Life in Malay, leaving Malay

Our life in Malay for the last seven months has been near this beach in Motag Barangay.

On the mainland, the rice fields first turned bright, perfect green during the longest days of the year, and then transformed to green-yellow before the harvest, and then workers dotted the fields with covered limbs and hats because the husks irritate and itch skin. Then the fields turned earthy with mud, the hulls and seeds harvested for drying and milling and storing and eating. Right now the fields are glassy, blue with white, reflective of sky because flooded fields signal farmers can plant another crop later this year.

The kids are getting taller, a bit thinner. Some children around six or seven years old are losing that layer of puffy cheek baby fat, although their faces are still plumpish when they smile wide. Babies take first steps. Students are schooled at home through the internet. Birthdays come and go.

There are more storms now than we we first came here, to Malay, Aklan, Philippines, and went into quarantine at the Hangout Beach Resort in Motag for two weeks. There are more storms now than when we first arrived — more than seven months ago. We have lived here for the majority of 2020, the year the ‘Rona rocked the world.

Storms change the beach front on the mainland of Panay Island. Rocks are pushed into new places. Swampy outlets to the sea get choked with sand, while streams cut new exit paths into the ocean channel our balcony faces, with a view of Boracay Island.

Boracay update

It’s been three weeks since domestic tourism restarted on Boracay. And it looks the same, if not worse off than before because there is no tourism boom, no wave, no swell, no blip, nada.

When I go over once a week by ferry to visit a friend at one of the few restaurants that are open, I use the ‘resident’ line. There’s never anyone in the ‘tourist’ line. If there are fewer than 100 people going to Boracay from other parts of the Philippines each week, that is a lot. Pre-pandemic, it was up to 5,000 a day.

Restaurants, shops, tourist stalls closed

Several months ago, before domestic tourism started, I was allowed to travel to Boracay from the mainland because I live in Malay Municipality, which also covers the former tourism hot spot. I saw a closing sale in front of a restaurant on the famous White Beach. The business owners were selling everything from the kitchen – except maybe the kitchen sink.

Today, few restaurants, shops and tourist stalls are open. Some had tried to reopen with the restart of tourism. But it’s really a non-start, and now, after another three weeks of hope, these businesses are closed again.

With income gone and government aid limited, more Filipinos are leaving the island. I personally know several. They’ve gone to the mainland, whether in Aklan Province or somewhere else on Panay Island. Or, they are going to other islands.

The government repatriated Muslims back to the island of Mindanao a few weeks ago, with another 100 scheduled to make the journey soon. They moved to Boracay years ago to sell trinkets and souvenirs to tourists. All of that is long gone, for now.

Most Muslim families left after the closure of the island to tourists, but many left one family member to watch over stores or stalls. “Those who cannot afford to pay for their trip (back to Mindanao) were left behind, and are the ones being repatriated by the government.”

Every time I go to Boracay, it seems there are fewer people.

And now, another person is set to leave. This one from our temporary ‘home’.

Mom Diane update

My husband’s mother and my friend Diane is about to leave and go “home” to the United States of America. She will be ready with all required documents the day before her flight, such as a COVID test results and exit visa.

I have mixed feelings about this. While I understand her desire to go ‘home’, the world is a shit show, especially back ‘home’. Comparatively, here on mainland Malay, from where we sit anyway, it’s calm.

As a seasoned world traveler, she could have picked anywhere to go last year when she came to stay with us in December 2019. I’m honored she chose to spend her time with us, and I’ll fondly remember the last 10 months. And she’s already thinking about returning to this area again in the future. She’s made friends, and there are more hikes and exploring to be done!

One thing Mom Diane has been doing lately: baking bread. Theo loves a good loaf without sugar (me, too!) and that’s difficult to find here on the mainland. And so she’s been making a loaf or two a week, and the other day, showed me how it’s done.

As I have joked on my Instagram account: people who know me well will be surprised at my domestication. But making something so basic in the time of a pandemic and economic uncertainty seems wise.

I’ll let you know how my first few loaves turn out.

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”

― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Thanks for reading, “Life in Malay, leaving Malay.”

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