For the past few weeks I have been struggling with whether or not to enter Justin's contest. I finally decided to go for it about two weeks ago, but I have been having a difficult time figuring out how to approach my little essay.

Today, during a very disappointing and tedious day, I basically found myself sitting there in my cube feeling very angry and frustrated with LIFE and everyone around me. I'm wondering when the day will come when I will just pop and start to scream at the next person who crosses me.

Looking for any kind of solace, my eyes came to rest on an old postcard from Alice, sent during a trip to Austin. Seeing its picture of green trees against a blue night sky made something click in my head and the words came forth.

My entry for:

Where and Why.

It's still unclear on how old Gemma was when she died. Mother says she was about thirteen, but her uncle, Pay Willie, says that Gemma was closer to ten. In either case, had Gemma lived, she would now be in her mid-thirties and not very much older than I am.

Still, I can only picture a tiny girl in a threadbare dress, and dirty feet. She would have short, black hair and two, bottomless black eyes. Basically, if you see an ad for Feed the Children or C.A.R.E. and the ad features a small girl, that would be Gemma.

No one really remembers what she looks like, and there are no pictures of her. I have certainly never seen her, except in my imagination.

Aside from the memories of her seven siblings, the only proof of Gemma's existance is the letter that she wrote shortly before she died of leukemia. Pay Willie says the letter is a lament...Gemma's lament...and he refuses to share it with the family, especially my mother who is riddled with guilt.

Gemma ghost doesn't whisper to me as much as it cries to me. It begs me to prove she was alive; it begs me to read her letter and to find her grave. It begs me to cross continents and oceans to see the place where she lived and suffered and hoped.

While I've never really accepted that I am the product of a nation so foul, I've always wanted to go there, to see my mother's homeland...the Philippines.

It hasn't been until recently, during my battle with suicidal ideology, that I've realized how little I know about myself. And, it was only in the last few months that the direction became clear: to follow the travels of my childhood, and to follow the travels of my mother.

I'm not sure exactly why it means so much to me to do this. Perhaps, in proving that Gemma was a living, breathing little girl, I can prove that my existance is meaningful as well.

Specifics. (In no particular order of importance.)


Traveling Buddy #1 would be my mother. It's so obvious. She's been there for 99% of the firsts in my life, so it only makes sense that she be there when I first lay eyes on my family. This will be an important event for her, too; Mom hasn't seen her family since before I was born.

She used to have this dream of saving up so many thousands of dollars, stay in the Philippines with her family for a month, and feed & clothe them the entire time she was there.

I don't think that dream will ever happen, but if I should win the contest, at least I can scrape up the money for her airfare. This would be an opportunity too good to miss.


Looking at the year ahead, and taking climate into account, I would probably need to travel late this year, around November or December, but no later than the beginning of January. I don't mean to sound like a jerk, but the further off I could put this trip the better ONLY because I would need to round up the money for a trip this size. I am on a receptionist's salary. Of course, I would plan to get funds together well before November.

Airfare/Flight Itinerary.

This would need to be fine-tuned, if I were to be the lucky winner. J But I think the best thing would be to follow a sort of itinerary such as this: DFW --> Tokyo --> Manila.

My only princess requirement is calling dibs on the aisle seat. J

And, gosh! Tokyo!! I would definitely make the best of these layovers, if they happen.

Hotels/Places to stay.

Again, I may be getting a little bit ahead of myself, but I would make Manila my "home base" and stay at one of the more (sadly) Americanized hotels in the heart of Manila. I have checked out several on the Internet already, but haven't done any hardcore study into it. All I really care about is cleanliness and safety.

I plan to stay in the Philippines for 2-3 weeks, splitting my time in Manila and the town called General Mariano Alvarez, where a majority of my mother's siblings live. If we can make it to my mother's birthplace of Rapu-Rapu, I want to make it happen. It may be too heartbreaking for her as there is an Australian company ravaging the island for gold.


For a decade, my mother and I have put off any thoughts of traveling to the Philippines due to the turmoil that seemed to only get worse after Marcos was booted out of the Islands. While I'm not worried for myself, even with my lack of knowledge in regards to Tagalog (one of the Philippines major languages), I'm worried for my mother's safety.

We would both be seen as "the Americans", and word would travel quickly once we got into our family's village. It's no joke that piratism (??) and kidnapping is practically seen as a business there with Americans being "prime meat". To give you an idea of their way of thinking ("their" being a broad term), I'll use my family as an example: I am poor, but I have a car and I live in a nice house, so to them I am rich. Living in a house with real carpet and furniture is just beyond them. And to have a car...well, that's just pure luxury.

Web Voyage.

I don't know how humans ever existed without the Internet. Personally, I feel blessed to have been born and living before the Internet, and now witnessing its toddler stages.

By luck, I came into having an old, but reliable ThinkPad which, along with a slew of other gadgets, would go along with me on the trip. I may get a Visor just to make things easier (plus, they're more economical.) I'll be my own miniature "Real World"--in still life & written words, posted daily to the Internet.

When I finally meet my family, pictures of Pay Willie, undercover shots of seedy will all go straight from my digital camera in the Pacific to your eyes half a world away.

A Random & Short List of Things to do.

G.M. Alvarez

  • pack small gifts & bath items for family
  • pack manicure sets for aunts
  • check to see if we can send a balikbayan box to ourselves at hotel
  • visit Pay Willie
  • find out where Gemma was born/hospital when ill/buried
  • scan Gemma's letter


  • check out the former AFB
  • check out notorious bar scene
  • find out how easy it is to get a mail-order bride
  • get pics of Marines & such
  • get info on above from Dad/Mom


  • find out touristy stuff
  • go to Cultural Center
  • visit embassy
  • take a zillion digital pics (possibly set up a web cam??)
  • post to web
  • get clothing & plug converters from Magellan

Pertinent links.

Info on Manila/Philippine Travel


Brenda Marie Gainer "Brie"
11415 Summertree Lane
Dallas, Texas 75243