My friend, Hani Al- Moliya, a young refugee from Syria who fled clutching his high school diploma and who is now studying in Canada said: Home is a place where I can find myself.
There are hundreds of ways of approaching the idea of home. But a lot of our thinking about home comes back to the idea of belonging. That place might be a country, or it might be a specific town, or a particular street, or a building on that street — even a room in that building. It might be a person or people — family or parents. Or it might be the magic mixture of people and place.
So if, at last, I was to come to some sort of definition of “home”, I would offer you this: Home is a place of compassionate community. It is a place where the act of compassion benefits the receiver but also enriches the giver.
Today, a Sunday, I think I now understand why God had to become human. I think it’s also to impart credibility to the words “I, God, understand”. For, in the limited confines of the human mind, only those who’ve experienced, say, human pain and suffering, truly understand those undergoing the same and so are able to respond appropriately to others. God-made-man understands the human situation. Seeking Him, the image that comes to my mind is Him in the dark Garden of Gethsemane sweating blood in anticipation of what was to come. Still, He prayed for strength, endurance, and faithfulness to tbat mysterious “home” as symbolized in the manger and it’s environs where this world first saw Him and the cross on which His earthly life ended. I earnestly pray today for the same strength, endurance, and faithfulness.
I think the reason why Halloween, at least it’s commercialized version, is not a somber affair (isn’t it, reminiscing your dead especially when they went out like Horacio Castillo III?) is because of what comes afterward the much anticipated Christmas time. Businesses would not want to spoil the momentum of the holiday spirit which in the Philippines starts as early as the first day of September and thanks to broadcast media’s synchronized Countdown to Christmas people are cheered on toward the finish line that is spending (and funny that while buyers spend, media people acquire). Children, why them, are dressed up in fancy costumes that get fancier and fancier by the year and sent trick-or-treat-ing at doors. Yes, why children? Why don’t the adults who like in the case of Atio Castillo are complicit and deserving of doors going slam! at their faces– no trick nor treat for you! Children because of their vulnerabilities and limitations are much more easily dismissed hence end up the most hurt. Or, dead. This institutionalized behavior, of not really understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing, is the real horror, much more horrific than what some of us relate the term with ie. ghosts and supernatural beings.
The New York Times recently ran a story on the institutionalized children of Tuam (pronounced Chewm) in Ireland who went missing and found though it was much later and only due to serendipitious events. While it looks like justice is finally served the children, their collective story of deprived and destroyed childhoods is so stunning that there simply is no word to describe what overzealous adults, believing they’re in the service of good, are capable of.
Given the misogyny, morality, and economics that informed the public debate of the time — when a pregnancy out of wedlock could threaten a family’s plans for land inheritance, and even confer dishonor upon a local pastor — imagine that naïve young woman from the country: impregnated by a man, sometimes a relative, who would assume little of the shame and none of the responsibility. She might flee to England, or pretend that the newborn was a married sister’s — or be shipped to the dreaded Tuam home, run by a religious order with French roots called the Congregation of Sisters of Bon Secours.
the St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home, a massive building the color of storm clouds, a way station for 50 single mothers and 125 children born out of wedlock… The building opened in 1846 as a workhouse, but almost immediately it began receiving victims of the Great Hunger… The government repurposed the building to be among the institutions intended as ports of salvation where disgraced women might be redeemed. These state-financed homes were invariably managed by a Catholic order, in keeping with the hand-in-glove relationship between the dominant church and the fledgling state.
The years passed. Galway County moved forward with plans to demolish the home and build subsidized housing. And the memories of hobnailed pitter-patter faded, replaced by the faint sounds of children outracing the home baby ghosts that inhabited the property at night.
Catherine still wonders what led her to the story of the mother and baby home. Chance, perhaps, or distant memories of the little girl she once teased. Despite her bone-deep modesty, there are even times when she feels chosen.
One day she copied a modern map of Tuam on tracing paper and placed it over a town map from 1890.
And there it was, in the cartographic details from another time: A tank for the home’s old septic system sat precisely where the two boys had made their ghastly discovery. It was part of the Victorian-era system’s warren of tunnels and chambers, all of which had been disconnected in the late 1930s.
Did this mean, then, that the two lads had stumbled upon the bones of home babies? Buried in an old sewage area?
“I couldn’t understand it,” Catherine said. “The horror of the idea.”
She kept digging, eventually paying for another spreadsheet that listed the names, ages, and death dates of all the “illegitimate” children who had died in the home during its 36-year existence.
The blinding belief that gave way to such horror ie. you do not conform therefore you are evil and therefore will be reformed into my view of good has been carried over to present times and underpins much of human suffering today. Terrorism. Physical dislocation. Social, economic, and political displacement. And it goes both ways ie. majority on the minority, minority on the majority, as well as, within either the majority or minority.
This century saw the rise of minorities who like the restless ghosts of the children of Tuam have had enough of being talked down, labelled, ostracized, hidden, regulated, threatened, exterminated on the first opportunity. It’s not guns or regulations that would settle the situation, as we have repeatedly seen, but rather, basic human respect manifested for example by consistently delivering on promises and allowing the other to also work at the chance of a happy and satisfying life. The other choice is to remain living from horror to horror in a suspended bubble of forever Halloween.
I’m one of those Catholics who don’t anymore observe Lent in the traditional sense. Because, can’t I live my entire life as a ‘sorry’ and at the same time a ‘thank you’ as well such that Lent, Easter, and Christmas are everyday experiences? Does that make me a bad Catholic? Anyway. In other words, while my family has been observing the week traditionally, I’ve been busy with work (I don’t get why government finds it a duty to declare a holiday as early as Wednesday when it merely sends people scurrying off to the beaches to gallivant in scanty clothing and such, or to reunions in their home provinces which for the most part is a subtle contest of who is the relative with more material riches this year? In the meantime, matters otherwise urgently needed by citizens are left behind. Is that the spirit of Lent? Work is a better penance, especially when it means other people’s lives become better as a result of timely actions. Besides, what about the citizens of other religions? Government, it being for all Filipinos, should stop declaring holidays favoring or upholding religious rites of just one group or sect. There’s already a standard that takes care of the process. With organizations, Catholic employees can just take it out on their paid vacation leaves (especially good for those who refuse to go on vacation just so it will be converted to cash at year end!). This is what it also means by separation of church and state.). On the other hand, there was practically no people and vehicle on the roads! I went to the capital on Good Friday and what bliss! EDSA and the streets were deprived of the usual offending noise, congestion, and vehicular traffic! Even the L/MRT was shut down. The capital was quiet, still, and peaceful. Everyday should be Good Friday!
In Makati, I met with my assigned mentor (in my volunteering work) who came all the way from across the world. Why she had to come is a longish story, but what I can say at the moment is I missed the two meetings, global and regional, held abroad due to unexpected difficulties with bureaucracy here. After weeks of papers and calls going back and forth, the agency decided to send instead their staff, my mentor, to me. She came just to train me in person for the research work. I couldn’t thank them enough (and felt so disappointed with my own government or should I say it’s workers who allowed pettiness to cloud their actions). My mentor, when I finally met her, is really old, maybe late 60s. But, she was spritely, cheerful, and game. Soon afterward I forgot all about my sadness over the circumstances of her travel.
She wanted to go around and explore the area. First, lunch. We found out that the malls were closed. So much for the food courts we planned to eat in. Practically all the restaurants were. What, Good Friday fasting is now a law? What if I’m a non-Catholic, or if one, I chose not to fast and I’m far away from my own kitchen? But thank God for the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean restaurants and the fastfood chains that were open. We hungry folks will be fed. Otherwise, lunch was to be a thousand peso per meal affair back at the hotel. That won’t feel like a Lenten meal will it?
We ended my training early and went to the nearby church, Saints Peter and Paul on DM Rivera in Poblacion. I’ve attempted twice before to visit after learning from locals that it’s a pilgrimage church but I wasn’t able to both times. I didn’t imagine then, how would I, that I’d be actually visiting the church on a Good Friday with a non-Catholic foreigner and my mentor at that.
We were in time for the Mass. The place was jampacked but we took our place at the front. We had to stand though. I looked around. Statues were wrapped up in purple cloth. I wondered why. Only later did I realize, crazy me, my Carmelite sister-friends will get my throat for this, that it’s what’s done on such a day. Also, at the reading of the Gospel, I was about to make the customary sign of the Cross but saw in time that no one around me was doing it. Then I realized the Gospel was the Passion Play. I put down my hand. I felt my face burning. We were really near the altar and you know the all-seeing priests. I blame my lack of sleep from an all-night travel. Ha ha!
While they were doing the drama, I reflected on things. Like, how many centuries have Catholics here been reading and listening to the persecution and death of Christ yet how is it that norms in Philippine society then as now are more or less the same? Injustice. Disregard of others. Incongrous divide between rich and poor. Destructive power structures. Nothing much has changed. How is it that we have not become any wiser for others? This is the question that’s trying to catch up with us.
The sermon centred on the meaning of death, for Jesus and individuals. I reflected on this too. The archbishop said death is painful and we fear it. That is exactly the challenge of the Gospel on us. The undignified death of Christ is for me a call to put to death injustice, disregard of others, the divide between rich and poor, power that enable this culture to continue; and, put in place the opposite of death- life, love. We are called to confront our fear of the pain of death. It’s the only way to cross to the other side which is life. Jesus sweated blood in anticipation of the pains in his death. Still he chose to walk toward it. Why, we ask? But don’t we know? It’s love.
Then the bishop said Good Friday was the birth of the Church. But funnily as it happens, forms of injustice, disregard of others, the divide between rich and poor, destructive power structures are also perpetuated by the institution. Church officials as well are not spared from the call to confront their fear of the pain in putting a stop to these.
We left toward the end of the sermon (sorry, all-seeing priests) as my mentor has a scheduled Skype conference. Back at her hotel, I said my thanks once again and she reassured me of her support and wished me safety. I felt truly loved in that moment. Then we said our farewell.
That was how Good Friday went for me this year. The church visit, visita iglesia in a sense, was unplanned but the Gospel message was spot on. It summed up my experiences of the day – what good is it to die on the cross when there’s no love behind it? what good is observing traditional practices (of Lent and Easter) when we don’t have love to go with it? Such won’t transform ourselves or anybody. It is love that will and being open in order to allow it to re-form and trans-form oneself. I understand now what our Mother Superior said when I asked her if doing xxx is good or bad. She told me, it “depends on your motivation, what’s in your heart as you do it”. I didn’t understand her statement then and was too proud to ask what does that mean? I saw the world as just black and white. Life is indeed full of surprises.
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.
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?
In the 1950s, Japanese women seeking a new life in America had to learn about more than just visa requirements. They also had to learn how to cook hamburgers, entertain neighbors, and confidently walk in high heels. Eyeliner application was, apparently, a vital skill.
These immigrants weren’t just any women. They were the “war brides” of American G.I.s, and some of them learned these lessons at the American Red Cross, which ran schools designed to prepare them for domestic life in the United States.
The American Red Cross Bride Schools sprang up in response to the wave of marriages between American soldiers and Japanese citizens following World War II. Thousands of G.I.s were stationed in Japan during the postwar Allied occupation, which led to several romances with local women. Although the statistics vary, scholars estimate somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 such marriages took place through the 1950s.
When women gather together and make small talk– ah, but it’s never small and much of that can’t be put on paper. It has been two years since last I met my two childhood friends in the Metro. We don’t get to see each other more often but nonetheless we’re like family. When we do meet, my friends’ partners hie off on their own holiday because a day is not enough for the stories we’ve been wanting to spill or the questions we’ve been yearning to bounce off each other.
This time: menopause.
Why would the female of a species cease to reproduce half way through her life, when natural selection favours characteristics that help an individual’s genes survive?
We’re at that age when the subject looms like the super moon in our horizon. I once mentioned it to a male friend in order to get a male perspective. He almost choked on his drink. “Are you crazy?” he said, caught between surprise and laughter. “You have years ahead of you.” I let that sink in. Years ahead of me. Back then, it wasn’t that sort of years that I saw ahead.
Menopause, to the female species, is like the much loathed dental chair from childhood. Maligned by gossip, it’s ill reputation is magnified even more causing people to avoid it as long as they possibly can. But the earlier an adult woman come to terms with it the better for her.
As it happens, my friends and I discovered that we each had taken an early bird approach to it. We also have reached the same outlook of this event and it’s a positive one: release of the female from the unique “burdens” placed on her. By “burdens” we mean the definitions, pains, restrictions, and regulations women go through in their “first half”: female sexuality; pills, injections, patches and what-else to manage female reproduction and the mask of stoicism women put on in the face of all that; childbirth; postnatal complications and illnesses; reproductive-related responsibilities, shaving legs and what-not, and such like.
Surprisingly, our view as I learned afterward coincides with the initial results of a 40-year study of how orcas, one of the other mammal ie. the short-finned pilot whales apart from humans known to experience the menopause, spend their “second life”. Thanks partly to the orcas, the rather depressing image that post-menopausal women are simply alive beyond their evolutionarily prescribed time is debunked.
The flip side of the natural selection process is that because menopausal women present an “unnatural” image of female, men will not naturally seek them out. This behavior from the male (who does not undergo menopause thus is biologically wired to play the game till the end of his life) is probably a huge relief to unnatural women. Imagine 50 long reproductively able years of twisting yourself into useless knots over trying to find the answer to “is it love or is it just sex?” Menopause frees women from all that.
Women of this age are free to do what they really want. Sex everyday? Why not, and this time around without fear of being saddled afterward with the “burdens.” A chaste second half? Great! Whatsoever the choice, the most welcomed news to men of the Church probably is that finally women are on the “natural method”.
Also, women’s graduation to a less competitive life sexually and reproductively and a more relaxed lifestyle overall frees up the others around them. Younger women have greater visibility and wider room to participate on the already packed dance floor that is natural selection. Men who are on a different wavelength however can go elsewhere- to “where the great orcas live.” Ha ha! Cheers! my childhood friends.
Waiting, especially when you’re by yourself, can feel like eternity. In that stretch, I could catch up on sleep. In fact, plenty of fellow travellers did, on the lounge seats. But women traveling solo are disadvantaged in this aspect I fear. To remain alert or at least convey that I was, I flipped through the dailies’ front pages (routinary for me anyway) on my tablet, more for entertainment than information. You can never guess what the world’s up to.
“If you don’t want us to be corrupt, don’t corrupt us.” Spoken by Philippine Department of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade at a business forum, in which he afterward received thunderous applause. He asked business people to avoid bribing them in government in order that they in government won’t be corrupt. Whichever angle I look at the statement, I don’t get the logic.
Honeymoon stage. This piece tells President Duterte’s “skirmishes” with women other than his former wife and current partner. Among them, newly-elected Senator De Lima who has been accusing the President of extrajudicial killings in his anti-drug campaign. Responding to the accusation, the President daw said, “the truth is pangit siya (she is ugly).”
Chinese tourist who lost wallet in Germany ends up in refugee shelter. The guy intended to file a lost property report but handicapped by his inability to communicate in English he was mistakenly given an asylum application which he promptly accomplished. He inadvertently spent 12 days at the camp. He later said Europe wasn’t what he expected.
Suspect killed those ‘unable to communicate‘. The incommunicados referred to here were disabled people. The man who attacked them inside the facility confessed that he went after “those unable to communicate their feelings”.
These videos were shown in a training for young LGBTQCI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, cisgender, and intersex) I recently went to. I laughed when these were shown. I have forgotten all about them. Almost a decade ago, we utilized the very same material in discussions with village men and women for a women’s reproductive health project in CAR.
I now refer to those community dialogues as therapy sessions. For the reason that we touched on topics which in polite society are only spoken of in private quarters and probably with a licensed therapist. But the project had formed me, then a single and relatively naive twenty something, into a pseudo-therapist whose job it was, for the sake of gender equality and women’s health and empowerment, to instigate and facilitate, with confidence, topics on sex, more sex, reproduction, and gender.
I spewed out words like ‘orgasm’ and ‘masturbation’ and explained coital positions like I was their inhouse sexpert alaDr. Margarita Holmes. What did I think about the regularity of sex between a couple? how often is best? For god’s sake. I who had zero experience at the time about family planning and child birth elicited the very same from village couples like I was their longtime doctor-confidante. What differentiates Venus the woman from Mars the man? and issues surrounding domestic violence which to be honest it was a shock listening to myself talk about these things as if I had dissected the sexes in minutiae and lived in the world longer than my audience.
The truth of the matter was although I looked and spoke easily and objectively, what I agreed to be paid for in the first place, I was trying hard not to go under my own embarrassment; inside, I squirmed from the talk my rather virgin ears were made privy to. Everybody else in the project team came with a relevant educational background i.e. nursing, social work, midwifery. I was the only one with the economics background. So, tell me all about fellatio, I’d say to a colleague, a nurse and a man at that. This was pre-Internet pre-cellphone time and face-to-face communication is the only alternative to letters, landline, and telegram. Keeping a straight face, he’d explain these things to me. Maintaining an even straighter face, I absorbed it all. It was real funny actually and I’ve thought about documenting that and send it in as why-did-the-economist-cross-the-road joke. But on most I was brainwashed enough or should I say trained enough in the concepts and theories to believe I had it in me to go at the subjects confidently.
Then there was the matter of my religion. I was raised in a very strict Catholic household, it’s influence on aspects of my life I haven’t quite entirely uncovered but which as an adult I am determined to balance with a more pragmatic outlook. All those talk about sex, family planning, and convincing people to get on methods were throwing my then iron-clad beliefs out of orbit. Many nights I’ve lain wide awake battling with myself, wondering if my colleague sleeping like a babe on the next bed did not have the same struggle. When I finally had the chance, I referred the situation to a sister in my convent days who has since become a dear friend. Among the questions I asked her was, do you think we’re unleashing communities of sextroverts? Am I leading people to sin? Her first words to me were “what makes you happy?” I was momentarily disoriented. What has my happiness got to do with what bothered me? But eventually I got her message. What she said made practical sense to me. With her words giving rest to my internal battle, I continued with the community sessions.
Reflecting on that experience, the village couples had been rather lucky and spoiled by me. One, they had an eager pseudo-therapist in their midst. And I was so ever patient with the entire process of dialogue.
What they perhaps had not seen and which I realized only afterward was, more than having me initiate discussions that seemed out of place in their rough highland landscape my real value in their lives had been as facilitator- who organized safe spaces for them to open up through candid and respectful sharing and discussion in the presence of their own partners and other couples in the village and then eventually guiding them toward resolution of their own issues and problems. Near the close of the project, the participants have become more open about that side of their lives, a significant change from the early sessions in which the response I got from them were either stony faces (like hell if we’d tell you about what we do in the bedroom!) or fits of embarrassed giggles.
The solution to their issues was in them all along. All they needed was someone to get them to identify and articulate their problem, center them on that, and before anyone of us was aware of it happening they’ve already provided the solution.
Likewise, the same process changed me as well and by far the biggest one was having been mentally de-virginized and de-sensitized on fundamental human truths which Freud and Jung spent their entire lifetimes studying! As for my personal struggle with campaigning for family planning, it was only when I got married several months afterward that I was finally and completely convinced that I did not go wrong teaching others to get into it.
So explains my laughter upon seeing the videos again. It happened so long ago yet the lessons from that time fly into my present reminding me of essential things I have forgotten.
This video was shown during a session on gender analysis. We were seriously watching it UNTIL after the surprise at the close of the video. That’s when the room exploded. Everyone agreed that it’s the most riveting commercial about women and men on TV yet. Facebook COO Sandberg has the same thought too.
What I don’t like when fine dining is that I can’t eat my favorite foods with gusto. Lobster for instance. I like them un-shelled and whole, lime-vinegar-chili sauce mix on the side but what four-star chef serves it up as it is? On the other hand, do I have to be in a run down place in order to have my fill of foods I love? Can’t I have both worlds at once i.e. favorite food served as I liked it, eaten in my best dress under crystal lighting, waited on by discreet genteel staff, laugh like my lungs will break, and the orchestra in the background as well?
I would imagine that if I’m to wear this every day where I live some or other will tell me to take it off. And that’s the weird thing. I’m not a Muslim but I’ll be happy living with this modified burqa over me; out of personal preference.
Where I previously worked, the head of office would sometimes come by our wing (Program/Operations) in order to chat with us before he’d call it a day. In one of these, he asked what language we were using to swear with because that would indicate where our true home was. For several in the group travelling abroad in order to train or attend training, speak or participate in conferences, and visit successful projects, and for the few, secondments, adapting while there to social implications of language and dialect, has been a fixture in our calendars over the years so that the concept of home has blurred.
Understandably then nobody gave an immediate reply. We were stumped for the answer. We were trying to see the connection that language which one uses it to swear with has with home. In short, we were over analyzing the question and so failed to see the joke if any, and though we wouldn’t openly admit it, searching for a politically-correct response. One expects that from development workers. Then I broke the impasse and told him offhand, home is where my heart is and my heart is in the world. So then it was his turn to think, providing us more time to work out the right answers.
So where is home? I realized just recently that one also finds it around the dining table, among companions, kin or not, who are partaking of the same meal and together form a fellowship wherein each finds a home away from home.
The clutter of dishes after meal times may look like as if a hurricane just went through it but to me it’s a…beautiful kind of mess, because it tells of the beauty inherent in relationship building and physical movement.
On the latter, it would be an accomplishment to map the dynamic between diners from the start until the end of the meal. My premise is that for any given set of diners, factors such as the existing relational level(s) as well as circumstances involved while taking the meal will in synergy produce a unique depiction of the diners’ interactions.
I’m imagining the map to look like the intricate steps of a complex dance, a coming and going until both finally reach that level of connection at which point conversing over food becomes an activity that partakers of the meal look forward to replicate again and again. Isn’t that after all the aim of meal times beyond their purpose of satisfying hunger and fulfilling gastronomic desires?