4. Before I Was Born

4. Before I Was Born


by Lorena Llevado Sellers

My mom and dad are Tarcila Llevado and Loreto Llevado, both of whom have many generations of ancestors in Lawaan. We lived in the house that my mom grew up in and which was the house of her mother, my “inay” (grandmother), Sylvestra. There was a time during their marriage when they didn’t live in Guinoban–a time when they went into the mountains and had a farm in an area they cleared from the jungle. They told me many stories of living a life there completely without money — growing crops, fishing and hunting, about snakes and wild animals around them. The thing I remember most is my mom telling me how, when my dad would go at night to spear fish and frogs and other things in the river, he would tell her to keep the “lumusong” and “pato” out and be ready to pound the pato into the empty lumusong, which made a very loud sound — loud enough that he would hear it wherever he was and come running back to help her. I think this made her feel safer in that little thatch house along in the jungle. (See the picture of our neighbors today using the same lumusong and pato to grind palay into rice.)

But eventually they settled in Guinoban, in the small house of “Inay”, where they lived with her, just a few hundred feet from the Leyte Gulf underneath coconut trees. They had 12 children and I am the youngest. By the time I came along a few of the older ones had left, and a few others were starting to have babies of their own, some of whom lived with us, so even though I was the youngest of the children of my parents. I guess it made me sort of the baby in one way — youngest of twelve–but sort of the eldest of the second group, the nieces and nephews. I was their “tita” (aunt) of course, but our ages were so close that it felt more like being their elder sister (“ate”, as we call it, pronounced “a-teh”).

Living in Lawaan, my father became a fisherman, going out each day when the weather allowed and bringing home different kinds of fish depending on the season. My mother took care of the children, cooked, cleaned, and took care of a small farm plot in the jungle near the village which we inherited from Inay. She also mended clothes, perepared fish for selling in town, and occasionally played cards with some of the ladies in the neighborhood.

I was born in the 1970’s at a time when Guinob-an didn’t have any roads leading in and out of the town. We were connected to the rest of Lawaan by footpaths. There was a government project to build a coastal road that came through Guinob-an and would connect all the seaside villages along the Leyte Gulf but it was not completed until sometime after I left. At the time I was born there was only elementary school in Guinob-an and the few students who continued on to high school had to travel across the Leyte Gulf by pump boat to the city of Tacloban. There is a story about the high school students from my town that I am proud to tell-it’s something I heard about growing up, and have researched enough now that I am pretty sure I have the details right. (But if I don’t, and anyone from Lawaan can add to this, please send in a comment.)

Emong Tiozon
The “Miss Lawaan” and Emong Tiazon

In the days before there was a high school nearby to Lawaan, the only way that students could attend high school was to go to Tacloban, the capital of the nearby province of Leyte–a five to six hour trip across the Leyte Gulf. The only way to get there was aboard the pump boat (an oversized banca, really) called “Miss Lawaan”, which was owned and operated by Emong Tiazon. The boat would leave at midnight on Sunday, arriving early Monday morning around six, and the students would have to stay in Tacloban until Friday, coming home only for the weekends. Mano Emong was a tough businessman, not loved by everyone, because he had a monopoly on the boat transportation to and from Lawaan. But there was something that he did very quietly that not everyone knew about during his lifetime, but later people did come to know about it and recognize him for it. He never charged any money for “pasahe” (passage) for students–all the students traveled for free, no matter what their load was, like having a ‘student pass’ although no such thing existed. Not only that, often when he landed in Tacloban during the week he would find students waiting, hoping that their families had sent money to them, and when there was no money from their families, he lent money to the students, never charging interest and often forgetting about the loans altogether. Sadly, Mano Emong was never fully recognized for his generosity and towards the end he got into a bitter court battle with Apoy Ipe, his hired boat captain. Mano Emong’s health bean to fail; he had a bad heart attack and ended up being paralyzed from the waist down, then died soon after that. His children took over the Miss Lawaan and everything changed — everyone paid fares, no exception. The boat was then sold and Mano Emongs secret legacy was totally forgotten except by those he helped when it
was desperately needed.

I am very happy and proud to help keep his story alive, and I thank the others from Lawaan who are doing the same. I believe his story is the story of the heart of my people. We help each other, even today, and this is something I miss about living so far away from home.

Today I live in the U.S., in California, but I go back to Guinob-an and Lawaan every other year during fiesta. And now that we have good phone service and phone cards are not expensive, I can call home almost every day — at least 4 times a week. It’s not as good as being there, but it helps.

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