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?