That Time I Got a Private Birthday Concert for My BirthdayTuesday, January 17, 2017
"Buck up, Celine. You’re already here," I told myself over the rumble of the engine.
I was on a motorcycle on the way to Linan – a community of the indigenous Blaan people, located on the foot of Mount Matutum in Tupi, South Cotabato. I was to spend the night there before hiking up the mighty mountain in the morning. There in a place among strangers, where the only light at night were the moon and the stars, and the music of the forest was lullaby.
When I arrived, it had already started to get dark, so I get right to handing out candies to the kids. By the time I’d finished distributing lollipops and chocolates, daylight had already gone. With the aid of the faint bluish light of my phone’s screen, I fumbled back to my host family’s hut.
Outside the hut, I saw the father butcher a chicken. It was to be our meal that night. Before heading back to the kitchen, he told me to stay put and just enjoy the clear night sky, to which I happily obliged. I sat on the makeshift bench and closed my eyes. In a few hours, I would be a year older.
It hadn't been easy. This solo trip – my first – had almost ended even before it began. I'd been late for my flight, leaving me no choice but to purchase another ticket that cost half of my pocket money. To make matters worse, I had ended up in Davao, requiring me to take a five-hour bus ride to Tupi.
A nudge on my right arm jolted me back to the present. A boy stood half-hidden in the dark, extending an arm towards me. He was handing me something. I squinted and tried to make out what it was. Upon recognizing it, I felt myself blush. It was a flower. An orange hibiscus.
I blinked away tears and reached for his hand.
“Thank you,” I gushed.
He smiled a knowing smile. They’ve found out I was about to celebrate my birthday. Before I knew it, I had an enviable bouquet of assorted blooms in my hands, and was surrounded by all the kids of Linan. Not long after, they started to sing.
Under the light of the moon, in the safe embrace of the mountains, they sang their songs with their beautiful voices. Songs whose words I couldn’t understand, but every note was somehow familiar. I had wondered if I’d made the right decision of coming here. And right there, in the middle of my own private birthday concert, I knew the answer. The realization came with happy tears, and it was this: home is wherever you make it so. In that moment, Linan was home; its people, my family. And I was pretty darn sure I was in the middle of the best concert ever.
Storytime is a series of 500-word or so stories about my most memorable travel experiences. Read more here.