Filipineses


Noise could cause illness or kill: Who would have thought?

“Ahhh…did you hear the racket in the sky, this morning?” Arlene had nudged me off my noonday stupor at an informal seniors philosopher’s group at Marpole Place. “It felt so close, I was afraid the jet would land straight to my bed, not only shattering my ears but also burning me down,” she had raised her voice. Well, at least you haven’t turned deaf or suffered a heart attack, I could have told her but I sensed it wasn’t the moment to allay her agitation.

Marpole where we live, and where she had grown up, sprawls right under the path of Boeing jets taking off and landing at YVR International Airport, a viewing distance west of us. Increased Air Canada flights and more berths for other international airlines, indeed, have raised noise levels these past few years. While Marpole is within city limits, it lies on the extreme south end where downtown hugs the mountains and the North Shore on the opposite side. Hence, residents of condominium, apartment rental, and free standing houses still hug a veritable peace from raucous movement of vehicles and people, as well as bars and late night pubs, downtown.

I do draw loads of settled wind in its grid streets of manicured front gardens, long lines of aged oaks and chestnut trees, and in the spring canopies of cherry blossoms. Hardly anyone loiters in the streets though from early to late evenings in the summer, I do meet couples strolling up and down the grass-trimmed sidewalks, conversing in whispers, except, when close to and passing by the school grounds on 68th Street, which is opened as a park in the summer, squeals of children in the slide and the swing somersault in the air. Other than that in passing, cawing crows, crying seagulls, or the brief call of mourning doves, no noise shatters the neighborhood. Until, planes begin to leave and arrive, and the cops carry out their planned bust.

When Gudrun Langolf, Marpole Oakridge Area Council Society’s chair then, passed around a petition demanding YVR to lessen noise level by any means, I signed half-heartedly. Honestly, none of it bothers me. I lived Manila, haven’t I? She couldn’t have imagined what I’ve lived through in a city where noise seems as natural as breathing. Which explained, perhaps, my half-hesitance to sign the petition; honestly, either I’m rather impervious to occasional piercing sounds and the slight trembling that come with them or I do sleep as the cliché says, like a log—how vivid the image, isn’t it?

Yet indeed, I should be concerned; I could be losing my hearing. Or should I? I can still hear a whisper, and the rustling of organza that hugs the legs, which from zero or total silence, the kind we often experience in mountain tops as a ringing in our ears, nakabinging tahimik, to 30 decibels of the softest whisper. And in normal conversations, already up 60 decibels, I hardly strain to catch a word. Yet, I should be affected when fired up spirited exchanges raise decibel levels 10 times, according to the Noise-induced Hearing Loss website; often I’m not though in bars and discos, where all sounds blare I’d leap out of a door as if from an ejection button.

But a shout or door alarm amid a din especially in enclosures does seem to shatter my ears, the decibel already up by another 10 decibels translated higher into millions through an exquisite process, which the pinna, our visible ear, catching sound that travels through tiny canals with esoteric sounding parts as waves in an inner furry tunnel of nerves to the brain. Learning in the site, too, that an ambulance siren at 120 decibels booms in trillions in the ear, I now understand Arlene’s distraught state.

Her wailing though didn’t end with such extreme exposure to loudness; as well though only muffled, the thump of a neighbor’s teenage son playing his boom box until the wee hours, and an insomniac just above her bedroom scuttling around, hammering whatever on the floor has turned her into a nightly criminal with thoughts of choking both. Sustained, she could fall ill.

Apparently because of its invisibility, it often baffles us to hear of illnesses like psychological imbalance, heart disease and even death as caused by sustained exposure to extreme sound. Who hasn’t experienced temporary deafness during take off and landing on a flight? Or heard of a homecoming seaman who worked in the engine room turned totally deaf. I knew an uncle-in-law, just out of the ICU recovering in a regular ward, died from the sound of a fire alarm due to a freak fire at Manila Doctor’s Hospital.

Warnings about the dangers of “injected loud music” with iPhones and Androids though have seemingly fallen on deaf ears, pun intended. Constant review of anti-noise pollution laws— some going back to the 1930s like in Vancouver—through activism has yielded from City Hall a list of such unimagined culprits as fitness classes, idling vehicles, buskers and street musicians, and yes, school yards, with ancillary information on what office or agency to call if feeling endangered. Yet, told about it, Arlene had raised her brows, “who would have thought we’ve come to this?” she asked. I nodded, indeed.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, August 17, 2013

 



On Legacies

 

What legacies we carry hardly ever figure out in our daily lives with bequeathals like mansions and other such obvious signs of wealth being the exceptions, of course; more common to us, like mine, in varying degrees hardly overwhelm or glitter. Often summarized in a word as ‘values’, which may include status either inherited or earned by noble action, even a way of life, families are their innate source. I would add that learning either from school or one’s own pursuits broaden legacies, and even at times turn out as sources of more priceless legacies like history as well as peace and beauty in landscapes from travels, that ironically for most, are often less valued for their amorphous nature.

Such peregrinations wouldn’t have fallen on me had I not traveled to Vermont farther north of New York last month. Or again, I didn’t count on it, expecting instead, endless romps on green meadows that the Green Mountains let nestle on their bosom. Would but Nature was all I dwelt on: cloud shapes like grazing sheep on cheeks, mountain mist on waist of giant fir descending in diaphanous calm, expansive skies as if eternity were within one’s tipped toes.

But haven’t I viewed my own legacy of the heavens back in the islands where I’m from? How easy to sound as if that spot on earth where one might be instantly implanted were the most wondrous sight. More amazing is the realization that each spot is but a window to a land and sky or seascape configured by geological shifts and human history—the Philippine archipelago would draw gushes of awe from foreign visitors as much as a Filipino would of theirs like Vermont for me.  

And so, as a traveler must zero in on destination, my friend and I drove for meal and bed in a century-old inn, which turned out as if we were unleashed into another time, again, one that I’ve merely conjured from art, books and the movies—the end of the 19th century preserved in Wilmington and lived by its people to the present day as effortlessly as waking up in both the dawns of their ancestors and their own. In the course of the trip, I discovered more of it, as the state of Vermont has simply resisted the physical corrosion of time. Apparently, families have carried on their legacies smoothly without seams.

My friend and I woke on our first day not just to a present of black-framed French windows thrown open to the mist seeping up rivers and streams that trickle around roots of flowering hydrangeas, the delicate picket fences of white balconied homes, farm estates rising on grassy knolls or glinting like an accent on foot hills but also a way of life as tactile as a child’s first touch of a goat’s horn or sinking fingertips into a sheep’s coat, a moment as vibrant as the moo of cows in the glen. A few solid pillars of silos pivot on one’s eyes, and sugar shacks divert one’s glimpse off the sprawl.

During a brief pause after a breakfast of squash omelet, made of fresh picked vegetables and multi-grain pancakes doused in farm made maple syrup, we rocked on a wooden swing at the balcony of our century-old inn, taking in the breeze that brushed an unhurried town of laced windows and a clock tower with a rooster pointing its beak where the wind goes. Strolling on Main Street in a pace that would have asked of dirndl skirts and a parasol, I couldn’t resist climbing a boardwalk that led to artists’ workshops, where in one, if it were not Labor Day, I could have sat for a pencil portrait.

An inner court shaded by cherry and apple trees, curves by the country store where the touch of woolen yarn from the local sheep triggered a picture I loved in my nursery book of a grandmother knitting on a rocking chair that was displayed, too, in a corner. We would later find in farmers’ markets fruit preserves in mason jars and maple sugar in clay pots alongside apples named after their grower like Robert Frost’s, yes, the poet we revered in our youth once lived in a cottage we did go to in nearby Shaftsbury, where he ventured, though failed, into farming.

Would this be a mere feast of travel memories? As a visitor, it’s a thought that is quite valid. But this is where my consciousness tore in half—I began to live them even taking some as my own legacy while knowing it’s but borrowed for a few days. Still, I realize, writing about it just now as stolen legacies from Wilmington locals, which by simply and staunchly preserving by living them have, unknowingly perhaps, enhanced their value by passing these on not to only to their children but to strangers who now claim a share like I have.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, October 7, 2013



What keeps you away from home, Tia?

The three-storey house has risen on soil she once called home. I’ve climbed it to the roof top where I scooped in volumes of sweetish tropical breeze, gazing at a perforated sky—I once read that the Philippines’ latitude crowns it with a concentrated view of the constellations.

Unlike the old bungalow, as if furious for the absolute, my uncle had poured his dreams into this new house: Marble floors and wide ledges, windows from across each other for counter-flow, bathrooms adjacent to the bedroom outfitted with splatter-safe floors, and elevated to bar prying eyes from the street, a free-flowing living-dining kitchen furnished ala America on the first floor.

The old house also sprawls in light-splashed spaces from high ceilings and wide windows that siphon light, but its fewer bedrooms did pose a quandry over a sister’s long-talked about retirement place. And then, horrible Andoy inundated this house almost to the roof top, washed off most of life he had stacked in books and memorabilia, and stayed as trauma dregs, which is why, in the new house, a climb begins at an elevation of tall six steps up the front door. The push for its construction came during his sister’s yet another homecoming; this time, an architect and contractor had been called.

Still, two homecomings later, the sister kept dipping her toes and withdrawing them, like testing the pool for safety even comfort, as she silently pined for half her heart in Honolulu, her home of 30 years. Apparently, without her meaning to, her veins have rooted among undulating roads around Waikiki; how could Manila’s roads in constant Gordian knot compare? At 80 years old, sustained by youthful spurts of wanting to check out a good deal at Ala Moana Mall or attend a bishop’s noonday holy mass at the downtown cathedral, she had often felt stymied by warnings of black diesel smoke that could choke her and bad wolves prowling sunset streets of Manila in the few months of her stay.

Balikbayan boxes of her own appliances bundled and humped in a kitchen corner of the old house, notwithstanding, my aunt has not ceased refining her purchases to furnish the dream house—of late, a Kuerig coffee maker to replace a yet unpacked programmable-brewing-time Black and Decker. The Kuerig, she later worried, could conk out in one of those power surges or undetected fluctuations so common in Manila.
Stacks of food also trail her as if she had not known long ago how Philippine grain tastes, insisting that the 20 pound bag of brown rice from California tastes cleaner and nuttier. She had once brought 10 pounds of steak round, claiming local beef tastes ma-anggo. Concerned whether or not papaya or what other fibrous local fruit could be available as soon as she arrives, she would stock up on Costco’s dried fruit bags and prunes to bring, not to mention, of course, those aromatic macadamia blends of Kona coffee. Several trips on buses that kneel would keep her occupied, finding more stuff to fill the dream home.

But unease have persisted each time she flew in. That first morning she and I had visited Manila, her creased forehead on waking warned me of a terrible day unfolding: she felt a blister inside her left cheek. Which dentist would see her promptly? Given her health concerns that her dentist in Honolulu would not have to review, would she get proper care? We had hang our heads on the breakfast table, despairing over seeming improbables like if no one could bring her, she would have to ride a tricycle to the gate first, flag an FX express and risk being suffocated by the redolence of bold fragrances, which office-goers wear, or worse, seated beside a svelte friendly lady whose deft wrists could magnetize valuables.

Visiting my sister and me at our hotel during a short trip to Honolulu, my aunt had complained of dizziness from sleeplessness, perhaps from the soda pop she had sipped in a children’s party though she had just received a glowing reading of her last check-up, all paid for by health insurance, of course. Again, we had hang our heads, shivering as we confronted the day when her ailments might progress, God forbid, and who would then, take care of her?

You really have to go back home to Manila, Tia, I had gently proposed. She agreed as she picked up a bagful of alamang, dried dangit and espada, pusit, too, she had brought back from Manila she had promised to share with us. And three bags of Kona coffee, of which I first demured, but she insisted, saying she had more from another Balikabayan box about ready for pick up. I hugged her, rueful with gratitude.

Against my aunt’s two lives and those of friends to which I’ve been privy, I realized what rends them apart when threatened by uprooting: As the landscape of security and comfort pushes forward, details as in forest trees, cloud the choice. Would hearth, which had birthed her, win out in the end? Among quite a number I’ve known, holding out too long turned out too late for a decision. Yet, I believe, the play of both lives sustained them, as it does my aunt.

Homecoming, Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror, Philippines, November 3, 2013, Manila



Water, water, everywhere…
July 16, 2014, 3:14 pm
Filed under: opinion, travel

When picnicking in my teens in Bacarra, we would dig a hole on the river shore, leave it for water to fill in, and voila, we had a sand-filtered drinking well. On rare days of water interruption in my growing up years, soon after a bandillo beating his tambor and playing a píccolo (flute) would come around where the main road forked to inner streets to announce it, neighbors with clay water jars balanced on the head and kerosene jars outfitted with a wooden handle would line up, braiding what’s new about whom while inching up for their turn at the town artesian pump. Too, the wood cover of an old well, which I heard had existed since my paternal great grandfather’s time, would be pushed aside, as the pail kept under the house among broken tools in a hutch, taken out, cleaned and refitted to the lever pulled down for dipping.

Otherwise, water from the faucet had seemed hardly ever absent. In high school, with lazy water flowing out of old faucets in the Home Economics building, we cooked our bean soup and guinataan to sell on the front windows to male classmates eager to please someone they couldn’t talk to without an excuse. Breathless after softball or volleyball in Physical Education, we quenched our thirst by leaning onto a faucet, and catching the stream that overflowed to our cheek—we girls later realized why the boys patiently waited for their turn, facing us; we had been mindful of our necklines since.
Later in my job, on a coverage to Surigao del Norte for Philippines Today, an international magazine of the then National Media Production Center, our hosts, who toured photographer Tony Villaverde and me, carried bamboo tubes slung on their shoulders to gather water from a spring, which we drank by turns. Only once did I drink buko juice in place of water; on an overnight coverage of the doves that fly to Ursula Island in Palawan with then Tourist Officer Ellen Hagedorn, via a pump boat a young prince of Bataraza and his thin retinue sailed, she and I stole from a kerosene can half-filled with water to wash our face, leaving less for morning coffee and to drink.

Writing these, I feel none of it ever happened and as if I’m stealing others’ idylls in books or long ago stories told to me. When did I last trust drinking water served on a pitcher or worse scooped from a well? But I recall, and I’m sure you do, horrifying scenarios underlying survival in Manila in the mid-80s when, along with rotating brownouts, water began to sputter or disappear in faucets. Water pumps had turned into a must-have though quite insufficient as Manilans in old areas often broke into small-scale wars over whose pump sucked out the most volume; one image triggered most of my nightmares—when away at work, my parents had to haul buckets of drinking water up three flights of fire escape from the first-floor neighbors’ tap.

I can’t remember though when I began to regress like a child sipping water from a plastic bottle. Could it have been around the 90s when global water wars on rights, distribution, and soon, commercialization of water, exploded? By the time I packed away my life in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada, I had lost all memory of scooping water from a spring with my hands so much so that I hesitated, even feared, stepping close to a stream deep in the forge fed by virgin falls of Lynne Valley, North Vancouver; I held on for comfort the bottled water in my backpack instead. A variety of water-in-a-bottle as well as refillable containers offers countless choices since.

Yet, if quite heavy to carry on an overnight trip, looking for bottled water could be an adventure even a saga like a friend’s and mine last week during a nostalgic visit to Baltimore; at the hotel, finding for once, two 12-ounces of bottled water beside the ice bucket, which we thought as complimentary, we sighed our disappointment on reading an attached note—if consumed, we would be billed $2 each. Trusting what we once knew of the city, and from having bought larger-sized bottles for less in other states, we had set out to the closest grocery on Charles Street but found a sad unlit shadow of its old self.

We moved on, recalling a pair of convenience stores further down, but kept passing by tony facades of new buildings and no store. On to the Inner Harbor, we had hoped to get any size of water bottle at what we recalled the food court; it turned out in the years since we last visited, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum had replaced it. My thirst had intensified by then, but still we stood fast by our conviction that water should not be priced like gold. Turning back up on St. Paul’s Street, after a couple of miles and almost an hour, finally, we spotted a beacon in a 7-Eleven store, selling a dollar-a-liter of Deer Park.

As if to tease us, a drizzle started the rest of our way back to the hotel, streaming in runnels, while behind us Chesapeake Bay heaved voluminous water.

Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Opinion Page, Business Mirror Manila, June 7, 2014 (this post the unedited version)



By just being a Filipino, finding the unexpected at every turn in Rome

‘DI ba ang Vatican eh ’yung Basilica lang? Saan kayo tumira?” My sister asked on Facetime, catching me still awake from jet lag. “True, Citta del Vaticano, with its 800 inhabitants all working for the Holy See, has no place for pilgrims,” I replied, and stuttered through details that would take me days to smoothen.

Eleanor and I landed in Eternal Rome, so like a dream that at the Prati B&B of Alessandra Bounaccorsi on Via degli Scipioni, the grinding of a dumpster bolted us out of bed. Later walking toward Citta del Vaticano nine minutes away, we had seemed afloat on streets perfumed by wisteria streaming from balconies like in a movie, through fashion boutiques, trattoria and garden shops. And suddenly, in a mercato, bunches of musot (bulaklak ng kalabasa), apparently used with mozzarella in a panini, transported me to my grandmother’s table.

With driving à la Manila, we had dodged zooming cars as we crossed wide boulevards and, soon, waving off hustlers who offer “no lineup for a fee” to Vatican Square, spotting in us a kababayan they could perhaps inveigle. More of the unexpected in our Roman dream began; shortly, we bumped into a huddle of nuns. “Filipino?” asked one, and all three lit up as we nodded, “Oo!!” But “pilgrims all aren’t we?” chirped the youngest. They belong to a convent of the Sacred Heart Order in Sicily.

Rome’s goldish sun ushered us finally into Vatican Square by then packed with hundreds of herded tourists and pilgrims. So awed with our necks craned to heights scaled to eternity as in those childhood estampitas, we fell into a hush. We had to whirl around to take it all in, the basilica with its balcony from where the Pope emerges at Christmas and Easter on television to greet us in his urbi et orbi, its dome and the colonnade, the marble figures of Christ, the apostles and saints we know by heart poised in the wind—where we stood, a Roman necropolis in Nero’s time, early Christians had been executed by him, Saint Peter among those crucified.

Inside the basilica, overwhelmed by the magnificence but especially a touching-distance to the Cathedra Petri, Saint Peter’s papal chair, behind the baldachin, I resisted blinking. “Filipino? Yes, a Holy Mass will begin in a few minutes,” the usher let us into a girded area facing the high altar, pulling us away from the thick flow of just-gawking crowds. “Dominus vobiscum” reverberated through the sung Mass concelebrated by about a dozen cardinals; Eleanor and I responded from memory, “Et cum espiritu tuo,” even singing, “Pater Noster” and “Agnus Dei,” transported to the dawn Masses in the dark brick churches of our youth.

Brought back to the square by a gushing stream after Holy Mass, we plunged unknowingly into an expectant wave, crying out for “Papa Francesco!” Soon, from a window high above the colonnade, he addressed us, straining body-to-body to catch him, thumb-size from the ground, but suffused with his discernible smile, his warmth, reliving in me how I felt on first seeing Pope John Paul II, long ago it seems, as his open carriage wheeled through Magsaysay Boulevard in Manila.

A daunting line to Musei Vaticani almost crumbled our resolve next day. But we persevered from a tail that snaked uphill along the wall behind the basilica to papal palaces once, now museums of relics from Greco-Roman civilizations, through halls of ecclesiastical and classical art—the utmost being Michelangelo’s stunning ceiling paintings of the Sistine Chapel so configured as the tour’s climax. Amid such magnitude, suddenly I understood what perfection in art means decades after Humanities courses at the University of Santo Tomas—why shouldn’t Art be the Church’s legacy?

Still a palpable sense of vulnerability, yet impregnability pervade not only in the museums’ telling of Church history but also in preserved structures, as in the massive Castel Sant’Angelo, first a mausoleum of pope-kings then a fort, that till now looms over the Tiber just outside Vatican walls. Saint Michael the Archangel’s fierce vigilance from a tower still pierces peering eyes—he, whom Catholics invoke as shield from ruinous enemies and who Josie Darang calls when fear overtakes her, like in a cab hurtling through Manila’s streets.

“Filipino kayo, Ate?” A salesgirl had caught us in a shop outside the walls, browsing for souvenirs that could extend our precious euros. She filled a basket with refrigerator magnets, and spangled her breast with nylon scarves for us to choose; the whole stretch had a Filipino vying to pull in a fellow Filipino, reminding me of Central Market’s turo-turo aisles—a poignant note to an uplifting day.

After two days of pasta, Eleanor and I began to crave rice served only in a Pakistani restaurant as per tourist guides. But sauntering along Via Giulio Cesare, we had brushed by a hole-in-the-wall named Sarap. “Filipino kayo?” we asked the obvious; not only did we get a serving of rice but the all-male restaurant of young Pinoys also paired it with sarciadong salmon. The answer to my sister’s question by then had taken a twist: Indeed, by just being Filipinos, we found unexpected parts of us at every turn in Citta del Vaticano and Rome outside of its walls.

Published in Peregrine Notes, Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, April 19, 2014



Could a father shape his child’s destiny?
Serafin Albano, my father taken when he was in the seminary in Vigan

Serafin Albano, my father taken when he was in the seminary in Vigan

Often, intensely quiet in insulated spaces is how days unfold here, undistracted spaces that let roam vibrant memories like this week. As I write this piece midway through selecting my poems for a Poetry Reading event at the Chapters Bookstore downtown, my first ever, sponsored by Vancouver Haiku Group to which I belong, the late Serafin Albano, my father—a central figure in my writing life—looms largely.

If he did not impose his will on my choice of what I’d be, I could be languishing now in a dark even dank office somewhere in a turn-of-the century old building in Avenida where notaries get signed and sealed for a small fee if I didn’t get a teaching job, that is. He lugged me instead led by the youngest of my mother’s brothers, then in his junior year at UST’s Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, to the office of the dean. I had waffled but in a quick turn of mind, I plunged into a future of writing. But I ended up neither a journalist nor a poet not until decades after graduation and long after he had died. Instead, I sneaked into a writing career via public relations, ghost-writing for years.

From a back glance this morning in a continent way across the Pacific, I feel that I had glossed over how my father felt through those years I got stalled in what he couldn’t understand as tossing out words and images in anonymity. Picking through hints, I remember how he must have had great dreams of my name spangled on printed pages, as in his first wrapped gift on my eighth birthday, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper that he dedicated with a noble quote beyond a child’s grasp: “Education supplants intelligence but does not supply it.” Telling me a book was easier to find, he had hoped this gift would inspire me to write more—I had a year before then, sent him, where he lived and worked in Manila, a four-line poem scrawled on grade two paper, a ruse to ask for a doll.

Yes, I did write but not feeling particularly inspired only fed with words, perhaps, from books he and my mother piled on me. Early in college, I wrote a hilarious narrative on how giggly, overacting, mostly spoiled girls in a dormitory run by nuns from across UST, my first published article in Philippine Graphic magazine, in its ‘Student’s Page’ with my picture and a note on the author. It had so elated my father, he carried the issue opened on that page and showed it to everyone including waitresses. Some months later, I followed it up with an essay on fishes, which I used as a metaphor for the kinds of people we get to know in this “ocean of life”. I made him so happy he treated me out, and my friends at the dorm to dinner almost weekly. But none came long after that.

In a sudden spurt, probably stimulated by my travels in my job at the then National Media Production Center, I began weaving words into lyrical pieces for Dick Pascual’s travel page at the defunct Daily Express. My father brought each piece to Magallanes Drive, trudging his way through grime-textured air. Among the stash I dug out when clearing out stuff to immigrate to here, was a rough album he sewed on the side of those published pieces. And then again, I skidded into anonymity.

Still, we argued furiously about writing. Our last word-spars focused on my defunct Newsday lifestyle page, my first ever newspaper job. More critical and cutting than the late Teddy Berbano, then managing editor, my father devastated me by his correctness those evenings I dropped by to see him and my mother on my way to my own home—I had married by then. He had died by the time my page started shaping up and later when I wrote weekly full-page feature stories for Sunday lifestyle at Inquirer.

Once coming home from New York much later, I found the fiction writing paperback he kept sliding before me that I left unread, and cried and cried. The author, R. V. Cassill, also authored the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction from which my instructor in a writing course I took at NYU’s Continuing Education program selected our readings. Leafing through the pages he dog-eared and underlined, I had realized it’s exactly what I was learning. I’ve grappled with challenges he couldn’t have imagined like writing in NY alongside native speakers of English. But each step of the way, I would find his imprint.

Could a father shape a child’s destiny, carving a path like mine that I had long wavered to follow straight on? On the podium to read my published and award-winning poems here in Vancouver, a crowd their blond, blue, hazel, gray, maybe some black even green Irish eyes on me, I’m sure my father though invisible to all would be seated in the front row.

 Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror, Manila, June 24, 2013



Funding pasahe and baon for kids via cyberspace, possible?

WHAT would a child do if he has money for fare to get to school but nothing for food, or has a meal allowance but would have to walk two hours through dirt roads, singling along highway sides—a choice that, either way, cancels the possibility to be in school, doesn’t it? Yet, children in countless Philippines rural towns apparently anguish over this dilemma every day. If some make it to school with what their parents could scrape for fare, they would be drowsing, known to pair with hunger, by midafternoon; most simply drop out as has been commonly reported.

I suppose those who recognize that such a problem has long existed  would find comfort on learning that this, too, rears its ugly head, though in another guise, in American schools, where the state, under the National School Lunch Program subsidized by the federal government, provides food either for free, at reduced prices, or paid in full, depending on parents’ income. The program, started in 1946, has since served 224 billion lunches and cost $11.6 billion in 2012; its implementation, though, has not only differed per school charter but also among states, causing a few controversies. 

The practice of stamping or marking out a child who gets lunch for free or whose account had run low, hence embarrassing him or her, had led to the alleged firing of Noelle Roni, a former principal in Peak to Peak, Colorado, as recently reported in The Huffington Post. On the other hand, commiserating with his classmates who had been shamed by the practice has inspired Cayden Taipulus, a 3rd Grader, “to launch a fund-raiser online and collected nearly $11,000 enough to buy his classmates lunch for the rest of the year” through a social-networking site and posted on Facebook a few weeks ago.

No basis of linking the topic to Filipino schoolchildren who have nary a hint that free lunch could be possible, right? Wrong. I do know of an initiative, though hardly resembling the US program—its funds, for one, to provide what parents can’t ever afford to send their children to school can take in only four students per class year from Grade 7 to fourth-year high school. Not of an organization but an informal alumni group of Bacarra National Comprehensive High School (BNCHS) in Ilocos Norte, nothing about it sounds like something already known to have rooted, even if still quite fragile, so far.

Iliw, its name, a fanciful acronym for a quixotic dream on Innovative Learning Initiatives and Ways for Bacarra, in truth, describes a sentiment its members on a Yahoo! group site Tony Ponce owns that fired them to set up the sponsorship. In Iluko, iliw not only means nostalgia, it could also conjure up gestures that burst with longing, which, in this case, happened on cyberspace and not just for a night but nightly for about a year. So gripping had the memory-swapping affected the otherwise amorphous camp of alumni from varied class years, at first merely exchanging patchy messages about reunions, that when an author joined with a book on collective memories of their town in mind, Tony’s site soon swarmed with “raucous regulars,” tossing in what they recalled, unraveling years in Bacarra long misted by exile.

From corners on syncopated time zones in the US and Canada, some in Europe, a few in the Middle East and in the Philippines, the virtual friends “prowled” Bacarra’s streets, “talking” of the same everything; they even discovered blood kinship among them, charted the town’s map by memory, though possibly extant by now, and revived their tongue by then lost in their alien lives with lessons in Iluko 101 that Rufino Tangonan, a math teacher in Texas, started with word-meaning quizzes. But life eventually began to creep on their idyll on cyberspace—if one of them had not gone home and driven by memories dropped by BNCHS, bringing back to the group a poignant picture of some students trudging miles or hungry in school, the group could have just thinned out into air.

But their boldness held up and birthed Iliw ti Bacarra, a sponsorship they funded with disparate amounts out of their pockets, wired to a PNB account in Laoag City and disbursed by an officer to the school. While the book that triggered memories remains cached, and most Iliw members now at least have “met” on Facebook, the third batch of graduates finished this year with two of them from the Special Science Class (not a scholarship, Iliw expects only passing average but most of all, the will to graduate).

As upperclassmen in the program will be assessed, about 30 would soon be gathered again to be screened at the BNCHS library—Victoria Albano, not an alumna but a Bacarrena in Vancouver and donor, nonetheless, prays for those not chosen. Would they face each day without pasahe or baon like perhaps thousands somewhere in the islands? I know this sounds old news oft-repeated, so much so that instead of drawing compassion the image invites indifference. Or how else could one explain the yawning gap in schooling between over-privileged and more-than-poor Filipino children? Maybe we could all storm the heavens for a duplication of Iliw or for more to hop in on it.

(Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, March 31, 2014)




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