The tide was almost always low in the afternoons, as if the sea was a pair of palms pleading for the skies. Half of my barrio’s women were seashell gatherers and the other half were fishmongers. I was the odd child caught in between realities of the mundane, of survival.
My task, I felt, was to dream on behalf of those who couldn’t afford the luxury of reverie, the gift of marvel.
My village was the smallest in a fifth class municipality, an hour’s bus ride away from the once flourishing industrial city of Iligan. But my people didn’t ride the bus. They preferred to take the cheaper alternative, Jeepney, mainly because Jeepney drivers knew no speed limit.
My people were suckers for speed. It may have been because life in the barrio was so slow-paced, they sort of have grown particular affinity to the fast and the furious. Like the radio dramas the village grandmothers religiously followed, the locals knew the jeepney timetable by heart and kept particular preferences like the FM station a jeepney is tuned to or who the driver was.
For instance, Buffalo was new, spacious and could reach Iligan in half an hour. On the other hand, Love Line was avoided because it was driven by a chap in his 60’s who stopped at every waiting shed, even if nobody’s actually “waiting” in the “shed”.
The men in my barrio weren’t owned by women. The hinterlands beaconed them in the mornings: to till the soil, plow the fields and bathe the carabaos. In the twilights, they were that of the sea’s: to spear fishes for dinner or comb the seabed for fresh urchins and sea cucumbers. They were the most hardworking sons of the sun– the color of amber, the smell of brine.
Who I loved most, sometimes more than my own father, was a fisherman and carpenter I fondly called Papa Ramon. He was my yaya’s father and because my parents were working on most days, much of my formative years were spent under his guidance. He made me guns fashioned from banana leaf spine and toy cars from empty shampoo bottles with wheels from old spartan slippers. He was the only one who allowed me to play with fire. We cooked leaves on salmon tins and served play meals on cockle shells as plates. He allowed me to bear food stains on clothes, or skin my knees. I was a child, he used to say; Children were allowed recklessness that way.
It was like that. While the grown ups toiled for food on the table, us, children were allowed to run free. I was amongst those who bookmarked life stories through scars on elbows and knees. As I write this, I am tracing keloids on a pair of knees that was skinned summer after summer, over and over again.
We were excellent swimmers and cliff jumpers. We have skinny dipped long before city folks coined such term; long before skinny dipping became the daredevils’ fad.
We knew the names of trees, so we didn’t say we climbed “trees”. Instead, we specified trees such as Lubi (coconut), Mangga (mango) and the very deadly Marang. To use specific names was necessary, because one’s ability to climb depended on what kind of tree was climbed.
You see, a certain type of caste system was clandestinely practiced in the playgrounds I grew up in. The Masters and the Jokers. The former referred to the fastest runners and the strongest players, while the latter referred to weaklings the masters were forced to include in the games in the name of quantity. I belonged to the Jokers, thanks to asthma and a set of parents who were so protective I always had a yaya running after me with a face towel and a giant bottle of baby powder. By being a joker, it meant that I could run around like everybody else but nothing that I did really ever counted.
I have these recollections now because I have spent so much of childhood observing from outside, taking it all in. As aforementioned, I was the odd child caught in between. It was as if I was spared from idiosyncrasies of the barrio life and was destined for what my people dubbed as “bigger” things.
Like many of my barrio’s children, I was their little star of hope, who will someday lead everyone else rise from the ranks of poverty. As a child, I used to entertain everyone by staging dance numbers around mothers doing laundry in the public poso or sing political jingles atop a sari-sari store table, around neighborhood drunkards. Years and years ago, when only the rich had TV sets, the poor doted on me. Aiza and Matet? move over, seriously. 😛
My family wasn’t rich, but they were earning enough to guarantee a college diploma for me. Many of my playmates knew even then that the best shot for them in the future was to either go to Manila, be a saleslady at Gaisano or marry a foreigner. It was a sad reality, but in the end, we grew up wired to the aspiration of someday providing better lives for our families, at whatever capacity we could muster.
When I passed the boards, the victory was shared in the barrio as if it was their own. My yaya’s mother wept with pride before an entire throng of tong-its players, with whom she was playing with when the news was received. They held such high hopes for me, not necessarily for my sake, but because it seemed that I carried the dream for everybody else.
But looking back at things now, some six years later, I would say that it was the other way around. It was me who owed everything to them. My drive to hold on to the dream was fueled up by the inspiration I got from the environment I grew up with. I had a childhood filled with love, laughter, inspiration and good examples. I was raised amongst people who, even without education, are learned enough to know the value of hardwork, perseverance, love of family and friendship. We didn’t have much financially, but that’s maybe because we never really needed as much.
For instance, while the rest of the world travels to see wonders, we have just that, right in our very backyard.
This article is written in the hopes of luring travelers to go beyond the big cities of Iligan, Pagadian or Ozamis. Let it be known that, sandwiched in between, is Lanao del Norte, where my little barrio of Minaulon is. We do not have tourist spots, just ordinary seascapes, waterfalls and mountains. And friendly communities of sunkissed people who are perpetually looking forward to have the chance of conversing in Tagalog, like their idols– Robin, Rudy, Bong, Lito and Fernando Poe.
And oh, everyone is welcome to surf @ home! 🙂
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