Welcome to Balibago
In grade five, we had to commit to memory a poem called Cats on the Roof. I can’t find it now, but it began something like – the street where I live is a forest of flats, and it’s plagued by the most something something cats.
I think about that a lot in the place I’m currently calling home. I’m in Angeles, a shithole of a city in a no-good part of the Philippines, with which I have fallen completely in love. This city has almost no redeeming qualities and yet here I am, sitting on the front porch of my little yellow house, while dozens of street cats run around, terrorising dogs in cages, climbing windows noisily in the middle of the night, and just generally owning the entire place in the way that cats do.
Why this place and why now? What on earth am I doing here?
I came to Angeles about a month ago because a friend asked me to. Part of his business is based in Clark Freeport and he was coming over to work with his team. I came here without any expectations. I literally had no ideas about the place. I didn’t even know I was in the northern hemisphere until someone talked about the impending summer.
“Wait, this is winter?” I said, wiping the sweat from my face, from where it was running down the inside of my arms and the backs of my knees.
We hit up the notorious Walking Street that first night, going to the girlie bars, buying ‘lady drinks’, experiencing all the worst the city had to offer. We worked in Clark. We went to Subic and pub crawled along the beach. I was, at one point, the drunkest woman in the whole of the Philippines. And somehow, along the way, I fell in love. With the people, with this shithole of a city, with a girl (only briefly), with the heat and the humidity, with the whole stinking mess of it.
When it was time to go, after two of the most intense weeks of my life (and that’s saying something, having had a few), when it was time to go, I missed it immediately, although I didn’t immediately think of moving here.
It was on the bus going to visit my friend that I felt it deep in my stomach – why don’t I just live there? And I talked to my friend about my adventures and she said – I think you should go back, even though I hadn’t told her I was considering it. And I talked to a client and she said – oh you’re going to move there, aren’t you? And a week later, I was talking to another friend and she said the same. There was something in my smile, when I spoke of it, something in my heart that was showing. And as if to prove all those yaysayers 100% right, here I am.
I have a little two bedroom house in a very local neighbourhood, surrounded by screaming kids and street cats.
It feels like home.
I spent the last year really focusing on my writing and my business. That was important to me and I had a lot of success. My business is now well established and I’m financially confident. I wrote three manuscripts during that time, too, and submitted two of them. I’m super proud of what I achieved. But at the same time, I’ve been waiting to see what the next step was. I knew it wasn’t Zagreb anymore. I considered Italy for a while. Maybe Turin. It had a good vibe. Or even Mestre.
I opened myself to the universe, waiting for it to tell me what the next destination was. And I admit, I began to get a little impatient. Come on universe, I thought. I’m listening. You’ve always been reliable before. I’ve always listened to you. Don’t you remember? Where are you now?
But the universe was silent, biding its time, waiting for me to find the right place at the right time so that it could hit me square in the stomach and say HERE! This place! This experience! This is your next step.
I’m not a fatalistic or spiritual person. I believe in the universe. When you live your life openly, amazing experiences happen to you, and it’s up to you to receive them or not. It’s how I’ve always lived my life, although there have been periods where I’ve forgotten how to do it. But I felt it again so strongly here, the urge to say yes to everything, to accept and be accepted, to exist and to experience. To love every stinking corner of this fucking cesspool.
And now it’s my cesspool. My Angeles. My Balibago.