Mapping memories

musings on personal geography

During this quarantine, I cannot count how many articles, tweets, or posts I’ve read lamenting the loss of “personal places”–seemingly normal nooks and spaces that hold no meaning until someone brands it as theirs. There are some that have closed their doors, some inaccessible due to lockdown restrictions, and some lost to time forever.

What is a place? This is how I define it:

  • a geographical location with boundaries that may be definite or indefinite
  • a setting characterized by time and space: for example, Katipunan in 2012 looks very different from Katipunan in 2020
  • characterized by physical markers (e.g. land, water, buildings, flora and fauna, climate, roads), people (especially those who frequent it) and function (work, school, leisure, etc.)

Putting all of these together constitute, in a sense, a personal geography. The word comes from geo (earth) and graphein (to write)–my way of describing the earth is bound extricably to the sum total of boundaries I draw around spaces in order to turn them into places. Places I can name, perceive, love, and visit. Places that are made real by the meanings I associate with each marker present in a specific spatial, temporal, and emotional context.

It is crazy to know that my sense of geography is held together by so many places that now exist only in my memory. Moving from one country to another without having the option to revisit all the places I have left behind makes me feel so… lost.

There are places I can no longer visit:

  • Word of Life International Bahrain – For the longest time, the church we attended as kids rented a villa somewhere in Manama. I learned recently that it moved to a new and probably larger villa, and that the admin gave up the lease after the senior pastor died.
  • Our old flats in Hoora and Salihiya – These are the last spaces which our family did not share with other renters, and it makes my heart break to realize that the last time we lived together in one roof without anyone else 13 years ago. I don’t have a pressing reason to spend money on a plane ticket back to Bahrain, and sadly, I’ve recently discovered that I don’t know how to locate these on Google Maps.
  • Tito Serge and Tita Polly’s flat in Muharraq – Tito Serge and Tita Polly were an older couple who took care of our family when we first moved to Bahrain. We spent a lot of nights of Bible study in their house, and although I no longer remember what we kids were fed to keep us hushed during meetings, I have always remembered this home as a refuge.
  • Nicole’s house in Awali – If you lived in a single detached unit like a bungalow, in my 7-year-old mind, you were RICH. Nicole was one of my playmates and probably the only person with whom my parents allowed me to have sleepovers. Her family moved back to the Philippines for good during the Arab Spring.
  • Old campuses of Philippine School Doha – high school. Enough said.
  • MP Traders building in Umm Ghwailina – A lot of harsh and traumatic events happened here, but I still wanted to visit it to see how far I had gone.
  • Flat 9 in Najma – This is the last place I’ve lived in Qatar before moving to the Philippines for college. Whenever I call Qatar home, I envision the colorful carpets and faux stained glass windows of this quiet flat. It had egg cartons on the wall, stickers along the wall, and stairs that I daresay are the easiest to climb in the whole world. I learned last year that this row of buildings had been demolished.

If these places are gone, then does the world I describe still exist?

I realize from writing a draft of this in my journal that this is not going to be a one-off post. It is a central theme that haunts my memories and my life decisions, and I know that there are no easy answers. I’ve created the tag wandering home for unpacking place-related messiness, and I hope that I can cultivate this safe space for ugly bawling.

Question: do you also have a space that is lost to you forever?

2 thoughts on “Mapping memories”

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