We touched down at Ninoy Aquino International Airport at about midnight. Immediately I could feel the cold prickle of air-conditioned humidity on my skin.
We step out of the plane and into a glazed concourse of nations, everything covered in a sheen of sweat, the cold sodium light bringing a bright film to everyone's vivid faces. The heat is palpable, like a thick blanket that muffles sight and sound as well as touch, and even your very thoughts perspire with the numb confusion of languages.
Even in the middle of the night, this airport is thronging with vast numbers, and not even the shrill whistles and the immaculate gloves of the traffic police can order the teeming, dusty torrent of combustion engines and humans vying for each other.
Traffic is a state of being here. Jeepneys and motorcycle buggies jostle with taxis and battered SUVs, and mountains of all kinds of luggage--furniture, boxes packed with goods, entire households packed and shipped from one time zone into a distant other, all passing through these worn curbs.
The nine of us are met with cousins of uncles or something--in other words, more smiling, eager family. We gather our own small mountain of luggage and we tumble into the stifling night, through a city very much awake and alive, sharp smiles everywhere--smiles that cut like knives, smiles that melt and wound, smiles that freak the shit out of you, smiles that open your heart like a ripe mango. There is a whole language here that I can only dimly begin to see.
It is as though all the emotions of human interaction are heightened by the desperate struggle to subsist. Trash heaps toppling into open drainage ditches banked with crumbling concrete rubble lend a stark backdrop to the embraces of kin who haven't seen each other for an entire generation. Babies are gaunt, strong little things with bottomless eyes and grasping fingers, alarmingly thin and dark like coffee, playful and mischievous and ravenous.
And then the sun comes up, and everything changes.
I miss the familiar with the same fierce warmth. My own emotions have been stirred and heightened by the same cold burn of the sodium lights. Holding my Grandma's hand and holding my sleeping baby cousin in my arms have both transfixed my heart already breaking in the burning dust. They wear rags and live in corrugated-cinderblock-shacks from meal to meal, and they bring us heaps of steaming food, because we are family and we have traveled a far distance to see them, and because this is what you do for family. To all of this I can only smile.
Much more soon, as time and the opportunity permits. Much love,