I'll be leaving for the United States next week. Friends are asking if I'm excited. Honestly, I am not. I am even worried.
Although the trip will be paid for by the United States government as part of its International Visitors Program, I worry because I only have P120 in my pocket and I don't even have a credit card.
One reason thousands of Filipinos want to go to America is poverty. Many believe that in America people pick money on the streets. I should be happy. I don't have money and I am going to America. Maybe I can pick some dollars in some streetcorner of New York.
I went to the US Embassy in Manila early one morning last month to have my fingerprints taken for my visa application. People were lining outside the embassy building even before the sun rose. Filipinos really need money, I said to myself.
What to see in America? When I told my hosts that I just want to see Hollywood, they laughed. They suggested that I see Washington and New York. Friends said I should visit an Indian reservation and the Grand Canyon.
I will follow their suggestions. I will enjoy myself. I will make myself excited. I will forget for a few days that I am between jobs and the Philippines is between two Constitutions and maybe a new president will be sitting in Malacanang when I come back.
I am going to America with P120 in my pocket.
I will bring stories for my American hosts, stories about my life as a Filipino journalist struggling to find meaning in the events I write about. I will share with them our joys, our pains and our hopes so that someday they will understand the implications of what their government is trying to do in our land.
When I come home, I will bring stories of my trip. I will paint a picture in my mind of the Grand Canyon, of Hollywood, maybe of Las Vegas, so that when I go back to Mindanao I can compare the feeling what is it with America that many of my kababayans want to go there.
Maybe there's a lot of money in America. Maybe I will not be able to spend my P120 when I get there. Maybe I will come home a rich man and I will be excited to go to America someday.