Nothing was more consoling than hearing the whirr of the stretcher’s wheels on the tiled floor as the stretcher approached our room. She dozed with eyes half-closed, letting out breaths to assure us that her sleep meant survival. Four lanky men lifted her body to place her on the hospital bed. It was easier to carry her after her dramatic weight loss. The skin on her limbs wrinkled like the ones on a dried calamansi. The nurse handed me a small transparent jar with my Mamang’s cut-out small intestine floating in the formalin solution. In front of me was a green wall, warm enough to shout of vitality and hope. Mamang’s desperate rhythms of air also seemed to say, ‘Nak, Mamang is okay. At times like this, it’s hard to say we could lose her anytime. Hard to say.
She had never been sickly before an intestinal obstruction. Papang thought her diligence slowed her down. She would take her meals at nine, two, and half-past eight. After dinnertime, she would head straight to the sink to wash the plates and glasses, wipe the dining table, and scrub its dark spots. Then at morning, we would find her at our sari-sari store. I’d often see her accommodate all kinds of customers: ladies her age back-chatting their neighbors, men asking for a beer before midday and promising to pay before dusk, and Ilonggo kids who do not know what snacks were good for them.
I was convinced she was too busy that she forgets herself at times. Mamang often complained about her ulcer. She brought a tiny White Flower menthol balm everywhere she went. I remembered how many times I would wake up at midnight by her footsteps. She paced around the kitchen and the lounge room. I could sense that she was trying hard to conceal her noise, but I could also imagine her eating snacks perhaps to bear the pain she had. Her favorite midnight snack is a biscuit so crunchy you could hear her teeth breaking it in two. Her spoon often hit her ceramic mug while she stirred her hot milk.
Despite all that, she was fit enough to have her belly cut open thrice. Mamang would cook vegetables. She cooked the best pinakbet. The slices might be of irregular sizes, but the okra and string beans were cooked to perfection. I may not have learned how to speak Ilocano, but she made sure we’d be known as one by the food we preferred to eat.
There was one dish of hers that I hated though: ampalaya with egg. She’d slice the ampalaya thickly, and wouldn’t bother soaking them in a bowl of water and salt. I’d much prefer them squeezed out of their green bitter juice, but Mamang disagreed. She said that that would remove the vegetable’s nutrients and anti-diabetes effects. She said I might as well eat eggs with garlic and onion, without the ampalaya.
Continue reading How the World Explains My Mother’s Illness
Namataan ko na naman ang banaag ng dalitang nagkukubli sa iyong mga mapupugay na mata. Makapal man ang maskarang araw-araw mong suot, hindi nito nalilinlang ang aking paningi’t nababatid ko ang iyong hilahil. Masigla man ang kilos na iyong pinapamalas, napupuna kong nasasaid nang marahan ang iyong kasiyaha’t kaluluwa.
Ni minsa’y di ako tumigil sa kakaasang mapagtanto mong nahihinuha ko ang iyong nadarama. Pagkatapos ay unti-unti mong huhubarin ang dispras mong yari sa pagpapanggap. Isisiwalat mo ang iyong totoong damdami’t ipapahiwatig gamit ang mga salitang dapat noon mo pa binigkas. Tinikis na yakap ang ihahandog ko sa maaari mong paghumyaw. Kusa kong ilalahad ang aking mga tenga nang sa gayo’y marinig ko lahat ng iyong pagtutungyaw at daing sa buhay. Handa akong maging tambakan ng iyong emosyon. Maaari mo akong gawing sandalan.
Hindi ako magsasawang pakinggan ang iyong mga hikbing dulot ng pighati. Sakali mang di ko maikola kung ano man ang nabakli, hayaan mong damputin ko ang pitak-pitak ng iyong pagkataong nakakalat. Gamit ang mga ito’y lilikha ako ng isang obra maestra; isang mosaik na magkahiwalay man ang mga piraso pero kung iyong pagmamasda’y tila buo.
Erika San Diego is a student in UP Mindanao.
“Ang bayan ng gulo at dahas…” ganito kung ilarawan ng iilan ang bayan ng Maguindanao. Marahil ito ang larawang nakikita lamang ng hubad na paningin ng iilan ngunit hindi ng kanilang malawak at mapag-unawang kaisipan at karanasan. Marahil ganito kung ilarawan ng mga taong hindi alam ang aking kuwento, hindi dinanas ang aking paglalayag bilang Maguindanaoan, at hindi kilala ang aking pagkakakilanlan bilang Muslim at bilang Pilipino.
Isa sa mga barangay ng Maguindanao ang Kitango, Datu Piang. Bayang aking sinilangan, kinamulatan, at kinalakhan. Ito ang bayang itinuturing kong paraiso. Bayang sinisidlan ko ng bawat kamalayang tangan-tangan ko tungo sa pagbubuo ng aking pagkatao at pangarap sa buhay. Ang bayang lagi nang laman ng dyaryo at balita. Bayang tinatakpan ng bawat hibla ng masalimuot na kaganapan sa hindi maintindihang kadahilanan. Bayang magpahanggang ngayon ay pilit kong iwinawagayway ang bawat matiytingkad nitong kuwento. Ito ang bayan kong pilit na pinapatugtog ang bawat ritmo ng kulintang at agong sa ihip ng simoy ng kapayapaan. Kinamulatan ko ang aking bayan bilang isang pook ng kasaganaan, kasayahan, katiwasayan, at kapayapaan. Ngunit sa biglang ilap ay tila isang panaginip lamang ang mga sandaling iyon dahil sa kinalulugmukang gulo ng aking bayang sinilangan.
Continue reading Maguindanao: Ang Aking Pagkakakilanlan / Maggindanao: My identity
To pass the time, I ambled around the island. I was told that I could circle the very tip of it in less than an hour, so that’s what I did, though the most exciting thing I found was one red, hairy hermit crab and a curiously vibrant yellow thing that, upon closer inspection, was really just a leaf stuck on a rock.
Back at the resort, I chatted amiably with the caretakers, who spoke a mix of Cebuano, Surigaonun and Waray. There were entire stretches where I didn’t understand anything they were saying, but my oh’s and ah’s were enough to carry me along the conversation. They served me adobong saang (spider conches) and plenty of rice, and seemed amused that a city-dweller like me knew how to eat with my fingers, which is, I guess, the reverse of my own previous patronizing attitude.
Continue reading In the Company of Strangeness: From Davao to Bucas Grande (Part 2 and Conclusion)
A journey is only as good as the company you travel with.
I first knew about Bucas Grande some eight years ago, and thought it might just be the most beautiful place in the Philippines. Its images online showed inviting turquoise waters around deserted island hills teeming with foliage. I remember too, quite distinctly, a picture of a woman wearing a blue bikini swimming among yellow jellyfishes. It looked so fantastic—paradise with a twist!—and I yearned to be there. Someday.
However, with my miniscule social circle, I never found a friend who wanted to go there—or, to be exact, someone who’s willing to pay to go there—even as the place grew in popularity to the point that there are now various tour packages featuring it. So when an old acquaintance posted on Facebook that he’s organizing a trip to Bucas Grande, I asked to be in immediately, never mind that I didn’t know anybody else coming.
Continue reading In the Company of Strangeness: From Davao to Bucas Grande (Part 1)
There were talks of a major promotion for one of the vice-presidents of Chinabank*. Throughout her 19 years of working there, she had slowly worked her way to the top; drawing approval and encouragement from almost every board member (there were nay-sayers, but that was par for the course). Magnetic trinkets were covering every available surface of our refrigerator door; tokens she had collected from her nearly-monthly travels all over the country on those kinds of business trips the company pays everything for. She was a powerful woman in her field, a mere 4 months away from becoming the company president, when, at the age of 48, my mother decided to retire.
Contrary to popular belief, my mother did not retire because she was tired of 9 to 5 office hours. She was not a white person who, in the face of a midlife crisis, suddenly drops their job and feels the need to compensate all those years of overwork with vacations and cars not suited to their tastes anymore. Being born in a middle-class Filipino family with the mindset that hard work = money, she was determined to stay in that bank until her youngest child, a 9-year-old, had graduated from college. She also did not retire because of the new regulation the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) had set out that would put the bank in trouble. If anyone could fight and grit their teeth through that trial, it would have been my mother. Besides, that job was her life. When I was younger there were times when the bank took precedence over my childhood. A board meeting over my third-grade recognition ceremony, an overtime shift on my birthday. The abandonment (in the loosest sense of the word) was the very foundation of my preteen angst. But I’ve grown out of that, and this is not about me. It is impossible to believe that my mother would have given up on the employees she treated like family (who referred to her as Mama Bear, she would tell me on nights the withdrawal feels the strongest, her eyes wistful).
Continue reading The Housewife
When I was 8, a boy named Carl decided to make my life a daily hell by teasing me, snickering whenever I spoke up in class, and giving me a gentle shove every time he passed me in the corridor. One time his shove made me trip on my own shoes and I stumbled through the hallway. When I told my teacher about his constant harassment, she smiled and gave me a light pat on the shoulder, saying “He probably just likes you!” After the incident, I never again told an adult about something a boy did to me.
When I was 12, I was squished to the corner of the jeepney because the guy sitting next to me has his legs spread all over the seat. All the other passengers, who were all women, looked at him but no one even bothered to tell him. He was taking up too much space. Men take up too much space that we often forget that we also have our own. I even saw the lady across me carefully adjust the corner of her jacket since it was taking up more room than needed. We are raised like that: we are raised to sit with closed legs, to not talk or laugh too loudly, to take up as little space in the world as possible. Continue reading God is a Woman
“I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day, he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man – he is a mushroom!”
~ The Little Prince
When temperature went down during that ber-month, I was in the living room scrolling through my FB while the TV showed some teleserye I was not interested in. A lot of posts were on fright nights. There were people posting Halloween costumes, make up tutorials for Halloween. Team Kramer was in all black. That was cute.
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There was a photo of Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau dressed as the Pilot and his son, the Little Prince. Fallen leaves were on the ground. Behind them, the leaves of the trees were yellow with hints of orange.
How fitting. The foliage almost imitating the sunset.
That was all it took and a distant memory replayed.
Hands were passing around glues and scissors. Scented papers of various colors and cut out pictures were scattered on the floor where eleven students were sitting and chatting. The troublesome flower accessories and yarns were lost in the mess.
Continue reading The Pilot’s Vantage Point
I live to write letters. I have lived because of letters.
When a parent decides to leave, there is infinity of questions. Inside my head was an avalanche of questions. When I was five, the black jar, a familiar fixture in our living room, accidentally got broken, spilling over my brokenness in scraps of paper scribbled with love letters to a father who decided to leave. This memory regurgitates in conversations with my mother and in spite of the heartbreaking back story, she uses this story to lovingly prod that writing is just as important as breathing. I must live.
I wrote letters to express my love for family and friends because certain moments merit not only non-verbal expression, they deserve to be documented, reconstructed and reread in my small universe. Writing is my human attempt to immortalize fleeting moments of happiness.
My passion to write and my stubborn impulse to document my thoughts are evidenced in various notebooks I have collected over the years. I write notes to my past, present, and future self. When I accidentally come across these old letters, I often find myself smiling, as if reading a letter from another who writes with raw and shameless honesty. It is overwhelming at times. I find that the letters to my younger self are most difficult to write, as she has been through a labyrinth of thorns – she deserves a good one.
I have written countless letters to my mother, many of these I have given to her, the others I kept somewhere. There is infinity of words but there are number of people who deserve my letters – just as the ink from my pen bleeds when I write my letters, my heart bleeds as well. There are infinite words but finite number of years. Words must be written. Pain, the breaking, must be transformed in written form.
Just as there are infinite characters and words, humans have finite number of days. The freedom to write must not be wasted – the other one, the intended receiver has to know. My mother once told me that she loves my letters but could not find the words to respond. I told her that my letters demand no answers and require no affirmation.
Continue reading Of Memories and Letters
In August 2016, I finally submitted the approved manuscript of my PhD thesis. In the weeks after my final defense, I took a deep breath of relief, knowing that at last I can finally return to a normal life. Now I am able to sleep at normal hours, watch my favorite HGTV or do whatever fancies me without the guilty feeling of an impending deadline dominating my every waking moment.
To take advantage of this new status, I decided to resume reading fiction and picked up George Orwell’s 1984. Some people, who have been in similar circumstances, would understand the need for some time away from any scholarly undertaking.
I have been acquainted with Orwell’s writing, but it was a mistake on my part to plunge into his landmark novel at this time. Just a few pages into it, any conception of light reading flew out of the window. This book was dark, to say the least. It is a tragic illustration of what can transpire if we do not guard our democratic freedom to speak and think.
The novel is set in 1984, in the state of Oceania, one of the three super-states fighting for global dominance while engaged in harsh, domestic suppression. Where individual thought is forbidden and only Big Brother, the totalitarian leader, is allowed to reason and make decisions. The story revolves around Winston Smith, an employee of the Ministry of Truth, which operates in keeping with its motto that “Ignorance is Strength.” His job is to search old newspapers and other records for facts, then delete or “unfact” those that are politically inconvenient in the eyes of Big Brother. Winston is well-skilled at “doublethink,” which he defines as being “conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies…consciously to induce unconsciousness.” Completing the political realities of this society are the Thought Police – secret police that monitor and punish any “thoughtcrime” rejected by the Party. The citizens of Oceania know they are being watched, but no longer know how to care. Except for Winston, who starts to question these actions and writes down unauthorized information in a diary.
Thinking about the recent celebration of EDSA, it was not much of a leap to imagine a similar situation of “doublethink” working in some version of Oceania’s Ministry of Truth, gliding through the fake news that circulate through social media in our time.
Continue reading History Matters