Going home: Carmel Gleason travels to native country


Madea Neyor

Stepping foot outside of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport  into the Philippines was bittersweet for junior Carmel Gleason.

When Gleason went to the Philippines two years ago, she did not know that it would be the last time she would see her “lola” – the Filipino word for grandmother. This summer, she returned to the country to remember her grandmother’s life.

Last year on the last day of school she found out about her grandmother’s death. Her family had their passports expedited and flew to the Philippines. A 10 hour bus ride taking them to their grandmother’s town awaited them the following morning.

20 @Seascape Resort, Bicol, PhilippinesGleason said love from her family surrounded her during the 40 days she was there celebrating her grandmother’s life. Filipino culture sees the death of a relative as an opportunity to strengthen the family. The 40-day period after the person’s death is celebrated because it is said that his or her spirit is traveling to heaven. It was during this 40-day period that Gleason discovered more about herself and her heritage.

Each week she traveled to a different relative’s house and spent time with them. Gleason said her experience each week showed her a different perspective of life.  It is common for middle class Filipinos to get water from a well. No running water is available inside the house.

“It makes you change your perspective on life,” Gleason said. “It makes you appreciate how much we have that we don’t need.”

One day Gleason took the time to wash everyone’s clothes.

“Everyone was so happy when I did it,” Gleason said. “It’s the little things that bring the family closer together.”

She said she also enjoyed bonding with her little cousins. At 16 years old, she is the oldest amongst her first cousins. During the 40-day period her little cousins and younger sister were advised to wear red.

“I know it sounds weird, but in our culture, if you are too young to understand what is happening you must wear red so the sprits don’t get to you,” Gleason said.

Gleason is no stranger to Filipino culture. Her grandmother raised her when she was in first grade. During that year she learned how to speak Tagalog and two other dialects native to the land.

“When you live there you learn fast,” Gleason said.

She said she brought the emphasis on family home when she returned from the Philippines.

“At times we forget how important family is,” Gleason said.