Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mendicants of Mindanao Avenue

aboard a jeepney bound for a mall
on that avenue named after an island
long plagued by a secessionist war
i proceed to text, closing a mundane transaction
that will ensure i can pay another month's
rent for a room that has given
my daughter & me moments of peace.

suddenly i feel a stranger's hand on my arm
startled, i look up at the same time
protectively grip my phone
a lass of 16 by my reckoning
her hair, face, arms browned by the sun
points at a baby drooping on her chest

she folds her fingers into the shape of a rose
makes like she is about to eat the rose
hungry we are, her gesture indicates
& despite my shaking head to show i'm sorry
 she repeats the gesture: rose moving up to open mouth

like me the other passengers turn away from her
our city hearts hardened by the almost daily sight
of barefoot gypsy mendicants hopping from jeepney to jeepney
risking young limbs & life as they get on & off
not waiting for a full stop

the lass balances the babe on her slender hip
her faded dress leaving behind the smell of sun & sweat
as she steps on the road that is her home

i bring my gaze down on the tiny screen
of the phone, double checking if the party
paying me for a painting of two split
fried milkfish desired by cats
was able to get my bank details right
i get a smiley face for a reply

i exhale, relieved & grateful that somehow
i have spared myself, my daughter, my sweet bonny lass
the fate of ever swinging from jeep to jeep
tugging at strangers' sleeves
hoping for mercy & the occasional coin tossed our way
-- Babeth Lolarga

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hard Habits to Break

"If only" may be among the sad phrases in this borrowed language because of the heavy load of regret that it carries. The New Year and decade forced this writer to examine recent turns of event prefaced with the phrase "if only." Although the things that happened to me weren't that earth-shaking (e.g., misplacing my eyeglasses or slipping in the bathroom and breaking an elbow bone), these have made me turn inward and reflect on better management of daily life by being more alert and more aware.

With some of my creative writing students at the Community of Learners, we thought and wrote about certain physical and mental habits that need retooling if we want to evolve for the better.

My inner work involves re-learning and practicing awareness for the costs of not being aware can be high as my recent experiences have shown.

If only I had been more aware that the light bulb in the bathroom had gone kaput, if only I wasn't in a rush to meet a Tuesday appointment, maybe I wouldn't have slipped on the bathroom tiles as I reached for my towel. Maybe the elbow bone that was shattered and now due for surgery would still be intact and I wouldn't  be struggling with the weight of a cast on my dominant right arm as I write or do whatever task that needs doing. Nor would I be enduring the pinpricks of pain as I go about activities I used to take for granted like filling a pitcher with water.

If only I had been more alert one Wednesday morning inside a public jeepney from the corner of Gil Puyat and Chino Roces avenues in Makati, watching out for landmarks to get to my destination, I wouldn't have missed my stop. But because I entertained stray thoughts, I ended up walking back two blocks to get to the place.

That same day, I decided to be more aware. I instantly silenced petty worries and became conscious of sights outside the bus window. Do you know that there is fountain sending out jets of water just outside the Makati Post Office? Or that a long and wide length of Ayala avenue's pedestrian walk is closed to pedestrians, leaving them a narrow walk to get from place to place? From the height of the bus I could see workers breaking down the old pavement to make way for what? Another series of underpass? There is no sign to indicate what they're up to so I assumed that.

I shared this reflection with my students who then wrote about certain habits they also want to shuck off for better health and better inter-personal relationships.

Junald Robin de Guzman admits to laziness in practicing daily oral hygiene. He is aware of its consequence; at his last visit to the dentist, four teeth had cavities that needed filling. He writes, "I still don't care much about tooth brushing, but it's definitely on my mind. If I brush more often, I'd have less cavities or even none at all."

Carem Castillo's concern is the same: forgetting to brush her teeth nightly. She writes, "My teeth are not disgustingly yellow but neither are they pearly white. Since I was a kid, I've had nights when I was too lazy to brush my teeth. I didn't know any better, but when I grew up, it was because I was too tired to care so I went straight to bed. When I started to strive for some degree of perfection, that's when I realized I had to do something. I tried everything from whitening toothpaste to baking soda which tasted horrible. They somehow worked, but none really did the trick. Then I realized that the only way to better oral hygiene is to just brush your teeth two times a day every day. I'm glad to see it is paying off."

Franco Gargantiel admits to a "swearing habit" that is ignited when he is angry.  He says that cursing does "relieve the anger and stress inside, but when I do that, people around me think I'm out of control or worse. If only I can find a way to release my frustrations in a silent, peaceful way--that way, I won't upset anyone else when I'm upset."

Claudia Cruz's preoccupation is fiddling with her hair to get rid of its knots to the point that she forgets what is happening around her. "If I didn't always fiddle with my hair or bracelets when I'm in an awkward conversation, I can be a person with good public relations."

What the kids and I saw was truth in a saying that awareness is being present in the moment. It means not being engaged in reverie while sipping coffee, for instance, that one is unaware of the beverage's heat or flavor until one gags. Awareness, I suppose, is like watching letters become words and words become sentences on the computer screen, hearing ambient sounds of an electric fan whirring in the room or the street sweeper's stick broom scratching the pavement as it picks up leaves that fell after last night's downpour.