Since meeting my family in Ilo-Ilo City and Guimaras Island, I have been expecting to integrate my brief experiences into some new definition of self. But recognizing the extent to which I have or have not found meaning by meeting Lola Doty or Lolo Nando, etc has been the cardinal question of the past few months. These faces still exist for me in oscillation somewhere between “stranger” and “everything.”
My weekend visit may have been too short to establish a real emotional connection beyond our immediate and warm acceptance of each other as family, but it was just long enough to alter my behavior. This is a post about the social significance of the people we call family and the surprisingly simple process of cultural transmission.
“Do you know how to eat buko?”an Ate (term for addressing an older female family member) asked me as a Kuya (term for addressing an older male family member) shimmied up a nearby palm tree to hack off a few young, green coconuts. I did know. With friends in Puerto Galera, I had learned to sip the water from the bowl and to use the top coconut shell piece as a spoon to scrape out and eat the soft white insides after.
With our 10-pound bukos in hand, we sat down to lunch at a picnic table. A Lola handed me a Guimaras mango (infamous for being the sweetest mangoes in the Philippines.) “Now, I’ll show you to do it our way,” Lola coyly suggested, feeling that she faced certain ridicule for her provincial ways. She dug into the side of the yellow skin and proceeded to circumvent the fruit, finishing with one long curly mango peel. I peeled my own in this way, leaving a stub of peel at the bottom to grip while I bit into the fruit. Lola was visibly pleased that I embraced this technique, and I was equally gratified to participate. It was a simple, almost forgettable moment, but I have since returned over and over to this memory nearly every time I buy a whole mango–because now I have to decide whether I want to use a knife or peel it.
I learned to eat local fruits by local practice in two ways–buko by friends and mango by family. For the life of me, I can’t enunciate what the difference is. While learning from my friends was just as practical and permanent, there was something sacred in learning from my Lola. It was almost as if I was learning from all her bygone generations as well. I believe this is something that is presumed or inherent in generational learning: we imagine these lessons to be timeless and intensely personal possessions passed through family.