“Elmo! Elmo! I want to call him Elmo,” Marc insisted when asked for a name for his younger brother. Doesn’t matter what we said, he would not change his mind. Sesame Street was one of his favourite programs. We had not long before accepted the offer of a little boy from the Philippines, our second overseas adoption. Finding a name we all liked had become a priority. Reluctantly, Marc agreed to something a little more conventional. And a toy named Elmo as a sweetener.
We had arrived in Manila on the Saturday of a long weekend leading up to the local election. Election related rioting and killings were reported in the news on a daily basis. However, our taxi only drove past one election rally that seemed a little heated but still under control. Perhaps our driver (we used the same one all week) took us on routes that avoided the hot spots. That was 21 years ago. Two days had to be filled in with sight seeing and shopping before we could proceed with any formalities.
I bought. TRH bartered. We both had a ball. Suitcases were bulging at the seams with all sorts of local wares from clothing, to local arts and crafts and toys. It’s quite interesting how much can be fitted into a suitcase with clever packing. And we weren’t even over the allowed weight. I’d packed frugally for the trip to Manila, leaving room in the suitcases for empty cabin bags. They came in handy on the return trip home. I still call it the Flight from Hell. We’d left the bulk of our belongings with my sister in Gympie. We were returning there for a while before travelling home. That way our Queensland relatives would be able to spend time with all of us and get to know the new family member. A week in Manila in the middle of a hot, tropical summer only required light weight clothes. All our consumables we bought once we got there.
Four days after arrival we had ‘Elmo’ fully in our care. We had chosen to name our real, live two year old, Christopher. Elmo was a cute, bright yellow soft dog we found on our first trip as a family of four to a shopping centre to buy essentials like shoes and some clothes for our new son. Elmo joined us and continues to live happily in Christopher’s room.
On the 26th April we celebrated Elmo’s 21st birthday. And Christopher’s 23rd. In Manila, they came into our family a week after his birthday. Just in time for Dad’s. We had lunch in McDonald’s across the road from our hotel. Our one and only foray into junk food whilst there. Armed guards flanked the entrance, resplendant in gold braided uniforms, cudgels, pistols and hand cuffs dangling from their belts. The menu we discovered, was very different to what we were used to. I was delighted to discover they served spaghetti bolognese. It arrived served in a cardboard burger container. One lonely little piece of mince meat floated in tomato sauce poured over soggy noodles. I couldn’t eat it. Christopher had plain boiled rice. A cup shaped solid blob of rice sat lonely in the middle of the plate. Tasteless and gluggy, it didn’t seem to bother Christopher who ate every last little grain. He still loves just plain rice. The others were wiser and ordered the traditional burger and fries. I had to as well.
Twenty one years later we celebrated at home with a family meal. The menu consisted of corned silverside, mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes and steamed mixed vegetables. It was followed by Christopher’s favourite strawberry jelly glazed cheesecake. It tasted nicer than our first celebration in Manila. But that first one was special. It was the beginning of very many more celebrations to come.
© Raili Tanska