Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Once Upon A Time, I Attended Pre-School

With classes nationwide starting a week from now, and with my colleague in The Blog Rounds Jaaraf calling for artcles, I thought of writing a prologue to my submission. My follow-up to my Ian McCulloch post and my other project may have to wait a bit more.

I attended nursery school at a time when the Apple Computer was nothing but a bunch of ideas in Steve Wozniak's fertile mind, the green revolution was a by-word, and the punk movement was taking the place of hippie culture in the musical landscape. In my country, the dictator was lording it over. But the world through my eyes seemed to be as young as I was. Understandably, I did not know any better.

My nursery school was not exactly, well, posh. It was something more like, a cottage industry, if I can put it that way. As far as I can remember, an old Filipino-Chinese married couple who loved kids set up a classroom in what was supposed to be a driveway to their house. Surrounding the makeshift classroom were large concrete divisions - ponds - where the couple grew various species of fish which they sell wholesale on the spot or probably somewhere in the heart of Manila.

My mother put me to nursery because she was quite alarmed. At four years of age, I was hardly saying a thing. In spite of my daily dose of Sesame Street at home and her own efforts to make me speak, there was no comprehensible word coming from my lips. The little nursery school was the nearest, and the friendliest place for me to at least learn how to talk before I attend kindergarten.

The class, during the Recognition Day

I certainly remember the classroom: the large blackboard (no such thing as whiteboard then), chalks, bulletin boards containing artworks from the more talented kids in the class, the wooden chairs. There were no walls, and the air was always cool and faintly smelled of fish. I remember the door, just beside the boards, that led to the Spanish-type house.

I remember that I would zealously exclaim "Ma'am, finished!" whenever I was done with a quiz or an activity. "Ma'am, finished!" were actually my first words, the second group of words that I would learn being "Hindi puwede (No can do.)"

I remember my teacher, Miss Josefina Mandapat, how she would ask all of us to put our hands on the armchair when she was about to start the day's lesson. I remember that she sang well, loved to make us do a lot of crafts, and that she never resorted to using a stick to hit any one of the students.

I remember that I would run to the fish ponds at the end of the class with a classmate or two, stand at the narrow concrete walls, and squat to watch these wonderful colorful creatures swim by. Grandpa, the school owner, and his caretakers would always call us to stay away lest we fall into the ponds. No kids ever fell into any of these ponds, as far as I can remember.

I remember some of my classmates - my second cousin Kat, Socorro, Glenn, Manggy, Noel, Glenn - and others whose names I have forgotten, but definitely no one among them was a bully. Who says there has to be a token bully in every class?

And yes, I remember my mother waiting by the sideline with the other mothers, either chatting with them, reading, or doing one of her beautiful doilies by crocheting.

Through my eyes then, it was a serene, innocent world (for I was not yet aware of the Vietnam war, the Munich massacre, and the First Quarter Storm). I felt very safe in my little cocoon. It was the best time to lay the groundwork for most of the lessons that I was to bring with me wherever I go for the rest of my life, when my mind was still not jaded, and untainted with the evils of the world.

The world has grown with me, and through my eyes, it is no longer as young as how I wanted to see it. The memories of my young and innocent world still endure, though. They have to. When all hope has gone, a person needs to have something to look back to, even when it feels that the only beautiful thing that is left in life are just memories.

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