Category: People

The many sides of ourselves

What do you do with long nights by your lonesome in the Muslim South? At first, I listened and nothing else. I listened to the night, it’s shadows, it’s silence, it’s movements, it’s peculiar sounds. But, mostly, I heard the whirr of my desk fan (despite urging from my hosts, I chose not to request airconditioning from my agency. “How will you be able to focus? You look dead from this heat.” I knew I did. But “I feel that when I have airconditioning, I’ll be worlds apart from community people. I want to feel the heat like how they feel it. And how could I face them and say “I understand” when I really don’t?” “But you have to understand you are not them,” the head of my host organization told me. It took me almost three months to adjust to the heat. I developed a cough that got worse as temperatures rose. At one point I panicked and thought I had TB but of course I hadn’t. Then, when I changed my mind and about to draft my request for airconditioning, I had to go and help in emergency relief for Marawi IDPs. At an evacuation center, we learned that a young woman had unexpectedly given birth there the previous week, her baby suddenly going out of her and dropping on the bare cement. While the others were busy at the registration table, I went and sought out the woman. The condition of her and her baby’s “living quarters” made me want to weep. I’m a mother too. I can see that it was no place for a woman who’d just given birth to recuperate. And poor baby, how unfortunate to have come into this world under present circumstances. I recalled a familiar Christian scene celebrated every year in December. Yet this family is Muslim. I spent almost an hour with them – her young son, her sister, her father. Her husband, she said, has stayed behind in Marawi to look after their house. Finally returning to the company of my team, after having gone round the center and tried to know each family, I informed the head of my host organization of my devision. “Having no airconditioning is little sacrifice compared to these people’s. I can live with just a fan. That’s my final decision.” He laughed. “I know what you mean. If you can do that, then good.”).

If not the sound of my desk fan, I listened to my imagination which is the worst of all. It made up noises when there really were not. Seemingly endless nights went like this in the first weeks. Until I decided I didn’t want to end up as among the casualties. Then, I remembered I had 24/7 internet access. That’s when the nights were a time I looked forward to. I studied make up online. I experimented with colors. I learned that pink is in.

pink eye shadow

I tried to do pink shadow under the eyes that extended just above the cheekbones. I did this on a day I didn’t know I’d be speaking to Moro leaders. I could see during the conversation that they’d go back to looking at my eye part. Unless I’ve overdone it which I honestly didn’t think so perhaps they were trying to reconcile in themselves the me with the pink eye shadow and the me who spoke to them seriously. It’s both. They’re both me.

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Mercado experience Part 2: Moro Exchange

What’s usually mentioned in Philippine history books or lectured in classes is the Galleon Trade during the time of the Spaniards. But did you know that in the time of the Americans there was the Moro Exchange? And that, in 1908, four years into these successful Exchanges, in the , Cotabato was pronounced as the most peaceful district of the Moro Province?

“The market place is a time-honored institution the world over,” reported The Mindanao Herald enthusiastically, “and in no people does it appeal more strongly than to the Moro. It is to him the ancient forum where commercial and social interests mingle.”…

Responding to the supposed “natural” Moro inclinations toward trade and commerce, on 3 September 1904 the military regime opened the first “Moro Exchange” in Zamboanga…

Originally the brainchild of John Finley, a district governor in Moro Province, the Moro Exchanges consisted of several primary structures specifically designed for commerce, as well as a number of other buildings intended for lodging travelers and storing various commodities. These markets were designed to engender feelings of safety, fairneds, entrepreneurial opportunity, and accommodation for Filipino Muslims and various hill tribes that wished to trade. Anxious to provide a welcoming atmosphere to Moros in particular, colonial administrators made every effort to “give due consideration to the Moslem faith of the Moros” and to “exhibit a fair measure of respect for their religion and their customs” by maintaining “sanitary” facilities and even access to halal foods for devout Muslims. 

By providing a level playing field and impartial means of exchange, colonial authorities proposed to break cycles of class tyranny and eliminate the causes of debt and slavery. “The market had been built for the use of the non-Christian people of the District of Zamboanga,” reported The Mindanao Herald on opening day, “to sell their products at fair prices, which they would be permitted to enjoy themselves, and ‘no Sultan, nor datto, nor panglima, nor person of any sort, will be permitted to interfere with…the enjoyment of…legitimate rights.'”…”Heretofore the inhabitants of the interior of the island have been at the mercy of the Chinese trader for a market for their goods and these, when sold, were seldom paid for except in merchandise at many times its real value,” concluded one article.

Much to the delight of colonial officials, Moro Exchanges received broadly enthusiastic support from Filipino Muslims… Reporting on five distinguished headmen from the Lanao District, The Mindanao Herald stated, “The Moro Exchange seems to have claimed their attention to the exclusion of all else, and they have petitioned the government to establish one at Marahui (sic).”… Probably no governmental policy since the American occupation of the islands has produced such prompt and beneficial results to the native people as the Moro Exchange system,” praised The Mindanao Herald in 1906 while contemplating the great social and economic changes occurring among the Moros…

Established markets in perennially disruptive areas such as Jolo, for example, reported an outpouring of participation and support for the colonial program. “The Sulu Moros are pleased with the Exchange,” acknowledged one American colonialist. “They know that they can come to the Exchange and sell their products for what they are worth.”…

“A very valuable trade has sprung up between Zamboanga and Jolo through the agency of the Moro market in this city,” reported an American from Jolo, and “excellent prices (are) being paid the Joloanos who come laden to our shores with fruits, pearl shells, and other articles too numerous to mention, carrying back to their homes in lieu thereof good coin of the realm.”…in 1913 General Pershing responded to Moro cries for financial institutions by allowing The Bank of the Philippines to open a branch in Jolo. During its first month in operation the institution took in over 60,000 pesos in deposits from anxious Moros.

Making Moros, Michael C. Hawkins

Mercado experience

Woman carrying milkfish

One of the first things my hosts acquainted me with was market day. Where I was the farmers market or merkado as what locals call it (palengke among Tagalogs in Luzon) is still a thing, an important part of community life. The word merkado alone transports you to another age and time. Here, it still held that old charm. I had easy access to two merkado. One is located right in my village, in my neighborhood in fact and not ten minutes walk from my apartment. The other bigger one which I almost visited is in the next town around five minutes away by trike.

Living alone and without help, I had to do my own food purchases and since I had no fridge (impractical given my anticipated short stay) I had to make frequent runs to the merkado. I could for an entire day thrive on coffee and bananaor –kamote que (hawked fresh on my street) and so to motivate myself I imagined I was this chef who has to have fresh ingredients on a daily basis. Otherwise, I regarded the runs as much-needed exercise.

I loved the buzz and fusion of colors at the merkado on market days. Almost all the goods one needs are in there- meat, fish, seafood, eggs, vegetables, rootcrops, beans, fruits, rice, spices, canned food, cooking ingredients, cleaning materials, slippers, toiletries, and so much more. And, of course, the unbelievably cheap fresh food which will undoubtedly put you off super and hypermarkets where the same are sold by as much as 1000% mark up.

One time, lunching with my hosts and other local volunteers on grilled whole tuna and unlimited stir-fried prawns bought at source, I told them how lucky they are to have access to cheap fresh protein-rich food everyday. “Back home,” I said, “these foods at these servings are usually only served occasionally. Tuna is around PHP400 a kilo. Prawns go by more or less the same. That’s the price at the market. A dish in the restos costs more. And they’re not like they’re caught off the sea one minute and sold the next. They’re shipped most probably from your place. So forgive me if I’m eating like a shark.”

My first venture in my neighborhood merkado, I went with a staff from my host organization. Their accompanying me to this very public place was part of my “introduction” to the community. My hosts are already known by locals and to be seen with them would allay any suspicion that I’m a spy or something. “Fish?” the staff offered. I turned her way. I’d been looking at prawns and shells and… For the life of me I was overwhelmed with the array of choices. I also didn’t have anything specific on my menu and when my companion said fish? she’d caught me blank and I said yes without thinking. “One kilo?” she asked me further. “Yes.” When I’d gotten back to my place and had put away the dry purchases, I went to the sink and stared at the fishes. I didn’t know that a kilo of tulingan is good for a week’s supply for one person. Hmmm what’s the best way to cook fish in one go given there’s no fridge? Earlier, my hosts had offered the use of their ref but the office is a good three blocks away. I wanted to take them on their offer but the thought of going back and forth in the officious heat turned me off the idea. I ended up frying them all. I had one each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three days straight. I’m off tulingan, for the rest of the year at least.

It takes skill to estimate purchases of fresh food good for just one person. At first, much of what I bought ended up as garbage. Over time, I got better at estimating ingredients for a day’s cooking. But there were I discovered certain foods that were not available at the merkado. Like, organic or native eggs. I needed them one time to make cauter a local concoction of freshly-made coconut wine, eggs, and evaporated milk that is said to combat anemia. I made the rounds of all the stalls but nada. I was told I could get them at source by which they meant, the farms. Swell. The nearest one I know was almost an hour ride away but it wasn’t like I could just up and go off by myself. Going that distance on my own was a breach of security. I had no choice but make do with what’s at hand. Then there were times I had cravings, like, for Korean food preferably ready to eat but nada. So one weekend, when my craving wouldn’t go away, I went and scoured the market for bibimbap ingredients. I found no watercress, soybean sprouts, or kimchi but whatever I had to eat bibimbap or die. Another time, I was supposed to go to the municipal merkado in the next town. I’d planned to go look for plants for the rock garden project I’d been wanting to do, one way to channel stress, but a work-related concern unexpectedly came up. My trip had to be postponed until… before I knew it it was time for me to leave.

Mondays at my host organization office, staff would ask me, “how’s your weekend? made a trip somewhere?” and I’d reply “yeah, to our favorite place in all the world” in a tone like I’d just gotten back from Paree. My travel options were extremely limited and to make up for the lack, I made a point of having fun with even the littlest of errands. I dressed up going to the market (though far from those seen on, say, the Star Magic Ball red carpet) which earned me the community’s observation the woman who dressed pormal. I’d worn slippers to the market just once but they were Yeezy and only because I had my toenails done. Even then folks spoke formally to me and only when I spoke to them which was what I wanted. I didn’t want on my days off to be randomly approached on the street. Not in the time of martial law.

At the market one afternoon, though, at the height of folks fleeing Marawi City, I passed by a parked vehicle with it’s door slid open and glimpsed ulamas inside. I’d earlier seen a couple of similarly-clad males going around the stalls buying. They’d also seen me. I made my way around the car to the fruit stall across it. While making my purchase I felt eyes boring on my back. It prompted me to recite these repeatedly in my head- oh, just go away, go away, go away which my rational side shrugged off- really? it’s a goddamn market what do you expect? I nonetheless made my purchase hastily before walking past them again. I almost collided into one of their companions returning to their car with his purchases. He was about to open his mouth probably to say sorry but I’d already taken off.

Conflict does this to you, I later realized. You terrorize your own self which then spills over outside of yourself. I recalled that avoidance of the ‘other’ based on fears were cited by locals as among the building blocks of community conflict. How did I allow it to work it’s way in me? In the convent, we were lectured on the dangers of attachment or getting attached to things (including people) (attachment is actually a sin at least among religious) as this leads away from authenticity. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. The more you’re involved with say a community, the easier it is until it becomes a habit to think and act as what the Romans think and do which precisely is what constricts your thoughts and actions. A paradox.

Whither the books?

Woman reading books

I should’ve brought with me more books. I packed just one, Michael C. Hawkins’ Making Moros: Imperial Historicism and American Military Rule in the Philippines Muslim South (it’s Moro, by the way, singular or plural, this from the Moro people themselves who corrected me, the reason being Moros has taken on a deregatory term during colonial rule) but, for the sake of delicadeza, I didn’t let it out of my apartment. For community folks to see me flipping pages of a book in order to get to know them would be, I thought, an insult to them, like, hello, we’re right here, why don’t you ask us? I didn’t want to make the wrong impression or hurt their feelings. I needed the communities to trust me. Plus, I was reeling from shock and disbelief having learned there was not, in the towns, a public library, bookstore or books being sold, or newspaper stand or newspapers. Not a shadow of any of these in the public space at all. Don’t these places have recordings of their history? Reading from the real pages of books is like air to me, but apparently there are communities that have thrived without the staple. Why? How? I was burning with curiousity but then I also needed to be smart with my questions and statements. I chose not to rock this boat.

But it made learning about these parts extra challenging. I needed distilled information. Though I had access to oral history I still needed to fill in the gaps with facts, data, and strategic information. I turned to the worldwide web. It became my library where I was both librarian (ie. selecting, sourcing, classifying literature) and learner-user. The entire task was time consuming. Still, literature out there specific to these places are limited. It was frustrating.

I had texted an acquaintance about my surprise and he said, “but there’s wifi?” I laughed. I missed to make that connection. But then, there’s not many households with wifi connection or access to the internet as many locations are not covered by the networks. Facebook, perhaps, but it’s not meant as a learning platform.

In one of my exchanges with the head of my host organization, I eagerly talked about the written work on the Moro people but petered out when I saw he didn’t share my enthusiasm. “That’s what the book says. There’s a lot of wrong information out there,” he said. Hurt and surprise overwhelmed me. “What a lot of books say matter. This is distilled information, by a Fulbright scholar,” I countered. What I left unsaid was, did you think I’d not be able to decipher truth from propaganda? “Then that’s good,” he said. I nodded, though still anxious that he looked unconvinced. But, I didn’t push it otherwise we’d end up unnecessarily spoling a bright summer day arguing over what a book says. Returning to that episode afterward, I thought about the natives’ apparent distrust of written works of their community. Was that why there’s not a single book or literature around? But, what a drastic response!
Some time after the initial discovery, I enlisted two youth volunteers, college graduates, from the communities to assist me in the workshops (I preferred young people, because they don’t have baggage that adults have thus are more teachable, more open and honest (what you see is what you get), more enthusiastic, and I wanted to open doors for them something which mentors in my youth did for me that I’ve since emulated out of gratefulness). I lent them my copy of a report that would help them become more familiar about the research and so could better assist me with the work. I sent it through a male relative of theirs also a volunteer.

Afterward, when I had time to think, I realized I had “introduced” a reading material to a community. I tortured myself wondering whether or not they saw me as a “bad influence” for sending the material, if the report was first scrutinized, and was cleared by community leaders. My rational side chided me, what? it’s just a goddamn report. When I met the two volunteers again, three weeks after sending them the material, I saw that it’s pages showed added wear than last. My gut told me that several others had went through it as well. The two didn’t elaborate beyond the insights they both gained from reading it and I didn’t ask. I just hoped all those who perused the report learned there’s nothing but goodwill in there.

Whatever the reason(s) for this odd absence of literature for the public, a republican local government is duty-bound to protect and fulfill development of the people by putting up in the least a public library, a repository of the history, geography, curated writings, as well as, reference materials; to stimulate private investments to bookshops; to support adult literacy classes.

How to manage fear according to Mindanaoans

working by the night light

Ang takot ay nasa isip lamang. This was the advice from the head of my host organization when we first met on location. It was my first week in Mindanao. The Marawi crisis was yet to explode around us, a month away. I laughed on hearing it said to me. I hadn’t thought of the words that way before. To me, they were just lyrics of the OPM song Oras Na. He had said it after one of my briefings with his team and after he kind of assessed me with a look and pronounced “no, you’re not kidnap-able.” I wasn’t sure if he was joking or he just didn’t want to frighten me.

I had thought about the risk of kidnapping although only vaguely, like how persons in their twenties do about death- it’s what happen to old folks not to young people. But, the risk, among other assessed ones, was more openly and seriously discussed in a pre-departure orientation-workshop with officers from my agency. After that, as I was travelling to my area, I mulled over the words that were emphasized back in the airconditioned ultra-modern hall: “it is the policy of the agency not to deal out ransom payment”. It’s not my first time to hear the statement but back when I first did I realized they’re polite words for “lose your head and you’re on your own”. Undiluted human response to that would be ” you’ve got to be kidding! why, are we not there on official business?” but thanks to evolution humans learned civilized or politically correct responses, in this case, a placid nod.

Luckily, my host organization and I were able to find me a home away from home that had not one but two gates- outer and inner (solid steel, top to bottom) with ultra-secure lock system too. In all, two gates plus one front door with two locks. My pocket always jangled with the heavy-duty keys. To unlock and relock the one on the outer gate it has taken me an entire half hour every time. In the first weeks after I moved in, I felt eyes, passers-by on the street, boring hotly into my back as if maybe I was an intruder. Sometimes, returning from the field grimy, exhausted, and impatient to get inside I was liable to lose my sanity more quickly. I had actually cursed the lock roundly. I dared curious passers-by to challenge my actions, but of course no one did. They already knew I was that alien who couldn’t open her own gate. At other times, walking home alone after dining out, I’d think what if somebody was after me and I still hadn’t been able to open the gate? I imagined myself scaling the wall like I had spidey webs only to be pulled down and murdered right by my own gate. That’s not even close to kidnapping. This frustration with my front gate gave me little incentive to step out once I was already inside my apartment. A deterrent. People like me who’ve known all their lives relatively free and peaceful environments will resist such a setup that on the one hand locals perceive as safety. Otherwise I found the whole setup funny. I imagined my place resembling a Victorian chastity petticoat of the mechanical kind something like what’s under Queen Victoria’s voluminous skirt in The Pirates Band of Misfits.

Ang takot ay nasa isip lamang. The second time I heard it, I was outside my assignment area, in another province. Maranao teachers from Marawi City had sung the entire song at the close of a training session. Tayo na sa liwanag, ang takot ay nasa isip lamang. Fighting in Marawi City had been going on almost a month; two months since I first walked in these parts of Mindanao. I had come to understand the meaning of the lyrics.

I had taken the initiative to monitor goings-on around me. I was merely doing what I must- keeping my head. Early May, I heard the broadcast of the President’s speech to the PNP in Maguindanao. He spoke about his dwindling faith in the peace process and the parties involved in it ie. MNLF, MILF, CPP-NDF. When the President talks like that at a crucial time when he should be rallying behind the process, people should become extra alert. What was he really saying? I was sure it was an oblique way of communicating to the nation that something big was afoot. For those keeping tab on the region, they’d have pinpointed from the continuing conflict there particularly the military offensives in Butig throughout 2016 (FebruaryNovember), the bombing of Davao City night market in September, the history in those parts of rido or inter-clan vendetta akin to a civil war, and the undeniable presence of opportunists waiting with the patience of Time on the sides could at anytime trigger an all-out violent conflict. My gut told me martial law was inevitable, when and how would depend on I surmised certain events that only the President and his men were privy to.

At the time, my employer-agency in another continent was insistent that in the name of community participation and relationship-building I should spread out my research activities with the communities over the next two months. “You don’t want to be seen as somebody going in on a parachute and taking off in a ‘copter.” The proposed method I sent them, after a scoping study of the areas and with input from my host organization, was to complete the primary discussions with community groups one after the other in a week (after that, secondary individual interviews on a more relaxed schedule following interviewees’ availability). I understood my employer’s concern, but then they weren’t in the area, with me, experiencing things first hand. I typed up a long-ish email to shed light on why the initial schedule was best, a most challenging task considering the “threat” of martial law is based on this researcher’s “expert reading” of local events. In the end, after a flurry of communications going back and forth, they agreed. I informed my host organization this as well as my gut feel of the President’s speech in Maguindanao. They stared at me. I mean, weren’t they supposed to be the one telling me about it? For a moment there I was suddenly like, shit did I misread the situation and so misled my employer?

When precipitating events worsened and martial law did happen, I was the one calling and waking people in the dead of night for what to my hearing were human feet on the prowl but were really just those of an obese cat dancing the night away on nearby tin roofs.

Ang takot ay nasa isip lamang. I came to understand why residents in these places will not, if they can help it, allow fear and it’s offsprings panic and paranoia inside their heads. In those places reason is superior to fear. It’s the only way people there have been able to maintain, over time, sanity and live “normally”. I feared that if I stayed long, like them, I’d go down the same path. Then, again, I asked myself if that isn’t what’s criticized as a pretend life. By believing that prejudices and a culture of conflict don’t exist, won’t that perpetuate the same prejudices and conflict? But, then, if that is what enables people to live there happy isn’t that choice of belief their right? A complex and contrary situation.

So how did you manage? I was asked in a debriefing at the close of my assignment. Work, I said promptly. I had deadlines left and right that there simply was no time left to think about anything more or linger on my observations of my environment. Weekends were mainly for catching up on sleep, house cleaning, and laundry. Work them to death apparently is beneficial in certain situations. But if somebody had asked me then, during my first month there, what would prompt me to walk away from the place I’d have said my leather jacket. The terrible heat, more than anything else, was my enemy. I ate ice-cream almost everyday usually early evenings before dinner. Then, once, a guy told me in an indirect way that my favorite food is ice cream. I laughed. And then that made me think, fuck! wait, what? was he…following me? I continued laughing. Ang takot ay nasa isip lamang.

Nestle pistachio & cashew ice cream

woman by the sea

To cleanse me from prejudices about people and places; my fears, unfounded ones. To cleanse me from thoughts of superiority. To cleanse me from whatever’s keeping me from seeing and hearing. To cleanse me from untruths. I didn’t ask for this baptism rite, but thank you. What I needed. An early Christmas gift, I think.

At home exercise

I’m not allowed to go out alone before 7 AM and should be already home by 7 PM. So dawn runs are out (a friend said I should instead jog in place inside my room which made me laugh). My lack of exercise has me worried. But yes thank goodness for Youtube. I’m doing this simple yoga routine every other day. The rest of the days- jogging in place while trying hard not to pity myself.

On my current K-drama series playlist

K-drama series on Viu are my companion these days. I can now put a tick on Goblin: The Lonely and Great God. Done. The story reverberates with truly unique characters – the Goblin, of course, and, a departure from grim reapers of old, the uncannily handsome and domestic Grim Reaper – that are smoothly threaded in to the world of humans. Living among humans day after day meant that human vulnerabilities would gradually rub off on them, and it did. By opening themselves to the human experience, it made them a whole lot better in the end. Better deities. As for the humans…ah, well, love is a destiny.

As I’ve just gotten into watching K-drama, I don’t know many Korean actors, and deciding which series to watch next is based mainly on the actors from previously-watched dramas. The actor Lee Dong Wook was the reason I watched Goblin, because he was the actor of My Girl the first ever K-drama I saw and liked. So, after Goblin I decided to go for dramas in which the actor Kim Go Eun starred in. Hence, Cheese in the Trap.

The drama is a poignant portrayal of university life, youthful romance, and issues affecting young people such as family, mental health, and self-direction. There are also plenty of quotable quotes in there that especially convey what young people are going through:

Baek In Ho: Who studies on the subway? What do you want to become?

Seol:  I just want a job. I don’t want to be unemployed.

Baek In Ho:  What are you worried about? You’re a college student.

Seol:  That’s what I thought, too. When I was in high school I thought I could be anything when I went to college. Now that I’m in college there are many difficult questions. I envy those people the most (gestures toward a couple of men in business suits).

Baek In Ho:  What’s the envy? They look like corpses.

The close of the series brought to mind David Foster’s Just For A Moment (theme song from St. Elmo’s Fire) which floated in my head. I did shed a tear or two. Good news though! There’s a movie adaptation coming out this year! Plus there’s a webtoon of the series which it turns out is the original material.

Afterward, I decided to branch out to dramas of the actor Park Hae Jin, the male lead in Cheese, which led me to Doctor Stranger. I’m now currently watching Episode 9. Incredibly good so far. The story has most everything- spying (North and South Korea), geopolitics, professional rivalry, romance, that involve, well, doctors. But most especially the operating room scenes look very real!

In between, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m also watching Bride of Ha Baek (The Bride of the Water God) originally a manga series of the same title. I’ve seen the male lead Nam Joo Hyuk in Cheese in the Trap and Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo that I watched in February. After the first three episodes, I already liked Bride of Ha Baek because Shin Se Kyung‘s female lead’s story arc is so relatable. She has lots of things going on in her personal life, meaning, she’s not as happy, which keeps her, she’s a psychiatrist, from being fully present with her clients until… the series is now on Episode 8. The queer identities that have suddenly popped up in her life are starting to show who or what they really are.

 

What’s your ‘treat yourself’ wine?

tuba or coconut wine
Tuba (4-hour fermented coco wine). It’s brown-ish color is natural dye from the mangrove tree.

My host organization said I should join them in their team-building event, to take a break even if for a day from an incredible month of hyperactivity not to mention, of late, anxiety. They have done an extraordinary job of facilitating my work so far as well as my security in the areas. Of the latter, I know they’re trying to hold in their worries and desire to guard over me 24/7. As for myself, apart from dealing with work pressure, I’ve lately been bombarded with new experiences almost on a daily basis that there’s no time for me to reflect and understand how they benefit my own life. Also, out there in the areas, there’s such a wealth of information and lessons that it’s made it extraordinarily challenging for me to sift through and obtain what’s just needed for the work I’m doing. Then, the usual pressure from family and friends- wtf are you still there for? When they say that…I start to have doubts- yeah, how the hell did I end up here? which I don’t like. Sometimes when I’m in this mood I imagine I’m in one of my favorite places to be…only that I’m fully clothed you know in case my folks decided to forcibly fly in through the roof and get me by the ears, clothed or not. Is why bombs are loathed- they’re like our parents in hyperwar mode.

 

But seriously by joining my host organization in their activity I wanted to convey my appreciation and gratitude. They’re my second family here, and since my entry into their lives their days have become uncharacteristically hectic. I so owe them some slack.

The event took place by the wonderful sea, in an open community training center maintained by their partner-organization. When we arrived, the distinct smell of goat meat (it’s halal) wafted in the air. We were told there’ll be papaitan and kaldereta on the table- yum! This reminded me of similar gatherings in my areas of assignment when I was younger, also the reunions at my grandparents’ during my childhood. The men did most of the cooking.

I’m already acquainted with the individuals there so I went around and joined in the conversation. Crowds is really a struggle for me although I can put a handle on this when it becomes a duty ie. work requires me to work the crowd. I could do it so well that people think I’m a go-getter. Ha! Besides, when you’re with village people, they scrutinize you with beetle eyes- they will right away pack off snobs or outsiders with no sense of humor. Once, I woke up in a depleted mood and no amount of self pep talk could elevate my mood. This showed through when I was facilitating a discussion with village women. Their faces reflected my mood. But I didn’t care. Then somebody said “no sense of humor” in reply to my question of what makes an effective volunteer. The body language of the other women screamed, oh my goodness. They were all looking at me like how children stare up at their parents when they knew they’ve crossed a no-no line, waiting for a punishment to come or not. The mental image tickled me and I laughed. The women’s bodies eased up a bit. Sense of humor is key to working well with villagers.

Then I moved into the hut where the men were cooking. Somebody asked if I wanted tuba. I said, yes sure. He handed me a cupful. And, it was unbelievably delicious- just the right sweetness and fermentation. The coconut juice had been collected very early that morning and fermented a few hours (it gets stronger the longer it’s fermented however 2-3 days would turn the juice to vinegar). Plus, I was told the container had been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, which explained why it tasted clean. I had two cups (which kind of alarmed them but I assured them that I have a high tolerance for alcohol). Then while watching them do their thing, we talked about local wines and drinks. This scene reminds me of my childhood during reunions, when I was usually with the men – my uncles and their cousins – watching whatever they were doing and listening to their talk. I have a few photos of those times (come to think of it, I haven’t asked who took the shots). So, growing up, I don’t know but I naturally gravitate toward the company of male friends and acquaintances. Their kind of talk is what I’m familiar with. But also because I find I can be my naturally straightforward self with them and nobody would take overt offense. Ha ha!

tuba and freshly caught prawns

We also had prawns, freshly caught and (for me) unbelievably cheap at just 150 a kilo! About seafood, all my life I’ve reacted after digesting it or at times even from merely touching it hence avoided it. But my host organization upon learning this were horrified. The areas teemed with seafood. So we experimented (anyway, I brought my meds). First, pusit small and large ones. And what do you know- no reaction at all not even a hint of an itch. I thought about it. Then it dawned on me. Could it be the preservatives (applied along the supply chain as it makes it’s way to, for instance, Baguio City) and not the seafood? I told my host organization this which excited them some more about our experiment. Next, crabs. I had no reaction after the first. Wow! So I ate another one. Nada. Then, the prawns. No reaction. Amazing! I really am sure now my allergic reactions were due to preservatives. Goodness, how much nutrients did I lose from avoiding seafood?

How did the team-building go? It turned out that was just a bluff. The event was actually a “formal” welcome to me. Soon as the dishes were cooked and laid out, one of the organization’s staff called everyone inside the center, and after the usual how are you all feeling today? talk she then announced the real reason for the gathering. Ha! You thought I was a birthday girl, too stunned at first to react. But, really, it was such a gift.

“The Man Born To Farming”

The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming, whose hands reach into the ground and sprout, to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn. His thought passes along the row ends like a mole. What miraculous seed has he swallowed that the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water descending in the dark?

watermelon harvest by thecolorofred

Thoughts while watching an early morning banana boat ride

It was not yet nine in the morning but I guess that’s already late in the day for these beachgoers. I was meeting select people in this coastal village for a discussion about what they’re doing to make their community resilient. For many Filipinos, resilience is equated to “smiling or laughing though the world has crashed around them”.  This attitude is good but…only to an extent. Beyond a certain point, it’s avoidance, of sad realities around them- no basic infrastructures such as water systems, roads, sea walls, and if there are as for instance village health stations, they’re not staffed or equipped. Spending one’s free time on a banana boat is a personal choice, yes. But then the choice each and every Filipino make makes the nation. If everyone of us are on banana boats where does that lead all of us to? Filipinos need to be more conscious when making a choice especially at this time in our development when the nation needs more of it’s people to engage with planners and decisionmakers. We need to spend less time on banana boats and more time in public session halls, lobbying for quality basic infrastructures and services, for talk to be consistent with walk, for change to happen on the ground in the villages among families. Otherwise it’s the same hullaballoo all over again- the next generation inheriting redundant pile of to-dos we procrastinated on that our generation inherited from the last and so forth. Filipinos need to be generous.

To volunteer or not to volunteer

Bayanihan or volunteering
I saw this at the restaurant where Victory Liner makes a stop. It depicts the act of bayanihan, a Tagalog term for Filipinos helping one another especially during crises.

I have decided to be a volunteer for most of this year. I’ve been growing toward this aspect of service a year now. I was supposed to be deployed internationally last year but I retracted because of personal safety concerns. Last year as we know had been hell in international security and I wasn’t prepared to be in unstable areas without full compensation. Ha ha! But, I guess, when it’s for you it’s for you. It’s going to come at you no matter how you dodge it.

The question posed to me by the organization was, what made you decide to volunteer? Well, looking back, my story has been of gradual awareness and readiness.

In my 20s, colleagues, after completing their contracts (in development work) went overseas for volunteer work. They were young and overseas was the next step. They were deployed in countries like Tibet, Kenya, Congo. I was urged to join them, but volunteering never entered my mind. In the communities, I had been both fascinated and filled with respect for the local people especially women already multiple-burdened who volunteered for our organization and helped facilitate it’s work. But volunteering didn’t mean anything to me personally. I couldn’t see myself as selfless as the locals were. ‘Volunteer’ didn’t appeal to me.

I have not, until now, volunteered formally. I have only been helping people in my immediate surroundings such as helping elderly folks in my barangay with their grocery bags or colleagues in need with their work. As a freelance consultant for some time now, I voluntarily don’t ask for my full fees from organizations I knew didn’t have much financially or when it involves a cause I personally believe in. Beyond the private sphere, I’ve not much to show for (public) volunteerism. As I got older, however, growing in experience, knowledge, skills, emotional maturity, and confidence, I felt myself becoming more and more psychologically ready to give of myself in a more public way. The key factor for me here is ‘psychologically ready’.

“Wow,” the officer listening to my story said, “that’s a word.” It is. That’s how I feel about volunteering now. In a sense it’s like my personal journey toward becoming more generous. I guess it’s similar to being in love or getting married. When one is ready, and you’ll know the time, one is more able to give of oneself fully and completely and to appreciate the other as fully and completely. And, like love or marriage, I’m venturing in with an open mind.

In my next post, I’ll write about my initial realizations from my first steps toward volunteering.

Women rock at today’s PMA graduation

Philippine Military Academy graduation today and what’s unique this year is it’s “ruled” by females. The valedictorian is a woman. Eight of the top ten graduates are women. There were 63 women graduating cadets in all, the biggest since the Academy accepted the first women cadets ten years ago.

Each has their own journey story to the Academy, like this ex-housemaid who eventually found out that her career is really in the military. A dramatic transition. Wow!

​https://youtu.be/J0biYT4MJ-w

On Arirang cable channel recently, it featured a young South Korean woman who voluntarily joined the government’s mandatory military training. Her father, a military man, challenges her to not just be a soldier who is a woman but a woman who is a soldier. I was struck by that statement which I recalled again today. The next step I guess for these inspiring women cadet graduates is figuring out how to be successful at both. All the best to them!

Civilized

civilized: Emma Watson Vogue cover
via Vogue

Ivy League-educated, demure, socially conscious, white and pretty, Emma Watson fits perfectly into to the category of the woman whose breasts we are not supposed to see. In the binary of virgin and whore, she is firmly in the former camp. It is this that has upset the critics of her photoshoot, because there is an idea that nudity of any kind is for women of a lower class.

Feminism And Nudity: Why Are The Two Still At Odds? Reni Eddo-Lodge, Vogue

On the other hand, before Christianity and civilization our ancestors wore skimpy clothes to none, women bared their breasts, and that was natural. Civilized Christians who came upon these communities called them pagans who must be civilized and made to know God. Now that civilized people, women especially, are showing skin they’re called sluts, by even more civilized people.

Feminism has nothing to do at all with the reactions to Emma Watson’s Vogue shoot. They’re about our sense of what’s civilized and not. Interestingly, the more “civilized” society becomes so has the demarcation between civilized and wild people gotten even tighter. I guess it’s why the story tellers made civilized Jane fall head over heels over jungle man Tarzan and living with him in his lair became wild happy Jane, just to flip ‘civilized’ on it’s head. Why the story continues to be so well-received by everybody is what’s mind-boggling. Does this mean, in an alternative reality for humankind, ‘civilized’ is not even a word?