At some point, I will have to take care of business, to answer the call of duty as I’ve been trained to do so well. I squint at the University of Philippines library, its concrete columns stolid in the face of my indecision. A jeepney putters by and I follow it with a longing gaze; the ubiquitous mode of Philippine mass transit is one I have admired for a while, but from afar. This particular jeepney is dull gray, small, and above all, functional. The rectangular sign affixed to its front says “Ikot” scrawled in black letters.
These Ikot jeepneys transport students around the campus loop formed by Osmeña and Roxas Avenues. How appropriate, I think, that these roads are named for two successive Philippine presidents—Osmeña who was the last to govern the U.S. colony, and Roxas who was the first to govern the neo-colony. The two roads join to move you not from one point to the next but in circles, back to where you began.
As I watch the Ikot Jeepney round the bend, I decide my thesis research can wait. I’ve spent the summer working as a travel writer to get to the Philippines, and I can now admit to myself that thesis research is not really why I’m here.
I turn my back on the library and walk a hot three blocks to the corner of Katipunan Avenue and Shuster. Here I can board the Katipunan-UP Campus jeepney heading south. I have researched this, like a good travel writer and a bad daughter; I know the routes I need to take to get lost. Getting lost has been my way of slowly, unsurely, finding my way home.
At the corner two workers jostle a wheelbarrow overburdened with wet cement. Students lounge in the shade, their white teeth flashing at jokes and tsismis. I lean against a fence and shift my posture more than a few times. I can only understand a quarter of the Tagalog the students are speaking. At least I’m wearing the right uniform, I think—a white T-shirt and long jeans for modesty, even in the probing heat, and a backpack that’s channeling pawis into a waterfall of sweat down my spine.
The Katipunan jeepney approaches. With effort I assume a look of nonchalance and wave my hand toward the pavement. Will this really work? Sweat beads off my brow and into my eyes. I am home. I am home. I chant to myself silently. Shouldn’t I feel more comfortable? Instead I feel like a fraud, like an orphan trying to claim another child’s motherland.
The jeepney comes rumbling to a stop and I beam. Challenge one: check and done. I step off the curb and approach its back door, or really its lack of a door, the space where a door should be. Instead of a door, there is an opening. I swing my backpack to my front, step up on the bumper, and duck into the world inside.
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