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

DaklisTampugo2crpd

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.

PhilippineRiceFields00

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.

Whatever Happened to. . .


“I’m so glad to get out of this concentration camp!” Carmen declared as she received her high school diploma. Somewhat hot-headed, she’s had several run-ins with the school principal, Reverend Mother Marie Cabrini. Carmen was a straight A student. Excellent in athletics she represented the school in the inter-provincial intramural contests as the varsity volleyball team captain. Under her leadership they have won titles two seasons in a row.

That summer we heard Carmen won a full athletic scholarship to the University of the Philippines, the most prestigious college in the entire Philippine archipelago. It came as no surprise. The class overwhelmingly voted Carmen most likely to succeed. Carmen’s good fortune was the talk of the town. Her securing a full scholarship inspired many from her graduating class. Even those who had no plans of attending college. Why, the news even prompted Dalub Guro, an otherwise shy and timid geeky young man, to apply for acceptance at Saint Louis University in Baguio City. Dalub was going to just hang out, watch the bull rushes grow by the sloughs of Barangay Dardarat and gather edible snails and frogs.

disadvantaged

Carmen’s Family – (L-R) Muslim Pearl Diver Limahong Al Habandi, Limahong’s mother Palestra, two older children, and Carmen holding the baby.

Their graduating class held a reunion recently. A little over half the class attended. For many, class reunions turn out either good or bad depending on many factors. That’s one reason for the low turnout. Some class members had gone overseas to work, many of them settling for mundane, domestic jobs. Most of the overseas workers didn’t make it to the reunion. Carmen was not in attendance. Everybody looked for her. She was nowhere to be found.

Dalub Guru was there though. Resplendent in a three-piece suit, Dalub was a changed personality. He was no longer shy and timid. He had gotten rid of his terrible acne, traded his thick horn-rimmed glasses for contact lenses and took on the persona of a Tommy Lee Jones. There were rumors that Carmen wound up in Mindanao teaching Math and Science at a local high school. During a class excursion to the coast that Carmen supervised, a secret admirer, a Muslim pearl diver, one of her older students in her class allegedly abducted her. He kept her sequestered in his house for at least six months before letting her free. She married him unwillingly. But as dictated by the local laws and morality rules she had no choice.

Class reunions, where, “Whatever happened to. . . .?” questions allow folks to catch up with former classmates. Class reunions, where the answers given are bound to shock you.

Dogs Don’t Chase Parked Cars


Dogs Chasing Moving Truck

Dogs Chasing Moving Truck

“Dogs don’t chase parked cars,” my father was fond of saying. It seemed as if it was his “Ultimate Windex” canned response to all dirt, grime and slime problems submitted to him for clean up consideration.

I remember telling my father about a problem I had with another high school paper staff writer. Every day this boy would scream and yell at me, “You don’t know how to write! You can’t write. You have no idea what you are doing! What are you doing here?”

“Sheeessh…” I thought. He could at least show me where I was falling short, help me correct my mistakes, or how I can improve my style – whatever. Not this constant ridicule, personal attacks and public humiliation. But no such luck. The harassment went on. I said nothing to the Principal or home room teacher about the boy and his hostile actions. I let his juvenile outbursts slide.

The editor in chief, a teacher assigned to head the paper, would intervene and get in between me and the bully – if she were there present in the room. There were times it would be just me and the agitator in the room and I would suffer much from his bellicose attitude and taunts. I’d bite my lip so hard my inner mouth lining bled or formed packets of blood clots. I didn’t want to fight the boy. Honest. I wasn’t afraid of him. I dreaded suspension and shaming my parents in front of the priests and nuns who ran the school.

Talking to my father and pouring out my troubles gave me a sense of calm. “Dogs don’t chase parked cars,” he said it again. “You’re doing something right for that paper… you’re on the move,” he continued. “Why else would this boy act so agitated toward you? Almost seems as if he wants you out of there. Too much competition maybe?”

My father’s words sank in, percolated, and like cream rose to the surface. I took my cue and thought to myself. “If I were a car, why would this dog be chasing me?” A window burst open in my mind and streaming sunshine came pouring in. “Of course! If I were a car… hey, I am not a parked car. You know? I am moving!” I laughed and hugged my father. “Thank you Sir…” I managed to blurt out as I ran out to the yard.

Monday morning. The editor called me in to her office. “You’ve got the interview with the President of the University. I am assigning it to you because you’ve earned it. You write more like a journalist as opposed to a comic book writer.” She looked refreshed, glad and ready for the week. “Here…” she held out an envelope and motioned for me to take it.

I gasped as I regained my breath. Good grief. I didn’t even realize I had stopped breathing. “I… I… thanks Ms David. When is the President coming to visit?” I asked as I stepped closer to her desk.

“Here’s the assignment packet.” She handed me a brown envelope. “All the information is in there. Familiarize yourself with the dates, times, venues, and talk with his personal secretary to schedule the interview. You might as well do the whole kit and caboodle.” Ms David seemed pleased with her decision.

It was a moment to celebrate… It felt good to be recognized for one’s own work ethic and performance. Indeed, dogs don’t chase parked cars.

Some Things Don’t Change


IndiaFruitStandWQOkay you are here. Well, what do you think?

Without zooming in to the picture and closely investigating the pasted bills on the walls, can you tell where this fruit stand is just by looking at the bananas, the structure itself and the bicycle and motorcycle in front? You bet you can.

I looked at this picture and immediately jumped on choice (a) Irisan road to Baguio City. These fruit stands dot the roadside from Bauang, Naguilian to Moonglo, to Irisan and so on. The structure looks the same, the thatched nipa roof is the same, the vegetation is the same. You get the picture. But, just to keep things straight, this fruit stand is in India. Yes, India. It could be in Bangalore, Madras, or even close to the Taj Mahal.

And for that matter, this fruit stand could be in Ulan Bator, Mandalay, the Silk Road, or it could even be in Sr i-langka or Java. I saw a fruit stand just like it in Costa Rica up on a mountain road somewhere towards San Jose. This same type of fruit stand can be found in many parts of the Philippines, in Nueva Ecija, Abra, Sorsogon, Cagayan de Oro. You can find this fruit stand in the outskirts of Singapore, or in the New Territories outside Kowloon.

There are some things that don’t change. In my experience, when I come to a place or structure that shares the same features of the places and buildings reminding me of home I feel a strange sense of déjà vu. The sensation is strange because you know you stand on strange soil yet your eyes perceive familiar sights. The atmosphere suddenly becomes charged with a mixture of nostalgia, homesickness, maudlin and sentimental emotions. There you stand, transfixed by your surroundings in a timeless moment of eternity.

SAS Personnel Day Celebration


SASPersonnelDayWhen I attended St Augustine School back in the ’50s it was a gender segregated school. By this I mean the girls had their buildings and grounds and the boys had the church plaza and their boy’s department building by the belfry. It was a different world. A world without girls is not a natural world. To this day as I reflect on those bygone days of high school, I can conclude that gender segregation deprived us boys of an opportunity to develop social skills specially with the opposite sex.

But hey, that’s neither here nor there, and besides this is not the subject of this piece. The only SAS personnel when I attended SAS were the ladies who helped the Sisters in the convent. I remember one of them and her name was Agatuna. She spoke very little English and some disjointed Ilocano. But she managed to get work done from us kids in the book binding trade. She assisted Mother Urban in managing the book returns, refurbishment and rebinding, and text book re-issuance at the beginning of the school year.

We were just kids, day dreamers and playful boys who knew nothing about life and reality. We traipsed through high school and worked revitalizing those books out of sheer fear of Mother Urban who had a mustache and a goatee. She was tough. One look from her spelled spiritual death you had to go see Father Carlos to get back into the church’s good graces. Agatuna was the “good cop” in that Mother Urban-Agatuna tandem. Agatuna suffered much from our juvenile derision and mild rebellion but she got the work done by threatening to report us to Mother Urban for our sloppy work.

In my memories, Agatuna, SAS Personnel of long ago did a splendid job helping the Nuns run the daily operations at St Augustine School. In many ways she counseled us, she showed us how to refurbish the books properly, showed us true loyalty and respect for authority, exemplified for us the spirit of reverence for the sacred; she showed us self-discipline. I am grateful for the time I worked under Agatuna’s tutelage and although she didn’t have a degree in Psychology she always knew how to give public recognition for a job well done and how to criticize in private. That experience, to me, has proved to be invaluable.

Thank you SAS personnel for continuing with the excellent tradition of service.

Naimbag a Pascua Yo Apo


the face of poverty

Father and child sleep away their hunger

Both father and son heard the word on the street: “Many town-mates were coming home from abroad (balikbayans) to celebrate Christmas.” Balikbayans (meaning overseas workers or ex-pats returning  home on vacation or short stay) come home toting boxes packed with consumables and stuff, either for pasalubong (presents) or for their family’s use.

It was early Sunday morning. People were up, getting ready for church. Noisy tricycles plied their routes, their fares hopping in and out in a seemingly uninterrupted and continual motion. Exhaust fumes, and dark smoke from the diesel fuel tainted and poisoned the fresh smelling morning air. The cranked up booming blast and blare of early morning Karaoke performances just about killed all the serenity of the still sleepy, dew-covered, tranquil countryside. In the eclectic mix some chickens pecking for crumbs by the local carinderia scurried to avoid the pedestrian and tricycle onslaught, squawking as they skipped and flapped for cover.

The father, with son in tow, approached many of the Sunday Mass goers who waited for their ferry. He somehow knew who the Balikbayans were and he picked them out in the crowd. Perhaps it was their bling, their glam, and the way they talked.

“Hey homme – wuz up man? Wuz goin’ on there homeboy? Wuz comin’ down slayk?” said one young man to a surprised older tricycle driver. The young man’s beltless baggy pants slipped down from his waist and hung precariously around his buttocks revealing his polka-dot unisex Speedo underwear.

“Ni adda kay met gayam. Katno sangpetyo?” replied the tricycle driver flashing a toothless grin.

“Arrived last week, er… Friday night from Narita… you know, Japan. You know. Ah… then MIA. MIA customs sucks big time, man.” said the young man gesticulating with his arms, hands and fingers.

At about this time the homeless father and his son approached the two men engaged in conversation. With his head bowed down he addressed the young man whose pants were sliding down his buttocks, “Naimbag a pascua yo Apo.”

The young Balikbayan became instantly irritated at the intrusion. “Get away from me or I’ll pop a can of whoop ass on you!” he yelled at the poor homeless man. The man’s son began to cry.

“Dispensaren dakam Apo ta awan met mabalbalin mi. Di kam pay la nangan. Caasian nakam kadi,” he pleaded in a soft voice while comforting his crying son.

The tricycle driver also yelled at the homeless man, “Oy Cimin pumanaw ka ditoy ta no saan a madarumgi daguitoy bisita. Nagrugit ka, di ka la agbain,” motioning with his face for the homeless man to vacate the premises. The homeless man took his son and slowly walked away.

The young Balikbayan showed his extreme displeasure by kicking the dirt with his Air Nike shoes. “This place is the sheeets,” he said, his deep Ilocano accent giving him away.

The tricycle driver tried to assuage his Balikbayan friend. “Caca-asi met ni Cimin. Manipud pay di natay ni baketna, is-isu ti agayaywan ken diay anakda. Awan pay trabaho na met piman. Pina-pascua-am koma metten a. Uray no piso laeng.”

The young Balikbayan, now teary-eyed, scanned the direction where the homeless man and his son went. They were gone.

Off to the side of the tricycle stand by the freshly painted houses and cardboard shanties the festive Christmas decorations announced the birth of Christ. Among the many decorations, one stood out. It depicted the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph looking for a room at the inn on that cold Christmas night long ago.

We all know what the innkeeper told Saint Joseph and Mother Mary, “There is no more room!”

Perhaps from the heart of the young Balikbayan, in response to the Christmas greeting of the homeless man and his son, the same words issued forth, “I have no room in my heart for you… I feel nothing but contempt for you and your situation.”

Sad to say our response to manifested poverty is myriad. There are some who will give from their need while some will give from their largess. Still there are those who will reconsider and then seriously try to help the poor in any way they can. Our Holy Father Pope Francis greets us Merry Christmas and this year he asks the Church to be for the poor.

The CICM Missionary Nuns


The CICM Missionary Nuns ran a tight ship

The CICM Missionary Nuns ran a tight ship

Above is a photo of members of the first wave of missionary nuns to arrive in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. Hardy and not afraid to roll up their sleeves, they ran a tight ship St Augustine School (SAS). They were a no-nonsense bunch of very pious, saintly, and hard working sisters of the Immaculati Cordis Mariae – ICM Congregation or Congregation of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (CICM).

A long time ago, SAS ran as a gender-segregated school. The Boys Department buildings were separate and removed from the Girls Department buildings. The only places where the boys could catch a glimpse of the girls were the Church during afternoon prayers and singing, and on the basketball court when a game would be played. SAS had a championship basketball team during those days – but that is another story. Other than these two common areas, the boys had to be satisfied with casting perfunctory glances at the girls as they walked home after school.

We didn’t address the nuns “Sister;” we addressed them “Mother”. Mother Anatole, a tall, willowy, blue-eyed, bespectacled Belgian nun with acne problems took care of leading the church singing during the afternoon prayer service. With her podium positioned in front of the girl’s pews away from the men’s pews, Mother Anatole stood tall as the powerful symbol of discipline, reverence and rules of acceptable behavior. No hanky-panky in church, like, passing little notes on paper to the girls. No side glances at the girls.

I craned my neck just to be able to see her hand movements as she led the singing. In the afternoon heat and humidity the sonorous chanting sounds and sweet church music transported me to a different zone. I remember Mother Anatole’s dainty hands sticking out of her nun’s gartered habit sleeves. From where I sat, her hands looked like the heads of two swans dressed in white and cloaked in black. She moved them in an undulating, oscillating, pecking forward and again pulling backward motions in time with the music. The fluid motions of her hands were hypnotic and rhythmic.

To this day I could never understand why Mother Anatole just didn’t sway her arms with abandon just like other musical, or choir conductors did. I have seen Leonard Bernstein, Andre Previn, and even Henry Mancini conduct their orchestras and man they do move those arms. But not Mother Anatole. Instead, she kept her hands close to her habit sleeves, pulling out from time to time the garter ends of her sleeves to cover her wrists, as if trying to decrease how much of her arm could be overexposed to the public gaze and heaven forbid to the wandering eyes of the men sitting on the other side of the girl’s pews.