That time when I met the mayor

Tacloban, Philippines (image from CNN)

Tacloban, Philippines (image from CNN)

If I further delay writing this piece I’m afraid I’ll forget a little more each day about the importance of learning from another person’s experiences, especially the person I’m about to describe.

About two weeks ago, our institute on campus was contacted to see if any of our faculty or staff would be interested in meeting a Filipino mayor, Alfred Romualdez. My initial reaction was, of course! He is my people, why wouldn’t I? The Filipino mayor was coming to Duke to talk about his experiences as the mayor of Tacloban, the provincial capital city that was gravely hit by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013.

If I back up to November 2013, it was shortly after Lucas was born that I first heard about Typhoon Haiyan. In fact, I was in my hospital bed when I learned about the typhoon and I was immediately concerned for the safety of family members in the Philippines. When my father arrived to help with our son a week after he was born, we learned that our family members were all ‘ok’ so I stopped thinking about the typhoon.

When the mayor started telling us some of the tragedies that occurred during the typhoon, I felt the back of my throat close and my eyes fill up.

One family was in a water tower—a husband, wife and their four children. When the water rushed in, the father was somehow able to climb upward to the top (I’m missing some details here…I think he was instructed to go up earlier), but the mother and their children were left at the bottom. The water surged in and the mother could only hold onto and save one child.

The mayor’s own daughter was blown across town and held onto a post for two hours before someone rescued her.

In another story, a family with several children sought refuge in a hotel room. As they fled the hotel room thinking that it would be safer elsewhere, their 6-year-old child was left behind. In the end, the only one who survived was the 6-year-old who had stayed in the hotel.

Thousands of lives were lost and the city was blown apart by wind and water. Mayor Romualdez was courageous and pragmatic, focusing on getting communication up and the main roads cleared in order to implement rescue and relief efforts. After the typhoon hit, somehow a rumor spread that he had died. After reuniting with his family, he walked through the streets showing himself to his people to prove that he was still alive. Mayor Romualdez said that if he did not do this, his people would have lost hope. I could go on about how the mayor rebuilt his city, its economy, his people’s spirits…. No doubt, he was and is a true leader.

I don’t know when I’ll visit the Philippines next, but perhaps in the future, I will try to visit Tacloban, and maybe see the mayor again. In the meantime, I’ll research international NGO’s that are still working in Tacloban and see if I can do something to contribute to their efforts.


Creating Home


What does it mean to create a home? Over the past few months I’ve been thinking about this question. Settling down, as in putting down roots in one place, is something that I haven’t had to face before. But since my husband will be finishing up his PhD hopefully in less than two years, it something that I have to start mentally preparing for.

For the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to sit in a class on immigration and migration in Asia. In the past week, I’ve been challenged to think about what “home” means. For migrants, home can have multiple meanings. It could mean one’s country of birth, family, different places one has traveled to, a car, a boat. While listening to author Ha Jin talk about home, he described “home” as more of an action or having agency rather than a physical place. Home is something that you enjoy and put your energy toward. These words really struck a chord with me, because for the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about home as a specific place I’d like to raise my family in, a place where I’d like Lucas to grow up in. Anticipating what home could or should mean gives me anxiety. After my husband finishes his PhD, where will we go? Who will we become? Ha Jin’s definition puts a spin on the meaning of “home” which gives me comfort and assurance. I enjoy my job, I enjoy exploring the Triangle Area, and I enjoy being with my family. Putting my energy into these activities are my home. Creating an environment of love and care for my family is my home.

Usually when I pick up Lucas from daycare, he greets me and then immediately says “home.” This is because for the first few weeks he spent in daycare, I said “now we go home” when I picked him up at the end of the day. Last week, instead of going home after daycare, I took him to a store we normally don’t go to. After about 15 minutes he said “home” a few times. I realized then how much he loves routine, and also how much a strange place can elicit a longing for home, a longing to feel secure.

When we move in two years, a new place will be a strange place for Lucas. Home will have new meanings, but it will be the familiar things we do, like having dinner or playing at the park together, that won’t be strange. We put our energy into what we do as family, and this creates a “home” for ourselves in our interactions, dynamic spaces of surprise, hope, love, and longing. I’m no longer anxious about settling down or putting down roots. My roots are here, they’re now, they’re flourishing in fresh soil, the soil of my soul, actions embedded in memory and given to those I love, and shared in my efforts, my energy. Yes, my roots are home.

Lucas at 23 Months

Pau land Lucas

I’d rather be biking now, but my mommy insisted we take some photos before it got dark. They got me a new balance bike which I wish I could spend my entire day on. I talk about biking to my caretakers at school even. I actually just learned to say “mommy” and “daddy” instead of “mama” and “dada.” The other night I called my Lolo (grandpa) “Lolly” but they said I had to say “Lolo.” Fall weather is the best for collecting leaves and playing outdoors. I’m happy today is sunny!

Fall Flavors with Mint and Pumpkin

IMG_6426 2

“Mint” actually refers to the Indian restaurant my husband and I went to for a lunch date and “pumpkin” refers to the flavor of dessert we had afterward. Paul and I were fortunate to schedule a last-minute lunch date this past Saturday afternoon. The last time we had been to an Indian buffet must have been over three years ago in Baltimore! When we stepped into Mint, I noticed that they changed the interior design since our last visit over two years ago. The furniture and color scheme is more vibrant and contemporary, reflecting the hubbub of college-age students that filled the colorful seats. Their buffet, on the other hand, was a single row of food trays. I’d like to go again and see if they vary their dishes. For meat they offered tandoori chicken, saag chicken, tikka masala and a lamb dish, and for vegetarian they had chana masala (chickpeas), a few potato dishes, and a number of salads. Having traveled to India and Bangladesh before, I’d say the flavors were pretty mild and nothing stood out, but we were pleased with our meal and it didn’t cause a big dent in our pockets. After lunch we walked across Franklin Street to Sandwich to see what shakes were on the menu. The pumpkin shake was phenomenal and provided the explosion of flavor that I was craving the whole afternoon! Five dollars is a hefty price for a shake, but in this case it was well worth it!