Saturday, March 01, 2008

Rocky mountain high

IN THE end, it was the children who saved us.

To find an address in the mountains of Talamban, we did the practical thing: asked directions.

Improvements on a spillway had made the usual route impassable except by habal-habal (motorbike improvised for commuting in the boondocks). Preferring to use the family car, we took an alternative route but had to ask around whenever the road forked off.

At the first crossroads, a smiling fellow revving his habal-habal engine tilted his head to indicate the left road. He told us to go “straight lang,” pursing his lips for emphasis.

Anyone who's been around knows that mountain paths hardly go “straight.” But since we were looking for a sitio known as Pulangbato (red stone), the sight of that winding ribbon of red earth made us think we were on the right road or, at least, heading in the right direction.

Soon enough, our path diverged with children going home from school. A few of them clung, as if sticky-limbed, to habal-habal drivers, but many of them walked home, if not by necessity, certainly by choice.

Slowed down by the twists and curves, we found ourselves watching the children. They chatted, joked. Many “wore” their rubber slippers on their hands, walking barefoot. We swerved to avoid two boys, checking out the caimitos (starapples) ripening in the roadside trees.

Another group stuck the thick, matted tendrils of the orcalla tree in their heads so it seemed that they sported dreadlocks. I laughed aloud at their creativity while wondering at the speed some aspects of popular culture are communicated.

When the road stopped twisting, we gained speed and left behind the children. But noticing that the ground was no longer a red shade, we checked our direction again with a man nursing a bottle.

He said we had strayed into the next barangay. Pulangbato was near the school, he said and waved the bottle in the direction we came.

Although dubious now about bottles, pursed lips and unconventional direction devices, we remembered the children and decided to return to the spot where our paths converged.

The children were still on the road. When the Rastafarian boys spotted us, they puffed their chests and strutted. In no time, we found the school and our destination.

The school had the shuttered, abandoned look these places take on at duskfall on Fridays. I wondered if it had a computer lab or even Internet connection. In many places of learning in the uplands, even a typewriter remains a hi-tech craving.

How did the Rastafarian boys know about the dreadlocks? Did they see Bisrock icon Budoy drive by on his big black bike? Most likely, it was a habal-habal driver or a local boy, cocky with tales from the city.

The deserted school came back to me again while I watched that night the TV coverage of the interfaith protest in Manila.

In places like Pulangbato, what information about the latest controversy involving the Philippine National Broadband Network (NBN) filters through? The NBN deal with the ZTE firm would have meant faster, more efficient and cheaper Internet connectivity for government entities and through them, the public. Who knows? Perhaps the NBN plans might have included schools, traditionally kept in the backburner of development plans.

With a computer lab and Internet connection, places like Pulangbato can introduce children to exploding worlds of knowledge. The Rastafarian boys, for instance, can google “dreadlocks” and learn what's really cool from Wikipedia: started by the poor of Jamaica to express the Rastafari movement's “Young Black Faith,” this 1930s hairstyle showed that the wearer lived in “dread” or awe of a higher being; hence, the term “dreadlocks.”

But as greed and corruption for the P15-billion NBN-ZTE deal seems to have leapfrogged over the country's technological leap, the Rastafarian boys and I will just have to rely on learning, perhaps through osmosis with habal-habal drivers. 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 2, 2008 issue

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