it was the mid-’90s, and perhaps by some sheer intuitive sense, our parents—the second generation of the Calimag-Tumacder-Abuyuan clan—decided it was perfect timing to take their kids on a long, faraway, off-the-beaten track vacation.

“this might be the last time we can travel like this,” one aunt said. “who knows? maybe next year you’ll be married or be having kids.” (i gave birth to S more than a year later; my sister would be in the U.S. finishing her MA; a cousin, C, was already starting her family then, and hence, could not come along; her sister, V, was already in the U.S. for studies and was absent, too. no matter—that left me, my sister, A, and a cousin, D, who is also like a sister to us.)

there were over 20 in our group, including the aunts and uncles and cousins we would meet up with in turkey. it was a riotous and momentous time.

we took a cruise up the nile river, where we were introduced to Stella Artois and how languidly seductive egyptian men could be (no, we did not give in). A, my sister, had me shoot a video of her acting as a tourist guide where she proclaimed proudly into the camera: “welcome to Tot—este, Kar—nak Temple!” she waved her arms back and forth as she led the group into the holy of holies and pointed out carvings on the walls: “we’re walking, we’re walking….”

D got propositioned by a group of barefooted Nubian men playing football on a flat, dusty field: “hey lady, you want to have tea?”

and i, perhaps hoping to have the local saying—“he who drinks from the Nile will surely come back to Egypt”—come true, had one too many Stella Artois one evening and didn’t make it to breakfast. parched and hungover and desperate for water, i stood in the shower and opened my mouth. i’m pretty sure the water was recycled from the river.

the night we got caught in a sandstorm, though, would be the stuff of family legend: against the wishes of our guide, we insisted on visiting a Nubian village (where we danced and ate at the home of a man with three wives; my Papa and Uncle F smoked from his pipe). the boat’s engine and lights failed us on the trip back to the main boat, and the boatman wasn’t sure if we had already steered clear of the area of where large rocks lay underneath. just as his voice was rising with worry, a sandstorm hit. we cowered in the boat, wondering if we were to become news on CNN the next day: “a filipino family of 12 on holiday perished in a sandstorm in egypt…”

we prayed our hail mary’s, huddled together, and miraculously, made it safely back to the big boat for the finale dinner, our hair and skin covered with sand. 

“ah Filipinni!” i remember an Italian man booming, welcoming us into the dining hall after we had washed up. 

that night, we danced again: my papa and Auntie E, a tango; D and the rest of the guests, the macarena; and every single woman in the room, the sidewards sway that the egyptian men led us to, coaxing us with a curious clicking/hissing of their tongues and lips.

a souvenir photo of that night rests on a shelf in my parents’ bedroom. we’re in galabeas and eye makeup and headpieces, beaming with the realization that we were still alive.

the Italian, just as jolly, is in the corner, like he’s part of the family. 

this song reminds me of that trip, specifically the turkey leg (pun not intended). D, A, and i wanted to see what the nightlife was like in istanbul and were surprised that the locals actually danced—and enjoyed dancing!—to traditional songs. this was the one song from the west that we heard being played during that time.

but i’ve digressed too much. egypt. the sandstorm. drinking from the Nile.

i’ll save turkey, israel, and greece for another story. 

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