Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Public Service: A Typhoon Named Ketsana/Ondoy (and more typhoons to come?!)

Ketsana (PAGASA name: Ondoy) : the proper name for the typhoon that left Metro Manila (National Capital region, Republic of the Philippines) and its surrounding areas practically underwater, creating what is now said to be the worst flood to have hit Manila in 50 years.

The winds started rushing in late in the morning of Saturday, September 26, and soon after the rains were pouring in. Perhaps I underestimated this outburst of Mother Nature, because I was still bent on walking from my house to Powerplant Mall to get some groceries.

Many hours later, I found out that I was one lucky lucky bastard.

Lucky because, I live in a high place and my area was one of the very few parts of the metro which was not hit by floods: all I had to deal with along the way that fateful Saturday was numerous puddles and temporarily lost cable and connection services. SMS were coming in from friends, mainly checking on one another's safety, and then reality gripped me. More than 80% of Metro Manila was flooded, leaving 246 people dead (as of the latest count) and many more homeless, without electricity, food, and water,

This is just an example of how the typhoon has affected the lives of even the people I know. Fortunately for my friend Jan, the floods receded and her family was alright. (You can read about her own account here and see some other photos courtesy of Maren Mae here.) As of this time, there are still people left stranded on the rooftops and in buildings, and as such boats and divers' services were being solicited. Many homeless families in Marikina, one of the places hardest hit by the storm, are cramped in classrooms, babies still covered with mud, and many with wounds. There is no electricity nor water for the most part of the area. It is likely indeed that an epidemic will break soon.

It also does not help to know that another typhoon is about to come in on Thursday, tomorrow .... (yep, Parma is not just another name for ham nor the Italian city anymore :( )

It is disheartening, to say to the least. TIME asks succinctly, why wasn't Manila prepared? Indeed, when disasters like this hit our city, we often find ourselves huddled, fending for ourselves, helping one another, cursing tragedy and thanking the heavens at the same time ... and the government, until 3 to 4 days later, was hardly in sight...and that's another (bad) story.

Eventually it is just about us, and the people who care, the people we care for, and the people who need our care.

There are many ways to help, and a list can be found here. A good friend forwarded me this link which will take you to a spreadsheet containing a good number of places where goods and monetary help can be donated. This is sufficient information for the moment. Do take time in going over the list, that alone can give you many ideas on how to help out. No one should pressure you to give beyond your means, for no effort is too small nor insignificant, as long as it comes from the heart. Another very useful link here on ML Quezon III's blogsite. Check it out.

[I will be going back to my usual self-indulgent posts next time when it is more appropriate. *grins* See you later, friends.]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Human Soul In My Hands

*****[Disclaimer: This story appeared for the first time in Trash Radio Manila. I was creating a mood for a playlist and thought of putting this up. Wrong venue, I figured out later on. *shrugs*
So I thought of reprinting my crude attempt at story-writing here. Je, bless his soul, the very talented writer that he was, had told me that my writing style is too "clinical" (I do not know what he meant, and I think I mentioned this in my past post), but he admitted to having enjoyed reading this story. To my classmates in primary school who may come across this piece, I changed some details just a wee bit, but this actually happened...go do the guessing now.]*****

At six years of age, I, semi-autistic cartoon-preoccupied Catholic school girl in my first year in primary school, had a very little inkling of what a human soul is like. I only knew that a soul is what comes out of the human body at death, yet another concept that was alien to me. And that I could not, pity my feeble brain, theoretically distinguish a soul from a spirit, or a ghost perhaps.

But what did I care then? I was living in comfort world, studying in a school just adjacent to a church, the school canteen annexed strategically to a funeral parlour. At recess time we just had to look at the windows to know if there was an ongoing wake; the reflection of the candles and incandescent bulbs on the window glass said it all. We would get our lunchboxes and eat and gleefully exchange stories, unmindful of what was at the other side of the wall.

Now we had a classmate named Rachel (not her real name) who was new to our school. We found Rachel to be rather unusual. For one, she hardly talked: the infrequent questions that went her way, most probably by accident, were returned with a sly smile and nothing more. She was never seen to use a handkerchief, so oftentimes she went around with snot dried up over her lips, which did not help to flatter her white face. Her school uniform always bore creases in all places, and if one was lucky he may be able to identify a number of areas that required reinforcement with numerous stitches. Her straight brown hair was unkempt at all times and needed de-lousing.

But most of all, we never saw her bring food, or buy snacks at the canteen for that matter. During recess time, Rachel would approach the richer kids, palm up, and hiss, her voice coming off a mouth most likely filled with saliva: Pahingi.

[Pahingi, this wretched Tagalog word which can mean a lot depending on the person saying it or the circumstance during which this is uttered, translates to "Can I have...". In this case, Rachel was always seen to ask for food.]

So it was no surprise that Rachel never joined one group, nor was welcomed by any. She would just mosey along, or stay near the sink for the most part of snack time, fidgeting with the contents of her pockets.

One day, the class was having an art activity. I asked permission to go to the canteen to drink from the tap faucet. My teacher agreed.

I descended onto the few steps of stairs that led to the canteen. The windows of the funeral parlour shone brightly as I walked.

Rachel was standing by the sink when I got there. Her hands were wet, the left holding a few one peso coins. She gave me a crooked smile. I whispered a tentative “hello” then leaned onto the faucet.

Rachel bent towards me and hissed.

Gusto mo makakita ng kaluluwa? (Would you like to see a soul?)”

I straightened my back and wondered what she meant.

Ano yun? (What did you say?),” I asked. Maybe I heard her wrong.

Rachel’s almond brown eyes gleamed. “Eto o. Hawak ko ang kaluluwa ng lola ko (Here, I am holding my grandmother’s soul),” and she opened her right hand. I looked at her palm and squinted my eyes.

I saw a few pieces of smooth white wafer-like material, like scraps of cement. Except that Rachel’s had a matte, powdery appearance to it. There were no traces of white residue or soap suds on her palm. Rachel was then grinning, her mouth revealing dirty, uneven set of teeth. The yellow light from the window was shining on her right cheek, rendering a rather grotesque appearance to her face. I got a bit scared, but my sense of curiosity prevailed.

Nahahawakan mo kaluluwa ng lola mo? Paano? (You are actually able to hold your grandmother’s soul? How is that possible?)’ Then pointing at Rachel’s right palm, I asked. “Paano mo nakuha ito? (How did you get this?)”

Rachel beamed.

Nang namatay ang lola ko, nilibing siya. Noong hinukay siya, nakita namin ito.” (When my grandmother died, she was buried. When her body was exhumed, we found this.) Rachel then went towards the faucet, and as water dripped from the tap, so did questions flow in my head. I found her tale to be too incredible.

She then continued.

Tapos kinuha ko to. Binasa ko siya kasama ang mga piso. Naging makikintab sila. Tingnan mo! (Then I got this and washed my peso coins with it. Look how shiny they’ve become!)” Rachel shook the shiny coins on her left hands. “Gusto mo subukan natin sa piso mo? (Would you like to try to do the same thing on your peso coin?)” she excitedly offered.

I touched the glistening coins on her palm, running my fingers on the embossed figures. I frowned.

Sabon naman yan eh! (That must be soap!)” I snorted, as I thought to myself how stupid I was to even start to think about believing her tall tale.

Hindi ito sabon! (This is not soap!)” Rachel insisted, drool threatening to escape from the corners of her mouth. “Kaya nga pahiram ng piso mo, ipapakita ko sa iyo na kikintab yun ng walang bula (That is why I’m borrowing your peso coin, I will show you that it is going to be shiny without creating any soapsuds.)” The shadows on her pale face were getting more and more grotesque. I would rather not wrong this girl since she was becoming creepier by the minute.

Hesitantly, I dug into my pocket. Taking out my dainty wallet, I clicked it open and picked out some dirty coins. Rachel, having kept her own set of shiny coins in her pocket, was nearly breathless, posed in her favorite gesture of supplication, as I was giving her my coins.

She tossed the coins and the “soul” and shook them together in her palms cupped upon another. Rachel then brought her hands to her mouth and muttered what seemed to be a spell. She placed her hands directly beneath the faucet, which continued to spew water.

I watched intently as Rachel mumbled more unintelligible words while gently wiping the coins and the “soul” alternately. My coins, and the soul of Rachel’s grandmother, in the hands of one girl so earnest to prove that she was not pulling my leg. The coins started to catch the reflection of candles and light bulbs from the window. No bubbles to diffuse the eerie glint of the coins, no words to break the morbid silence enveloping this irreverent ritual.

Finally, Rachel spoke.

Ayan, makintab na. (Here, they’re already shiny.)”

She brought the coins up close to my eyes.

Ang kintab nga! (Shiny indeed!)” I conceded as I started to pick up my coins from her palm, trying to avoid touching the white matter beneath.

Rachel, her face glittering with her little victory, inched nearer. Her white forehead, her glistening nose, the top of her upper lip smeared with sweat and snot, her crooked smile, her dirty, uneven teeth – for the first time, I had seen her countenance in full detail. I felt an unexplainable sense of fear.

Sige (Go ahead),” she urged, “Hawakan mo ang kaluluwa ng lola ko. (Touch my grandmother’s soul.)”

As if by trance, I lifted my right hand. I shivered as I tried to feel the “soul” that Rachel was alluding to. The white wafer remained matte, not at all slippery. The whole experience was making me sick on the spot.

With the little courage left in me, I spoke.

Rachel, baka hinihintay na ako ni Miss Aldaba. Baka magalit siya. (Rachel, Miss Aldaba, might be waiting for me. She might get mad at me.)”

Having said this, I quickly left, scurrying past the sink, past the sickening reflection off the window, past the short flight of stairs. I could no longer bear the sight of Rachel, palms up, holding her grandmother’s soul, anymore.

Reaching the classroom, I nodded to my teacher who then gestured me to my desk. I picked up my artwork with trembling hands, my heart throbbing hard and fast, my thoughts running crazily in my mind.

No. I had not seen a human soul before, but I had just touched one.

I shut my eyes tight.* * * * *

Rachel stayed in school for only a few months. We would still see her during snack time, fidgeting by the sink and talking to herself. I never got to talk to her again, nor did I tell my groupmates about my fateful encounter with her.

Sometimes, while I eat lunch with the group, I would catch Rachel looking at me, her little form illuminated by yellow light coming off the window of the funeral parlour….

Then she was gone, and no one has ever gotten to know where she went.

Human Soul In My Hands
16 August 2007

Photo credit: Grad pic courtesy of my good friend AL Bjornstad.

Friday, September 11, 2009

How To Have Mindless Fun On A Very Rainy Wednesday Morning (not that I mind...)

***Sometimes I get questions like, how do you derive fun from being alone? Or, how could you still afford to smile about in spite of?

Other times, questions shift to the opposite side of the spectrum: How could you remain glum when you have many friends to talk to? Why could you not just (
and I am really beginning to friggin' hate this thoughtless phrase) move on?

Bottomline is, I suppose I am in a not-so-usual situation and as such I make a pretty good case in progress for life situation studies. [
Holmes and Rahe collated 43 life events/stressors and ranked death of a spouse as the top stressor. This list appears in Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry. ] Thus I get a good number of questions mainly about how I cope with my loss.

I will not even think about giving any "inspirational" tips - I am far from being inspired anyway - but I do think it is all about will, about wanting to rise above the situation. And even if this is true, I do forget about it at times. These are the times when spontaneity takes over.

It was a very very rainy Wednesday morning and I was in my clinic, watching the flood rise gradually, approaching the sidewalk that fronts the building. There were very few patients owing to the horrible weather. A nurse turned on the radio, and I went to a small room (where the radio was), which is annexed to the lab. I locked the door and thought about staying there for just a few minutes, alone.

Suddenly, this song played. I remember this tune really really well, for I was a fan of The Boy once in my young and nubile life, and I am not ashamed to admit it.

This video did play in my mind and pretty soon I was having fun dancing a la George O'Dowd, complete with gyrations and footwork. I swear I had fun dancing by myself in that room. By the time I went out, I was grinning, and the nurses were trying to figure out why....

Culture Club, of all things, made my rainy floody Wednesday morning.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I once called you a bubble. You still are. I will not write your name, but I pretty much doubt if you go over my profile, or my blog (you only do so to look at the photos) or even if you do, I seriously doubt if you understood what I say. But let me tell you a story I never told you before.

There is a friend of mine, a son of a poetess, who writes stories and songs. One day, he asked for a message from God. The message went:

"God wants you to know that happiness has nothing to do with pleasure."

I learned about this soon enough and asked my friend, my heart brimming with care, and doubt, and joy, and sadness.

"If wanting to share your life with one you really care for is happiness, is it really worth the wait and the tears to share it with someone who is not sure of himself?"

And he said, with the wisdom of a man who spent a lot more years on earth than I did.

"Sometimes it is worth the wait, sometimes it is worth the tears. Although we can never really be sure until the waiting is over and the tears are shed."

Then I walked away with resolve in my being: I will break the bubble of doubt and challenge fate to a duel.

[Yes. A duel. Because whether you take this or not, I believe in my heart that you are worth the fight, waiting and tears and scars healed and unhealed be damned.]

Don't stray too far, Bubble. Don't ever burst on me.