Saturday, April 30, 2005


One summer, we left the mountains behind to visit my mother’s home. There we found ourselves welcomed by the warmth of my grandmother’s embrace and the love that shone in my grandfather’s eyes. Was it here that we truly belonged?

That memory is filled with the sound of the surf, the slap of waves on black rock, the scent of salt in the air and the sun that shone with brilliance that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. In the photographs, yellow with age, you cannot hear the sound of our laughter. It is impossible to translate into words the magic of those days and the wonder of being caught up in that joyous conglomeration of aunts and uncles, cousins and all the adopted extensions of family.

My dreams are haunted by the sound of the waves rolling relentlessly, by the briny scent of canvas, the feel of the white foam splashing against my skin, and the sticky, salty tang of the deep, deep sea.

That summer our dreams were filled with the fragrance of Ilang-ilang and the nights were filled with the music of our laughter, our shudders, our shrill cries of terror and ecstasy. We were children and all thought of books and learning, was swept away in the sheer joy of being, for just today.

In the distant past, my mother's family lies entrenched in the golden aura that surrounds all things magical.

Summer came and went. Time came to pack our bags and kiss our cousins, farewell. “Farewell,” we cried.

“Farewell.” We threw our wild kisses to the wind, and turned as the boat sounded its horn. We turned our faces toward the North, to where the mountains stood, steadfast and sure, as memory.

Queen's Day

Yay! It's the 30th of April and everyone in The Netherlands is celebrating Queen's Day. Today, Queen Beatrix celebrates her 25th year of reign.

We're off to the center of the town to check out what everyone has got to sell and to see if there's anything interesting going on. I think that every town in the Netherlands celebrates Queen's Day like this: with an open market where you can buy second hand toys and goods from everyone else for a small price. Could that be the reason why people look forward to Queen's Day? I really don't know. Maybe that's something I should find out.

I won't knock the monarchy here because everyone in Holland loves their royal house. I must admit that they do put on a great show every now and then. Aside from that, I really don't know what the monarchy is good for. Someone once told me that it's simply an outdated status symbol.

What do you think?

Friday, April 29, 2005

A light in my window...

A light in my window is a piece that I wrote sometime ago, remembering the rice harvest in Banaue...


I see a light shining through my window. Someone peers through my window, shining a light on me. I turn in my sleep and murmur, “What’s a light?”

I chase my dreams in a land, where only my soul self goes. I chase a dream of butterflies and roses and a field, bright and green, and me, walking through the green with a crown of flowers in my hair. I walk alone, and hum a song, that lingers in the summer air. It is summer in my dreams, and the mountains around me, shimmer with a green that is wondrous to behold. I turn and twirl under the summer sun. I dance in bare feet, feeling the soft, warm earth, under me. It is summer and the song of birds fills the air.

Alone, I wander through the summer fields, threading my way through the slim foothpaths. Carelessly, recklessly, chasing butterflies that flit to and fro, over and among, the green, green, stalks of rice. I sing and hum a song, engaged in my own delight. For this is home, the home of my heart, the home that I cleave to in my mind. Here lie the treasured paths, the fields I visit, when I think and when I write. Here, the mountains tower to the skies, haunting in their splendour, and tier upon tier, the patient rice, waits for the eager hands of the harvesters, waits for the eager pounding of the pestles, that separate the grain from the chaff. Wind chases away the chaff, as a woman in a woven sarong, winnows the rice, in a basket, shallow and round and smooth and white. She gathers the rice in her sun-browned hands and her lips curve in a toothless smile, as she passes the smooth, the fair, white rice, from palm to palm. And now, it is time.

With eager feet and eager hands, the harvesters come, to taste the wine that flows from the vats of the elder ones. Rice wine, to make the old men sing, and the old women cry in remembering, rice wine to stir up the fire in the blood, that makes the young men sing and the maidens dance. Their hands now flap against the wind, and in a circle they dance and sing. Their voices raised in the age-old chant, giving praise and thanks to the wise, old one, who lives in the skies, who gives them this bounteous harvest of rice. Voices, voices raised to the sky, as the blue gives way, to the dark of the night, and over the mountains, so bright and green, is laid a blanket of night’s covering. Still, the maidens dance and sing, their voices calling to me, on the wind.

memories of banaue - continued

Life continued as it always did in those mountains. We marked the passing of time by the changing of color in the ricefields. After the harvest, the fields lay fallow and brown, waiting for the knowing hands of the women who came with their baskets of young green seedlings.

We learned to plant rice. I remember warm, dark clay squishing through my toes, the smell of wet slush, the green seedling in my hand and reaching down to plant it deep into the warm moistness where it would grow into one tall stalk of rice, waving its green frond under the summer sun. We waited as the mountains were transformed from a brown and empty landscape into tier upon tier of waving green young rice, not yet ripe for harvest but almost there.

When the mountains turned golden, the harvesters ventured out into the fields.

These rituals are the ones that my mind insists on remembering. Afternoons of games behind the hospital, the feel of thick carabao grass under my bare feet, the shouts and the laughter that echoed through the afternoon, while the young men and the young women flirted with each other in the ageless dance of pounding rice. Mortar and pestle, rice and chaff, sieve and pot, wood and fire and the shadows that are the faces of those whose names I can no longer recall.

memories of banaue...

We grew up in the mountains of Banaue. In that fantastic place that once was the eighth wonder of the world. In those days, the Ifugao still conducted their secret rituals in the mountains and headhunting was not yet eradicated. My mother tells me that the first time that we moved to Banaue, she lay shaking in bed, listening to the sounds of the gongs and the chants that floated downwards on the wind. Surely, the spirits they worshipped exuded a secret flavor into the air, infecting the fabric of our dreams so that on some nights my sister and I awoke to find ourselves flying through the air and tumbling out of our beds into each others arms.

Perhaps it is that childhood in the mountains that awakened within us a certain sense of solitariness. Even though we made friends and adopted the hospital staff as extended family, we continued to hunger for belonging. Perhaps, there is some unwritten map traced upon the insides of our beings, some secret bond that ties us to the place where we originate from. I can't really say because I'm no expert at this.

Our parents built for us a sheltered world. We had walls filled with books that fed our imagination and even though we did not see them, our world was peopled with the sounds and the laughter of Indians and princesses, warriors and knights, giants and dwarves and all the mystical and fantastical creations that proceeded from the minds of the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.

We were so engrossed in the world of fairytales, wrapped up in the fantasies that we were reading that we did not notice the conflict that was going on in the mountains. We failed to comprehend the danger of staying out beyond curfew. If there were wars fought, we were oblivious to them.

Perhaps those who were older suffered and perhaps they understood the strife between the government and those tattered men with faces like granite. We who spent our childhood in the shade of Martial Law had no comprehension of what life was like without the curfews and the constant presence of the soldiers.

That secret war was a distant reality and even the whispers about informers in the town only served to fuel our vivid fantasies so that we imagined ourselves to be detectives like Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, picking up clues as we watched the houses of suspects. We grew so confused by our long list of clues that we ended up deciding that it was all a mirage that we had conjured up out of the air.

The presence of the war between the government and the rebel forces did not dawn on us, we did not realize its direness, not even when we awoke to find the area between our house and the hospital swarming with men in uniform on one side and ragged looking civilians slinging guns over their shoulders on the other side.

They had come with the dawn, bringing their dying and their wounded, like shadows filtering into the compound, standing opposite each other, just as they stood on opposite sides of the law.

As the sun arose, the soldiers lounged under the shadow of the crooked pines. They lit their cigarettes and stared up at the white walls of the hospital, their hands released from the tensions of war, they made jokes with the nurses who came down to bring them news of their comrades.

On the other side, the rebels waited, squatted down in the shadows, chewing beetlenut while they glared at their uniformed opponents.

To my father, there were no rebels and there were no soldiers, when asked if he had treated rebel or soldier, he replied that they were all alike to him, wounded patients caught in the crossfire and in need of healing.

By the end of the day, the warring parties had vanished. They faded like shadows into the approaching night and we forgot about them.

writing, memory and such...

"Where are your roots?" It was my aunt's question that led me to take a long postponed pilgrimage to the places of my childhood. I didn't realize how important that pilgrimage would be until I moved to the Netherlands with my husband. Being abroad seems to strengthen my sense of being filipino and in the stories that I write, the culture in which I grew up continues to find its reflection.

As I grow older, my memories take on the patina of age and I find myself delving like an archeologist through the bits and pieces of recollection that my mind tosses up onto the surface of my consciousness. There seems to be no real connection between the images that I see, nor is there any chronology to their appearance. Instead, they appear in random order, awakened to life by chance discussions that remind me of sounds, scents, people, tableaus that life has frozen onto the backs of my eyeballs so that the slightest prickle is enough to awaken them from slumber and I find myself caught up in the cycle of remembering.

I really don't have any answer to the why and how of writing. My theory is that each one of us was born with something inside them. Some are born with pictures (art and stuff) flowing through their veins, others are born with music and quite a good number of us are born with words resonating inside our brain. What drives a writer to write? I can't answer that for other writers, only for myself. There are days when the words just keep on hammering inside my head, I feel compelled to write and when I can't I get really antsy.

On some days, I write better, on other days, I write worst. Writing is hard work. It's more than simply putting words on the page. It's a truth that I've come to recognize with age. And yet, even at my worst, when I feel really bad and can't seem to write anything but gibberish, I still continue to write. As I said, it's something I can't live without.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

welcome to my blog

Welcome to my blog. Feel free to read and send me your comments on whatever is posted up here.