Monday, 26 March 2012

My Travel to America: Seeing Sights, Gaining Insights (By Magdalena Odsey Kis-ing)

This article first appeared in a book published in 2011.
As a child growing up deep in the mountains, the writer could only ever dream of visiting the land of Lincoln.
She was one of the first girls from Mainit to go to school and finish college. And when she became a schoolteacher, she would inculcate in the minds of her young pupils the words of the Great Emancipator -
that we are all created equal and that everyone must have a chance.

My Travel to America: Seeing Sights, Gaining Insights
By Magdalena Odsey Kis-ing
When my children said that I would visit America, I was over the moon. At 71, I did not expect that I would still get the chance to ever see “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” But like a dream come true, with my brother Frank and my daughter Judy, I arrived in Los Angeles, California in October 2011 exceedingly excited to see the sights— but moreso, to be reunited with my only grandson, Second, whom I have not seen for long six years.
I could not contain my joy as I hugged my grandson at the airport, along with my daughter, Rhalyn, my son-in-law Voltaire, and his sister Gina – who came to welcome us.

My story shall unfold not in the chronology of the 12 states I’ve been at a marathon speed. Instead, let me share my experiences and the insights I’ve gained from the places which had left a strong impact on me, and brought lasting memories that I will cherish in the remaining years of my blessed life.  
Now, buckle up and journey with me as we wind through this so-called land of milk and honey.
On the East Coast, my niece, Mae and her husband Edward were our gracious hosts, tour guides and photographers rolled into one. We arrived in Washington D.C., the capital of the United States and the seat of government of the world’s superpower. Long before we arrived, I had been looking forward to walking the “hallowed grounds” of the District of Columbia. Little did I know that I would be literally walking through the three-kilometer stretch of the National Mall which covers the entire area between the Lincoln Memorial and the US Capitol.
But I was unfazed by the six-kilometer distance (back and forth) as I thought it would just be an easy walk from Bontoc to Alab where I used to teach.  I discovered however that my legs are not as quick and strong as they used to be, and I had to rely on my cane to carry a bit of my weight.
The US Capitol was a sight to behold. From afar, it stands as a proud and grand symbol of power. The 88-meter high dome above the Capitol building adds to the grandeur of the place.
My niece’s camera was clicking away trying to capture our faces in front of the famous landmark. But nothing could compare to the delight I felt as I watched the ducks frolicking in the pond in front of the US Capitol. Oblivious of the tourists and passers by, the ducks – father, mother, babies – were dancing and merrily chasing each other around the waters. They looked so happy, peaceful and carefree – mirroring my feelings when surrounded by my children, family and loved ones.
While maybe a common thought, I could not help but truly appreciate that beyond all the power, the grandeur, the successes – of which  the US Capitol, to me, symbolized – in the end, what matters is the simple yet profound joy of being together as a family.
That was just our first stop and we still had a long way to walk. We came next to the Washington Monument which is an obelisk of marble and granite built to commemorate the first US President, General George Washington. It is known to be the world’s tallest stone structure.
Surrounding the Monument are flags of the United States. I wondered if the flags numbered 50 to represent the 50 states. With my curiosity piqued, I started counting how many flags were there as we walked around the Monument. Frank said I would lose count, but I persevered and kept my focus. But I soon gave up when my eyes grew tired because the flags all looked the same! I later learned that there were indeed 50 flags at the base of the Monument.
During an earthquake August of last year, the Washington Monument was damaged and it remains closed to the public while the structure underwent repair. That stopped me on my tracks as I thought about how fragile, delicate and vulnerable life can be; how one act of nature can alter everything as we’ve seen in the many disasters  that struck us recently. In my simple mind, I went back to a basic understanding that we should cherish people around us, and make the most of the moments we have.

I will now take you to my favorite spot in DC – the Lincoln Memorial. I looked forward to paying my respect to a great man whom I’ve read and learned about in school – Abraham Lincoln. As I stood in front of a giant monument where he was seated, I silently recited his famous Gettysburg address which my grandson Second memorized in full when he was only five years old. I’m sure my Manong Ben, would have been most impressed if he had the chance to listen to my grandson recite those long lines.
While I could not remember the whole speech, what stayed in my mind were the lines, “… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” I stood in awe of this great leader and a man of humble origin, who began the process that led to the end of slavery in the United States.

After five hours of driving from Washington D.C., we arrived in New Year City and drove straight to Brooklyn where we were kindly hosted by Dinney Dawas-Bentayen from Sagada. We had a great time staying with Dinney and her son Mang-us in their lovely home. We were joined by my other niece Nieves and her husband Gilbert who traveled from New Hampshire to meet with us.
The Statue of Liberty, which is the icon of freedom, was our first destination in New York. Clad in thick jackets which we raided from Dinney’s closet, we were ready to see the colossal sculpture on Liberty Island on a rainy and windy morning.

After an exciting ride on the famous New York subway, we boarded the ferry that took us to the Statue of Liberty. The statue was a gift of the people of France to the United States. It is a statue of a robed lady representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom.
From the statue, we took another ferry to the nearby Ellis Island which served as the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from late 1800’s until 1950’s. We went around the museum and learned the moving tales of the 12 million immigrants who entered America through the golden door of Ellis Island. Today, the descendants of those immigrants account for almost half of the American people.

A quick walk on famous Manhattan led us next to the Ground Zero where the World Trade Center stood until the September 11 bombing. Opposite the ground zero is the St. Paul’s Chapel which served as a place of rest and refuge for recovery workers at the World Trade Center.
Leaving New York, we had a much anticipated stopover in Virginia at the lovely home of the Lusads. Manong Herman and Manang Mary, and their lovely daughter Imee, had a warm dinner waiting for us when we arrived. It was late when we all retired for the night after hours of is-istorya and catching up. We were very delighted to see them both doing well, and our talks continued on the breakfast table the next day before we all rode to Jamestown where Manong Herman and Manang Mary eagerly took us around this historic park which was the first successful English settlement on the mainland of North America.

On the East Coast, we also visited the state of country music, Tennessee. While we did not get to meet Garth Brooks in Nashville, we got to spend time with Claire, my sister-in-law and her family from Palestine who showed us genuine hospitality, that indeed, regardless of the color of our skin, race or religion, we can learn to live in harmony, respect and peace.
Georgia, North and South Carolina were included in our itinerary, and we also breezed through Delaware, New Jersey and Philadelphia. However, I have to cut short my story to save space for an account of my visit on the West Coast.

From the East Coast, I had a glimpse of California, by far the most populous U.S. state and famous, among others, for being the center of American entertainment industry – Hollywood, of course. I had a funny feeling walking through the affluent city of Beverly Hills, home to a number of celebrities, heirs and dignitaries.
I was musing over the idea that an old lady like me from Mainit is walking the streets of these famous people! I am not famous, and never will be. But that moment somehow answered my curiosity about the streets which famous people walk. And guess what? I found out that it’s no different at all from where we walk on. Some parts are smooth and paved, but others have bumps and curves. Such is life for all – famous or not!

Grand Canyon West is one magnificent sight to behold. It is the largest canyon in the world, and is found in the state of Arizona. There is much to say about its grandeur and immensity. My daughter simply calls it breathtaking.

We walked through the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a transparent horseshoe-shaped bridge 4,700 feet from the base of the canyon! We clapped when Frank conquered his fear of heights and completed the full walk around the bridge!

We’re coming to the end of my visit and I saved the best for last – my grandson’s eighth birthday when we invited our relatives, friends and kakailyan to join us for lunch. We were truly touched when kakailyan from our beloved town made the effort to come out and see us. They drove all the way from Arizona, San Diego and Los Angeles.
I will not mention their names lest I would miss out on some, but the fond memories, the laughter and the joys we shared – will stay in our hearts and minds. We are grateful to them all for making our visit to America even more meaningful. 

Looking back, whether here or there, near or far, what truly counts are the moments we share with our families, friends and loved ones. The memories of the places we’ve seen may soon come to a blur, but the joy of seeing them with the people we love will remain long after our journey ends.
(Kis-ing, Magdalena Odsey. “My Travel to America: Seeing Sights, Gaining Insights.” The Bontoc Culture. The Association of Retired Mentors (ARM). Bontoc, Mountain Province : ARM-Bontoc ; c2011.)
The author is a retired schoolteacher from Mainit, Mountain Province. When she's not visiting her grandson in California, she spends her time in Bontoc tending to her fields and moulding the moral landscapes in the minds of the younger generations.

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