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