sayang / by Anna Li

 welcome to imugan.

welcome to imugan.

There are many things I am learning right now. I am learning to go back to sleep at four-thirty in the morning to the sound of roosters wailing outside my window and how to shoo chickens out of my room when they scuttle through the open door. I am learning to carry an umbrella with me wherever I go, since the rain here sweeps in without warning and pounds on our tin roof in a way that sounds like a thousand fists. I am learning how to dance the "tayaw" at wedding celebrations and learning to laugh with the audience at watching this foreigner try an Ikalahan tribal dance. I am learning to give up my former vegetarianism and embrace eating blood sausages, chicken feet, and boiled pig intestine—even learning to enjoy them. Here, I am learning patience, though it feels uncomfortable. Things are slow in their movement. Learning a new language feels as unnatural as writing with your left hand. My research with Ikalahan identity and their relationship to their land is still in the phrase of research where it’s scattered in a million small parts that I am trying to slot together, piece by piece. I am still searching for my rhythm here in this new space. It is a challenge, that everything that was once familiar to me, like showering, is now new—such as bucket showers.

Already this time here has been rich, but also difficult in transition. I continue learning patience. I absorb more Kalahan words, which are deeper than English words. Our language is shaped like a lake that you can skim across in a long stream of words, but every word in their language is deep like a well. What takes full sentences in English takes them only a breath. In the moments when I get frustrated, I think about the phrase “sayang.” It somewhat translates to “what a shame, this has to be thrown away,” and the Filipinos use the phrase to describe everything. They do not like to waste, whether it is food leftover from dinner or space in a jeepney. But also, a friend explained to me, it is the feeling you get when you miss an opportunity.

Despite already grating against my own frustrations and wishes to be more comfortable, if I give into my comfort and try to coast through these next sixth months on neutral, I will leave this place with a feeling of sayang. And somehow I know that everything that I fear and everything that makes me uncomfortable, these are the things that will enrich me during this time. My comfort is peeled away from me in thin layers. I keep thinking about mountains, these ones. They are panoramic, and vined with jungle trees that bend over one another. I want patience like them, the ones that rest so still and calm on the edge of our small town. These mountains were formed centuries ago, churned out from the soil and shaped by eroding winds, pressed and recompressed. It takes time to make something that steadfast and solid. I am learning—and learning still—patience like mountains.