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My Penpal Loma

BY ELEANOR PARK


Today, with the spread of technology and social media, people often communicate with short, quick messages. While the speed that online messaging offers is efficient and beneficial, there are many drawbacks. In the past, when someone wanted to communicate with a far-away loved one, their only option was sending a letter that would take days, even weeks, to be received. Slow communication forced people to send long and thoughtful letters.


Now, surprisingly, through an app called “Slowly,” the same modern communication technology that brought us iMessage and Instagram has provided a way to allow people to send carefully-composed letters again. Slowly connects users from all around the world with similar interests. People then write letters to their penpals. While technology would allow the letters to send and be received instantly, Slowly simulates the old-fashioned letter writing experience and delays the delivery.


Through this app, I met “Loma,” one of the world’s sweetest people. A Filipino girl, “with some Spanish blood,” as she told me, she was eager to share the details of her culture and traditions. While fluent in English, Tagalog, and Cebuano, her regional dialect, she wrote to me in English and described many of her cultural traditions involving food and holidays.


Every morning, Loma and her family eat Pandesal (a common Filipino bread roll) and Puto (sticky rice wrapped with banana leaves), and drink Sikwate (a drink similar to hot chocolate, made from cocoa beans). During holidays, she and her family prepare and eat various traditional foods. One holiday in the Philippines with a distinct food tradition is Holy Week, celebrated by Christians around the world the week before Easter. Filipino Christians have unique traditions during this special week. Like many others in her city, Loma and her family begin travelling to the countryside--their ancestral home--at daybreak, so they can arrive in the late morning. During Holy Week, once she and her family arrive in the countryside, they participate in many activities and traditions. They watch movies, cook binignit (a type of dessert soup traditional to the Philippines), and repent. As she explained, “We just chill and watch Christian movies until 1 pm. Then, we start to prepare ingredients for the binignit, and after it’s cooked, we shout to our neighbors from the neighboring hill, ‘We’ve cooked some binignit do you want some?’” (Loma and her family were extremely kind to share their family’s binignit recipe with us, and it’s attached at the bottom!) Finally, on Easter Sunday, Loma and her relatives visit the beach. Other than during Holy Week, Loma travels to the countryside for a few days during summer vacation. These countryside journeys and being in nature are her favorite part of her culture.


Loma also recounted that the Filipino people have some Spanish practices that were introduced through colonization. In fact, Holy Week is one of these practices. Two others are fiestas for patron saints and “Day of the Dead.” In the Philippines, as Loma explained, “Every barangay (village) has a Patron Saint, and we get to celebrate him or her once a year.” For example, some celebrate the feast day of St. John the Baptist, and as a tradition, splash water on people. “Day of the Dead” also includes customs imported from Spain. On this day, for example, families visit cemeteries, bringing food for deceased loved ones to eat. Everyone then spends the whole evening with the dead.


I am thankful to this innovative Slowly app for introducing me to Loma and others like her. Learning from people in different countries is a valuable experience that most people often don’t get. Using Slowly can invite education and understanding about the unique cultural experiences of people from around the world, including what they eat. Below is Loma’s family binignit recipe available for you to try!


Ingredients:

½ kg sliced sweet potato

5-8 pieces saba banana (can be substituted with regular banana)

½ kg sliced taro

2 tbsp vanilla

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup sago

4 cups coconut milk

1 cup glutinous rice

1-2 cups landang (can use tapioca pearls)

2 cups water


Directions:

  1. In a pot, place water together with sliced sweet potato, banana, landang, and gabi and boil for 30 minutes (or when the ingredients become soft).

  2. In a separate bowl, add water and glutinous rice and mix them together (to avoid lumps)

  3. Add the coconut milk, sugar, vanilla, and glutinous rice mixture to the pot

  4. Stir for 10 minutes

  5. Done!! Best served hot.


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