No Place Like Home


San Esteban

South China Sea coast of long ago

At thirteen I convinced myself I had already earned my doctorate degree, all done with school, done with education. I saw myself standing, resplendent in my purple toga, proud as can be towering way above the crowd of high school kids all clamoring for recess. I had my Walter Mitty moments and daydreamed a lot. Why, the propeller sounds of a Pan

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Far away places with strange-sounding names

American airliner flying overhead from Hong Kong to Manila could make me imagine “far away places with strange-sounding names.”

 

Yes, and only in my mind was I a PhD having earned it at the University of Hard Knocks.

I couldn’t wait to leave home to explore the world. School was a drag. Earning one’s keep was so unnecessary. Looking back now, I tell myself, “What a fool. How could you leave paradise? The willowy coconut trees, the pristine waters of the South China Sea, deserted beaches stretching for miles, the wind in your face and a carefree lifestyle away from an industrialized world.”

Carabao

This carabao is wise beyond his age

The wise elders used to admonish us kids: “The grass is always greener on the other side.” I was intrigued. And it’s true. Come to think of it, why does the grass always look greener on the other side? Is that why the carabao always wants to move to another field to graze disregarding the lush zacate grass upon which it stands?

I remember I had on a pair of Elpo rubber shoes. I hated them. What I wanted was a pair of Converse All Star shoes. From America. Made in USA. For some reason the Converse shoes were all the rage and I wanted to wear that which was in vogue so I could be in. Thinking about it now, my pair of locally manufactured black and gray Elpo rubber shoes were just as good and fine. They protected my feet walking to and from school. They did their job.

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Rice Fields in Ambalayat

Can I ever go back home again? Not according to the wise sage. Because you see, home is no longer as it was when I was young and growing up. The place has changed and what I expect to see is no longer there. Even the familiar faces – friends, relatives – they are no longer there. Home is a now an entirely different place.

Am I longing for the past? Maybe. There is a saying about leaving part of your heart someplace specially if the pleasure of the stay is so intense it gets seared in the mind. Perhaps that was it. I loved my childhood spent back in Farola… the little fishing enclave by the South China Sea.

Reverie


There were mornings I didn’t want to get up from bed. This was one of those mornings.

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Night Rain

It rained during the night. I fell asleep to the soft, intricate maracas-like sounds of raindrops falling on the co-goon grass roof of our small and humble cottage. The rhythmic sounds were further made into tight percussion riffs by the crickets and night crawlers chirping, by the tiny fruit bats with their syncopated chomping on “kapas-sanglay” fruit, and by the herd of cicadas playing their inebriating kazoo music from the stand of acacia trees.

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Gardenia – Rosal

I woke up to the familiar, musky, animal dropping laced smell of freshly soaked ground – a parched patch of earth that once stood arid and dry for many weeks. The ground percolated and came alive with the rich water infusion, loosening small boulders and clods into mud, awakening the docile earthworms already on the job, laboriously digging, burrowing, all the while leaving round, marble-shaped mud mounds in their wake.

The pervasive scent of flora came from the gardenia, its white blossoms giving out that sweet, unadulterated perfume. Then there were the sweet-sop trees, their branches sagging under the weight of ripening fruit. The guavas, pomelo trees, and goose berries added to the

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Atis – SweetSop

overall garden aroma, accented only by the blooming orchids hanging in their coconut husk nests.

From my cot bed I filled my lungs with healthful rain-cleansed morning air. The spectacular sunrise burst out in splendor lighting up the morning firmament; I wasn’t moved. I just wanted to linger and lounge on my cot bed, wax the grateful dead, oblivious

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Pan de Sal

to life itself and remaining zombie-like.

And so I tarried, half-asleep, but enjoying the smell of freshly brewing roasted-rice coffee. I heard the familiar cry, “Pan de Sal,”… “Pan de Sal,”… the Doppler effect taking over the sound fading into the distance.

Divine Intervention


“Her father will not recognize her as his daughter,” the distraught woman lamented. “He threw us out of his life like used rags. We haven’t received any remittances from him for years.”

Mother Superior sat there motionless. She listened, occasionally nodding her head in sympathy. She’s heard it all before. “Go on,” she would say. “How can we help you this time?”

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Now middle-aged Remedios

The middle-aged woman, we will call her Remedios (not her real name), was close to tears as she spilled her guts out to the Mother Superior of the school her daughter attended. She was there to plead her case of dire poverty, requesting that her daughter be allowed to take the finals even though she can’t come up with the tuition balance.

This wasn’t the first time Remedios had to grovel before the school administrator pleading for mercy and understanding. She did it when her daughter was a freshman in high school. Now, her daughter – who is a gifted child – is halfway thru her junior year.

As a young woman fresh out of high school, Remedios worked in Singapore as an OFW. She

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A Young Remedios

was young, highly energetic, and engaging with unbounded curiosity. She loved to dance and socialize. She loved to meet new people and make new friends. Wide-eyed and eager to see the world she gladly took on domestic employment overseas. New to a universe bustling with highly driven people, young and impressionable, she soon found herself entangled in a doomed, superficial relationship with a married man.

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Filising – a gifted child – in grade school

She bore him a child out-of-wedlock, a daughter, whom they named Filising (a combination of Filipiniana-Singaporianense). That was years ago.

Returning to the Philippines upon the non-renewal of her domestic contract, Remedios and Filising went to live with her eldest son, Sotero, in their small home with his family of four. As her son’s family grew bigger with the addition of a new baby, Remedios felt like she had to go to the big city to try her luck once again for overseas employment. Of course, Sotero and Filising protested. Sotero respectfully reminded his mother, “Besides, you can help us out by babysitting the new baby. We need you Mom. Don’t go. Stay.”

One day, without so much as a goodbye, Remedios left. Just like that. She left no address, no word as to where she was going. She just took off.

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Filising (left) with a friend

Filising felt the sting of complete abandonment in her heart. Not only did her biological father disown her, now her mother has left her. She felt utter worthlessness. Her grades began to slip. She lost her appetite. Her beautiful, flowing, black tresses began to fall off. She was withering away in broad daylight.

Sotero was at a loss; he didn’t know what to do. He had no resources to take Filising to see a doctor. Why, Sotero was so penniless he couldn’t even summon the local quack-doctor-herbolario for some superstitious quackery; this local shaman charged too much for his services.

At school, Filising’s teachers noticed the change in their star pupil. Alarmed, they informed Mother Superior of what was going on. It was out of pure concern for her welfare that Mother Superior had Filising brought in to the office one afternoon for an informal chat. Divine intervention was at work. Mother Superior took it upon herself to use her own personal money to help Filising finish her junior year. Additionally, she gave Filising a job at the convent, helping in the library and in the sacerdotal vestments upkeep, and giving her board and lodging.

Filising graduated high school class valedictorian. She never reconnected with her mother Remedios, who walked out on her… long ago.

 

Natural Remedies for Migraines


HomeBusAs a youngster growing up in the province, folks didn’t have easy access to pharmacies or dispensaries to fill medical prescriptions – least of all, over the counter drugs like aspirin, allergy pills or even vitamin supplements. To my knowledge, the closest pharmacy was in San Fernando city, about 78 kilometers away.

There were public buses for such distances. Of course the well-to-do had their jeeps and cars – some families with their own chauffeurs even, but the peasants either hoofed it, or took the bus. We were members of the peasantry.

HomeBananaAt my grandfather’s house where we stayed, I’d hear my spinster aunts talk about their migraine headaches they suffered from mostly during their monthly cycles. “Here comes this damned headache again. My head’s splitting. Is there any aspirin left in the house?” my aunt Bertha would ask.

“Nope. I think Carlina took the last tablet last month,” replied my aunt Lourdes.

“Then why in God’s name didn’t she say something?” my aunt Bertha bellowed with palpable agitation. “We could have picked some up while we were in Vigan. She always does this!” She hissed.

Homegreen-banana-slices“Hey… why don’t you ask her?” my aunt Lourdes was feigning coolness. Fact is, she was the fiercest among my three spinster aunts. If she had the headache the whole house would be a war zone.

Aunt Laure (pronounced Lah-Ore), who helped with my aunts’ blanket weaving home business walked in. “What’s all the noise?” she queried.

“Ah… Bertha’s having a migraine, and she’s looking for some aspirin. Carlina used the last of it last month… without telling anyone so we could have refilled it. So Bertha sounds frustrated,” my aunt Lourdes explained.

Aunt Laure said, “Not a problem. Haven’t you ever heard of the natural way of curing migraines?”

My aunt Lourdes gave aunt Laure a skeptical look. It was the stink eye – really. I’ve seen my aunt Lourdes give this same kind of look when dealing with the fishermen who manned the family’s fishing boat and nets during negotiations about the volume of the catch.

“Well? Speak, O Wise One of the Ages. I’m all ears.” Her tone sounded sarcastic.

HomeweavingMy grandfather’s backyard was literally a banana plantation. There were at least 20, mature, healthy and fruit-bearing banana trees thriving. I know this because I used to trap young, unemployed spiders that lived in the banana trees for the school campus spider-fights. We always had bananas in the house in all stages of greenness and ripeness.

Aunt Laure took a green banana fruit from a bunch lying by the sink. With a paring knife she cut crosswise a couple of slices (about 3/16th’s of an inch thick). She called out to aunt Bertha. Aunt Laure pasted the green banana slices one unto each temple.

With the green banana slices stuck to her temples, Aunt Bertha went back to her weaving loom and worked the entire rest of the afternoon. We didn’t hear any complaints about her migraine headache.

(Photos courtesy of BING images)