We were traversing the waters of Carles when I saw her; she found me. The summer sun was glorifying her cocoa skin as she paddled across the ocean – like a solitary explorer getting lost in the solace of buoyancy. To me, it was a very poetic moment. I wanted to photograph her but eventually, I didn’t. Sometimes moments and people are too beautiful for stills.
The salty breeze swept my hair and hers… and from afar, I discovered that she’s a Mother-fisherman.
Let’s call her Lin-ay. And she is not alone.
A Nearly Century-old She-Tree
Her wrinkled hands keep on weaving nito. Each purse, each bracelet, each ring makes the tourist smile. Each peso is an addition to buy rice or salt. Lola Lubing is ninety-six, but every time she tells me about her childhood —in those days when the forest was thicker and the sound of the percussions stronger — it is as if it just happened yesterday. Sitio Nagpana is her community. It is home for the indigenous tribe of our brothers and sisters, the Aetas. “Baskog pa ah. Medyo buron na kis-a ang mata, pero pwede pa kaobra mga kahita. [Still strong. My vision is blurry, but I can still make purses.]”
She might not have read and watched what I have but the light in her eyes is the kind of spark that I also want to have: the illumination of wisdom, simplicity, and profound immersion with life. The nearby waterfalls have seen her walk barefooted; seen her dance. I wonder how many travelers she has touched with her warm presence, with her primal strength.
“Ang sekreto sa malawig nga kabuhi: masinadyahun nga tagipusuon… kag silak ka adlaw!”
[The secret to a long life: a joyful heart… and the rays of the sun!]
Nanay. Asawa. Co-creator.
There is a small house in Sitio Sambag where you can hear the sound of the bamboos. A garden of flowers, ornaments, and vegetables. A hardworking husband. Nine kids who play a lot outside and eight who are all in school. This is the romanticized version of the life of Nenita Rocamora. Outside the poet’s perspective, her life is never easy. Once, she was told that she had tuberculosis. “Ano na lang matabo sa mga kabataan ko? [What will happen to my children?]”
But she has survived. Hers is a story of healing out of love. Her husband Tito has tried various money-making gigs – sunburned yet optimistic. Nenita recognizes his determination to make sure that all their children are in school and are healthy. As he works all day, she spends all her time with them. Mornings would be spent walking her girls to their elementary school; late afternoons are for reviewing their lessons and helping them with their homework. And with their loyal gasera, they’d all share a dinner together.
“Mabudlay (ang kabuhi), pero masadya. Proud guid ako nga bisan paano, gatinguha man ang mga bata. Kalabanan sa ila maayo ang performance sa eskwelahan. Indi man sa pagpabugal, pero daw apat asta lima sa ila ara sa honor roll. Ang isa ko ka bata gakiistar sa iban para man makaeskwela sa kolehiyo. Ang isa ko ni ya ka laki, ahay ginahapo. Ti gapanghulam lang kami nebulizer eh.”
[(Life) is hard, but we still enjoy it. I’m very proud that despite it, my kids are still working hard. Most of them have standout performances in school. Not that I’m bragging, but four-to-five of them are all in the (school) honor roll. My one child is living in another’s home so he can study in college. My one boy, it’s a shame that he wheezes. So we just borrow a nebulizer.]
On weekends, the little girls are out in the sun. You watch them frolic. You watch them defy the poverty of the spirit. A traveler friend of mine once commented, “Look at these shiny kids. This family is the real hippie.”
I don’t think the right word is “hippie”. To me, it’s intuitive living. A life of co-creation.
Geographically Far. Emotionally Knitted.
From Libya to Kuwait. Each day that passes by, she doodles a little stick on the “countdown” paper. When the time of coming home in Brgy. San Antonio draws nearer, she can’t help but celebrate. Janette Casco has been an OFW for some time. She cures her longing by creating numerous photo collages of her family. Her plight is not new to us.
“Ang pinakabudlay para sa akon ang pagka-homesick, pakisama kag adjust sa guinaobrahan. Pay kung paminsaron mo nga ang kabudlay mo ang only source nga kapadala ikaw kwarta sa family. Dula kakapoy, especially makita mo mga achievements ka mga manghod mo ah.”
[The hardest parts for me are the homesickness, getting along with the people here and adjusting to my workplace. But if you think about it, your hardship is the only source on why you can be able to send money to your family. The exhaustion goes away, especially when you see the achievements of your younger siblings.]
I can never pin down and pick the right words to describe the story of selflessness and resilience that women like her have. I ask questions like, “What is real women empowerment?” and “What if they have better options?”
“Ang handum ko guid tani mangin policewoman. Anhun ta kay waay-waay guid ambi. [My ultimate dream is to become a policewoman. But what else can I do since there is nothing for us.]”
But I go quiet in this thought, that no matter how maps and routes take a woman away, her pure love defies the distance.
Tread, Dreamy Eyes
There is recklessness. There is something wild about being young. You can often see her cycle slow around the city. You can never hear her preach about how this choice does something good for the environment. But every creation she frees from her soul narrates the free-spiritedness, the idealism, the little heartaches that this time, this age gives her.
For Kat Malazarte, a 19-year old artist, being a young Ilongga in this so-called “selfie age” scares her rather than challenges her. “I still have a child’s eye — seeing through beauty, though finite and vulnerable. I pray for the new eyes of the youth in this millennial generation. That they may see the truth of beauty; that mirrors only warp reality. Only perception conceives beauty.”
In the Dark, She Provides
Nights ago, a friend of mine told us a brutally honest story of an Ilongga sex worker. A friend of his. And he said, “During Women’s Day, we tend to only recognize those who are usually contributing ‘big’ things in our society. Let us say teachers, lawyers, doctors, and the like. We also need to remember that there are women out there who are struggling but… they are their families’ personal heroes.”
Whoever you are, babayi, guinaabi-abi ko ang imo kagayon.
Whatever your struggle is, ikaw ang uyayi sang subong.
(Portrait of Teresa Magbanua by Marrz Capanang. Photos provided by the author)