Strangely familiar

published 15 November 2015

Outside of the newsdesk, work sometimes takes me to places I would never otherwise think of going to, on my own. I always relish these opportunities. More than the excitement of traveling and seeing new places, it is talking to the people, asking them about their lives and then later on telling their stories that assure me I am doing exactly what I was born to do. 
Recently, however, the destination was a place far from foreign. Regular readers of this column would know that I only moved out of my hometown this year, after living there for more than 39 years. Since we moved to Quezon City in May, however, I have never once returned to the old place —I had no reason to, as I had only a few relatives left there. 
So at 4:30 in the morning one Monday, as the taxi I was boarding drove through the familiar road that I used to take every day, I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia. 
Suddenly, I was living no longer in Quezon City but back there in the old neighborhood. It was as if I had just come from a long and exhausting day at the office. Nothing had changed. 
It was still dark when I passed my usual stop. Everything was just as I had remembered it. The bank at the corner, the queue of tricycles, and even the early-bird workers who wanted to get a good start of the week were awaiting their rides on the highway. 
The cab drove further until I reached my destination: A kitchen mass-producing lunches for more than 15,000 school children. The kitchen was managed by a representative of the Ateneo Center for Educational Development but was manned and run by dozens of volunteers—those who haul the supplies, peel and cut the vegetables, cook the rice, put in the condiments, stir the pot and put the rice and the viands in the lunch boxes.  
What do they get out of these nocturnal activities? A steaming cup of coffee, two or three pieces of pandesal—and the satisfying thought that they are helping feed kids who do not get the right nourishment at home. Sometimes, they say, family members question them why they make the sacrifices they do. Imagine being at the kitchen at 2 a.m. They do it, anyway.  
Two days later, I spoke again to another group of volunteers. This time, parents who are a bit more involved in their children’s school affairs more than the average parent is.  
They call themselves Nanay Teachers, but there is one Lola (grandmother) and one Tatay (father) among them. They spoke about how they had been regularly meeting for trainings and workshops on parenting and on helping their child cope with the pressures of school work.  
The problems were universal—kids were too lazy to do their homework, would not help around the house, were uncommunicative about their schoolwork and their friends.  
Because they had inputs from outside, even from experts, and served as each other’s support groups, the parent-teachers soon observed changes in their children and even in themselves. Their children’s study habits improved, they were opening up, and they were getting better grades. 
More than this, the parents’ individual self-confidence improved as well. The more active and articulate among them were hand-picked to go to other LGUs and talk to parent-teachers in these areas. They find that wherever you are, parents’ issues were generally the same. Everybody wants to raise good children, but our methods and temperaments are different. It’s a trial-and-error process, with each child necessitating a different approach.  
It was not surprising that I chanced upon somebody I used to know as a child. One Nanay Teacher was the daughter of my late uncle’s friend. While we caught up briefly on how her parents had been and how both of us had raised families of our own, it dawned on me that this was the natural course of things. We move out, we stay in, we go places— and yet we find something familiar, even something homey, in the strangest of places. We feel some sort of kindredness with people we have never met before, or only very vaguely remember. 
In the end, it does not matter whether you are somewhere whose nooks and crannies you know so well, or in a strange new place, or a place you thought you had left behind and forgotten altogether. 
There is always a common thread among people everywhere, and when you find it, it’s difficult to feel lost.