What are the earliest memories of the place you lived in as a child? Describe your house. What did it look like? How did it smell? What did it sound like? Was it quiet like a library, or full of the noise of life? Tell us all about it, in as much detail as you can recall.
From bits and pieces of woods, bamboo and nipa palm leaves, my father had built our small shack on his own. I can never understand why he had chosen to erect the construction just outside the perimeter of the fishpond. In my eyes, it made our situation worse and pitiful. Overnight his status changed from caretaker to exile. Though I have my own theory as to why the owner of the fish pond where we lived for more than seven years had thrown us out, the real reasons I will never find out. They are both dead now, and even then I will not dare to ask. My father will tan my hide and my mother would just lie, like always.
I can still remember clearly how it had happened. They came one afternoon when my parents were not at home and told us to pack our belongings and leave the property. We didn’t own much. Few plastic plates and cups, two pots and one pan, homemade pillows and a couple of blankets; enough to fit in one empty sack of rice.
I was there together with my younger sister trying to cramp our meager belongings in that old gunny while the aristocratic wife of the owner was standing close looking at us contemptuously as if we were nothing but dirt twirling her big white umbrella urging us to make haste because she had something better to do she said.
Shaking under her scrutinizing gaze, trying to grasp what was happening and at the same time feeling ashamed, helpless and angry at myself for not being able to find a way to defend ourselves somehow. I wanted to lash out at her, say something back, anything! but I was powerless. Poverty is a fatal disease. It murders the spirit and the body. Then and there I made a promise to myself never to be poor again.
The house (if one can call it like that) had bare beaten earth as flooring. A big bamboo bed served as the only sleeping area. There was an overhead makeshift compartment for holding boxes of clothes and sleeping gear, there I slept together with two of my younger sisters. On the dirt floor directly opposite the bed, my father fashioned a stationary table from pieces of cast away boards and rough dried saplings; we used that piece for almost everything; from eating to preparing meals, folding or ironing the wash and doing some home works. Next to it was an elevated construction of wood on four legs. It served as the kitchen area.That end of the shanty had no walls and was open to marshy part of the bogland which my father painstakingly tried to turn into a vegetable patch and surprisingly with success. So, from our little habitat, either sleeping eating or cooking, we had the uninterrupted view of our “garden.”
The toilet was totally other matter, it was a hole in the ground few meters away from our house and made private by adding four walls made of braided coconut leaves, we had warnings from census people every time they came to visit. Life was grand.
I tried to liven up the place by planting assorted species of flowering plants using empty milk cans as containers. I put them in rows next to the front street side of the house using two bamboo poles as a bench to elevate them from the ground, therefore, more pleasing to the eye. I was already obsessed with design even then.
I even planted two sorts of ground covers with complementary colors, one in purple shade, the other green. I placed them just under the roof ends where the rain pours the most so I don’t need to water them for water was scarce. My parents taught us to cope whatever the situations are. Lessons I learned the hard way and sworn to live by.
I will never forget the time I came back from studying in the big city, the bus stopped where I asked the driver to pulled off, next to the place where I remember our little shack stood; and cannot believe my eyes when I saw a pitiful, dilapidated rambling shack with roof so thin it was gray and almost non-existent. I thought I was in the wrong place! Only when my sister came out and shrieked with glee upon seeing me that I realized: this was really my house where I belong…