Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas in Qatar

I just read what Chris V. Panganiban, one of the many Philippine Daily Inquirer Mindanao correspondents, wrote on my Facebook wall at 9:55pm of I don't know the day some months back.

"Bay, biya na ko dire sa atong yutang batoon karong Oct 15. Manimpalad ko sa Doha, Qatar isip reporter. Salagma man god nga nakuha ko sa among Briton nga managing editor nga si Rachel Morris aron himoon ko niya senior reporter sa The Peninsula.
Cge ayo, ayo mo dha tanan sa Inquirer. Padayon pakigbisog alang sa kawsa sa mga matarung nga journalists dire Pinas
!"

I don't know how I came upon Chris' Facebook message in the midst of some editing works at davaotoday. But I was thinking about Chris because we ate durian, and sugbang panga, and rambutan, and lanzones, and alimango during Inquirer Mindanao's blow out party in May, when Grace kept asking me if I had plans to go out with her abroad, too, and I told Grace, no, sorry, I will stay here with my kids; and Grace said, "Even if you'll get paid P---,000 a month?" and then, my eyes popped up and my ears burst, and I said, "Okay, when?!" I was still in the midst of an assignment for media law, some sort of an essay about libel and freedom of expression versus freedom of religion but I stopped thinking for a while.
Then, later, I heard about Chris already in Qatar without ever seeing his message on my Facebook until now, when I'm in the midst of editing this story about Christmas in some OFWs home, thinking about my Christmas, which is no Christmas at all; and the fear and panic and butterflies in my stomach, and some inner voice telling me to seek some job--no, not a job really but something that could keep body and soul intact--and I thought again of Grace and our wild plans and then, I realized that I can't even buy a birthday gift for my son. I only wanted to ask Chris how is his Christmas in Qatar.

Monday, November 17, 2008

On the Road to Caraga

It may have happened 400 years ago but the stories how the Caraga church was built are still in the minds of the Mandaya people.
"They fell down trees from the forest," said Agusto Diano, a tribal leader in Pantuyan, "When five men could not carry the log, the Spaniards would flog them and then, reduced their number until only three men, out of fear and panic, or by miracle perhaps, could already carry the log previously too heavy for five men.
They would drop those logs in the waters of Caraga river to bring them to town. The Dutch missionary Peter Schreurs, in his book, "Angry Days in Mindanao," wrote that the Spaniards failed to conquer Mindanao, except for this part of the island, where they put up the church that used to serve as their outpost, overlooking the deep blue Pacific ocean.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Juvenal

Hey. Are you a Dr. Juvenal Urbino, the aristocrat in love with the Poetic Festival when all around him, people are dying in the bloody Civil War?!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fil Am Books

Poet Luisa Igloria shows us the link to Bino Realuyo's fil-am book project.

Halohalo and a Broken Heart

“What shall we do?!” Prathibha asked when I chanced upon her online and read that Pooja was making a last minute request to allow us into the course.
“Have I let you try ‘halohalo’ when you were here?” I asked back.
“No,” she said.
“Halohalo,” I said, suppressing my guilt for neglecting her, “is a Tagalog word for ‘mixture.’ This Filipino delicacy is a mixture of a variety of sweetened fruits, beans, langka, jellies, lecheflan with crushed ice, topped by a scoop of ice cream, sprinkled with crunchy chips. It’s so sweet and creamy and crunchy all at the same time, you’d forget everything once you tasted it.”
“I wish I had that now,” she said. “The news has been so devastating to me.”
So, with a broken heart and a gnawing stomach, and a futile wish that Prateeh (in Kathmandu) were here, I set out to my favourite halohalo parlor, known in Davao as Mercorner, because it sits in a junction where Mt. Apo Road slants irregularly towards where it meets Quirino only to get lost and emerge at the other side as Duterte street. Merco’s homegrown icecream shops have been known for years in Davao, so that the moment I ordered it, the waiter broke into a smile, I almost thought he knew what was on my mind.
The halohalo that day - in Merco, they always come in tall glasses - was just as I expected it: the creamy smoothness of the ube ice cream contrasting with the rough crunchiness of the chips in my tongue. I almost gobbled up the whole scoop on top even before I can stir it with the mixtures at the bottom.
For this is what halohalo is all about: it had to be stirred and mixed together, so that, in the end, it will lack the steady and consistent smoothness of an ice cream. The roughness of crushed ice both shocks and delights the tongue, carrying with it a hint of flavour, a prelude to the variety of tastes and textures soon to follow.
With halohalo, every scoop is both a surprise and a new experience; at one moment, you ladle a fibrous piece of langka to taste its melting sweetness; and then, the next moment, a scoop of smooth jellies linger and titillate your tongue; and then, all of a sudden, you find beans, thick and starchy, crushing under your teeth; and so on.
Scoop after scoop, I savored those brief, delicious moments, drawing enough lessons from the beans and the jellies and enough sweetness to last a lifetime.
For halohalo has always been more than pleasure of the palate for me. I have sought it, time and again, when life starts to turn sour or bitter.
And that Friday afternoon, for both Prateeh and me, life indeed was soooooo bitter, I was only too glad for just a glass of sweetness!

I miss it again!

I got an email from the Asian Center for Journalism the previous week that Creative Writing, the course that I put on my list to take the following semester, was on a first come, first served basis; and that the professor would only take 10 students for it; and that I, and Prateeh of Nepal; and Yuri of Jakarta, and Pooja in Manila did not make it.
“I can’t believe it!” I said, because I felt I was among the first to express interest in it.
In fact, I was already interested in the course even before it was offered; because the course has been an unfinished business for me ever since I failed to come up with the collected works demanded for the creative writing thesis for that MA in English in Creative Writing I took at the Silliman University (SU) many years ago.
The pressure of the daily deadline, earning a living, raising a kid with asthma and finally looking for means to pay the boys’ tuition (including my inability to write a good enough short story?!) have prevented me from coming up with so-called body of works.
(How could I come up with a body of works, when I don’t even own my body in the first place?” I used to retort to friends who asked about it, referring to the role women are always forced to assume as mother, the nurturer and breadwinner at the same time).
That’s why, when the news first came out that they’re going to offer three units of creative writing as an elective for the MA Journalism Fellowship we’re currently taking at the ADMU, I was secretly dancing with joy.
"What am I going to do with a subject like THAT?" Seng Thong had asked from Ventiane. "It can't earn extra money in Laos!"
"But money can't buy everything you want in in life, Seng," I said, "Including love!"
"Why are you so crazy about THAT course?" he asked.
"Because it's my first love," I said. I did not say, journalism is just an alibi, an excuse.
But I was on the road when the emails came. It was obvious that everybody has beaten me to it. When they sent their list of courses, I was still on a Rural Transit bus bound for Dipolog, looking out to what I could make out of Kulambogan town of Lanao del Norte, wondering whether the Jamiatul cooperative of the Maranao women I knew years ago was still there; hearing some stories from the passenger who sat next to me, about what happened there at the height of the government and MILF fighting in August.
Or, perhaps, I was on the wharf sitting next to a police officer inspecting passenger baggage when darkness descended upon Mukas, Lanao del Norte; and I was in panic because I thought I was left behind by my bus, still stranded in Ozamis, on my way to Cagayan de Oro.
I never had the chance to log on to an internet café during that long and exhausting trip. Except perhaps, if I had succumbed to that temptation at the sight of that cozy internet café in Dapitan, just across the shop where they sell souvenir t shirts featuring the Rizal shrine and Dakak; but then, I fought off that impulse, and asked the tricycle, instead, to bring me to the Polo crossing, where buses bound for Cagayan de Oro pass by. I spent a straight 15 hours on the road from Dapitan to Davao, only to find out about the devastating news after I arrived!
Now that I can hear the halls of learning slamming its door shut on me again, I don’t know how to console myself because like the first time, I feel disoriented and confused; and suddenly, I realized, life has lost its meaning!

Three Men in my Life

It just strikes me more frequently these days that for how many years now, I’ve been living with three men in the house; three very different men at different stages of their lives; Ja, the more mature one if you happen to look at him, but who--and I only discovered this after years of violent disagreements and long periods of moping—is still very much the boy that lived on Malvar street many years ago, when Davao city was still a rustic town and he was a six year old on a carabao’s back in love with a 10 year old girl up on a camachiles tree; the girl whose black underwear he happened to see when he looked up in a mad rush of newly discovered feelings. Karl, the toddler who made life beautiful for me inside that two-story apartment on Tres de Abril in Cebu when I was still picking up the shattered pieces more than a decade ago, has grown up now to discover the world of men, the world with its own code of silence, a world where he does not allow me to enter supposedly because I, his mother, am a woman; a world where I secretly sneak into, every time he opens up to me to unravel the latest adventures of his teenage life; and Sean, the only one who loves me, no matter how bad I look, no matter how I misbehaved; in love with me like no other person in the world, past and present, but who is now discovering the curiosities of numbers: what twenty pesos can do that five pesos cannot; and what happens when he and his Dad join forces against me! These days, I’ve been reminding them more frequently that I’m supposed to be the only woman in the house; I should be treated like one: delicately, like how they’d treat a princess; or honoured, like how they’d treat a queen!
Instead, I feel quite the opposite. I’m the one who had to stop a difficult writing assignment midway to do an emergency washing for that uniform that Karl had to wear the following day but forgotten; I’m always the one pinned down to count Sean’s breathing every time he had attacks of asthma while Ja keep convincing me at my back that the child was getting better every minute; and then, after finally deciding (on my own) to rush him to the hospital, I had to take all the blame from the doctor, who scolded me for going there almost too late!
I grew up in a house without a man except for my father, who used to be distant, aloof and morose that God had given him three daughters (“Daughters!” as Topol exclaims, his eyes rolling up to the heavens in the movie version of that musicale “Fiddler in the Roof”) and no son! I have survived a girlhood longing for a company of men, never had a playmate except a dog named Janggo, but now that I have male company in abundance, I don’t feel any better at all!

DISCLAIMER (just in case the three men that I love might read this): the writer of this blog disclaims any ownership of this entry, which she claims to have been written by a madwoman while she was asleep or dreaming. The writer, in no uncertain term, claims that the culprit was an impostor who often visited her both in her sleep and wakefulness to mine her life of materials that can be turned into a piece of writing for the sole purpose of entertainment; with the stupid ambition of stealing the world’s attention away from the current meltdown in the US economy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Communication

Something struck me about what Joey D. of Mindanao Times said after the press con as I was writing this.
“No, I don’t rely in the words of old folks,” he said.
“But aren't they wisdom nuggets?” I said. “Coming down through the ages?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I rely more on the wisdom of strangers, told to me in time of distress.”
“Huh?!”
“Did it ever happen to you? You were in the midst of something and then, out of the blue, you sit down in a jeepney and something that a man tells you seems to hit a cord somewhere deep within you, something that resonates with what is happening to you right at that moment.”
“How did you come to know of such things?” I asked, because it happened to me so many times.
“They always happen to me—and these are people who don’t know me. Isn’t that ironic? The people that you know always give you the wrong advice.”
I stared at him, nodding, knotting my brows.
“Because those are words from the Spirit,” he said, nodding, too.

Reading in Secret

Flipping through the pages of Salman Rushdie’s “The Enchantress of Florence,” I was on my desk in our working room on the second floor of the apartment on Mapa street when the chimes played again, and I looked up at the yellow balloon that held them; which Ja attached to a cord from the ceiling.
“They’re trying to tell me something,” I thought. A subtle, almost imperceptible breeze from the huge picture window that framed the neighborhood of Mapa outside, tossed the balloon, causing it to turn and make the mysterious sound.
Moved by the playfulness of the wind, I think of Prathibha (simply Prateeh to me), and of those other chimes in Nepal; and my thoughts went back again to that two weeks in July, when we stayed together somewhere in Loyola Heights, a walking distance away from the university, in a room whose windows faced a high wall so that neither air nor light could come in. We only hear the sound of water when we awoke to a heavy rain early in the morning; and in Manila, it rained heavily in the middle of July; once, we had to come to class soaked in dirty brown water that flooded Katipunan Avenue (and I thought, it beat the hell out of the floodwaters in the hinterlands of Mindanao where the Matigsalogs live!), but scared of missing anything in Chay H.’s class, we merely left our clothes to dry as we tackled the ethical dilemmas of blogging, sponsorship, advertisements. We were on the second floor of the Ateneo de Manila’s old Bellarmine Hall. Unlike the other structures in the campus which were new, the building had a special meaning to Chay, our teacher--Chay, herself, pointed out--because it was still the one they used during her college days.
I had arrived at the airport late in the afternoon of a Friday, slightly out of my wits for leaving my boys in Davao, not knowing which part of Esteban Abada I was going, I had to stop the trolley and rip open my bag in the midst of the onrushing crowd at the passenger terminal, to rummage for that notebook where I wrote the number of the house where I was supposed to stay.
Seven. It was a house with a green gate, highly-fenced. A framed certificate on the wall said it was one of the accredited dormitories off campus. The taxi driver tracked it down very near where Esteban Abada met Katipunan in Loyola, where a flyover slowly made its ascent, across the 24 hour convenience store they call the Mini Stop, where Prateeh and I would sometimes drop by for a cup of instant noodles or a styro cup of coffee; and where, on the eve of my departure for home, I had spotted Jaybee smoking near the huddle of tricycles that parked outside the store.
From where we stayed, Prateeh and I would sometimes walk up to the campus gate, connected by a walk bridge somewhere near McDonald’s and Pizza Hut two or three blocs away. It was the walkbridge of my suffering, I told Prateeh, who laughed, because we were thinking of the 2,500 word assignment for Media Law that we had to send online only two hours away. But that was much, much later.
When I arrived at number seven, the woman who met me at the door said I had a Taiwanese woman for a roommate. I was still trying to figure this out because I was expecting to dorm with somebody from Nepal, when Prateeh came in, saying, she was no Taiwanese at all, although she admitted, shyly, she was a little bit fair for Nepalese standard, and we settled for such basic things as where to find food and water, where to find the nearest internet café and for Pratee, where to find the right currency. She kept talking about what it was like to be a journalist in Nepal, working for the Kantipur television, which was actively involved in a broad democratic movement that had forced the king of Nepal to resign.
I said, I was lucky to have Prathibha (she said I would never be able to pronounce her name correctly) for a roommate, first, because her simple joys consisted of a walk in the rain and poetry; she was easily scandalized by the sight of somebody (me) eating corned beef, because she never eat meat at all, a big problem when you’re in Manila, where it was very rare to find a store selling vegetarian food! But she said she loved the Philippines because it never cast her off like a stranger, something that she felt when she was in Europe. Here, everybody mistook her for a Filipina until she opens her mouth, because she speaks the English spoken by the Caucasian sisters, who trained her in Kathmandu and taught her the Hail Mary’s even if she’s a Buddhist.
I love her most for tolerating my infatuation for Salman Rushdie, whose book we found inside the bookstore, sinfully expensive, but which we bought and hid among my pile of dirty clothes to prevent Ja from discovering it when I’m home.
So, when I heard the chimes again in the other room of our Mapa apartment, I asked Ja if someone was playing with the yellow balloon. “It’s only the wind, Ma,” Ja called from the other room. So, I lay there, listening to the windbells, thinking of Prateeh, reading the book in secret, trying to figure out what the wind was trying to say.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Love Notes to Flo

In an airy, open space that served as our function area on Naong beach, just a tricycle ride from Dipolog bus terminal, while listening with horror to Thelma, the Subanen woman from Zamboanga del Norte, recount a motorcycle ride that sliced part of the sole of her right foot because she clipped both her feet on to the burning motorcycle engine when they were about to fall on a cliff, I saw you concealing yourself behind the post.
Someone pointed you out to me. He hides himself with the grace of an antler, I thought. Who could he be?!
Every time I moved, the antler moved gracefully, covering its track, tilting its face from behind a trunk of a dead tree.
From where I was, all I can see was a brown shirt and a backpack. I chased you down the corner to see a glimpse of your face. Finally, you gave in. You came to me asking for the girl we both lost more than 20 years ago.
What do I remember about that girl? A vague memory of her shy, awkward strides, her fears of offending somebody, or of what her friends might say! I can’t even remember her face.
I can remember the university gate where we camped in, the shards of broken glass near the door of the administration building after it was hit by water cannon, the cries of teachers, the squad of soldiers in camouflage and long firearms facing the picketline, the police and their truncheons, the bruises on our arms, the awareness that even an ounce of water, when shot in a trajectory, could also hurt and kill. I can still remember some godforsaken thing she used to wear, the stupid things she used to think, some moments inside the picket line with huge streamers marked “Imlan resign,” few stolen moments at someone else's backdoor grabbing a bite of skyflakes in the midst of a hunger strike, an old black typewriter where we used to type—what? I can’t even remember.
Everything has become a blur, except for the memory of your sweatshirt.
Why do you ask me about what happened to that girl? She might have died so many years ago. She might have been trapped inside the university wall, unable to get out. All I can say is I'm happy to be here--for I am the one who survived!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Is that Kurniawan?!

Yes, I can still remember correctly as we were going down the steps of that old ilustrado house on Calle Real and spotted this old well that reminded me of Maxine Hong Kingston's "No Name Woman," who killed herself by jumping into the family's drinking well. I briefly told Yuri about it before we posed for pictures and argued.
"That's my picture because that's my camera," Yuri said, grinning. "But Yuri," I said, grinning too. "That's also my picture because that's my idea!" "Okay, okay," Yuri said. "Just take my own photo alone, idea or not."
And so, we stood there--me, Prateeh, Yuri, a tiny drop of sun glinting on his nose. I thought we all looked like tadpoles.
But who's that other one? I can still remember Lilik, tinkering with Yuri's camera. But I could almost make out the face of Wawan!

Friday, August 29, 2008

On Campus

So, there. To spare myself nights of agony every time I misplace my flash disk, where this image of San Agustin Church is stored. To spare my partner Yuri of Jakarta's Antara News Agency whose camera I used, the trouble of rummaging through his files again just to retrieve one picture, this picture of an old Church somewhere on Calle Real, somewhere in the walled city of Intramuros, where the whole bunch of MA Journalism fellows went one Sunday in July, as a temporary reprieve from all the assignments and workloads we had on campus at the Asian Center for Journalism of the Ateneo de Manila University.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I’m sorry

These days, I’ve been trying very hard to break free, to force myself to write what I needed to write but an overwhelming sadness always cut me off in mid-sentence. This morning, when it was at its worst, I retreated to the sleeping room and dreamt of a little girl of about ten years old, wearing a pink dress that was already so faded it was already white. She was out on the streets, walking. Her hair was cut short almost like that of a boy. I was looking at her from a broken glass window.
Awake now, I wonder who that little girl was. I did not even see her face but I knew that this sadness that has been threatening to drown me for weeks may have something to do with her.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Case of an Unhappy Hen

Was it Calvin Trillin who wrote that the best tasting chicken are those raised and allowed to roam freely in the range? One can only taste the sadness of those broilers, who spend their lifetime caged in a chicken coop, deprived of the sun and the taste of freedom, as can be gleaned from the blandness of their soup. I have turned into a very sad, unhappy hen. I'm thinking of ways how to get out of my cage.

Slice of Night

I found myself alone among abandoned files, crumpled towels in a chair, half-opened chicherias, half-opened books, unread newspapers, my favorite coffee mug filled with water. They did not forget to turn off the air con, this time, like they did the other night. I tapped on the keyboard and listened to the whizzing of the electric fan. I could hear the rumblings of distant jeepneys, the scream of a street girl, a whistle of a balut seller. But the hoot of construction workers, the thrashing and grating of metals, the roar of heavy equipment around the skeletal building being built across the street seemed to have stopped. In their place is an engulfing silence. I scooped my pants pocket for coins and kicked off my shoes. I could play DonMcLean in his 30s singing the American Pie over and over until the lizards tilt their heads an inch off the wall, nodding to its rhythm. Or, I could play Gorillaz, over and over, until my eyes get so drowsy, I could hardly open them. I could open my new tarot deck I have kept locked in the drawers and discover ancient wisdom. I could read F. Sionil Jose's "Poon," translated into Tagalog by Lilia F. Antonio when she was in Osaka. But instead, I think of my Ma and how, I have never given her a single gift ever since I was born.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Magistrate


The grey beard is caked with blood. The lips are crushed and drawn back, the teeth are broken. One eye is rolled back, the other eye-socket is a bloody hole. “Close it up,” I say. The guard bunches the opening together. It falls open. “They say that he hit his head on the wall. What do you think?” He looks at me warily.

---from JM Coetzee’s “Waiting for the Barbarians,” of the magistrate looking at the corpse that bore the marks of torture

The Magistrate's Monologue

“You feel that it is unjust, I know, that you should be punished for having the feelings of a good son. You think you know what is just and what is not. I understand. We all think we know.”
I had no doubt, myself, then, that at each moment each one of us, man, woman, child, perhaps even the poor old horse turning the mill-wheel, knew what was just: all creatures come into the world bringing with them the memory of justice.
“But we live in a world of laws,” I said to my poor prisoner, “a world of the second-best. There is nothing we can do about that. We are fallen creatures. All we can do is to uphold the laws, all of us, without allowing the memory of justice to fade.”
After lecturing him I sentenced him. He accepted the sentence without murmur and his escort marched him away. I remember the uneasy shame I felt on days like that. I would leave the courtroom and return to my apartment and sit in the rocking chair in the dark all evening, without appetite, until it was time to go to bed.
“When some men suffer unjustly,” I said to myself, “it is the fate of those who witness their suffering to suffer the shame of it.”
But the specious consolation of this thought could not comfort me. I toyed more than once with the idea of resigning my post, retiring from public life, buying a small market garden. But then, I thought, someone else will be appointed to bear the shame of office, and nothing will have changed."
---from J.M. Coetzee, “Waiting for the Barbarians

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Glimpse of Tobias Mindernickel

I see Tobias Mindernickel roaming around the streets of Davao. His appearance is just as Thomas Mann had written, "eyecatching, quite odd, indeed ridiculous."
Out on a walk, he hauls his gaunt frame with the help of a cane, no longer up the hill, this time, but in an overpass reeking of urine and rotting garbage. He is no longer dressed in black from head to toe, in fact, he had changed into tattered rags that hang limply on his skeletal frame.
It must have been such a long and arduos journey for him from that small quayside town in Europe.
His mud-hardened hair covers half his face. He stares back at me with that gaunt look in his eyes as he hovers around the rows of stalls selling durian and pirated DVDs.
The sight of his sunken cheeks depresses me. I remember how Prof. Philip Van Peele back in Silliman U had pointed to us that Tobias Mindernickel is a perfect picture of Death.
He is lucky, no children come to tease him now. It's quite too far away from the street of Grauer Weg where he came from. Filipino children hardly know him at all.
Then, I begin to suspect that he is stalking me---or am I stalking him?
"Where is the dog?" I ask as soon as he is off the stairs of the smelly overpass, standing face to face with me on the ground. I am referring to that yellow dog, with one black ear and a black ring around one eye, that he bought from a man in Germany. A picture of sadness and remorse shows in his face. He had named that dog Esau.
"Where is the dog?" I ask again.
He began to sob. He did not reply.
"C'mon, tell me," I said, "What happened to Esau?"
His furious sobbing turn to a loud wail.
"What did you do to your dog?!" I said, loudly, this time, that passersby begin to notice.
Suddenly, he stops and squints a pair of bloodshot eyes at me. I could see sadness, but not guilt, in those eyes, before he scampers away and vanishes from my life forever.

In Search of the Lost Goddess

Some time in the previous months, I got the rare treat of finding my lost goddess in Anita Diamant's "The Red Tent." The whole novel exceeded my wildest expectation, a rewriting of the familiar account of the Bible in the point of view of a woman named Dinah, who--if you get down to it--was a mere footnote on the pages of Genesis. Diamant's book deserved to be talked about, if only because the God of Jakob, Isaac and Abraham, the only God I was borne to believe in and the only God I was made to believe existed, appeared strange and unfamiliar all throughout the book, while the household gods of Rachel, the rituals of the moon goddess and her daughter, the great mother Inanna, became increasingly familiar as I found myself getting drawn towards the lives of Jacob's daughter Dinah and her four mothers Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah.
I would read the book again, if only to know the goddesses better; or get intrigued by the goddess ritual of Opening of the womb, as opposed to the display of virgin blood by the groom during the night of the wedding. Or, to rage against the clan of Jacob, against the brothers of Dinah, against patriarchy who regarded (and continue to regard) women as piece of properties to be exchanged or sold in marriage! The book is the Jewish equivalent of Maxine Hong Kingston's "No Name Woman," a story of how a woman's name was erased, the woman forced to live as an outcast, for crossing over to the borders of taboo. I first heard about the book on the Ms magazine's bookshelf, when the book hit the bestsellers' list in 2001 four years after it was published in 1997. The writer Patricia Holt recounted how the book was not really on a big sellers' list in big chain bookstores when it first appeared. It only started to hit the chart when independent booksellers started recommending it to customers. In Davao, you could hardly find a copy of it at the National Bookstore. I found mine somewhere else. Such a pity I only read it now.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

On the Road to Monkayo

I feel so tired, body and soul.
Wednesday last week, I journeyed through the night with my boys from Butuan and thought I was perhaps the happiest mother in the whole world, making plans how to spend time with them, but even before I could get them settled in Davao the following morning, I had to leave them with JA to continue their trip to Bansalan while I embarked on a nightmare trip to the town of Monkayo. There, we rode the famous skylab (a motorcycle built with a contraption to allow the two-wheeled vehicle to carry more passengers), and made the daredevil journey to the sitio (subvillage) of Calinogan in barangay Casoon, where the Dibabawuns live.
The contraption was such a crazy structure that sometimes during the trip, passengers seated on it look down to realize they're already sitting on top of a cliff while the motorcycle negotiates a narrow road up the mountain.
It was not just the whole trip that made me so depressed but the nagging feeling that I was trapped. Back in Davao city, we received two PJR Report's copies, where the article on Life as Correspondent appeared and somebody, it was Gra, who said the story was--uhhggh-"inspiring." I felt even more depressed. It was not even half the picture of the life I had seen!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Poem from Paring Bert

A poem from poet-anthropologist-philosopher-Jesuit priest Fr. Albert Alejo. It's interesting to read a more elaborate discussion of his poem here.

Lakbay-Kamay

Ano't tila singlawak
ng lupaing pangarap
itong munti mong kamay
dito, mahal, sa aking palad?

Ang mga ulap sa iyong mga kuko
ang mga bangin sa mga daliri mo
ang manipis na batis ng iyong balahibo
at ang pagpapalit-palit ng panahon
ng init at lamig sa bigla mong pagpisil,
pagbitiw, at pagkapit ng ubod-higpit
sa bawat panaka-naka nating pagtatagpo
na kung bakit laging kailangang patago--
lahat ay tila kawalang hanggang
paano ba lalakbaying pilit
nitong nalulula, at nangingimi kong
mabilisang paghalik.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Little Swiss Shop

On a drizzling afternoon of January, I found myself in a crowd of NGO workers, dancing to the beat of a sacred music under the huge dome of the sky. Three Swiss women led the sacred dance (and I had a sudden wish it were a full moon) but of course, it was not, and it was not really that kind of dance!
The three Swiss women belonged to the women's group Theresa Ladeli (ladeli is the Swiss term for "little shop"), who auctioned unused items in Switzerland to send the proceeds to help poor communities in the Philippines. Later, Daday would tell me how boxes of pencils made in Switzerland and Germany would find their way to Aeta communities in Tapak or how boxes of Swiss knives would sometimes get into the hands of Customs officials who wanted to take some of them as "souvenirs."
Monica Baumann founded the group after the shock of her first visit in the country 16years ago. She has been coming to the Philippines once in every two years to see how far the group's assistance has been going; and this time, she was with two women companions, Lilly Wirz and Anna Rosa Gersbach.
Lilly was upset because she saw a baby died of pesticide poisoning in the midst of a banana plantation in Compostela Valley on the week of their visit. They also went to a house in between the huge tracks of land owned by the Zubiris and another landed family in Bukidnon, where a few months earlier, a nine year old child happened to eat a stolen banana (newly sprayed with insecticides) and died. (Later, I would also read what happened over a year ago to two women workers of a group that Theresa Ladeli was assisting.)
Lilly could not talk to the crowd without bursting into tears. I thought that Ana Rossa did not want to talk, too, because she did not want to show her emotions. But at the end of the program, she delivered this message:
"Maayong Hapon, my dear sisters and brothers," Ana Rossa began. "I say sisters and brothers because you did let me feel at home, you did let me feel being a member of a big family - salamat kaayo!
You gave me the chance to look behind the smile in the faces of the Philippino people and what I saw is more than sad and bad - it's unjust and unhuman.
After all I have experienced these six weeks, the last five and the first three weeks here in Mindanao, I do not go back home the same woman as I was before. I will go home half Swiss and half Filipino (not only because my skin did turn darker) and this half part always wants to come back to you again, because you became part of my life.
It's a privilege to have the choice--as all the people you serve--and this is unjust and unhuman. But you help them, you bring hope, you give all you have --your love--and you risk your life. I admire all of you and thank you for this very precious work. You work as NGO's, you do not go overseas. You have the choice to either work for a big company here and earn bigger money or go abroad but you made your choice to stay in your home country, to stand up for your people, to serve the poor.

On our way back to Davao city, our companion pointed to them a Swiss Deli we passed by on our way to Bajada.
"No, no," Lilly said, vigorously shaking her head. "We don't go looking for Swiss food when we're in Asia, we eat 'real' food," she said. "We eat Swiss food only when we get home and then, we know, that it's for real."
I nodded because I saw her eat with relish boiled eggplant and okra with bagoong that afternoon.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Life of a Gay-sha!

I was asked to do a story on the "Life of Correspondents," by the Philippine Journalism Review (PJR), but to my dismay, no one really wanted to talk to me about it. Bong told me to interview his bureau chief, instead; Esco did not want me to reveal which paper he was writing, Q was upset with his date and became very scarce, and except for Julie in far off Zamboanga city, everybody--from Nash to Jeoffrey to Grace---was silent.
I was lucky to find the gay-sha.
She set our interview inside the newly-opened Peace Café on Juna Subdivision where she was doing an interview with the café owner! Is it possible to interview somebody who is doing an interview? I asked.
But then, I realized this was how impossible the gay-sha was! After waiting for quite a time, while the gay-sha sipped her iced coffee, finished her ice cream, demolished her banana cake without even the courtesy of handing me a fork I could use to help him, peppered the café owner with questions before dismissing her, the gay-sha confronted me.
"So, what are you going to ask?" she asked.
"I don't know," I shrugged. "I don't want to ask anything."
The gay-sha sighed. "Maybe, you give me answers first, before I ask my questions," I continued. She sighed again. "This is an interview where the first question is, what is the question?!"
She understood that she was supposed to tell the story of our lives.
The gay-sha did not complain. In the news, Rep. Prospero Nograles was already voted as the new Speaker of the House and the Inquirer Mindanao Bureau was texting the gay-sha and me to gather the people's reaction about it. Nogie is from Davao, the political archenemy of Davao's tough-talking Dirty Harry. But the gay-sha stayed in her place, a picture of perfect calm. She knew how to act out her role, whether as interviewer or interviewee.
As she started to open her life, which was also our life, I had to wade through a forest of jargons to decode the language of the gay-sha. "You know what I mean," she'd say, "I don't believe in such fracka-fracka, do you understand?"
Of course, I did not understand. But I nodded. "I don't believe in such chuvanesque," she added. The gay-sha wanted to demolish the belief that there was no story worth dying for. "If no story was worth dying for, no story will get written in the first place. We might as well stop writing," the gay-sha raved. Like mad.

Caged Birds

I am no longer a stranger to jails, so, when I went to do a story on Davao city’s newest women prison facility (which, except for the high fence, did not look like a jail at all), I already knew how to strike a conversation with the women inmates.
“Will you talk about your case?!” I asked the woman who took the courage to approach me, the closest link she thought she can get to the outside world.
“Drugs,” she said, smirking. She got caught in a police buy-bust operation, she explained in a Tagalog I did not understand, because she was using the language of the trade.
“And you?!” I asked another woman beside her, “Drugs,” the woman smiled and nodded.
“About 40 per cent of the cases of women inmates here involved drugs,” said the first woman. “Except them,” she pointed to a handsome woman in her forties, whose voice---when she described the new facility as more “hygienic,” “well-ventilated” and less crammed compared to the old one---was that of someone accustomed to giving orders.
Her case was illegal recruitment, the first woman said. There were only eight or 11 of them here in every 40 of us, said the first woman.
The first woman introduced me to the 64-year old woman, with graying hair framing her sad, wrinkled face. The old woman said she was accused of theft, for stealing coconuts from her own land. The land was mortgaged for a pig, a goat and a can of rice for her wedding feast back in the 1950s.
Her husband tried to redeem the mortgage but their neighbor refused. Three years ago, she was harvesting coconuts from an adjacent farm when the coconuts rolled over to her neighbor’s property. She came to retrieve the coconuts but her neighbor accused her of theft.
“I won the case in the barangay and in the lupon,” the woman said, in a voice made stronger and louder by her belief that she was right.
She failed to show up in Court two times after she was summoned for a hearing. She said she was so busy selling vegetables in Bankerohan, she had no time for Court hearings. Her family depended on her, she said. After two Court summons that she largely ignored, the sheriffs came to detain her.
Over a year ago, I saw the insides of a jail for the first time when we paid a visit to Lex Adonis, the Davao broadcaster jailed for libel. The broadcaster was jailed largely because he failed to defend himself in the proceedings. He was tried in absentia. He was the only libel case in the sea of other criminal cases. I remember the first conversations we had with the inmates.
“So, what’s your case?” one of our companions asked the man that Lex Adonis introduced to us. “Murder,” the man replied.
We nodded our heads vigorously to hide our surprise.
“How long have you been here?” one of us, who recovered, asked.
“Seven years,” the man said, “Still waiting for conviction.”
“Seven years!” we chorused, no longer able to hide our surprise.
“What will happen if you get convicted for four years?” one of us asked.
“I don’t know,” the man said. “I’ll just do what they want me to do.”
Everybody reflected on the murder and the man.
“I did not regret it,” said the man, as if he could read our thoughts, “I killed the bastard who raped my daughter.”
We nodded again, slowly this time. The circle around us grew as more prisoners came to join the conversation. Most of their cases were murder, rape, drugs. We listened to another man who told us how he was mistaken for the murderer, after he found himself standing near scene of the crime just when the police were arriving.
I remember what I learned from all the prison movies I watched: Even in jail, no one is guilty. Everyone is innocent.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In Search of Ghosts

“People go in search of ghosts whenever they return, after a long absence, to a place where they once lived,” Philip Roth says, in an interview with New Yorker magazine’s Life and Letters. On the day that I arrived in Cebu after over 15 years of absence, I found myself not only looking for ghosts but also turning into one. (to be continued)

Santo Niño Cathedral

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Coffee Break

This morning, as we sipped coffee and exchanged the latest trade gossips, we were surprised to know that two plainclothesmen went to Mindanao Times two days ago, demanding to see the reporter who wrote about the New People's Army statement on the killing of Davao businessman Vicente Ferrazini. They wanted the Davao paper to disclose the source of the information. Amy told them that instead of interfering with the affairs of the newsroom, they should go ask the city mayor, because he knew everything about the case!
Ferrazini, whose family owns the Merco food chain and icecream stores in Davao, was shot by unidentified men on A. Pichon St. (old Magallanes St.) on Saturday, February 2. He died two days later. The New Peoples Army owned up the killing, through a statement emailed to the media. Maybe, those plainclothesmen were not aware yet, how fast information can travel in the age of the internet, so, they went to the Mindanao Times office to ask the reporter how she got the information.
Isn't that a bit threatening? As if, there was an absence of law protecting the media against unnecessary disclosure of information? Republic Act 1477, as lawyers patiently explain to members of the press, provides that editors and newspapers are not compelled to disclose sources of news revealed to them in confidence, except in cases affecting national security.
Or, maybe, the government and military establishments thought the newsrooms as mere extension of their offices...? (photo courtesy of davaotoday)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Our Editor's Note

On November 6, 2005, we came out with the maiden issue of Davao Today, which never diminished in value even over time. Maybe, it was because we invested sheer hard work in it; maybe, love's labors were never (and could never be) lost. A click of the mouse sort of brought me back in time, makes me long for the moment when everything was just beginning, when everything was still on the verge of being.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Full Moon over the Bat Caves

On our way to a bat cave on Samal island, I knew that I was destined to see the bats taking their circadian flight with a full moon rising as the backdrop. I simply knew it. It was like the feeling you get when you're playing that game called "mastermind," and you've already figured out the colors and the exact arrangement of the hidden chips. I was very sure of it. The fact that I was switched in between Ja and a passenger next to Barry inside a crowded bus on a ferryboat bound for the island seemed a perfect reason why I should see the bats taking flight on a full moon.
"No, they don't cover the sky like clouds," the American scientist Jim Kennedy patiently explained how the skies look like when the bats start flying, leaving their roost to look for food at night. "They're more like a stream, undulating against the red sky when the sun sets." I did not say anything because I knew the moon will show up for me that night. It was something I can only feel in my gut. Simply because I have faith in the moon when it is at its fullest and that I was there to visit nocturnal creatures like bats, I was sure I'd get to see the two fascinating events happening simultaneously before my eyes.
Even Ja's prediction of rain did not bother me. "You see those rain clouds from the east? No moon would show up tonight," Ja kept saying.
We did not stay long to wait for the moon over the island.
I texted Mrs. Monfort as soon as we got back to Davao, to find out how the sky over Samal looked like when we left. Was it covered with clouds? Was the moon even visible? She replied that at that moment, it was already covered. But earlier, she said, the moon was very big and beautiful.
The Goddess was always known to favour women. I simply knew how the sky will clear to allow me a glimpse of the full moon, when the bats are in flight, if I had only been stubborn enough to stay and wait.
I knew Ja was wrong simply because he's a man.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Falling in Love with Butuan

I never thought I'd ever fall in love with a place like Butuan.
In my good old student days, it looked to me like a person with a shabby character that I had to avoid at all cost as I used to disembark from a boat from Cebu, jostling my way to the crazy Nasipit pier.
But what I used to see of the place then, was just the fleeting view of the pier and the bus terminal on my way home to Davao during the chaos of numerous coming home seasons.
In the previous years, I noticed young girls chatting away their time with bald, potbellied foreign men on their computer screens, in the cubicle next to mine in an internet cafe while I was doing one of those story assignments for Newsbreak.
But these days, Butuan is turning a friendly face to me. It has suddenly, become familiar, like the face of a younger sister.
One Monday, when I walked inside Urios University's highschool department, I felt my heart skipped a bit at the sight of 14 and 15 year olds, cramming for their third grading exams. I crossed the street to the St. Joseph Cathedral to discover the pleasant patterns of light above the altar. I stared at the letters of Fr. Saturnino Urios and Ferdinand Magellan posted on the wall. I sauntered into the dusty basement of Gaisano Butuan, and found old copies of the NewYorker magazines and Antique Journals, haphazardly strewn inside an abandoned box. Before I knew it, I was already coughing my way into the pages on Ramses II's life as Pharaoh of Egypt 3,000 years ago. I completely lost track of time.
Suddenly, Butuan ceased to be a stranger to me. It has become a family member, whose character is a delight to discover.
But I have yet to dig up its most exciting story as an ancient trading port in this part of Asia over a thousand years ago.
I could not make out anything yet of the writings on the wall.
That's why, JA was bewildered when I got back to Davao. "Are you crazy?" he asked. "Everybody hates Spanish so much they were so happy to get rid of it!
But now, you tell me, you want to learn Spanish? What do you want to learn it for?!" He was hysterical. "What has gone into your head? Everyone who speaks Spanish is already dead!"
"I saw letters of dead men on the wall of a cathedral in Butuan," I told him. "They were all written in Spanish. I want to read them."
Thus, I started another form of madness.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Sunny Notes for the Year!

I still want to start the year right, so, I came up with a list of things that make me smile [and keep my soul warm and my heart beating for the rest of the year.]
1. DavaoDiaries [on the bottom five---hahaha!] of the top 100 Mindanao blogs and seeing my friends up ahead.
2. Taking a walk with Sean on the road down the creek.
3. Looking at Karl's drowsy eyes every time he confronts his notebooks.
4. Catching a glimpse of a couple of white egrets, making a courtship dance in the swamps. (This was in October when the egrets were still on the way to Australia. In February, they'll be passing by again on their way to China, or Siberia, or whereever they may have come from.)
5. The rare sight of the Rising Crescent at the strike of the New Year!
6. An old, fat cat snoring on the dining table on drowsy afternoons when Ma is not looking.
7. Topol singing "If I were a Rich Man," as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof."
8. Everything about Franz Bardon
9. Antares
10.Pirates of the Caribbean
11. The Three Wizards who followed the star to Bethlehem.
12. Magick
13. A Recipe for Poor Poets
14. All my favorite blogs [and there are millions!]
15. House lizards cocking their heads on the wall to listen to Don McLean's and then, Madonna's "American Pie" on YouTube.
16. The sound of a baby gecko in the farm.
17. The soft, creamy taste of Mandaya Moore-Orlis' cinnamon rolls. (Melts in your hands, not in your mouth, I swear!)
18. Sunrise! (not sunset, take note.)
19. The feel of sands on my feet.
20. Tchaikovsky's Piano Concierto No.1
21. Smell of coffee
22. Waltzib's "Papa's Paklay," and whatever came of it.
23. News from Bosom Friends, near and far!
24. Ceramic Bowls
25. Scent of freshly-cut herbs
26. Laughter (especially Sean's)
27. And Many More
You see, the list is endless. I will never run out of reasons to celebrate!

Happy New Year!

Dasia and I finally got to meet each other yesterday. “You’ve not updated your blog,” she said, glaring at me. “I still read Mariannet--and it’s already New Year!”
“Can you feel it?” I asked her.
She gave me her puzzled look.
“The ground is shaking,” I said. She stopped on her way out the door. She must have been thinking of earthquakes.
“The ground is not solid anymore,” I said, but noticed that the words didn’t sound right to my ears.
“I mean, we’re no longer standing on solid ground,” I corrected myself but that didn’t sound right, either. I was sweating. “Can’t you feel it?! The ground where we’re standing is not solid anymore. It’s so shaky!” I blurted, with a hint of panic, because of my inability to express myself.
As usual, Dasia was still her cool, reliable self. “That’s only because you’re thinking too much about it,” she said.
Actually, I wasn't thinking of anything. I did not tell her I got colds, and that, I've even been having trouble breathing since Christmas.
She paused and noticed my eyes. “Too many dark rings,” she said. “You’re excused tonight.”
She said, she’ll just tell Banana and Mandy that I couldn't make it.
We were supposed to go to The Café, where some time in early December, we saw Tec talking to Batman in another table. We never thought that was the last time we would see Batman alive. He was the fifth journalist to be killed in the Philippines before the turn of the year, the 91st since democracy was restored in 1986, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) list.
In November 2004, he still joined the march for dear friend Geneboyd, the 59th on the list. Urggh, the terror of numbers! Who would have an inkling who'd get to be the 91st?! During that march, Batman was bringing along with him a copy of an article about him on the Mindanao page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Batman told JA he decided to frame the article because he considered it an "apex" of his career as a "hardhitting" radioman to get printed on the page.
When I think about this, I often pause and wonder how he would have taken it, to know that he even made it to the front page banner headline nowadays? But, of course, that is such a bad joke. He could not have known!
"Kung mag-inday-inday ka, wa kay madawdaw," he used to say, showing off the old scars he got from an attack he survived over a decade ago. Everybody knew he was identified with a politician. But what was it that he said that got the bullet into his head? Was that bullet intended to silence him?
At The Cafe, we just waved, because all of us at our table were so busy talking about a dizzying range of topics from Mariannet Amper, the Digong-Nogie war and Lex Adonis.
If you happen to live in Davao, you would see the connection.
We were talking about covering disasters and whether or not journalists were at fault at the Manila Pen coverage (because earlier, at the PCIJ training at the Chateau del Mar, Malou Mangahas of PCIJ said, probably, they were!) We never kept track of the time (how could we, with Mandy and Banana around?!) so, the next time we looked up, we saw Tec and Batman waving, turning to go.
Then, in the morning of Christmas Eve, we just became dimly aware of the music from our cellphones, bringing along the message that another journalist was killed.
Brrrh. Is this the way to celebrate New Year?!