Saturday, August 12, 2017

My way


GOING back to school in one’s 50s is like returning to kindergarten: at the end of the day, the senior student monopolizes the dinner conversation with “I did this” and “I did that”.

That’s a thought expressed by N., who's my classmate in two courses this semester. We sat across each other in our first class. By our next class, we were seated beside each other, swapping notes about our reading assignments.

Our classmates, who could be our sons and daughters, prefer e-books they can store in their phones and read while commuting. N. and I are old-school; we prefer to photocopy, highlight pages, and make longhand notes in notebooks that don’t require batteries.

N.'s children point out that one can also digitally mark pages, minus a sore back from lugging around all that paper. My boys—a husband and sons who speed around the information highway—rebuke me for holding back from technology.

N.’s rejoinder says it best: Let me do it my way.

I would be glossing over if I left the impression that the freedom to pursue my way is what alone distinguishes the two cycles of kindergarten.

A word of German origin, “kindergarten” literally means “children’s garden”.

The promised Eden of exploration and discovery was, I discovered when I was five, a terrifying place. I had to find a voice to get the teacher to give me permission for the toilet or plead with a classmate to return my pencil.

That voice never seemed to be around when terrors rattled the gates of my five-year-old mind.

At 51, being able to say what I want no longer seems as important as knowing what I want even if others doubt that I do.

I remember a terrifying first meeting with two poets. Both are decades my junior. My classmate has published a book of poetry; my teacher is awaiting his seventh.

In contrast, I wrote my last poem for the Silliman Writers Workshop perhaps three decades ago. The last poem I read, liked, and reread was three years ago.

Had I done the math, I would have fled that classroom as if all the wraiths of bards, from classical to free verse, were yapping at my heels.

Yet, I stayed in my seat for easily the most uncomfortable and illuminating discussion in nearly half a century of learning in classrooms: why writing poetry is the most useless activity, and why in this uselessness lies its greatest use for society.

There’s nothing quite like youth and its prodigious gifts of energy and self-regard.

But before the sap dries, one should put all one’s heart, soul, and strength into replenishing the well of one’s ignorance. The more we learn, the more we unlearn.

Or, as N. said: Let me do it my way.


(mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ 09173226131)


*First published in SunStar Cebu’s August 13, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Closed encounters


IN Cebu, the bus exists largely as a figment of contention. In the labyrinth that is Manila, the bus rumbles out of the discourse and into the realm of the banal and inescapable days of our lives.

Traveling by bus used to be about romancing the countryside. As a young community worker, I learned a few tricks from traveling by land around Cebu and Central Visayas.

Bus tip #1: backpack it.

The terminal is where life begins. Come early and your ticket will still come with a seat.

Bus tip #3: watch life go past. In Dalaguete, the scenes outside the window replayed when the bus, like a car pool, came back for a regular passenger, who had been taking a bath.

In the city of queues, I arrived at the bus half an hour before it left. In the seat of dreams, one can nap or watch the movie on board to dilute reality with a bit of make-believe.

While my seat mates juggled dinner and smartphone monologues, I watched the night’s feature on “Cinebakbakan”.

Like me, Raymond Bagatsing travels from the province to the big city. His cousin introduces Serafin to Sarge (Tonton Gutierrez), who gives him a job and more guns than seems necessary to man the gate of a shack in the middle of nowhere.

Though naive, Serafin is not too slow to catch on that Sarge actually leads a kidnapping ring. When Sarge goes amok, Serafin tries to out-Adam Adam: return to the Eden where he was expelled.

The movie is full of stereotypes (chain-smoking journalists) and peculiarities (Serafin gets in the pool of mud with his carabao and gives it a back massage). Yet, when the bus vents gushed water instead of freezing air, I was the last to leave my seat for the safety of the aisle.

In the melee of corporate drones cussing like fish vendors, a barking driver, and the ticket collector passing around one sodden rag to stanch the shower on board, I followed Serafin’s changing fortunes: he emerges from the margin to assume a dead man’s fearsome reputation, marries a woman later possessed by an evil spirit, dupes a kidnapped child into regarding him as the father, and finally unburdens to a journalist who smokes more than takes notes.

Movies on buses are kitschy or pornographic. “Serafin Geronimo: Ang Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion” is neither. I waited for the closing credits to reveal the director.

And got instead the opening scene of “True Lies,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Of course, art is dead in the city. A bus is not a cinematheque.

But would it have hurt if deadened commuters went home that night, realizing that the movie we all got drenched for was the first one directed by Lavrente Indico “Lav” Diaz? Probably not. Bus tip #4.


(mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ 0917 3226131)


*First published in SunStar Cebu’s August 6, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The big picture


MARTIAL law makes many people feel safe. Often left out in the assertion is a question: safe from whom?

In the late 1980s, on my first job, I travelled by land to Sta. Catalina in Negros Oriental. I was hired by a consultancy firm hired by a government agency that had World Bank funding to solve poverty.

An invisible speck in the entire bureaucracy, I was tasked to ask farmers about a comic book on land tenure.

Being young, I missed out on the joke and saw only the final report as the Holy Grail of a quest that took me from Alegria in the south of Cebu to San Miguel in Bohol.

In the bus from Dumaguete to Sta. Catalina, it rained hard. My bag floated in the greasy pool that collected the rain dripping from the bus roof. I hugged the comic books in their plastic bag, and worried what I would do without clean clothes for the coming week.

The thought that I would have to revert to the field worker’s strategy of using underwear “side A-side B” distracted me from the camouflage helicopters that hovered over Sta. Catalina, one or two at a time but all the time.

During the motorcycle ride to the upland site office, I asked the driver about the torn bark and hole gouged out by bullets in a tree.

An encounter, he said. Ambush? I asked. Farmers, he said. So what did they fire with: produce? I asked, still peeved about the rain and my sodden bag.

The site office was located beside a military detachment, but it was indistinguishable where one ended and the other began. The same barbed wires connected the margins. When lights went off at curfew, I listened to the distant popping sounds.

Christmas in May, I thought before falling asleep.

Field workers were instructed not to get involved with our neighbors on either side of the spectrum. Yet, we slept near and drove around with one side. Did we feel safer? I thought I did.

Interviews went like a breeze in Sta. Catalina. Above the farms, helicopters crisscrossed like green-bellied flies.

The farmers and I watched the circling choppers more than we discussed the comics. Like strange antennae, the long prows of M16 barrels and muzzles protruded from the sides of the Sta. Catalina “flies”.

The gunner stationed at the open sides of choppers is an “innovation” learned from the Vietnam War, according to a U.S. Army documentary, “The Big Picture”.

Inviting young Americans to train as “shotgun riders,” the 1967 documentary shows instructors sitting beside the open doors as if they were “on (their) front porch,” coaching young men to fire M16s at 450 rounds a minute, with one reminder: “Don’t get carried away while firing; it’s important to conserve ammunition.”

In Sta. Catalina, I finally caught on.


(mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ 09173226131)


*First published in SunStar Cebu’s July 30, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”