Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Blog Rounds May 2009 Edition: Birthplace

My entry to this edition of The Blog Rounds (hosted by Doc Harry) is a reprint from my Multiply account. It is a post with a topic I feel strongly about (Doc Che and Doc Ness have previously read and left comments). I am not too sure if this article speaks somewhat of my (*gasp*) artistry, but I am certain that it touches on a vital childhood experience which influenced much of the way I think and look at life at present.

This is something I should have submitted to Doc Gaya last month as well.

It does seem that I am doing you disservice by rehashing an old post, but really, I do not mean to be lazy. At any rate, I hope you enjoy this entry, which is far from meriting a Palanca or even a mention from some literati, but probably the best that I could come up at the moment.

(It was Mother's Day last weekend, so reposting this is also akin to hitting two birds with one scalpel.)

Reposted from my Multiply account, June 1, 2008

For the most part of her life, my mother lived in Manila. But she was born in Marabut, Samar, during the post-war era. Mother was said to have worked hard doing the household chores (which, I was told, included fetching water from the poso, washing clothes, and scrubbing the floor, and other countless tasks), being the eldest in a brood of eleven. She claimed to have played (if she ever did) just as hard, climbing coconut trees and swimming in the pristine beach that was practically at the backyard. Ma eventually left home to go to Manila in her mid-teens. It was the 1960s: the world by then had largely recovered from the ravages of World War 2, and mom was dreaming of a better life….

I was a child when these things were being told to me the first time around, and I could not quite understand my mother’s intentions for doing so. And so from my innocent but impaired point of view, my mother’s birthplace was a land of squalor and poverty, where there is not much to be done except fish and do the chores. Definitely different from my father’s more cosmopolitan hometown in San Fernando, Pampanga where the paternal ancestral house was a whole lot bigger with many air condition units, where I used to spend my summer vacations playing pekwa and karate with my male cousins while my Ima prepared our merienda or dinner, depending on the time of the day.

This birthplace of my mother, Marabut, she often referred to as “Bisaya”. As in, “pupunta ka ng Bisaya pag di ka nagtino (If you don’t behave, you are going to Bisaya)”. It was an admonition that sounded ridiculously dreadful, but dreadful nevertheless. As fate would have it, my mother one day received news that her grandmother died, and that she was being asked to go to Marabut to oversee the funeral proceedings. She tugged me and my younger sister along with her on her trip down south.

I was going to my mother’s birthplace.

The plane landed in Tacloban City. My mother dressed me and my sister up in white frocks and was eagerly taking pictures of us as we waited for transport to the pier. It was near sundown when we were picked up by a frail banca that will take us to Marabut. The boat trip across the channel seemed forever. It had become incredibly dark, we were at the middle of the sea, and the strong currents nearly capsized the rickety banca. By the time the hapless boat was approaching the shore, a considerably-sized crowd made up of men bearing torches had already gathered by the beach. Our pilot shouted in the vernacular, while my mother whispered to me. The people initially thought we were aswangs, she said. Or rebels. Or probably both. We were finally brought to a two-storey nipa structure, and I was too tired and confused.

That was how we arrived at “Bisaya”: a community by the sea, populated by people who spoke a strange, gruff-sounding dialect (as opposed to the sing-song Capampangan), not exactly too friendly towards us kids I must say. As we went inside the house of my grandparents, my eyes were caught by the art paper cut-outs stuck on the wall: it bore the name of my departed great grandmother and the date of her death. Beneath the cut-outs was an altar and some photos. Pretty soon I was about to lie down on the mat when my mother stopped me.


Before I could even ask, a relative came in with cloves and cloves of garlic. She painstakingly made a garlic ring around our banig. Maraming aswang, I was told in hushed tones.

Outside, a tall calamansi tree stood, its leaves extending through the window as if eavesdropping.

Apparently, our purpose became clearer by the day. We were there to attend the pasiyam, the nine-day novena for the dead. I had very little recollection of the prayer sessions: I was seven years old, and concepts such as God, prayer, and death were hardly existent in my mind at that period of my life.

Instead, what I remember was the smell of the sea, the very unusual Samar weather, the day-to-day activities in that little barrio, and the pervading fear of aswangs, manananggals, and mangbabarangs.

The smell of sea was not foreign to me, having gone to the beach a few times. But the beach here did not seem to like me. It tend to grab me menacingly by the feet whenever I attempted to wade, and just as it was about to pull me off the shore, my mother’s voice would ring a few yards away. “Balik ka dito!” I would then scramble back to the house and sit by the window where the calamansi tree stood nearby. I could not even remember playing with the kids (not even with my sister), and there was nothing in the house that could amuse me, not even a toy or an interesting flower vase. The house was practically bare: no TV, no radio. NOTHING. It was during these boring moments that I would see the sun compete with rainfall for the most part of the day. How horrible it was to me to see the bright afternoon sun marred by rain, everyday! How lonely it felt for me to be staying here, not understanding the dialect, getting depressed with the horrible weather. My only physical clue to the community’s livelihood was the sight and the shrill call of the vendor passing by the houses every three o’clock or so in the afternoon: Pating! Bili na kayo ng pating!

Further into the mainland, I could see mountains, and once I asked my mother if I could go there, accompanied by an adult. She refused vehemently.

Hindi puwede. Maraming aswang doon.

I started counting the days with my fingers: I wanted to go home so bad.

It was the last day of the pasiyam, and a feast was being prepared. Two cows were slaughtered, I think, and two pigs. I watched a huge cauldron that contained boiling water and entrails. Everyone was in high spirits. I was, too, for we will be going back to Manila really soon. A few days back we, together with our relatives, spent half a day swimming in the beach, teasing the sea as it sent its strong waves rushing towards us. But that’s about the only excursion I had; most of the time, I was boring myself to death in the house.

Our last night was spent at my mother’s aunt, whose house stood on stilts by the sea. For dinner, she served us small shells with safety pins. I pulled the little creature out of the shell with a pin and popped it in my mouth, and I found it tasty. It was the first time I actually enjoyed being here, prying pins inside shells, guided by the light of the moon and the gas lamp, overlooking the sea which seemed so still and yet so foreboding. Food does have a way of enhancing some pleasant memories.

We left the following morning. The weather was cool, and the sea breeze cavorted with me as the banca took us back to Tacloban City.

In the next few years following my visit to Marabut, I was revolting against going back. It felt as if my wings had been clipped during the entirety of my stay; moreover, I felt like a stranger in a place where my mother spent her young life, treated like a stranger even by my own relatives. Growing up, questions of this mysterious visit continued to pile up. Or more like, the urge to seek validations intensified, but I did not have the heart to ask my mother ever.

Did she leave her birthplace because she felt the same way I did, somehow? (The mere fact that she never taught me how to speak Waray seemed telling.) Maybe I did not want to hear the answers as well.

It was only until adulthood, when so many things both joyful and bitter have gripped my life, did I think that many events may have changed a lot of my life’s perspectives. Travel did that to me too, as I went to various places both cosmopolitan and rustic. Slowly, my mind and heart started to open up to a little more.

During my mother’s wake a few years ago, I met some of the folks whom I had encountered in Marabut. I could hardly remember their faces, but they remembered me as that quiet little girl. They were present for the most part of the wake: quiet, reserved, unobtrusive, and, to my immense relief, never the ones to claim exclusivity of knowledge of my mother’s ways (which, sadly, is an irritating habit that afflicts many Filipinos during the wake: the dead suddenly becomes a relative to many and a friend to all.) It was then that I felt a slight tinge of embarrassment for some of the thoughts that have ever crossed my mind about matters related to Marabut.

I came to the realization that it was actually I who had set a perimeter of loneliness around me because I did not care to understand these people’s ways, their beliefs, their lifestyle that so differed from mine.

Roughly a week before my mother passed away, she expressed her desire to come back to Marabut, Samar, and see the beach. This wish was not granted, as her condition continued to deteriorate, barring all manners of travel, worse, all possibilities of getting out of the hospital alive. Looking back, she must had been meaning to set her sight on her birthplace, Marabut, the place that formed the very essence of her person and helped her survive life’s hardships. Probably her way of paying her respects, of expressing gratitude, of being physically one with the sea, sand, and the breeze in the land she once called home after being away for so long.

It is high time that I, too, go back to Marabut as well, and make reconciliations with the sea, sand, and the breeze….

(Photo credit: I borrowed the above photo from this website. Please take a look at the other Marabut photos as well.)

No comments: