Sunday, December 28, 2014

Love and Spices

There's a story going round and round my mind. It started with that pair of old trousers you were wearing, and traveled downward to your muddy feet. Actually, I could no longer see the feet as we turned to see the scraggly leaves of turmeric, remnants of the recent drought. When you said only a few of them survived, I looked up at the sky and up ahead to the footpath down the river where we were supposed to go.

Elizabeth, the Beloved Monarch

She was the monarch who understood the woman question during her time and in understanding it, kept her power hold.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Cryptic message to the Beloved

The year is speeding away and I have a hard time coping.  You asked me why eating beef and red meat is dangerous but instead of explaining, I told you it’s not your problem, you’re young; it’s  for the old people to worry.  We were climbing down the ravine when I inadvertently grabbed your arm because I was about to slip. What will happen if I quit? I no longer care about things as much as I used to. All I care about now is the image that I take but it's usually an image nobody else would understand. Whatever happened to Sheilfa? Is she happy in Jolo? I told her once I would bring her here. I can imagine ourselves talking, two witches in the holy land. She had a talent for images, whether they be images of the past or images of the future. I don’t know what’s happening to me now that the year is about to end, I could not get anything done. I have lost all love for life until I saw Matisse and then I saw you. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Beyond Sudimara

Shortly after Indonesia's national elections in April, and the day before our trip back to our home country, Indonesian political activist Tedjabayu Sudjojono treated us for lunch in his home at the outlying district of Jakarta. We--included Tatikarn Dechapong, our journalist fellow from Thailand we called by her nickname, "Boom," and Ryan, another journalist fellow from the Philippines, who is also my fellow corres at the Inquirer. It was one of the rare moments I treasured most, because we did not only spend the hours partaking of the delicious Javanese food that the family prepared, but we also spent the rest of the afternoon talking about books and art in Indonesia.

Pak Tedja, as Boom insisted in calling him out of respect, is the son of the great Indonesian painter Sudjojono, whose works are on display at the Indonesian museum that she saw the previous day. Pak Tedja described his late father as the painter who refused to paint the beautiful scenes of Indonesia but insisted on painting the real condition of his people under the Dutch's colonial rule.
But there was something else that surprised me more about Pak Tedja.

Unlike most people I’ve encountered in neighboring Southeast Asia, he was not a stranger to Philippine history and culture. He learned about Jose Rizal at a very early age. His mother, a political activist fluent in Dutch and many languages, translated it into Bahasa and introduced it to him. Was it at 15, when Pak Tedja said he was already reading the Noli Me Tangere in English?   “She used to speak Dutch like a native,” Tedjabayu recalls his mother, who wrote the book, “From Camp to Camp,” about her experiences as a political detainee in a series of detention cells under Soeharto's Indonesia.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Letter from Kathmandu

I told her years ago, towards the end of our summer together, that I was very lucky to have a poet for a roommate, because I could not imagine rooming with another person who only read politics and current events and neglect all about poetry. I told her I would feel very oppressed. Though, I have disappointed her for refusing to take snapshots of her against the backdrop of that tropical downpour raging outside our window, she said she couldn't imagine rooming with  one of the rest of the fellows, either. I remember  going over the list of the women journalist fellows rooming in for the on campus session of our MA Journalism course at the Ateneo that summer, and indeed, I realized I had been very lucky to have this sweet girl from Kathmandu for a roommate.  I simply loved it. I remember waking up one morning, with her agitated in front of her laptop, mumbling about this guy named Prachanda, as her country teetered yet again on the brink of another political turmoil. Back in Davao, I met a man from Nepal in one of those international conventions on bird migration occasionally held in the city. It took a while for him to remember that anchorwoman of Kantipur TV. Ah! he said, at last, in the midst of my descriptions. She's the one on the English news!
His sudden recognition somehow exhilarated me, as if Prateehba, a continent away and living in another time zone, suddenly appeared in front of me, smiling. 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Understanding the Lumads

I heard from Tebtebba that the book I edited in 2010 is coming out with a new edition this year and is being distributed by the Department Education in their indigenous people's curriculum. I still have something to say about this book, though; which I will set aside for another time, another place.

Remembering Ampatuan

A week before the infamous date, we followed the road from Marbel, South Cotabato to do a story of the backhoe (actually, excavator) used to bury the dead--and the story of the Ampatuan massacre, where 58 people, 32 of them media workers were killed in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.  The road eventually brought us to the town of Tacurong, where the group of media workers slept their last in a hotel five years ago, before proceeding early morning the following day on the road to Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, to cover the filing of candidacy of the former Buluan mayor, running for governor in Maguindanao against the ruling Ampatuan clan.  The media workers, together with the politician's relatives and supporters, did not reach Shariff Aguak.  They were waylaid to their death in an isolated hillside in sitio Masalay, barangay Salman in Ampatuan town.  They were all buried here.  This was the last of their journey, the beginning of our own, as we continue the search for justice for hundreds of journalists killed in the Philippines since the so-called democracy was restored in 1986.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Still in Search of My Mother's Garden

As soon as I get home, I will retrieve Alice Walker's book, "In Search of Our Mother's Garden," to read the essays again to find out if they still sound and feel the same as the first time that I read them years ago.
 I first read her essay under the dim light of a running jeepney, after opening a discarded Ms magazine discovered in a bargain bookshop. I realized my mother also has such a garden and it is through the colors of her garden that I've come to view even the most difficult part of our lives.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Sweet Memories of September

What Joyce (of the World Press Photo) brought us in September during the Mobile Multimedia Newsroom in Davao was so sweet, its image stays etched on the iphone, its memories stays in the mind. I can't help posting it here.

Morning in Paradise

Keep away from negative people. Finish reading Jon Lee Anderson's "The Fall of Baghdad" and Ken Auletta's "Googled." Finish all writing assignments. Finish all video editing, then export and send them to the editor as soon as you can. Stop eating meat. Run. Follow the weather. Walk. Memorize all the vital statistics of storms, with an intimacy reserved only for lovers. Don't panic. Recognize each storm's strength, ruthlessness and penchant for delays and romantic detours. Pray that all people (except Pnoy) will be safe; and all cats will be saved. Master your Adobe Premiere. Monitor your cholesterol level. Finish viewing all Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Jean Claude Monet and all the rest that are dead; and move on with your life and your writing.

Cat in the Pine Forest

My love for one missing cat made me aware of so many others. I befriended a cat in Eden. He had a particularly hard life. It showed in the way he demolished a couple of fried siomai I stole for him from the kitchen. It was indescribable the way he gobbled the pieces, which I unwrapped from a tissue paper, to the utter shock of the waiter. The word "gobble" was not enough to accurately describe the way that the cat wiped out everything violently in just a matter of seconds. The word "munch" is simply too mild, too civilized, too out of place here. I think of this cat and his life in the pine forest that covered most of the 80-hectare resort, and I simply felt he might be having a very tough one. The driver of a shuttle told me cats and all types of pets are forbidden in the resort but the cats, he said, are just getting too many. I was worried about the cat. I left him eating the suman we hadn't eaten during the afternoon session. I thought it was a lowly food for a strong cat like him but he ate it when I gave it to him at the door.  I hope the waiter would not be cursing at the discarded wrapper, they were banana leaves anyway, because we were already hurrying out the door to the waiting shuttle, there was no time to clean the garbage.  But would I ever see this cat again? Would he remember our brief encounter?

On the other side of Eden

I've been documenting a strategic planning workshop of an Iligan-based non-government organization in the past two days before yesterday; and on the second day of that workshop, a Thursday, I awoke very early to take a walk within the 80-hectare compound before the sun goes up.  It was very cold; and so, all I had was a jacket and a camera. I was all alone and had the entire place all to myself when the sun started to appear. It was the sort of morning I can only describe as glorious!

Richard Brody explains himself

Unlike most people, I only treat movies as secondary affairs to my first love, which are books. I may survive a day without food but I can't survive a stress-laden, hectic work week without sneak-reading one good book or one good story. (Ja keeps saying books are my primary vice). He was aghast to  see how I detested books and stories that have been turned into movies, unless of course, they go through the hands of directors with discerning eye. Until I started reading Richard Brody on The Front Row, I decided to seriously begin to consider my old views against movies.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The cat who wins our hearts

It was in September when the Yellow Cat came to stay with us. At first we called her Buffet because of her penchant to sit and sleep on Ja's working table. Later, we called her Gavroche, because she was a stray cat, we thought of her as a street-smart cat, just like Gavroche, the boy in Les Miserables.  But the Cat's elegant manners (she even refused to stoop down to the rudeness of the neighbor's dogs), her finesse and intelligence, indicated to us her superior upbringing as a cat. I used to tell Sean, the Cat’s openness to human conversations and her perceptiveness could not have been possible without a child’s love that once had nurtured it when the Cat was still a kitten. The Cat also wore a necklace, which told us she must have had an owner, although I kept asking myself why she finally came to live with us, if she had a home. Was she not loved enough in that other home? But this puzzle I merely took for granted, thinking, we were merely welcoming the cat, she was free to come, she was free to go, although, we loved it so much if she stayed with us.
What of its owner, Ma? Sean used to ask, to which I used to reply,  “The Cat owns her life, Sean, she is the real owner of herself.” So, we left our relationship with the Cat at that. She would arrive at close to midnight, meowmewing outside our door and either Ja or me would wake up to open the door. She would enter the living room, walking to and fro, telling us stories about what happened to her outside, and we would listen with keen interest, even if we don’t understand her cat language. Then, at 3 am or 5 am, the Cat would wake us up again, meowmeowing, asking us to open the door, hungry for the first stirring of life in the idle lot outside. For aside for her nightly prowl, the Cat had a voracious appetite for small things that move (including Ja's toes when Ja is sleeping).

But the cat suddenly stopped coming one day in November, shortly after my trip to the T'boli mining site and the Ampatuan massacre site. I sensed an air of finality only hours after the cat's failure to return, as if, something was amiss, something suddenly turned quiet. I never sensed such a deafening silence. Then, somewhere in my gut, I suddenly knew the cat is no longer coming back. Why? Whatever happened to this dear, dear cat?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Freaking Out

I did not regret going to the Cinematheque this afternoon to view the Berlinale, particularly, Frieder Schlaich’s “Three Stones for Jean Genet,” with Patti Smith narrating. Who is Patti Smith? Ja asked before we left home. Of course, I did not tell him I knew all about Patti Smith from Sheilfa, I miss that old witch.  Later, I'd realized Ja and Patti Smith are born the same year, and yet, they never heard of each other.  Ja lived in a totally different world, where Patti Smiths could not exist. Patti Smith believed rock and roll belongs to the people, not to the rich and famous rock stars. Ja hated rock and roll, whether or not it belonged to the people. I loved to think of people like Patti Smith at the time when I was already freaking out of my daily routine, where some people simply suffocate me. So, I did not regret viewing Un Paraiso, either; painful, absurd and shocking; I did not regret even that other story about a teenager wanting to buy Marc Jacobs sunglasses, I did not regret any of the stories at all; despite Ja, mumbling out loud in the middle of Marc Jacobs, “I’ve wasted my time here, what kind of movie is this, it’s just like a play you produce in class, where nothing is happening, the story is not going anywhere.” I covered Ja’s mouth, so he asked. “Let’s talk when we’re outside?” Outside, he said, I don’t have your intelligence to understand those stories, I could not perceive meaning from them. I sighed.  I would have said, I don't have the intelligence to understand my life. I could not perceive any meaning from my daily grind. But I said instead, “Only because you've grown up to expect the story has a beginning, a middle and an end.” 
Was it Marguerite Duras who said you can begin your story anywhere? 
“Your stories begin at the beginning and end at the end," I told Ja. "You adhere to Aristotelian unity. You even design your life in that concept of unity, mistaking it for truth. You believe in the Order of the Universe. You believe in the Absolute Truth and Absolute God, You cannot accept a movie that defies this sense of order. That's why, you freaked out.” 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Journal on Asia's Climate

While I was desperately battling against writer's block, a malady that really sounds so presumptuous, our friend Rorie F. posted on FB that the maiden issue of Asia Climate Journal has been presented at the Society of Asian Journalists (SAJ) gathering in Manila, which finally prompted me to check if the magazine has already come out. When I opened the page, I was delighted to see the picture that the editors chose to go along with my story. The rest of the articles in the journal give me a glimpse of what is happening around Asia, particularly in the advent of climate change.

I can't write

That's the problem with me nowadays. Even if the things I need to write are just lying before me, waiting to be touched, I simply can't write. I've tried writing at home, at the office; I've tried walking around, going to the malls, running at the park,  but still, when I get home and sit before my desk,  I simply can't write. I keep staring at the computer screen, wondering what's wrong. It seems that a part of me is on strike, or is trying to make me feel I would be totally helpless if I keep ignoring its demands. Its demands are my secret pleasure: Annie Proulx, Marguerite Duras, even Paul Theroux; and other delightful authors I've not been reading nowadays. I've been so busy trying to learn to shoot and do the Adobe Premiere that I haven't been reading a really good book lately; all I read are photography books and software instructions so that part of me that is fueling my writing is now getting back at me. I need to locate my pleasure first before I can go back to write.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Blurring Eyesight

That night, I told my Pa the only thing I strongly desire is simply to get my hands into the soil to plant some timber trees along the slopes of his farm. It has to be hard timber, but I don't care if it be soft. I particularly choose timber from the stories he used to tell me about how he arrived in our place when it was still a forest until the logging companies started felling down the gigantic trees. I was amazed that those gigantic trees have been in the place for nobody knows how long, nobody planted them there and yet, when the logging came, everybody acted as if they owned the land as far as they ca see, and went felling the trees, one by one, just like that! I told my Pa I wanted to see that forest and would start by planting a single tree, and then another and then another. But I can't seem to do it because in the city, something is pulling me out of myself, killing me. I did not tell this part to my Pa. I merely told him I wanted to plant trees desperately and would do it as soon as I get the chance. He did not appear surprised, which surprised me because my Pa has been very prone to violent mood swings. I never really got to the point of telling him I wanted to abandon everything right now just to be in some glorious nowhere. I am already very tired.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mangagoy overnight

On March 1, 2013, as this picture indicates, I awoke to a morning in Mangagoy, which was a village, not a town, as I earlier thought it was. I arrived the previous night in a convoy that travelled the whole stretch of road from Trento, Agusan del Sur to Lingig and Bislig in Surigao del Sur before reaching the typhoon-hit town of Boston and Baganga, Davao Oriental. These were a string of towns that I wrote about, and heard about so much without seeing, and so, catching the glimpse of the bridge in Lingig and a huddle of houses, made me glimpse for the first time some parcels of the things I merely wrote about. When in the towns of Boston, someone happened to mention we were going to sleep somewhere in Mangagoy, my ears perked up and I summoned my last ounce of energy to keep myself awake. We arrived in a place full of what looked like ramshackle buildings at about midnight in the middle of nowhere before we were deposited in a hotel, whose name served as the stubborn monument to the exploits of the logging era. Was it a Paper Tree Hotel? A shame, they have no shame, celebrating the memory of their crime in that name. Before this, Mangagoy was merely a name, a signboard in a bus terminal, a mysterious name of a place I've never been to. Did they say it is the country's largest village? I would remember Tsa Elim and the snotty guy from Mangagoy, who meticulously kept his room squeaky clean, the sheets smelling of perfume, the walls well-painted and well-lighted, to indicate his breeding, class and arrogance back in my university days. But it took three decades before I had the temerity to discover the beautiful place where he came from.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Reading Love

Its pages now yellowed with time [and perhaps, travel], the paperback bore the marks of the years. Only a year after it came out of the press in 2003—on October 6, 2004, to be exact—someone left a note, in an uneven handwriting on its first unnumbered page, which reads: “To: Ms. Ruth Walters, From Cathy Danis with Love.” Which sets me off thinking who Ms. Ruth Walters and Cathy Danis were. How did they come upon Toni Morrison, how were they introduced to the author, how did they discover her?  Was Toni Morrison something they talked about over a cup of coffee or tea or did Cathy Danis merely pick her on the shelf to give as gift? Did Ms. Walters read the book before it landed in my hands a year or so ago? I was looking for other marks on the yellowing pages as I finished reading it but did not find any, even as I left the green marks of my marker on its dog-eared pages for future readers to think about. If you'd be confronted with this kind of writing, would you be able to put the book down?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Life with Ja

He has been asking why I've been calling him Ja. No, he was not asking, he was complaining. "Ja, what do you mean Ja?" he began, "Who among your friends knew who is Ja? Do they pronounce it as Ja, like I do or J.A., as you do? But you don't capitalize each letter and put period into each so that they will pronounce it as J-A, instead of Ja. I'm sure, they pronounce it as Ja, I'm sure of it. So, who is Ja? By the way, who is he? Ja? His name almost sounds like Jack, if you put c and k in it.  I think they really think it is Jack.
Say Ja--as in Jack. They would think it's Jack. "It's not Jack!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. He knew how I hated that name. In our house, Jack is an accurst name, it's the name of the devil. "You're not allowed to speak that name in this house!" I screamed again. "That name is an abomination!" My voice, I think, reached as far as the mosque. It was still early. No one can be seen on the streets yet. "Then, who is Ja?" he asked, calmer now. "Tell me about Ja, then." So, I told him that Ja is actually J.A. Romualdez, the fictional name of someone who wrote a story about a catfish but has stopped writing long ago because he said writing is a hopeless enterprise. He nodded. It's easier for me to write it as Ja, instead of J.A. because I don't like words that are in all-caps. J.A. Romualdez has already assumed a lot of names lately, including Jamil Ahmed, the guy who frequents the stock market pages. I no longer wanted to continue. I felt I was veering towards another topic I did not want to talk about. But there's one think I am sure when I talk about Ja: he would never read this post and never will. He is the no-nonsense kind, you see, and had dismissed my writing as trash. While I--well, Sheilfa used to say I'm at my best when I'm murderously mad.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Inside the cement factory

He said, don't stay out too long, Ma'm, this is a danger zone, anything can happen here, better stay inside where the press con is about to begin. Here, it's not safe, we don't even allow our workers here unless they have important things to do. We're  no longer using these parts frequently now, if we do, you would not be able to stand the heat; we wouldn't have been here had the  engines been running; everything you'd see, those gigantic pipes, they'd be very hot and noisy, you won't be able to stand the heat and the noise. Nobody can. Better get inside, Ma'm, we don't know something might fall or give way somewhere. Better be safe. It's safer inside, I promise. Everyone has gone inside, what are you doing here, Ma'm? This is not safe for people, especially for news people and stowaways.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

On the Road to Boston, Davao Oriental

That day, we took the road that diverged from the highway in Trento, Agusan del Sur, cutting through huge swathe of plantation area that would later give way to the long stretch of land where nothing much seemed to be happening after the trail of the typhoon. The road brought us by midday to a torn bridge that connected the land of Agusan to Surigao del Sur.  I was alarmed to discover that the British-Indian (or was it Indian-British?) humanitarian aid worker knew the area better than I did; she said she spent her Christmas there, she flew in after the devastation of Pablo, which hit us on December 4, 2012; I felt awkward and embarrassed when I realized she had been elected as our guide for this trip. No one knew the area better than she did and she had several local contacts. So, I pretended there was nothing unusual or extraordinary about that as I sat next to a British communications officer, spending her last weeks in the Philippines before flying back to London to wait for her reassignment to South Africa. Who are these people, I asked myself. Wasn’t it a bit insulting for a journalist—who grew up in Mindanao all her life—only to be guided by a foreigner from the other side of the world in her own territory? I was thinking then, this might be a new kind of conquest, something that is designed to make you feel totally emasculated, helpless in your own land? She was a sweet, handsome woman, bubbly with a lot of sense of humor.  I was reading Thomas Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure” at this time, its paperback copy, I secretly sneaked into one of my backpack pockets, but I refrained from asking her about the place where Hardy used to live and the places he wrote about; most people in my circle thought Thomas Hardy was the author of The Hardy Boys, but I realized I did not want to spoil my T.H. pleasure with what I might discover.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The absence of stories is failure of the mind

That shot is totally useless, throw it away, Ja said as soon as he saw this. But it's yellow and it's made of wood, I replied, you know how I love wood, and the way that it bears the marks of the elements, see those dents on the edges? See its uneven surface, the marks of time showing despite the yellow paint? The marks of the sea and wind, how can I just throw it away?
But there's no story there. What exactly are you trying to say? Ja asked.
No story! I exclaimed. Canary yellow against the blue, no story? Who painted it, no story? How long has it been standing there, no story? Who are the boatmen? What kind of people are they? No story? Isn't the absence of stories a failure of perception? Isn't it even a failure of the imagination?

I miss my reading time today

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Photographing photojournalists

Lake Lanao. Mick and Toto. Panglantaw Mindanao Mobile Multimedia Newsroom. June 2014.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014