Essay on Robin Hemley & Mohezin Tejani

Reading Hemley’s essay, helped in grasping one’s cultural consciousness and its present undergoing change due to modernity. “Before we left for Manila again, Pakoran’s daughter Susan handed Laurie a short essay she’d written in her native language. Laurie had asked Susan to write the essay, not because he wanted to encourage her as a budding memoirist, but because he wanted to see how much Ilocano (the language of the lowlanders) had infiltrated the local Bontoc languageβ€”many words, it turned out.” Asides from that there were other things that were changing in Guinaangβ€”the people’s beliefs or perceptions.

There was a quick-witted tone in which he hears about Guinaang and how they behead people, the grotesque stories he has been hearing about. However, he was able to contradict this tone when he almosts got beheaded by a wire himself. Hemley has a way of making his stories both frightening and funny. His synchronous style of writing showed the ideals of the economic and personal despair that was happening in Guinaang, that the development is being integrated but not properly, that the people are slowly decaying such as the old tattooed lady and Pakoran with his spirits. In this place however, the acceptance of life and death prevailed. In this travel, Hemeley had an experience of being mortified by this. “It seemed somehow infested with mortality and I didn’t fancy myself a connoisseur of death. I wanted to go back to my land, where my people recover, where they never die.” The Guinaang’s chanting and calling of spirits declared their acceptance and respect for their own culture and with death itself.

His descriptions about nature made the essay discernable. “The road climbed steadily through the pine forests. The mountains, deeply grooved with the few ridges but many drop-offs into abysses of varying degrees, shot up at formidable angles from the valley.” Reading this kind of style about recounting and writing nature views is a rarity for me. He has a way of making one envision the place through simple yet effective words.

There is a captivating method in which Hemley’s story portrays his characters. He has the ability to make them realistic. He personalizes them with their flaws and values at the same time. Such as Pakoran for he has the uncanny skill of a storyteller yet he lives a life of an alcoholic. There is this way of his that makes it horrifyingly comical, “Pakoran, dressed in a G-string and a short sleeve shirt with a collar, plunked himself down in our midst, flush with good cheer and Ginebra San Miguel.”

I also found a great significance upon reading Mohezin Tejani’s Fruits of Childhood. His perception of Africa as his home brought me a sense of recalling the beauty of nature and home. “The sun’s warmth, after the heavy dawn shower, has brought plants and insects to life.” His description about his childhood in Uganda captured his longing for nature and its effect to his being. His memories were a call from his painful and wonderful past, as he tries to contemplate on his homesickness as he travelled around in Thailand with his friends. “Missing Africa always depressed me, so I decide to go along with them to break free of nostalgia’s black hole.” He tries to find a sense of belonging even from far away. “My yearning for Africa is forgotten, replaced by a multilingual chatter and the green scenery rolling by.”

I can relate to what he was trying to say, the idea that food can actually bring back memories of your home and your childhood. When I read this, “The simple growth of seeds has the power to animate memory, to unify past and present.” I envisioned the place where I grew up right away. The time when I was out all day: laughing, playing, and being carefree.

I lived in ParaΓ±aque and our garden had three large aromatic mango trees. The smell of this fruit, whenever I smelled it, brought me back to my younger days. I have gotten flashbacks of running down to our small hill, carrying sticks, and climbing the trees so that I can read a book on top of the shady comfort of our mango tree. I would stay there for hours, oblivious to what was happening from below. I had my own world up there, usually getting lost in one of my Harry Potter books. Just like Mohezin himself, I had memories in my childhood that made me feel sentimental and away from the outer world. I go back in time with a magical sense of wonder and amazement. “Give me the smell of a childhood flower, the taste of a forgotten fruit, and Zap! I am back to the land of my birth, back to the patch of grass we called our soccer field, and the constant drone of cicadas in the banyan trees” There is this perception that everything before was like a fairy tale story: captivating, astonishing, and yet far away. His yearning for the fruit, gave me the realization that in a sense that it is not the fruit itself that he wishes for but the memory of being back home again, or more so, the feeling of being young and happy again. Whenever I sense a scent from my childhood, I tend to remember my strongest emotions and then I begin to remember what it was like before in detail.

When he finally found his Jambura homeland fruit in Thailand as “luuk wah,” I became conscious that each of us yearns for the feeling of home. A place where we belong. A place of family and being a member. “The assistant passes the bowl to my friends who, again, find the taste not to their liking. I couldn’t care less. I am back in Uganda, on a dirt road across from my house, playing games with my childhood friends in a jambura tree. We are playing “tree-tag” among the high branches.” This correlates with my own experience whenever I see an ‘Aratiles’ or a Muntingia tree, it makes me relive all my childhood memories with a warm feeling that makes me smile. I still remember its cherry-like shape as it rolled on my palm and its sweet succulent taste. I would close my eyes with an inner tone of delight. I still see my childhood buddies as they waited for me to climb down the tree and give them some of the little treats. This is how our senses bring us back to memory. They have a power to recall our joys, our pains, and our pasts. It is enabling enough to remind us that each one of us should always aim for this feeling of serenity, unwinding, and bliss. “Africa, it seems, is still deep within me, despite thirty years of globetrotting.” This short story, I daresay, is about finding one’s sense of home away from home.

Written on November 2016

Published by Asha Gutierrez

Writer | Vegan | Feminist

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