Mong Nardo

I will never forget his smile, or his way of tapping you on the shoulder and calling you “buddy”. When we arrived in the Philippines, this lovely 60 + year old, became our personal driver. Mong Nardo, a personality that was bigger and happier than sunshine, his happiness and pride hit you square on, and if it didn’t rub off on you immediately, he would work on you, until you were insanely happy. He knew everyone, and I mean everyone. He could park anywhere, and knew every guard, salesperson, jeepney driver, and every piece of gossip happening in every household in every neighbourhood. He told us stories and lots of them, stories of the Philippines during WW2, and being a child planting bombs for the Americans. His stories were always captivating and maybe slightly exaggerated, but who cared, he was awesome. His true happiness came when talking about his family. His wife, children and grandchildren were his life, his heart, his everything. Every morning, we would pile into the car, blast music, and he would drop us off at school, always yelling out “you have good day buddies, see you later.” At the end of the day, we would pile back in, and he would ask “you learn a lot, right buddies.” Then launch into the fact that one of his children had grown up to be a doctor, and one a lawyer, and he had 2 still going to school. We were always impressed, and loved hearing his stories. When he wasn’t there to greet us, and it was another driver, we always sighed in disappointment. He didn’t worm his way into our hearts, he danced. I think I loved him the moment I met him, we all leaned on him, we all trusted him, and felt secure with him around.  He was so good, that my parents entrusted him with everything, he delivered us to school, picked us up, shuttled my Mother everywhere, and began filling in with Embassy drivers delivering letters and packages. My Father quickly saw that he needed to be an embassy driver, and had a secure job with a  medical plan. After a year of being our personal driver, he moved to be a full time driver at the Embassy. We were happy for him, but incredibly sad for us.

By our 3rd year in the Philippines, both my brother and sister were in University, and I was left alone, going to a new school, and ride alone in a car with a driver I detested. I was incredibly lonely, I had lots of friends, and life was good, but as usual, I was split in 2 and it was always difficult to keep things in check. Our personal driver just wasn’t the same. He wasn’t Mong Nardo. On one day, A navy car drove up in the queue of cars, it had Canadian diplomatic plates, the windows rolled down, and all I heard was ‘Buuuuudddddy” and a smiling Mong Nardo hopped out of the driver’s seat. I was so excited, I ran to him, and jumped into his arms screaming “Mong Nardo!!!” He laughed and hugged me back. Everyone in the queue stared at the strange sight, it was not normal to hug a driver, people were whispering, and making comments.  In my head, Mong Nardo had become my cherished Uncle, every time I left him, I told him I loved him, and he would respond back with an I love you. I am not sure we ever exchanged that in public, or that my parents every knew that I told a gentleman that was not of blood, or 50 years my senior, that I truly loved him like he was my uncle, but I didn’t care.

He handed me a lollipop, and told me that our family driver Ray was on the opposite end of the city and my Father ordered Mong Nardo to pick me up. I was so happy to see him, I asked him if we had time for our regular treat. He laughed and said “of course, buddy.” I got into the front seat, and we were off to our favourite little stand, to have a calamansi juice and a sweat treat to chat about school. It was our secret, every time he got a free chance to pick me up from school, we drove to the same stand, and sat on the hood of the car, and I told him all about school and boys, while he nodded and laughed, and told me about what his grandchildren were up to. I loved those moments, being in a part of Manila I normally didn’t go to, unless I was with Mong Nardo, eating local foods. He knew more about my life than my parents. He would then drop me off at home, usually to a parent less house and the rest of the local staff were busy preparing for another event or official visit. Mong Nardo, always seemed to know when I needed him, when I was at my loneliest.

One afternoon, my Mother announced that she and my Father were going on a trip together. I would be left for 5 days alone in the house, or could go sleep next door at her best friends house (our neighbours happened to be my parents best friends, we did a lot together as a family). I cried. I was so upset, I didn’t want to be left behind. My Mother didn’t understand why I was so upset, but I don’t remember her trying to console me that much. I was 12, and absolutely petrified. My Father gave me the usual sh-peal of if something happened to them, I had every right to stay in the house until my Aunt arrived from Canada. The lecture and process had been hardwired into my brain, I knew the process, but it didn’t make it any easier. By the time I would leave for school, they would be gone. I was gutted. As much as I loved our neighbours, I didn’t want to sleep at their house. I wanted to stay in our house, I decided to sleep in my parents room, with the lights on, and the t.v blasting for company.

There he was, Mong Nardo arrived this next morning. Told Ray our personal driver to take a hike, and drove me to school. I cried the whole way to school, and told Mong Nardo how scared I was about being alone. He laughed and said “You not alone, buddy, I am here, and you are family, we will take care of you”. In many ways, I knew he was genuine, that he would be there if I needed anything. I dried up my tears, and got out of the car. The day dragged on, but there in the queue of cars, Mong Nardo was there again to pick me up. Telling me he rearranged his embassy work to make sure he could pick me up. He must have told the rest of the staff how scared I was, that night, Mong Nardo came back, and slept at the house, and I sat at the kitchen table with the staff, breaking all barriers of staff versus diplomatic kid. None of them waited on me, they just knew, I needed my family. I looked around that table, and for the first time in 3 years, I felt at home with all of these crazy characters, who were paid to work in the house, not embrace me as a family member.




Growing up the way I did, I never really felt attached to one particular place, I never felt grounded or secure. I grew up with the feeling that the rug was always about to be pulled from under me with every posting announcement. I have never gone back to the countries I have lived in abroad, I always felt for some reason, it would ruin them, it would taint the happy memories that I have held onto during the bad moments.

When I left Ottawa several years ago, I knew I would have to come back, I just didn’t know when. Ottawa always had this push-pull feeling, it was sort of home, or as close to me understanding what home was. I had history there, family that had lived there, and we always came back to the same neighbourhood. In all my in and outs from Ottawa, it never really changed. The people, the culture, even the bars and restaurants that divided federal department employees, political wonks from every different political party, it just never really changed.

Four years had passed. I was feeling positive, and was ready to reach out to old colleagues, see old friends, and reunite with a city that I always felt torn about. I was finally able to see Ottawa through the lens of a tourist, and holy smokes, it was really fun!

We made it to the hill for the changing of the guard. A ceremony I would see constantly when I worked on Parliament Hill, and kinda made fun of, because the tourists made it difficult to go from one building to another for a meeting. Standing there watching the changing of the guard, I was struck by a huge difference. It not only seemed like a smaller ceremony than I had remembered, but, there was a huge security presence. I shrugged it off. After the ceremony, we walked over to the main statue where the tomb of the unknown soldier lay. A statue that I spent my youth hanging out around on Canada Day, Remembrance Day… A statue, that I never really acknowledged as significant, it just seemed like a great hangout when I was 14-19. As I was showing my son, it struck me hard, the guards standing, keeping watch over, the security detail all the way around the downtown. As I turned slowly 360 degree to look around, my emotions got the better of me. Everything, and I mean everything, seemed to have changed. It was only a short time ago, that people had been shot at on the very platform I was standing on. An act of rage and hatred that I had never seen or heard of in the history of Ottawa. That innocence and freedom that I was handed every time I came back to Ottawa, no longer existed, it had been extinguished the moment that act took place.

My heart-felt a little heavy at that moment, because I remembered the colleagues and friends I quickly texted after I heard the news. They were all fine, just shaken. One friend, was just across the street, another was in an office on the Hill. The city, had become a capital city that day, one that in many ways, I finally understood, because it grew up. As the event unfolded, its resilience, its culture, finally moved, the small town acting like a big city that I loved to hate, had finally become a big city, an international city.

It felt off in every way, that I noticed that switch, and guilty that I connected the two events. And sad that the city no longer had a love hate place in my heart, it was all love, because, the international kid I was, and the International adult I had become, finally fit into a city I couldn’t while growing up.

It was the first time, I had a glimmer of what a homecoming felt like.

Dip Kid