“Don’t forget to water the plants. Pour one bowlful of water onto each pot in the morning because that’s what ganda loves. Don’t use the dipper from the bathroom. Use the big bowl we use for rice. The rice bowl is the symbol of life. Using it will give us sustenance, blessings. As long as the plant lives, we will survive.”
This was the text message I sent Ja exactly a year ago from a room I shared with Pratish on Esteban Abada, just a 15-minute walk to the Ateneo campus on Katipunan Avenue, where we were having on campus classes at the Asian Center for Journalism. The Ganda, which I raised in a pot at home in Nova Tierra, was a gift from Babu Avelina, a brave and intelligent Mansaka woman we interviewed some time in September 2008 for a book project on the Lumads in Mindanao.
I carried the plant uprooted from Babu’s garden in Maragusan to the rickety bus that took us out of the rustic town near the foot of Mt. Candaraga to Tagum city. From Tagum, I took a more comfortable bus to Davao city, where Sean and Karl were waiting for me after such a long absence.
I couldn’t describe in one sitting what happened to me during the trip.
It was not Babu—but something else about the whole set up that actually left me feeling drained and downright oppressed. The plants must have sensed how my feelings towards the whole thing warmed and soured and then, warmed again. Only the memory of Babu Avelina sitting in her porch that faces the beautiful Mt. Candaraga reminds me that the trip was worth taking after all.
Mansakas use Gandas to spice up their tinolas (I could no longer remember how they call the dish) just the way we use onions. Our hosts proudly let us taste the dish for lunch—and that was the first time I tasted the native spice.
When Ja saw the plant, he said, “Oh, my God, I never knew you’d like to plant a weed!”
I merely smiled. Months later, when out of desperation, I put the weeds into his cup of noodles, he suddenly changed his mind.
“I never knew a simple plant like that could make my noodles taste better!” he said.
Now, I’m going ahead of the story. At the time when I sent Ja the text message, he still was unconvinced about my plants. I had to use it as a metaphor to scare him into watering it and taking care of the boys while I was away for the summer. I was worried about my boys. I was worried that the plants might not survive my long absence.
By the end of May, I went home to see the plants, scraggly from lack of water, but still surviving. Sadly, though, this is also how I feel about my boys but thanks God (or Goddess), we survived!