I love green mangoes, but I can’t eat it without at least a pinch of sweet and spicy bagoong (shrimp paste) on top of a tangy slice. There are green mangoes that are already “on the verge” of becoming ripe—but I don’t like those. I think take they the “fun” out of eating a sour, green mango. Semi-ripe mangoes are already a bit sweet, and I don’t like that (but my sister does). For me, green mangoes are sour. And this sourness, coupled with the sweet and spiciness of the bagoong (I don’t like the salty bagoong on my green mangoes that much either), makes every bite worth the funny face you make every time you eat something so sour.

View my gallery for more photos. My dad took the shots that’s why he’s not in any of them.

* * *

Last weekend, I went with my mom’s side of the family for a swimming outing in Pansol, Laguna. Marc couldn’t come with us (the unfortunate guy had a work shift), so it was basically just me, my parents, my sister, three aunts, an uncle, two cousins, two drivers, a maid and a cousin’s boyfriend. It was indeed a very intimate gathering.

You see, it’s been a long time since we had an outing like this. I think the last time was when my grandma was still alive. My mom had three brothers, each of them having two to four kids each—you can just imagine the fun when you have so many kids in one place swimming at the same time. My grandma would rent a private resort in Laguna (they weren’t too fond of beaches, it’s in our blood to painfully burn like toast when out in direct sunlight too long), and the entire clan would meet up in a gas station along the highway to travel as a convoy all the way to the resort. That was the time when mobile phones were just for businessmen and rich families in hilly villages, so you can just imagine how difficult the logistics was when one of us cousins needed to pee-pee along the way.

My grandma used to make it a family tradition to have an outing at least once every summer (I guess that’s why my family is quite a tight-knit bunch). But, like any family, disagreements do come up between brothers and sister. I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t go on an outing with my cousins; I was too young to understand why at that time. It was only during the past few years (when I’m already an adult and had the “right” to join the “old people’s table”) did I understand that my mom and her brothers would give each other the cold shoulder when they’re pissed at each other. No talking, no communication at all. Even the kids were forbidden to talk to each other (kind of like a twisted Romeo and Juliet, eh?).

The death of my grandma brought my mom and her brothers together, but it wasn’t until their eldest brother passed away a month after my grandma’s demise did they really get closer as a family once again. The two losses, plus my sister’s increasingly difficult to handle schizophrenia at that time, made them brothers and sister once more. Then came my mom’s major stroke—her older brothers (she’s the youngest) saw the need to take care of their one and only little sister more.

Swimming in hot spring water was a suggestion by our family’s doctor and neurologist. He said that it would be good for my mom’s rehab. I passed on the info to my dad and my uncles, and so the planning for another family outing went underway. They’ve been planning to have an outing like this for almost a year now, and it was only last weekend did it push through (one of my uncles is a pilot, so it was quite difficult to schedule a trip with him).

Ever since my mom’s stroke, crying had become almost a habit for her already. But last weekend, I wasn’t really surprised why she suddenly started crying for no apparent reason.

* * *

Family reunions and outings like this are like eating green mangoes with shrimp paste. No matter how much you try to mask the sourness with the sweet shrimp paste, the sourness of the mango is still there. It will always be there. The same way that our family’s closeness was brought about my losses and hardships we encountered as a family. We’re happy to be a family once again, going on trips out of town together just like before. But the fact remains that my uncle and my grandma can only join us in spirit, my sister is a schizophrenic who will need to go out of the pool every few hours to drink medicine, and that my mom will only be able to sit on the pool’s steps wading instead of swimming in the deeper end.

Our swimming trip to Pansol, Laguna was indeed a sweet experience, but we can never shake the fact that this sweetness is only a topping for past sour experiences.

It’s just like eating sour green mangoes with sweet shrimp paste.