Our family’s wooden water cart

My sister, brother, and I were inside a cab on our way to the Rabbit bus terminal on Taft Avenue to send off our sister when the subject about having a complete childhood got mentioned.

Conversations about our childhood do not fail to make us laugh because we get to be reminded of something forever lost but not totally forgotten. These memories remind us that no matter how fast we grow old each day (my sister just turned 26 but this, according to her does not bother her because she feels likes she’s only 22) and our responsibilities getting more insurmountable by the day, there is certainly no reason for us to feel short-changed because we had years of childhood behind us that were well-spent.

When we were younger we quarreled, physically abused each other, almost got each other killed in fits of uncontrolled childish anger. We of course but know deep inside that we share nothing but mutual filial love. We fought each other to a proportion that can only be described as epic just because of a piece of pandesal our mother usually brought from work. We created alliances — me and my older sister against the rest, my brothers against our older sister, my other brother against both my sister and my brother after me — that can have as many permutations as mathematically possible.

We laughed at the mischief we did together: playing hide-and-seek around the house, turning the house upside down to spite our poor house help whom we suspected to be flirting with our houseboy, stealing pineapples from the nearby Dole plantation, sucking santan flowers thinking that the sweet discharge is a kind of milk, going up the rooftop to see the rest of our village, playing with the refrigerator by keeping it open to know if it works like an air-conditioner, and fighting for control of the TV remote control.

While inside the taxi, the cramped car reminded us of our water cart. In our village, before each household got its own running water, we had to push a wooden cart that contained a big rubber vat we call ‘tadyaw’ that contained water we fetch from the public water source to our house. We took turns pushing and pulling this mammoth cart that carried our humongous rubber tub.

This wooden cart eventually got destroyed because of us. One day, the five of us decided to do something we’ve been wanting to do but never got the courage to do because of our parents’ stern discouragement: “This cart is the only way we can get water. Do not play with it”. With their absence, our audacity, call it recalcitrance, got fired up. So we brought our helpless wooden cart to the highest point of our yard and with the help of gravity, rode on it down like it was our version of a roller coaster. The rougher was the way down, the stronger was our shouts and the more we became addicted to the bump and twists.

Of course it broke down. As punishment, we were made to kneel on rock salt our mother had spread on the cold concrete floor. We did not question her mode of punishment; we thought it was reasonable a punishment for a sin as grand as destroying our only water cart.

But not having water for more than a week proved to be more challenging.

Quiet observer

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There are so many things to write about my hometown that I am left overwhelmed by the different sights and sounds that I’ve been seeing and hearing for the past two days. I’m happy to have my badly needed rest at last and to wake up at whatever time of the day without feeling anything bad at all. None of those guilt trips I used to subject myself to.

I enrolled myself in a local gym located on top of a local rural bank roughly five kilometers from our barangay. I usually go in the afternoon just before sun down. During this time, only men who have hypertrophied and gone unrecognizable because of ingrown muscles go to the gym. They speak their own language and laugh at their own jokes. They stare at me with almost utter disgust because I am a smudge, a deviation in the normalcy of their sea of sweaty bodies.

After two days, I noticed this oddity in my gym mates. They do not speak Cebuano, the language of the place, instead they speak Tagalog with this equally funny accent.

Ayos ang ating katawan ah. Ilang taon ka nang naga-gym?

I didn’t know how to respond and what language to use. I thought of answering in English using my affected accent, but I knew it would not be appropriate. So I replied in Cebuano. The place will be an interesting location for researches in linguistics. What prompted these macho men to speak in Tagalog that used to be looked down upon as too feminine? How come they’ve forced themselves to speak in Tagalog, retain the accent of Cebuano, and like to pass themselves as people coming from Metro Manila? What made Tagalog more acceptable as a lingua franca now compared to a decade ago? And a lot more questions.

I shall be a quiet observer of my hometown and its people for the next month.

Concerns and the passion for the environment

Two years ago, I left for Germany because of my passion in saving the environment. At that time, I believed so much in the ability of the youth to create ripples of change that could help in finding solutions to pressing problems facing the world-melting of the polar ice caps, extinctions of wild life, deforestation-and in my case, mitigating soil erosion in my hometown, Polomolok, South Cotabato, home of Dole, Philippines Inc., the world’s biggest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables.

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I joined the competition that time sponsored by Bayer and the United Nations Environment Programme because I wanted to go to Europe, never did it occur to me that I’d be enmeshed with my project and be more involved with the environmental issues Polomolok is confronting due to the presence of the big multinational company.

I cannot deny the benefits the people are getting from Dole. Cannery, a barangay that got its name from the fact the it is the cannery for pineapples harvested from the vast plantation surrounding it, is now lobbying to become a municipality because of the revenue it has amassed making it a good candidate as a second class municipality. Almost all the people living in the place are employees of Dole. In fact, my parents who are both teachers, decided to settle and raise their children in Cannery because of the opportunities awaiting them during that time. Some of my high school classmates are now employees of the company. Despite these good that Dole has brought to the place since it first started its operations in the 60s, the environmental degradation it is causing Polomolok as well as the municipalities of Tupi and Tamapakan is increasing at an alarming rate which may cancel all the gains of  Polomolok for having the company conduct it operations in the area.

The pineapple plantation being predominantly monocrop is placing too much pressure on the soil; soil erosion being one of the problems, aside of course from the resulting high acidity of the soil which will leave the soil virtually unusable in the event Dole Philippines decide to bring its operation elsewhere. The problem of soil erosion is observable in the area beside Dole Cannery Central Elementary School and Polomolok National High School; both are my alma mater. The width of the creek is growing at such a rapid rate that both schools have to build retaining walls along areas that used to be green grounds. Moreover, some houses were abandoned because of the dangers of flash floods. Whenever it rains heavily, the runoff carries with it portion of the topsoil and exposes the more vulnerable and less fertile subsoil. This process that is occurring for years is now slowly felt by the residents and the company. However, nothing substantial has really been done.

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With the global financial crises and the slowdown in the demand for fresh products, the place will be hard hit if Dole halts its operation. I heard from a relative that two months ago the working days were temporarily cut by the company. This resulted to salary cuts, an event they fear was just a dress rehearsal for a more gloomy days ahead, or worse, Dole abandoning its operation.

The soil being unsuitable for rice plantation because of very high chemical level and thin top soil will be of no use to people. Here the people are confronted with the delicate balance between the environment and the people being tipped. Polomolok will be a sad case of an environmental disaster if these concerns are not carefully studied and given appropriate solution.

This Earth Day, I am reminded of that project I conducted almost two years ago. It was already a start but I stopped midway because I also had to face other life’s concerns. I seldom visited my hometown and I have no idea what have become of the trees we planted along the creeks or the students who listened to my lectures regarding soil erosion. Mine was a case of an aborted ripple that was supposed to cause tidal waves but disappeared in the middle of my oceans of concerns.

Still my passion for the environment has not waned; probably I am just awaiting for that day when I finally get tired pursuing all my banal pursuits.