I’ve heard of the Aswang before because, as we were driving through the Dumangas area, here on Panay island, my wife became visibly frightened as we went through a dark and gloomy neighborhood. It seems as though these Aswangs live in Dumangas and try to fit in with the population by shapeshifting into young, beautiful women with long hair. They like the dark, too.
My wife was in the back seat with the baby, looking at Google maps for a destination that could be reached in a few hours. I almost spit my coffee when she yelled, “Oh, Bucari! The only problem is everyone says the road to the top of the mountain is not safe.”
But, as I’ve lived in this country, got used to a new culture, and made a hell of a lot of mistakes, I’ve learned a few things about myself and my illness. I’ve learned how to put myself on the path to recovery but realized these islands are not a magic bullet. The Philippines has changed me for the better, but I realized any work I’ve done on my recovery would have to be done no matter where I was in the world.
By the time I strolled through security at Iloilo International Airport, it was 8:30 pm, and I was already tired, but I had a long way to go before I got to Changi airport in Singapore. The activity could only be described as frenzied, as people did their best not to brush each other as they jostled through the aisles of seats. There was, after all, the Coronavirus going around, and you never can be too careful.
Nonetheless, I went and felt safer in Costa Rica and Panamá than I did in Philadelphia. The only area where I took caution was going out after dark on my own, something in Philly that would usually not be an issue (but that’s because it’s my home turf).
After Gimbal, the mountains are a short way away, and soon you are driving with the ocean on one side and the hills on the other. The road is winding and at times there are places where there is road construction and it’s only one lane. Road work seems to be a constant on this road but it’s much better now than when we started going several years ago.
As for when we’d be leaving, that was anyone’s guess. My multi-cultural and much more well-traveled friend, Christina, explained that once we’d left the U.S., we had entered Island Standard Time and the plane would depart whenever the pilot was ready to go.
I only began to realize how sheltered my life had been when I got to college at age 17. During my freshman year, I attended a small school in upstate New York, just a short drive from the Canadian border. At school, I met kids who were not just from different states, but from different countries. This was simply unfathomable to me; it had never occurred to me that kids from other countries would come to the U.S. to attend school. Yet here I was, surrounded by kids from Iraq, Ukraine, Ghana, and countless other places around the globe. I might have been the only student at the school who had never possessed a passport.