like homecomings of the usual sort.  The minute I was in the city I had no difficulty reverting to the pseudo-Cebuano I once was.  When I had to leave for Lianga, I would shed my city skin and become the Lianga rural bumpkin I also was.  The ease with which I dealt with this seemingly contradictory and schizophrenic duality never bothered me for as a consequence of my upbringing I had to become immensely adaptable.

Yet if there was something that I suddenly realized, to my dismay, in the aftermath of my last visit to Cebu City, it was the truth that the fewer and less frequent my visits to that city gave become and the longer I have been staying in Lianga and, I have began to gradually lose touch of that part of me that was supposedly Cebuano.

As I wandered through the crowded streets of Metro-Cebu and mixed with the delirious and jubilant throngs celebrating the festivities in honor of the Señor Santo Niño, I could not shake off the nagging feeling that I had become more of a fascinated visitor and interested bystander than a actual participant in a festival I had so joyously joined in with little or no inhibitions in the not so distant past.

Of course, there were the many familiar sights and sounds that brought back many memories of the Cebu I knew almost two decades ago.  Yet even those memories, mental snapshots of more than twenty years of my life spent there, have become blurred and mixed in with the reminiscences of the many other cities I have been to and had lived in since then.

As I jostled my way through the crowded sidewalks at the height of the January 20 Sinulog parade, I was brought to a sudden stop by a group of young men and women, most probably students, dressed in jeans and colorful Sinulog T-shirts, their exuberant faces painted in a riot of colors and abstract designs.  All of them were jumping, dancing and grooving to the rhythmic beat of a local and bastardized version of Psy's Gangnam Style blasting out of the sound system of a passing parade float.

I stood there struck by the realization that I envied them and wished that I too had the guts to just let go and join in their raucous fun.  Two decades ago I could have been easily one of them, carefree and unhampered by inhibitions and an exaggerated sense of propriety.

But I had become too old and been away for so long.  I have also seen, heard, felt, tasted and experienced too much.  As the years passed I have become less and less the would-be Cebuano a huge part of me once was.  I have simply outgrown what I was so many years ago.

And as I watched the crowd of youngsters unabashedly celebrating the joy of the moment that day barely fifteen days ago, I realized to my sorrow that this visit to Cebu was no longer a homecoming of any sort.  I was now merely the outsider and the stranger trying to blend in and trying to recapture something in me that is no longer there.  Something that I, without knowing it, had lost irrevocably and tragically forever.

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