Nanay

Two days after Christmas, I received a message on Viber from my sister Bem that Nanay, my mother’s eldest sister, was rushed to the ICU; a few seconds later, my sister declared she has died.

I don’t recall the reason we called her Nanay, perhaps because we wanted to avoid confusing her with our mother whom we call mama. She married last among the four sisters because she was sent early in her life to Mindanao to be employed as a factory worker for Dole Philippines and had to support her younger siblings to school back in Iloilo. My mother also attempted to work for Dole, with Nanay’s invitation,  but lasted only a day. My mother cried, from her recollection, when she saw her older sister waving at her from the production floor removing crowns of pineapples, peeling their heads, and removing their eyes. That day she wore for the first and the last time that pair of soccer shoes Nanay gave my mother as gift to celebrate her first day working at the pineapple canning factory.

My mother married first, at 23, that’s why among us cousins, we’re considered the kuyas and the ates, although they never attach those before our names as the tradition in our family. The other two sisters also started their families very early. This fact made my Nanay bitter, that she worked hard to support her sisters and they ended up marrying or getting pregnant at such an early age. She got married when she was in her 30s, and the only one among the four sisters who had a wedding that looked like a “real” wedding, as far as I can remember — white wedding gown, flower girls, a wedding cake, and trinkets for souvenirs.

She was a very gentle soul. I don’t remember she ever scolded us when we were young. Before she had her own children, we received all the love she could give meant for her children. Maybe that explains why we called her Nanay. When I was in the university, whenever I went home for the holidays, she’d give me a small amount to help me with my studies. And I don’t know why, but my memory of this is always my saying good bye to her while she’s doing the laundry of her family by hand after arriving from her night shift peeling pineapple at the cannery.

Aging ravages us and renders us little by little unrecognizable. This was what happened to her as it would to all of us. Three months ago, she was diagnosed with cancer. Her decline was too fast, I did not have time to see her before she went. We spoke on the phone, but it was a voice that sounded tired and fed up with life. My mother was with her the whole time, sitting by the sickbed of her elder sister whom looked forward to spending their old age together.

Two days after Christmas, Nanay left. She was survived by her four children and her husband.

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My brother

I went to my brother’s place on Filmore Street near Buendia. He’s changed a bit since the last time I saw him in January of this year. Three months is definitely not enough to change a person drastically. He was wearing that blue shirt I gave him when I left Manila last year, and not wanting to overstretch my point, he still looked like the younger brother I imagined in my mind. This time, however, he has a more even set of upper teeth. A result of having both upper and lower teeth braced more than eight months ago. This evenness might have given him enough confidence to comment on my ‘imperfect’ set of lower teeth. I let the remark go.

I missed him. He’s nicer this time. Probably because I was nicer to him and I cut on those nasty comments I throw at him which meant that he had nothing to throw back at me. He told me to plan a dinner with our sister who’s working in Pampanga; I said why not, if my finances stabilize and I have enough disposable income to dispose of.

He laughed.

I know I’ll see him after before the summer ends and my return to Iloilo.

For President of the Republic of the Philippines: Rodelo Pidoy*

Picture of Rodelo Pidoy taken this afternoon, January 6, 2010 at the parking lot adjacent to the College Union Building University of the Philippines Visayas, Miagao, Iloilo, Philippines.

Profile of the 51st Presidential Candidate and the would-be 15th President

Full name: Rodelo Suyom Pidoy

Nickname: Ugong

Place of Birth: Bugasong, Antique

Date of Birth: March 8, 1984

Present Address: Netura Street, Ubos Ilaya, Miagao, Iloilo

Home Address: Sitio Hines, Tagudtud South, Bugasong, Antique

Highest Educational Attainment: BS Biology UP Visayas

Parents’ Livelihood: Selling vegetables, firewood, and bamboo shoots

What he already did:

-Written more than 1000 poems

-First used cell phone in November 2008

-Sold more than 50 cell phone units as of November 2009

-Has bought and destroyed more than 50 units of AM-FM radio

-Repaired, modified, and sold electronic equipment after that

-Avoided using computers unless so necessary from 2000-2008. But as of May-June 2009 repaired, set-up, and sold computers already without using manuals (used electricity from relatives as own house has none).

-Was able to cure any kind of diseases (stroke, asthma, hypersensitivity reaction, colds, fever, insomnia, kidney trouble, stomach pain, canker, cancer, hemorrhoids, enlarged heart, toothache, goiter, eyestrain, migraine, skin allergy, chronic cramps, irregular menstrual cycle, child-bearing problems, depression, nervous breakdown, ulcers, bone fractures, and many more even those not biologic in origin – or that which are not caused by food or water taken.

-Did the healing without the aid of western medicine.

-Invented 50 inventions/gadgets; once made one invention a day for 30 days.

-Developed a technique for planting several millions of trees in one day.

-Planted 2000 trees in less than a minute.

-Made a device that can turn off neighboring FM radios

-Made a device that can control rains, typhoons, earthquakes, ice and hailstorms.

-Made a device that can pinpoint the part of the body that is weak and uses it as a diagnostic tool in treating patients.

What he can do and still needs to do:

-Intends to study at Harvard. He likes to take medicine.

-Will try to patent his inventions and mass produce some.

-Intends to sell his weather controlling device for a price enough to cover all the debts of the Philippines and with enough money for him to launch a national campaign; however, he thinks it is better to keep it into himself and use it for the country to develop for it might go to wrong hands and we will be victims. To utilize its potential, however, he needs to be the President.

-Likes to experience true democracy and not a false one.

-Can make the country be united as one and develop.

-Likes to create a million jobs the first month he sits in office.

-Likes the next generation of Filipinos see the Philippines as their paradise.

Before these happens, however, he needs to qualify as a candidate. He is only 26 by the time of the election and so he is disqualified. He needs to change the Constitution. He can do it alone. However there is not enough time. He needs the cooperation of everybody and the help of everyone who needs to experience true democracy and true freedom. How could we have true freedom to participate when one of the requirements for President is “at least forty years old at the time of election” while also having “be able to read and write as a criterion”? Most grade one pupils know how to read and write and so a forty year-old who has finished grade one only is allowed while a twenty year-old college graduate cannot?

The “be able to read and write” gives us a false feeling of freedom for it includes almost all of us. The “at least forty years old” however gives us a restriction. Therefore we think we are free but actually we are not. Age limit for Presidents then must be lowered. It must be lowered to at least twenty years old. If not, he will wait until he is old enough to be corrupted by the corrupt society he is in and become a corrupt president later on. The choice is yours. Now is the time to make history. Let us make democracy the rule of the masses – the poorer class – because we are the majority.

We are not having oligarchy as our type of government so at least one from our ranks needs to be the President. In that way elite rule will not continue. If it does continue at least we are not disenfranchised citizens. I did this because I was called. I have come upon your calling. And so recognize that I am the one whom you are waiting. Cooperate with my cause and I will cooperate with you. Together we can fight Global Warming, and warming here in our country due to much politicking. I myself if I will not contribute my help, this nation will be ravaged not only by war but by violent typhoons and strong earthquakes.

We need to participate in politics. I know you do not want to be dominated by evil men. Let me quote what Plato – one of the great Greek philosophers – “It is the price of good men who hesitate to involve in politics ruled by evil men”. Allow me to be your voice and your representative. This country needs only one man for it to change – I.

Say this also and together we will be united by the same belief. Only then will we be one.

Wish anything reasonable from me and it shall be done.

*The text in this post was taken verbatim from the campaign materials being distributed by Rodelo Pidoy. I am here to help a friend who needs to establish some presence in the internet.

Another blessing on its way

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She was a mother of five who owned a small library for children located beside the highway in Barangay Mambatad, Miagao, Iloilo. I could not forget her because of her library, something that is out of the ordinary in a place that ranks education somewhere below having to earn for a living. I used to join a Catholic organization in college that taught catechism to young boys in that area which we held every Thursday in their house. Back then, I was already questioning the wisdom behind having a lot of children in such impoverished area of Miagao. That time she was already pregnant with her sixth child. Her husband, a utility worker at the Division of Biological Sciences invited our group to that place as he saw the need of the children for the teachings of the Church.

Our group leader, a Public Health professor and a devout Catholic, did not give the mother a lecture on the use of artificial contraceptives to limit the size of their family, which I think is customary once a public health worker and a woman pregnant with her nth child come face to face. Neither was there a passing mention about family planning. I understood the professor’s dilemma. Can one be a faithful Roman Catholic and a pragmatist at the same time. The response, I gather, is in the negative.

I met her again this morning. After a short ‘how-have-yous’ she mentioned that she is pregnant for three months, ‘another blessing is on the way’ to translate what she said in the vernacular. Her seventh child.

I beggar understanding when it comes to issues such as this. When population issue is pitted against faith I am wont to take the side of the former. Not because I do not have faith but because I can see that rationality of limiting one’s family size to allow children to have maximum care and attention from their parents. To quote a friend and a regular reader of this blog who quoted this from someone else ‘not using condom (or contraception in our case) is so third world’. And indeed it is.

While the rest of the Catholic world is progressively combatting the ills mankind has inflicted on itself, the faithful Catholics in the Philippines remain enmeshed in the Medieval Age-like existence.

And I ask, what does ‘another blessing on its way’ mean?

http://4.bp.blogspot.com

Dealing with constancy

I left Iloilo in April of last year. A year and a half later the same sights greeted me upon arriving at the airport and on my way to the city — vast rice fields, pothole-dotted roads, old non air-conditioned buses plying the highway from the city to Tapaz in Capiz, and the assaulting warm, humid breeze blowing from Guimaras Strait. The city does not show any major change as well, except for some newly opened restaurants and cafes, the city has a feeling of a framed air-dried leaves frozen in time. All of a sudden, to my eyes Iloilo becomes a small village that will not be able to give me the anonymity necessary for writing. Definitely unlike Manila whose size I used to complain a lot about but eventually learned to appreciate and almost fall in love with.

My two younger siblings who are both studying in the same public university in the city and I went out and ate at the same local fastfood I, my older sister, and my brother next to me used to eat when we were still students four years ago. I saw Melanie, the cashier. She is the cashier seven years ago when I first ate at the place. A lot of the waitresses have already left except Melanie whose very presence reminds me of a familiar fixture in all Chinese businesses, the ubiquitous golden cat whose right paw is in perpetual motion. She and I never had any chance to talk except when she’s getting my order (if you consider that as ‘talking to each other’) but it’s as if she has given me access to her life and known her like the taste of my favorite chicken a la king or palabok, both specialties of the chain she’s working for. Melanie is like Iloilo City, unchanging, dependable, and uncomplicated.

After eating, I decided to visit the gym where I used to work out. What used to be drab concrete walls are now painted bright yellow. They’ve added additional equipment for developing the abdominals, but all in all, everything in the gym remains unchanged. The people flexing and pumping iron, except for some new and younger faces, are the same people I worked out with before. I left after twenty-minutes when the entire floor was enveloped in pungent smoke coming from the other side of the room where somebody is grilling squid. There was no exhaust fan and I had no intention to smell like smoked squid. But I promise to start working out again soon.

Both change and constancy require a strong heart to face. While it is true that change can be traumatic and harrowing, constancy is as formidable a concept to comprehend. It has issues of its own. How come change has not arrived in this place during the time of my absence? What have the people been doing? Before I slept in my bed that lacked mattress early this morning, I almost went too metaphysical as to ask, have I actually left the place? It’s as if everything else was a dream, and this small box of a room where I slept soundly is the only truth I am capable of acknowledging and understanding.

A conversation with a reader of my blog

I smiled when I saw my favorite table unoccupied. I placed a copy of Inquirer, a book by David Sedaris, a mangled paperback Crime and Punishment I started to reread two days ago, and a hardbound, original edition of Portnoy’s Complaint on that table and ordered a tumbler of cappuccino. I was 10 minutes early.

I sat there oblivious of the Saturday crowd at Starbucks in Shangri-la, unmindful of the noise and the cheerless chatter of people about their busy work week, concerns, and relationships.

Eavesdropping has lost its appeal on me a long time ago. Whatever transpires in conversations gleaned from overhearing them is dubitable, questionable, if not outright lies. So I shut my ears and went on reading features on the paper of the previous day instead.

Starbucks

Except for some occasional standard spiel, more like a refined scream, belted by a female barista at Starbucks for calling customers’ names, the noise inside the coffee shop was tediously repetitious whose monotonic quality was only shattered by loud laughter made by some people who got lost in the hilarity of their talks or the comedy of seeing other people forcing themselves inside a packed cafe on a supposedly fine Saturday evening drinking a dumb-looking transparent tumbler of iced robusta topped with an equally stupid-looking strawberry syrup.

I forgot how it happened but he came in rushing, placed the two books which I recognized as mine on the table and excused himself. He approached the counter to order something then returned with an unblushingly decadent cinnamon roll. I don’t know how he recognized me, probably because he saw his books stacked on top of the wooden round table.

A month ago, we exchanged books without having to see each other. I was doing a part-time job then so I left them with the condominium guard at the lobby. He also left his two books with the guard which I found inside a paper bag of a popular local clothing brand. Mine were carelessly presented with a note written on a tissue paper inserted between the pages apologizing for something I already forgot what. The contrast of our books was glaring. His were well taken care and looked almost brand new. Mine looked like they’ve been through a lot.

I do not usually lend my books because I am obsessed with annotations; whatever comes in my mind while reading (the more wicked, insensible, profane, self-deprecating or selfish they are, the better) I write them on the margins.  My books are my diaries. But it was already too late. I already made a promise to this reader the titles. After all, the probability of our paths crossing again in the future is miniscule, I reasoned. Furthermore, whatever he gathered from my random thoughts would be knotty at best and nonsensical at worst.  So I went on and lent them.

It was a fatal mistake.

We started awkward and talked about things he already knew about me. I asked him questions often asked in the first day of class. I was speaking in a clumsy Tagalog when he reminded me that we are both Ilonggos. He asked a lot of questions, as if he was trying to establish something. But generally our topic circled on writing and the books we read. For an accountant, I was surprised to know he reads canonical texts usually read in a Literature class. I didn’t get his reason for this but I sensed his disdain for whatever popish. I was amused at how he corrected himself and verbalized his contempt on his overuse of the adverbs ‘actually’ and ‘basically’ whenever he begins his sentence, as if the ghost of his college grammar teacher was seated beside him that time, hounding him.

Aren’t you scared?

Of what?

Of exposing so much of yourself in your writings?

Sometimes. There is nothing I have to hide. I am writing for myself.

I looked at my books that stayed with him for a month. I was horrified and almost fell from my seat. They were wrapped in transparent plastic cover. It was the last thing I would do to my books. The last time I remember covering my books was when I was in my elementary; that made sense because we were using government issued books for public schools which means that we have to return them by the end of the year as they will be used by incoming students the following year.

But my books since I entered college until this time are never covered. They all maintain a rugged look caused by being subject to relentless wear and tear aggravated by my sweaty palms, not to mention them being used beyond their intended function: as pillows, sun and rain covers, pot holders, notepads, fans, and my favorite — to shoo dumb people away by feigning I am deeply caught with what I am reading.

I sincerely appreciated his extra effort to cover them. It was thoughtful of him. I sounded robotic when I thanked him every time my eyes landed on the neatly covered books.

And once again, the lingering contrast. His books I kept for a month direly needed attention for they exhibited signs of misuse, warped pages, and a small tear in the blurb of Portnoy’s Complaint. I cannot impose my values on other people and their possessions. I apologized for their near-sorry state but if there was anything I could assure him, I valued his books and enjoyed reading each page. We buy books to read and to let them become a part of us, figuratively and literally.

He is a perceptive man who silently makes commentaries on the events occurring before him. And it was a fatal mistake to lend him my books with all the annotations because it meant exposing myself to a stranger I’ve never met before and whose only image I have of him is through the books he reads.

Again I reasoned, I have nothing to hide. Here’s a reader who knows me more than the people I physically encounter everyday. Nothing is wrong with writing about the life I live if it means being understood and along the way understanding myself by looking at myself being reflected in somebody else’s eyes.

He reads my posts regularly. This for me, is more than enough a reason to continue writing.