It may sound a bit dramatic to say that this particular experience changed me, especially at age sixteen, but it's honest and fair to say that it left a lasting impression. There are pictures, snapshots in my mind that are as vivid today as they were 20 years ago.
I remember the mall. It was huge and had American music playing. I was grasping for familiar and pop music coming through the speakers did the trick. I remember the singing cooks and waiters restaurant. I loved it so much my grandpa bought the CD for me. I remember playing it a lot after we got home.
I remember visiting an area where rows of shacks were lined up near a dirty water source. I remember walking through some of these "homes" and trying so hard to have it register that this is where people lived. Dirt floors, scrap lumber propped up and old sheets hung to serve as walls. There was no electricity or plumbing. I remember wishing we had more to give them.
I remember wearing my long crinkly skirt. It was very cool at the time, with my blue ribbed short-sleeved sweater and new sandals. I remember frizzy humidity-hair. I remember mom not feeling well. I remember grandma showing us how she washed all of her produce in bleach.
I remember smokey mountain. It was an enormous local dump. I remember breathing through my mouth into my shirt because the smell was that of rotten fruit magnified a million times. As we drove through, there were children outside my van window digging through mountains of garbage for something to eat or something worth selling. I remember how dirty they were and yet when I looked into their eyes, how human they were. They swarmed around the van trying to get a piece of candy. I remember it being dangerous to drive, there were so many people around our vehicle. I could not grasp that this is how these families lived, digging for food in the garbage that others had discarded.
I remember feeling carsick when travelling in the church van because of the smells the permeated the city.
I remember standing on the balcony of grandma and grandpa's flat in Manila on new year's eve looking over the smokey city, listening to cracks of either fireworks or gun fire, I don't know which. I remember playing Christmas carols around the piano and singing with dark-faced visitors listening.
I remember the following year, looking at our Christmas tree, piled high with presents and having conflict inside me as I was anxious to see what was inside each package with my name on it and ashamed that there was so much there when remembering how little some had.
I can not say that that particular vacation was incredibly fun or relaxing or what I typically think of when using the term "vacation," and most of the things I remember are accompanied with varying levels of discomfort. I can say that I'm grateful for the window this experience created for me, one to view the world through. A window that allowed me to see that not everyone lived like me, not everyone was as blessed as I was. I'm grateful that while I slip into mild entitlement now and then that I still have that window.
I hope to somehow create a similar window for my children, one through which they can see that not everyone is like them, one that will allow love and gratitude to seep into their hearts for people that look different and posses different things. I'm positive that that window is one of the greatest gifts my parents have ever given me.