Thursday, April 15, 2010

There Are Places I Remember

I was born in a house near the 'riles'. Back when there were still trains passing through the railway, the area was called Daang-bakal. For so long my address used to be 701 Daang-bakal St., Banga, Plaridel, Bulacan. There was only one Banga then. It can't be missed since it has the most important landmark in my hometown- the railroad crossing. In the 80's, Daang-bakal lost it's meaning because the wood and steel materials went piece by piece after the PNR stopped operations north of Manila. Today it is a cemented strip of land unofficially called Calicot St. Whoever coined the name must have some naughty ideas in his head. I still visit the place where my father's house still stood. It was also where my parents-in-laws' house used to stand. Not so long ago, that house was demolished and my husband rebuilt what was left of it in our 'bukid'. I enjoy visiting the place because I always see old, familiar faces, mostly people my age, since most of the elders are now gone. We were squatters in this area as it was owned (still is) by the PNR. More than half a century ago, this place provided me and my childhood friends with a happy and safe environment. After supper on week-ends, we play 'taguan' and 'patintero' ( when the moon is full). As we play, our elders would cook 'tamarindo', a native delicacy made of ripe tamarind with coconut milk and sugar or 'panutsa'. It has a gooey texture and a sweet-sour taste, but it is sooo good. Sadly, nobody makes it anymore these days. Daang-bakal or Calicot will always be remembered because it is the land of my birth.

In college, I first resided in an old, run-down cottage known as T-170 B, Area 2, UP, Diliman, QC. Together with some of my classmates in high school, this place provided security and sanctuary for us who were all-first time city dwellers at the time. Nina and I moved to Cataluna St. in Sampaloc, Manila in the summer of 1971, in a boarding house owned by her tita. At the time, I enjoyed commuting from Sampaloc to UP but when I experienced waist-deep floods in Manila, I decided to go back to Diliman. That's when I had a very posh address- Kamia Residence Hall. I didn't think I would have a bed in the said dorm, but I believe that my name was not even wait-listed after the matron interviewed my father from whom she learned that I was orphaned by my mother at the age of six. A sad story gave me a room.

After a long vacation full of uncertainty due to PD 1081, I again transferred residence. This time at 103 Valenzuela St., Area 2, UP Diliman. This apartment was owned by a Math professor- Mrs. Nenita C. Ocampo and this was where I developed a deep and lasting friendship with my roommates Rachel Recomono and Joy Versoza. I stayed in this apartment until I resigned from Maryknoll in March 1976.

During my marriage, we have had two residences both within my hometown. In the late 70's we rented a bodega along the provincial road, owned by my friend Goya's family, where we built a palay-buying station and a living space at the back. This bodega stood witness to the many heartaches I had to endure as a young wife and mother. But this is also where Timmy and Popoy learned their first steps, so it made the place worth remembering despite the hurts and the pains. Then, we bought an old house from my in-laws near the elementary school where Ding and I went to. Tim spent the first two grade levels there before she and her brothers transferred to St. Mary's. Just like the bodega, this house was another witness to the many painful and agonizing moments in our life. When we could bear them no longer, we decided to find a place in Baliuag, despite the apparent refusal of our children, specially Nad. That was the most logical choice since at the time, I was already teaching at St. Mary's.

The old house in A. Luna St., Baliuag, Bulacan became a safe haven and a refuge specially for me who have grown so weary, exhausted and tired of all the hardships attendant to living with difficult in-laws. I felt it's about time we live independently- without listening to the endless criticisms and reproach from people who thought they knew better. The A. Luna house looked so old and dilapidated, but both Ding and I thought the three years we spent there were the best years of our lives, more like heaven compared to the little hell holes in Plaridel.

Little did we know that in so short a time, we will be going back to Plaridel when the owner of the A. Luna house decided to sell the land where it stood. Ding was then working in Valenzuela City at the same time that he goes to a night law school in Manila. We were to occupy the second floor of my parents-in-law's house in Daang-bakal since the ground floor was already being occupied by the family of Ding's elder brother. It was literally going right in the midst of the devil's territory. I knew it would be hell and it was hell a hundred times over. But at the time, when Ding was still struggling with his law studies, we needed a place for free so that we can survive. Almost seven years of everyday spectacle from Ding's brother made me hate myself for agreeing to go back to Plaridel. It was a huge mistake. If given a chance to rewrite our family history, I might omit this miserable episode in our life. My children did not deserve to live in misery and desolation all those seven years only because they had a relative who lived to make other people's lives wretched and miserable. Years later, when we have moved to a place all our own, this relation died of a disease which putrefied his body even while he was still alive.

Now, we live in a house all our own. Ding built this house at 0479 Agnaya, Plaridel, Bulacan from scratch. Everything here, from the doors and locks, the paint and nails, were bought under his supervision. And everything here came from the fruits of our labor. While we were building this house, designed by my former high school student, Randy Reyes, we rented another near the lot so that Ding can personally supervise the builders. I was then on my last year at St. Mary's. A quick look at the house being built slowly then was enough for me to sing " Ang puso ko'y nagpupuri, nagpupuri sa Panginoon..." for at last, He gave my family a true refuge and a home where love springs eternal. It took us so long, but the wait was all worth it.

My final home just might be a little urn but I hope that before my ashes are placed in it, I would have built a small depository where my loved ones can keep it. My spirit and my soul can soar high up in the horizon, but it is still my wish that what remains of my body is kept in my home.

Friday, April 9, 2010


She was born on April Fool's Day but she is certainly no fool.

Kumareng Nene or Florida S. Camitan Alberto, my best friend forever, is two years my junior. We were childhood neighbors and playmates. We went to the same public elementary school in our barangay. Unfortunately for her, her parents could not afford to send her to school for her secondary and college education. Like most parents of post war Philippines, they argued that she is a girl, anyway, so she didn't need to go for further studies. Instead of sulking over her parents' decision, she studied sewing by apprenticing at the shops of seamstresses and tailors in our community. That gave her an opportunity to earn a living.

Her lack of education motivated her to go beyond her powers so that her own children will be educated. She worked odd jobs- as a sewer, as a laundrywoman, as a house help. She allotted a very minimal budget for fancy food and clothing so that her children could spend for what they needed in school. To her credit, three of her five children got their bachelor's degrees and are now living their own lives.

My BFF's life is one for the books. Once, during her most trying moment- when she had a falling out with her only son who prioritized some other person over her, I told the son, " If I had been your mother, I don't think you could have finished school. Because I could not have done all the sacrifices that your mother did." My words fell on deaf ears. Today, the son is having the most difficult time of his life, living in debt and disarray, all because he took his mother for granted and completely ignored her in making life-changing decisions. All I could say was- what comes around, goes around.

Kumareng Nene is poor- materially poor. But she is very rich in values and virtues., hence, she has such a rich spirit. This is perhaps the reason why my husband allows me to go anywhere as long as she is my companion. He knows I am in very good company with my kumare around. But the most admirable thing about her is that despite living in dire poverty, she can always put food on the table for her family. She has no debt of whatever amount. Her husband's social security retirement pension of just a couple of thousand pesos goes a long, long way. Most of the time, it is kept intact as their savings and would only be spent for urgent needs. If she had a business of her own, it would surely grow and multiply with the way she handles money.

Her sense of community with other people is also worth emulating. She would condole with grieving families. She would volunteer to accompany a neighbor to the hospital in times of emergencies. She would seek assistance for a neighbor in need. She would always lend a hand to her orphaned nephews and nieces, her brothers and sisters, as if she were the eldest in her family. Indeed, my BFF renders more help than anyone better situated than her.

Today, she is my constant companion, my nurse, my confidante. When I get sick and immobile, she is the first person my husband would call for help. All my children care for her. Whatever they give their titas, they also give my BFF. Most of the time, when Tim and Tj would treat me out or would just go out malling, they would tell me to bring my bff along. She has become such a significant member of my family through the years.

We are now both in our twilight years. I cannot imagine a life without a friend like her. As I always tell her, should I go ahead of her, she's free to tell my family my innermost thoughts- my fears, my anger, my concerns, my thrills and delights and all my secrets. I have a most wonderful husband and amazing children, but still, there are things which I can only entrust to a friend like Kumareng Nene. I have so many friends from everywhere. And I truly and sincerely treasure my friendships with them- developed at different points in time and in different places, under different circumstances. But my BFF is in a plane different from all the rest.

She is a living proof of how blessed I am.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Teacher No More

I wonder why many students are at a loss as to what they would be in their future lives.

I knew I would be a teacher since I was in grade school. Not only did my father groom me to be one. I wanted it myself. During my playtime with the kids in my neighborhood, I usually essayed the role of a teacher. I don't remember anyone telling me to be the teacher in our 'laro'. I just assumed the role as if at age 7 or so, I have already been to a normal school. Back then, teacher-training institutions are called normal schools. Back then, the 'best' students in high school took up education to be a maestro or a maestra. Back then, teaching is considered a very elegant profession, hence, daughters of "buenas familias" naturally become teachers. Their suitors are the sons of other "buenas familias" who turned out to become lawyers, engineers, doctors and architects. Since they ran in the same circles, it was but natural for them to get hitched to one of their own. ( In contrast, as pointed out by my graduate school professor, Dr. Cruz, women teachers today marry the tricycle driver who brings them to and from the school, or the school maintenance staff with whom they often communicate concerning school activities. After all, they belong to the same strata of society which falls exactly on the poverty line. We all laughed, but we all felt the joke was on us).

My teaching internship at the UP Integrated School and at the Ramon Magsaysay High School in 1974 were both very memorable ones. Although I got a very good rating from my UP critic teacher, that was not enough to land me a teaching job thereat. Ms. Jorda said I had three "5's" in my TOR so i cannot be accommodated. Funny thing is they accepted applicants from lesser known universities because they had a clean TOR. On the other hand, my critic teacher at the RMHS kept egging me to apply at the QC Division Office because she was sure I would make it. The trouble is, newly hired teachers in public schools at the time did not receive their salaries until after a year. My goodness, did they expect us to walk from home to school and not to eat for a whole year? So fate brought me to the catholic private schools. It was a choice between Maryknoll College (now Miriam College) and St. Bridget's. I chose Maryknoll since it was closer to UP where I lived then.

The Maryknoll experience was sort of a baptism of fire for me. It was also where I experienced the so-called culture shock. Rich kids shout " Miss, my shirt is for dry clean" when their classmates were about to throw them into a pool during a birthday party for a classmate. They traded stories of their European or US sojourns during breaks. They were very open with their feelings (good and, well, not so good) for their teachers. A whole class booed me so loud as I passed by their room just because I was reassigned as their Sociology teacher and their former sociology teacher, who requested the change because she said she had no experience teaching sociology, was given my previous assignment, World History. Looking back, I know in my heart that they liked their former Sociology teacher because she was really chic and fashionable. I was a plain jane to her Sarah Jessica Parker. Nevertheless, I finished the whole year with colorful memories and when it closed, I resigned after deciding to go back home to the province to get married.

In 1976, I applied and was accepted at the St. James Institute ( now Academy) in Plaridel, Bulacan. I was to start a new chapter in my teaching career in June of that year but I was married that same month. One obstacle after another made me decide to forget teaching for a while. It was largely because I succumbed to in-laws pressure that I had to give up what I wanted. Someone who exerted power over my husband made it known to me that she is against my plans to be employed as a teacher again. To my face she said that I just wanted to be' magara" and though it broke my heart, I knew then that my marriage is on the line if I don't follow. So, my husband taught me to engage in the grains transporting business which I hated from day one. It would be years later that I realized I did it because I just wanted acceptance. The business is a very lucrative one. It got us earning a net of at least a thousand pesos a day which is quite big in the early 80's. Depending on the capital, the take-home would be much, much more. But it is also a very frustrating means of earning a living. From the time we start buying the goods in the morning till we deliver the same to our customers in far-away Pasig, Taytay, Angono and Binangonan, it is a series of lies after lies in order for the goods to be bought. Oh, how i hated it. I hated the traffic and the heat on the road. I hated the policemen who asked for money even if we have no violation. How I hated it when our truck broke down and we had to sleep just anywhere. There was even a time when I was still nursing Poy and we did not get home until the next morning only to find out that he and Tim were in my aunt's house where they spent the night. ( Thank God for good natured relatives!). O God, how i hate to think of those days. I guess all the wickedness in me, I got during all those years. In fact, i once told a colleague at St. Mary's, "Kung hindi lang nabubulok ang pagkatao ko sa viaje, mas maganda sana ang kita dun kesa magturo". It was an effort i did to make my family whole and for me to be accepted. But the most disturbing detail in this episode of my life was the times when i would avoid visiting my father because I was ashamed that I was not practicing my profession for which he worked hard to support my studies.

I love my family so very much, but in all honestly, I felt something really important to me was missing. I have always maintained that I had no choice but to prioritize my family. Later, I was presented with the right opportunity to go back to the academe. When Nad was to be enrolled in Kindergarten, I applied at St. Mary's Academy in Baliuag and was accepted. At last, I found my second home.

Many times, the sound of CAT students shouting "St. Mary's!" while in formation would ring in my ears. For thirteen years, St. Mary's became my and my children's second home. I love the sound of the official greeting "Praised be Jesus and Mary!" of the congregation that runs it to this day. When I see RVM sisters in malls or elsewhere, I approach them and greet them the RVM way. Then, a short conversation would begin. I developed long and deep friendships with my colleagues at St. Mary's, like Ate Dory, Ate Lucing, Ate Mercy, Menchie, Ed, Ogie, Tess (now Sis. Tess, RVM) Leny B., Myrna and many others. I became 'ninang sa kasal' of my younger colleagues like Mati, Fe, Weng, Yo, Vilma L., Vilma B. and Maricon.I will never forget the sisters who were very true to their vows as a nun- Sis. Cely, Sis. Paula, Sis. Efrena, Sis. Chit (RIP) to name a few. I also ended up having the worst enemy thereat-especially the sister who, instead of fostering unity of the high school and grade school departments, went out of her way to make her department seem "better". There were several others like her whom I still worked with civilly but I would constantly greet "Morning, sister!" so fast I deliberately made it sound"Monster!"

Because I had a very happy and unforgettable high school life, I always looked for the counterparts of my classmates in all the classes I handled. I was always on the look-out for the nerds- a Victor, a Sonia, a Ver; the heartthrobs- a Dinggoy or a Deyot; the bullies like a Lu-es and a Joji; the sweethearts like an Angie, a Yollie, a Beth and a Reby. They come and go every year. And because they reminded me of my own high school years, I made theirs memorable, too. I cannot be accused of being a terror because I really was not. In fact, I cleaned our homeroom together with the assigned cleaners; I asked the guidance counselor to go with me to the homes of our awol graduating students so they can still cope and make-up. I wanted my students to enjoy the learning process. I was fortunate that with the subjects I taught-World History, Philippine History and Filipino, it was a piece of cake to do just that. This was why every graduation day, I was always teary-eyed as the graduates sang the graduation hymn.

Thirteen years at SMA made me richer in experience and in friends. More than half of my friends in Facebook now were former students. Without them knowing it, these students have taught me a lesson or two on life and living. The valedictorians of each year taught me to forever be on my toes, or else they would eat me up alive. Who could forget the likes of Rutchelle San Gabriel (87), Rochelle Cuyco (88), Loretta Buenaventura (89), Arlene Angeles (90), Erwin Herrera (91), Portia Briones (92), Anjanette Uy (93), Joey Rivera (94), Shiella Rillera (95), Roel Mapoy (96), Dionice Juliano (97), Cheska Cruz (98) and Eileen Bondad (99)? But these topnotchers make up only a small portion of the most unforgettable high school characters. There are the bullies, the KSPs, the problematic ones who carried the world on their shoulders, the kikays, the boy-next-door-types who spent most of their allowances on hair gel, the many dishonest but lovable parasites who prey on their classmates' test papers, the politico wannabes ( Buko, statue?), the steadfast fighters like Emmie Liza Perez, Fritzie Marcos and others who stood for what was right, even if others talk behind their backs. And of course, the majority of boys and girls who exhibited a calm, serene, relaxed and cool demeanor come rain or drought. And, oh, it was bonus for me to be the teacher of my own children in either Filipino or history. It was like feeding them the good food that I cooked for others. How can I not treasure this chapter in my life which I call my most productive years?

Alas, some good things really never last. When the school year 98-99 opened, I felt something really bad. I began to be restless. I began to search for new purposes. I knew so many things have gone wrong. I was suffering and later I developed burnout. Suddenly, I didn't want to function as I used to anymore. The new demands on the home front added more confusion to my already confused mind. We have built our very first own home in 1999 and I thought I needed to be there to savor the beauty of owning one for the first time. I had so many things in mind on how to beautify and care for our little home. But that was to be just a shield from the real nagging reasons for my growing restlessness. I felt I had to be honest with myself and with my employer, thus, I wrote in my resignation letter that " I cannot support the objectives of the school anymore". Before I left St. Mary's, teachers were asked to do tasks which to our minds were merely duplications of the things we have already done. The school demanded "excellence" from the teachers, even to the point of having them work until dark, when their families were waiting for the food to be put on their tables; or even during week ends which were supposed to be family days- a very catholic christian objective. These things the teachers endured- all in the name of accreditation. From being a very vital partner in the learning process, the teacher was now reduced to being a tool for marketing the school and the services it offered. Sad, really sad. But what made it more unfortunate was the fact that so much was asked of the teacher and so little was given in return. And when the teacher voices her concern, she was told, "Give, until it hurts."

Teachers' salaries and benefits have long been an issue in this country. All along, I was of the opinion that when one chooses to be a teacher, she must bear in mind that it is a vocation. Thus, money should not be a concern. I was so wrong. When a teacher's whole life and being is asked to be offered, for purposes other than noble ones, she should be remunerated- correctly and exactly.That is justice and fairness, no more, no less. I guess I am no hero. But this much I can do- I can teach street children and whoever needed to learn, when I want to, without being paid a single peso, for as long as there is no individual, organization or congregation, for that matter, who would become richer because of my time, effort and expertise. A teacher becomes truly one in the service of a learner- and not as an instrument to be used by school owners to become incalculably wealthy.

For the time being, I am a teacher no more. Until the bell rings again and the call is clear, I have to make do with what I can to do some "teaching" of my own.

Goodbye class! See you next time.