Photo caption: My family at the peak of Mt. Sumalayagon. Countryside living is love!

Life in Cagayan De Oro: PROMDI and PROUD

It was the thick of winter in New Hampshire when my husband told me, “Han, we are moving to Cagayan De Oro!” I felt my tongue recede, my brain collapse, and air swoosh out of my lungs. This was before Ms Universe Pia Wurtzbach put CDO on the spotlight so the logical taas-kilay (raised-eyebrow) reply was: Bakit?! (Why?) Lord, have mercy! These words remained as thoughts reverberating through my head because my usual ma-chika (talkative) self was stunned speechless.

My in-laws who were all in the US (still are) could not contain their dismay. My parents in Manila were equally flabbergasted. “Eh diba may Abu Sayyaf doon? Puro Muslim? You’re really ok to be promdi?” (Isn’t there a terrorist group there? All Muslim? You’re ok to be from the province/ boondocks?) said my mother. Finally, someone verbalized my fears.

I grew up in Manila and spent some years in the US, too, as a kid while my Mom took up her post-doctoral fellowship. She has a Phd from Michigan and she expected the same from me. The province was never in the picture. Living here was seen as a sign of regression.

With two young children in tow who have known nothing but American life, it was nerve-wracking to move to what many people say in the news as “No man’s land”. Mindanao, scary daw (perhaps)! Heck, it even rhymes. But my husband was burnt out from Wall St. He had just finished his MBA, and he craved his home-Cagayan De Oro. As cliché as it may sound, there truly is no place like home. In 2006, we moved here to the City Of Golden Friendship and never looked back…and the rest as they say is history.

Honestly, I have no regrets. Our youngest child, who came a decade after his oldest sister, was made and born in CDO. I am pretty sure my children’s values and outlook would be vastly different had they been raised in the West or even in Manila. I am really thankful that my children are growing up in this wonderful city with its warm and kind people. There was a time when my son had an asthma attack after he came home from school; however, my husband and I were still a few hours away from home. We called his pediatrician, who happens to live in our area, to ask what meds to give. The doc went above his call of duty and volunteered to pass by our house so he could actually physically examine our son. I have never gotten that house call service in Manila nor the US. And the most amazing part, this house call has happened on more than one occasion.

Kindness is prevalent because Kagay-anons are open-minded and tolerant of diversity. There is a Muslim community here who co-exist pretty well with the predominantly Catholic residents of the city. It is not uncommon to see Halal signs in restaurants and for our airport or malls to have a prayer/meditation room. To illustrate further, one day I needed a Muslim costume for my middle child’s program in school. I had no clue where to buy it and I asked my son’s classmate’s dad where to look because he hailed from Marawi. The following day, he actually brought a new costume to school and gave it to me. No charge; it was his gift.

Moreover, CDO is ideally located, flanked by both mountain and ocean. If we want to be sun-kissed, the nearby beaches of Opol are just a stone’s throw away. White sand is also available a little further in Initao or Duka Bay in Medina. With no traffic to contend with, they are both within easy access. The marine sanctuary, Agutayan Island, is also just a boat ride away. It is one of the best diving spots near our city. Of course, if we’re up for an adventure, Camiguin Island is very accessible too.

On the flipside is the mountain. My children’s school is on top of hill and each morning our ride is accompanied by the relaxing sight of lush greenery. No concrete jungle here but actual trees. There are hiking and riding trails in the hills of Mapawa Nature Park. A couple of more hours drive and we have Dahilayan, with its longest zipline in Asia. They also have the Forest Park, luge, tree top adventure, etc. The Del Monte clubhouse with their steaks and sandwiches is also always worth the joyride.
All the apprehensions about the Abu Sayyaf remain just that: worries. And worry is nothing but a foot on the gas pedal with the break on, thereby wasting gas and getting nowhere. I honestly feel safer here compared to overcrowded Manila. Danger is everywhere anyway, and where ever we go, we just always have to be mindful and cautious.

CDO is highly urbanized. We have the whole gamut of malls: Robinson’s, SM, Gaisano, and Ayala. We may not have high-end luxury brands like LV or Hermes, but that’s ok. The best part here is parking is free. We also don’t have over crowded malls, where strangers invade personal space.

The most common backlash against people living in the province is their speech. Some actually make fun of the accent and assume right away probinsyanos (from the province) don’t speak well. Granted most people here may not speak Tagalog (Filipino Language) well, but they can converse pretty well in English.
I can honestly say the quality of life is so much better, without traffic and pollution. Life’s pace is slow, sometimes even too slow. Well, no place is perfect, but CDO is perfect for me and my family. I never thought it would happen, but I grew attached to this quaint little town. Bisdak…that’s me! Dili na malibak ug dili pod mabaligya. (Authentic Bisaya, who cannot be criticized to her face nor sold).

(First appeared in SunStar online and Published in the Sun.Star CDO newspaper on March 09, 2017)