Monday, October 15, 2007

No time to relax

Sunday, October 14, 2007
Local Color
Sun.Star Davao

The city is in full red alert again, following two bomb explosions in Kidapawan City which claimed the life of a 10-year old and wounded over 30 people. In Digos City, government troops immediately deployed troops to patrol the terminal area. Check points are functional again, conducted in almost all entry and exit points in the different towns and cities. The idea of exploding bombs and body parts flying above pools of blood did not exist in the minds of people, but just seen in television and read in newspapers happening in the war-torn countries, but not in Kidapawan, not Davao or its neighboring towns and cities, and certainly not in my hometown Makilala.

The Kidapawan of my childhood is a peaceful place, free of pressure where people moved at their own leisurely pace, the sprawling and un-organized market teemed with vendors who can freely display their wares and merchandise in sidewalks and about anywhere they wanted to. I have had my share of sheer terror because I was in Kidapawan when a forgotten sheet of paper spared me from becoming a victim in a hand grenade explosion at the very terminal I was heading for, but I was hit by bits of flying stones just the same. I remember staring in shock when horrified shouts rent the 7 o’clock evening air, a bloodied student passed by me holding a dangling and bloody hand.

Just about a couple of months before that, I was riding a bus and we had just arrived at the terminal in Kabacan when an explosion racked the public market a few meters away. I stared helplessly as bloodied people scrambled to all directions, while the unfortunate ones were left dead. The sight is not pleasant. I was at the Ecoland bus terminal when the first bombs ripped two empty Weena buses respectively, and sad to say that was just the start of the succeeding bombings. I was assigned to cover at the Davao Medical Center when the Sasa wharf was bombed. Believe me it’s traumatizing to see doctors come out of the operating room, erase a name from the wounded list and transfer it to the list of dead persons, and this will be followed by deafening screams from family members who waited hopefully for the victims to survive. That sight is something that will haunt me for as long as I live.

Not too long ago I wrote about being "arrested" at the Ecoland terminal for taking pictures but last week, the Task Force member assigned at the female entrance to the terminal barely glanced at my bulging shoulder bags. There’s no time to relax against the threat of terrorism. Maybe not until the perpetrators can formulate a bomb that would choose its victims, or shrapnel that would automatically dodge when innocent people are near. After an attack, the perpetrators will wait for our guards to be down and when everybody’s not expecting it, they will strike again.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


For a non-habitual coffee drinker like me, a cup of coffee, however fancy its name is or how complicated it's mixed and served doesn't matter much. It's still a cup of coffee. I don't abhor coffee but I drink it very mild up to the point of dividing a single-serve sachet into two servings, no creamer and just a pinch of sugar.
But I envy those who savor their coffee down to the last drop, taking tiny sips between conversations or while reading the papers. I'm too impatient for that. I usually stir my coffee until it turns lukewarm and I drink it straight, bottoms up. Before, when I drink coffee my limbs would turn to jelly and I would develop palpitations which last well into the next day.
My taste buds started to develop a liking for coffee just last year because back in Palau my buddy Robert always saw to it that I have coffee in the morning, never failing to fix a steaming mug for me and putting it in my car so I have no choice but drink otherwise it will spill. It's noticeable that in less than two years, coffee shops trying to outdo each other in their specialties sprouted out all over Davao city. The concept of coffee shops has also changed, from simple places with a few tables to great comfortable and cozy places to stop by to grab a cup of coffee (or linger on it), hang out with friends or do some work on your computer as most of these coffee shops are wi-fi hotspots.
As part of its "come-on" charm, each coffee shop sports attractive menus advertising offers of espresso, cappuccino, mocha, whiteout, latte, macchiato, Americano or whatever mix of names the coffee shop owners come up with. I usually order the house special or the kind I haven’t tried yet. Internet caf‚s too are serving coffee to their customers, the aroma so tempting that I gave in to the urge while surfing the net in Claveria last week.
"Maam, that's a strong one," the staff told me when I gave my order. I told her I can manage, and was surprised when they served my order. The coffee (espresso something I can't recall) came in a teeny weeny tea cup, with just about two inches of black liquid topped with a creamy bubble. I even thought it unjust for the high price but what the heck it was still coffee anyway. I took a sip and hiccupped. It was so bitter. Served me right for complaining, albeit silently.
Just recently, buddy Gwen and I ordered coffee at BluGre at the Matina Times Square. We both ordered hot cappuccino. I toyed with the straw and stirred my coffee for a while. When I took a sip, it was all bubbles and delicious-tasting froth so I sipped all the way through. Then I stiffened. It was scalding hot and it burned my tongue. I said nothing and when Gwen took a sip of her own coffee, I didn't have time to warn her. She too was burned but unlike me, she was not quiet about it. I guess it shows I need a long time to educate my tastebuds to learn all there is to love and crave for coffee.
(Published in Sun.Star Davao September 23, 2007 )

Saturday, September 15, 2007

'Arrested’ at the terminal

Sunday, September 9, 2007
By Raquel C. Bagnol / Local Color

A WAVE of nostalgia swept over me as I stood inside the Ecoland bus terminal a few days ago, taking in the whole scenario and noticing a lot of changes after just 21 months of being away.
Gone was the jovial atmosphere when the terminal served as a huge arrival and departure area, bustling with life and activity and filled with people from all walks of life. The whole place is now fenced and strictly secured, serving only as a mechanical jump off point for passengers.
Everyone is required to go in through only two entrances and one exit point, bags will be checked and passengers frisked. Nevertheless, it was still the same terminal which I considered my second ‘home’ before I decided to settle for a regular job in Davao.

Finding the urge to capture human interest stories to file in my image bank, I excitedly fished out my point and shoot 'toy' camera from my shoulder bag and looked for an interesting angle. Little did I know that just two shutter clicks later, I would be 'arrested', right at the place I called 'home' for a long time.
The first frame captured passengers about to board a bus, while the second captured the familiar row of small stores displaying pasalubong and food items. Turning around, I trained the focus on a vendor busily selling waffles in a stall and was about to press the shutter when my target unexpectedly went out of focus and a uniformed Task Force member filled the frame. Surprised, I looked up and heard a shout at the same time.
"Why are you taking pictures? Where are you working? Did you ask permission from our chief?" were just three of the barrage of questions the soldier fired at me that registered. As can be expected, a crowd started to gather around me and I did not like it a bit. I thought the soldier's attitude out of hand as he brought me to a police officer and reported as though he was very sure he caught a spy or a terrorist red-handed. The two started to lecture me on security protocol, blah, blah within earshot of the crowd even after I presented a couple of reporter's identification cards and handing over my camera. I told them they can just erase the two photos if it was going to cause too much trouble but they insisted on taking me to their chief. I saw no problem with that so I went with them. Thankfully, the chief listened and explained it was just security measure. He told me nicely that I if I wanted to take photos, I only need to coordinate with them and there's no problem. He let me go after a few minutes.
I wanted to tell that TF member that if I had wanted to “plot,” I don't need a camera because I had spent a good part of my life in that very terminal, helping my stall-owner friends serve coffee to customers and sleeping on folding beds each night, suffering the cold rain or the bite of mosquitoes and waking up at 5 a.m. when all folding beds have to “disappear from sight.”
I wanted to tell him that the daily routine of the place was familiar to me from the time the first bus leaves or the last bus arrives, even the passengers' mixed reactions of anger or irritation as the vendors grab them and shove durian candies at their faces.
Most of all, I wanted to tell him that I know how shocking it feels to jolted out of your sleep because of an explosion, because I was there, a few meters away from the first bus which was ripped it to pieces by a bomb a few years back.
I guess homesickness prompted me to take photos of everything -- the streets, the jeeps, hotels and buildings, food, children, trisikads, sidewalk vendors, parks, durian, and almost everything that is Davao. I still take photos but I'm now cautious because I don't fancy capturing a uniformed soldier again or face an interrogation after.
Maybe posting 'no taking of pictures inside the terminal premises' signs can prevent others from doing so without proper coordination.
Ah, I miss the old Ecoland terminal where men in uniform were still scarce because although they present safety and security, their scarcity before meant the non-existence of the threat of terrorism.

Underneath the 'ukay-ukay' heap

I SAVE money through buying second hand clothing, the ukay-ukay. Those who have not ventured into these ukay-ukay you'll be surprised to discover a lot of awesome clothes and other items there, including designer clothes at incredibly discounted prices. It helps a lot of you dig in.

When I have the luxury of time I usually rummage in the ukay-ukay stalls in Claveria, Magsaysay Avenue and in Bankerohan with no intention to buy anything but usually I find a lot of stuff worth buying at such low prices.

I would willingly overturn a big mountain of ukay-ukay upside down over and over again simply to kill time, or for just the sheer enjoyment as other customers would watch and pull whatever items took their fancy.

Ukay-ukay prices nicely fit my budget. Who would have thought that t-shirts priced at P150-P300 at department stores could be bought at P35 each, or 3-for-P100.

I'm not particularly brand concious but I'm particular about the appearance of the clothes-they must not look over-used, no stains, no tears, and most of all, wallet-friendly.

In the past I would often buy clothes and items I really don't need but put them up for re-sale to someone whom the clothing would suit, earning a few pesos in the process.

In one of my ukay-ukay ventures in the city just recently, I unearthed a white-flowered blue scarf with tassel from a huge mountain of newly-opened (kuno) ukay-ukay. It was about one meter long and except for a small tear in one corner, it looked almost brand new.
It could be used as a blanket, towel, mat, skirt or even a head cover. When I inquired about the price of the scarf, the saleswoman immediately said P35.

Wow! Talk about luck! I hastily dug into my wallet and paid for the scarf in case the woman might change her mind and increase the price when she finds out just how pretty it was.

I was so proud of myself when I left the stall with my 'find'. Unfortunately, I was just a few meters away from the ukay-ukay stall when a woman came running to me and claimed that the scarf was hers.

"But I was the one who unearthed the scarf from beneath that huge mountain of ukay-ukay!," I argued.

"Okay you found it, but THAT SCARF is MINE! I lost hold of it while rummaging through the ukay-ukay. Look, there's even my initials on the bottom of it- C.G., check it!" the woman insisted.

Left with nothing to do, I opened the plastic bag and pulled out the scarf, which by that time I had already considered as mine.
True enough, the letters C.G. which the woman claimed as her initials was scribbled in black ink at one corner of the scarf. We went back to the salesgirl to claim my P35 from her.

(Un)fastfood tales

BEFORE you tell me that not all people have problems with fast food outlets and their services, let me clarify: This is not a sweeping condemnation. Nope, not at all.

But its a stark reality that there are some fastfoods that would take almost a lifetime for food to get to the table from the moment it was ordered.

I went inside one of the 24-hour restaurants in San Pedro Street to fill my grumbling stomach after I came out from an internet cafe at two oclock one morning. Three waitresses were chatting with each other while a couple of others were flirting with two obviously-drunk customers. Another waitress was slumped on one table, asleep.

Nobody came to get my order until I was about to stand up and leave. One of the three waitresses came to me and handed me a menu. Too sleepy to peruse the menu thoroughly, I ordered egg soup and a serving of toasted bread to go with it.

"Hala mam, di man na parison (They're not compatible)!" the waitress said presuming a know-it-all attitude.

My eyebrows shot up and almost went over my forehead.

"Hellooo Miss, its no business of yours what I order as long as it's in YOUR menu, and I'm the one who will pay my order, not you!" I said in an irritated voice.

She went back to the kitchen grumbling that I was almost tempted to drag her by the hair to the restaurant manager.

In another occasion, I barely had an hour left before the last trip of the bus leaves for home when I ordered a take-out chicken meal at one of the prominent fastfoods in the city.

After 30 minutes, I still haven't got my order as the fastfood staff promised.

I called a passing waiter and asked him innocently if the chicken has been butchered yet. Not understanding my question, his mouth opened and his face registered confusion as he passed my question to another waiter who laughed heartily and came to my table.

"Ma'am, sori gyod naihaw na baya pero nakabuhi pa gyod," he apologized and told me he will follow it up in the kitchen.

Luckily I managed to catch the last bus for home.

Just recently, co-reporter Aurea ordered a mango shake as appetizer while waiting for our dinner in one of the beach resorts in the city.

We heard the whirling sound of the blender which stopped after a few minutes.

But no mango shake was served. We heard the sound of the blender again and I said maybe the waitress used unripe mango to require such a long time in preparation.

Several minutes later, a flushed waitress came out carrying Aurea's mango shake.

"Maam I'm very sorry for the long wait because I put iodized salt on the shake instead of sugar, they looked the same kasi," she apologized.

After a forty-five minutes wait, I swear the grumbling of our stomach could almost compete with the noise from the videoke machine when I remembered that what we ordered was just kinilaw and therefore needs no cooking.

I called the solitary waitress on duty when she passed by bringing a set of beddings towards one of the cottages and asked about our dinner.

"Hala ma'am, I forgot, kinilaw man to no? Kadali na lang gyod," she assured us.

The "just a few minutes" turned out to be another 15 minutes before she sheepishly approached our table, this time to tell us that the malasugui fish we ordered was no longer suitable for kinilaw. Imagine it took her exactly one hour to tell us that!

We opted to order fried tuna belly in lieu of the kinilaw and settled to wait some more. Thirty minutes later, the waitress aproached us and immediately, we panicked because we were not prepared to accept any more disaster stories from her.

She told us sweetly that the fish is nearly cooked but we knew she was not telling the truth because it took eight minutes before we heard the swishing sound of oil as the fish was dropped in the pan. Hunger sharpens the hearing and imagination I suppose.

Lesson learned? If you want fast food service, don't order from a menu. Go to a turo-turo eatery instead and get what you want in a few seconds.

Ahh, and I've always thought 'fastfood' restaurants were aptly named.

Watching the sunrise

I awakened from a deep slumber to the sound of flying pots and pans, smashing of plates and shattering of window panes.

Earthquake! I was alarmed, having developed a phobia for earthquakes in my elementary grades. However, instead of the expected tremor, a female's high-pitched voice shrieked. I could clearly pick out a string of profane language and swearing, punctuated by smashing of things on the floor and the walls.

A man's counter-shouting followed. A few seconds later, the wailing of two kids roused from deep sleep added to the noise.

The shouting match that followed isn't fit for the ears of the general public and requires parental guidance for young audiences.

Here they go again! I know I should get used to the young couple's brawls next door at the most unearthly hours of the night but I had just fallen asleep. And besides, why would they want the whole world to know that the man caught his wifie with another man in a night club while he himself left their two kids sleeping to go on a till-morning drinking spree with his friends?

I mean the whole neighborhood already knew about that, why do they have to announce it over and over again? I thought angrily.

I covered my ears with my hands and buried my head beneath the covers to shut out the noise, but to no avail. I have an appointment at 10 a.m. and I needed sleep in order not to look like a worn-out rag doll discarded from Sequijor the next day.

Bud judging from the intensity of the shouting match next door, I knew sleep would be next to impossible.

By force of habit, I immediately fumbled for my tape recorder beside the bed and turned it on. ( I had developed the habit of recording the frequent quarrels of this couple in the past few weeks which I planned to play for them when the need arrives, like the need to blackmail...but of course I knew I could never do that.

Glancing at my alarm clock, I was pissed off to know it was only 4:45 in the morning! I had barely slept for a couple of hours.

I'm a night person. I mean I think best in the evening. In the early evening, after the sun has gone down and the world is preparing to turn in, my metabolism is finally moving at top speed and I begin to blend in with the night.

My sweetest sleep would be from 2-9 a.m. While the world is starting to get up, I would be burrowing deep under the covers to get the best sleep. Wake me up at 5 a.m. and you'll be dealing with the grumpiest being on earth. I'm very unproductive at this time I could hardly remember my middle name. (I'm writing this at 12 midnight and my middle name is Cuaresma).

I'm not even fully awake at 10 yet. Prior to finally getting up would mean several resetting of my alarm clock (I have to put it away from reach or elese I'd grope for it in my sleep and turn it off).

Not wanting to hear more, I turned off my tape recorder and groggily got off the bed. After putting on a pair of jogging pants and a shirt, I headed for the beach, not caring that it's Times Beach (not ideal for a whiff of fresh morning air I know, but it's the nearest).

A handful of people were already taking a dip in the sea. I sat on a deserted cottage, thankful that only a few souls are around. (Not enough to stir the pollution yet).

Very soon, the sun started to come out in all its glory, spreading its red, yellow and orange glow on the smooth surface of the sea. It was a wonderful sight, a sight I had almost forgotten.

Fon't get me wrong, I don't live in a dungeon and I know the sun rises everyday. It's just that I very, very seldom see it.

How long ago have I seen the sunrise, I can't really remember. In fact, I remember seeing only a very few sunrises in my whole life. I'm more acquainted with sunsets. I know sunrise is a sight worth seeing, a symbol of the promise of a new day.
For once, my next-door neighbor's early morning fracas did something good for me.*

Wearing a 'Sequijodnon' label

I have never set foot in the island of Sequijor. I've only seen the place with its white-sand beaches from the window of an airplane on my way to Cebu City from Pagadian, but even if I avoid the place like a plague, I can't deny the fact that half of the blood that run in my veins is Sequijodnon. Although my mother grew up in Mindanao, she was 'manufactured' in Sequijor with pure Sequijodnon parents, and I couldn't do anything about it.

I know, the word "Sequijor" stirs the imagination of people. It has a connotation as the land of witches and suggests the image of "mambabarangs or mangkukulams" gathering around a big cauldron full of brews and mixtures used to cast spells or potions.

My grandfather (mother's side), was a Sequijodnon through. and through. He was a well-known "mananambal" (faith healer) in their place. Maybe he also knew how to cast spells, but I never got around to knowing him that well, a thing I regret so much.
He died from stroke while I was still a small kid, and we lived far from each other. Maybe, If he had lived long enough, I would have studied he methods of healing, and who knows he might have handed his skills to me. (Maybe I would have a better life being a faith healer instead of a news reporter)

As a child, I was well acquianted with stories of how a man will suddenly die if a Sequijodnon pats his upper arm, or how powerful "barang" and "lumay" (potion) is. At a young age, I had already built visual images of 'mambabarangs' sticking pins into rag dolls to destroy one's enemies. I would gather my playmates and tell them such stories so dramatically that they began to believe I can really do those things because I was half Sequijodnon. It gave me a sort of some power over them.

Things changed when I in high school. I went to great lengths to conceal my mother's origin from my classmates because they had this black label attached to Sequijor and to all Sequijodnons. I didn't want to be isolated but in college, at an Ilonggo-dominated place, the label proved beneficial.

When I tell people that I was a Sequijodnon, I could feel that they looked at me with a mixture of awe and fear. They really believed I know how to mix potions or cast spells. Although the idea was absurd since I haven't even stepped on the place, I gloried in the power I have over them.

Personally, I'm on a fifty-fifty position as to the existence of the power of the spells and potions Sequijodnons are acclaimed to possess, but my fifty-fifty belief was put to test one noontime almost half a decade ago which made be decide I can't deny my Sequijodnon heritage.

One noontime, I was walking along the corner of Uyanguren and Bangoy Streets in the city when a portly woman patted my right upper arm and asked me what the time was. I told her after glancing at my watch and walked on. Exactly fifteen meters away, I stopped as the impact of what the woman did hit me.

She slapped my upper arm! I was alarmed. I felt myself going hot then cold as I waited for sudden changes in my body system: temperature- normal, hearbeat- still ok, yet. I expected to get dizzy and fall dead in a few seconds.

Suddenly, anger gripped me. I made a u-turn and marched back to where the woman was, praying with all my heart that she had not left. She was there alright, talking to a man who was looking over a display of various herbs, ointments and dried roots inside bottles with dark-colored liquids on the cement floor.

I aproached the woman from behind and without warning, slapped her left upperarm in retaliation. Shock registered on the woman's face, and she was speechless for a few deafening seconds.

Before she could open her mouth to speak, or her arms to strike me, I exploded.
"Sikihudnon ka no? Ngano imo man kong gipikpik?"

I watched with a mixture of fear and fascination at the play of emotions on her face. I know I didn't stand a chance to fight with her, but I was prepared for flight. With her huge figure and clumsy movements, and if no one will help her, I was sure she couldn't catch me although I don't run that fast. A big crowd started to gather around us.

Poised for flight, I was surprised when she burst out laughing, her mounds of flesh shaking with her convulsed laughter.

I melted in embarrassment as the truth dawned on me that the woman wasn't even aware that she patted my upper arm when she asked me what the time was. She was merely selling herbal medicines at the sidewalk. My face turned from beet red to maroon as I mumbled an apology and made a hasty exit while the crowd roared in laughter with the fat woman.

That was a decade ago. I've already grown up (and sideways, too) but even though I am surrounded with the latest inventions of the world, I discovered that I can't renounce my heritage. I still retain my fifty-fifty belief on the powers Sequijor is acclaimed to have.*

When the remote control demanded a "break"

The advent of cable television in our house a few years back brought in a whole new schedule which disturbed our daily routine.

Just for P220 installation fee, we had joined the millions of Filipinos who are now part of the "global village". We can now watch TV programs from neighboring Asian countries to as far as Europe. News events in all parts of the world can now be seen simultaneously and instantaneously. But cable TV has its drawbacks.

They say watching TV cuts into family time, harms children's ability to read and succeed in school, contributes to unhealthy lifestyles and obesity. I disagree with the TV interfering with my ability to succeed in school because TV or no TV, my grades were always only one notch above passing level but I agree with the last one because often times I've eaten my meals infront of the television and I was unaware that I had eaten more than what I normally eat.

The first week after we hooked up to cable TV brought in a lot of adjustments to all members of the household in order to avoid conflicts.

Everyone was excited about it and we fought for control of the remote we absorbed the shows, from the announcers on the promos who tell us how incredible, funny, groundbreaking, and must-see the upcoming shows are to almost anything shown on screen.

My younger brother would watch TV from morning till late afternoon, eating his meals infront of the TV. My father would watch the evening news. After that, we would watch soap operas and immediately after the members of my family would retire at night, I would have complete control of the television, watching shows until one or two o'clock in the morning.
As soon as I close my eyes to sleep, I could hear somebody turning on the TV. That would be my youngest brother. He would watch shows until 5 or so in the morning and go back to sleep after.
You would think that the TV would finally get a chance to cool off but you're dead wrong because at six o'clock my eight and ten-year old nieces would wake up and watch cartoons.

Then there's our house helper who can flip more channels faster than anyone every time a commercial flashes on the screen every chance she gets.

The most worn-out numbers in the remote control are those assigned for ESPN, TNT and Cartoon Network, HBO Asia, Discovery Channel, Star TV, and Viva Cinema (not in that order).

It is obvious to me that television has become the scapegoat of our time. We don't need anyone to tell us about our television. When our lives seem dull and unimaginative, who gave us comedy shows that make us laugh? It's our television. Remember how it felt when we were too sick to go to school but not to sick to watch TV?

In our house that 14-inch squarish object has caused more squabble than anything ever did for many years. As children our television has caused more quarrels between us kids as we fought for channels but the fights doubled when we hooked up to cable tv although we were already adults.

I know that if only the television can talk, it would have screamed for rest and relief a long time ago.

But one day exactly one month after we hooked up to cable TV, my mother's problem came to an end, unexpectedly solved by the remote control. Although it can't talk, it demanded a vacation leave by refusing to function.

I was the first to discover it. Arriving at an empty house one day, I was relieved to know that I can have peace at last and be king over the television if only for a while.
Curling on the sofa as soon as I changed clothes, I was surprised to discover that the remote control would not function. No matter how hard I pressed, it wouldn't work so I changed the batteries but it still wouldn't work.

After poking and trying in vain to make the remote control work again, I gave up. The effect of the broken remote control pleased my mother because channel surfing was greatly reduced.
It was already a great burden to go over to the TV set to flip channels instead of relaxing while watching TV. My mother decided not to have the remote control repaired and I could just imagine our TV set dancing in glee.*

Woes with Ingrown Toenails

I have accepted the fact long ago that perfect feet must have been distributed before I was born. I mean I have a love/hate relationship with my feet. Of course, I love them and I am always grateful for having a pair of feet because without them, I wouldn't be able to go places, but on the other hand, I hate them. Especially my toenails. They are so darned ugly. I wish I am just exaggerating but alas, I'm not.

And I have always hated having my toenails clipped and pedicured. I mean it's always an ordeal for me to entrust my toenails to a complete stranger and allow her to poke and pierce my toenails with sharp and bladed instruments to remove ingrown which seemed to grow faster than I could monitor.

You see, while other girls have been blessed with wonderfully-shaped feet and toenails, I got a size 8 feet, and my toenails are structured like withered and dried-up ginger displayed at the sidewalks of Bankerohan public market. They fan out at the tips and the tips of the toenails are buried deeply and you have to poke them with a pusher and a nipper in order to really clean them.

I know I should wear closed shoes, but the irony of it is I hate closed shoes. I prefer slip-ons where my feet has complete freedom to wriggle and breath.

Okay, I know it's sad but it's easier to make fun of them rather than admit that I hate them.

Anyhow as soon as I was old enough I started "prettying" my toenails by applying different colors of nail polish, but no amount of nailpolish can conceal the original shape. My toenails now look like "colored" dried-up and withered ginger.

I had been postponing a trip to the beauty parlor to have my toenails clipped and my ingrown toenails (also pronounced and felt as ingroan..arghh) removed for weeks. I could feel two huge ingrowns are developing on both sides of my big toenails. The pain was bearable at first.

To make matters worse, people seemed to know I am nurturing four ingrown toenails on both feet, one on each side of my big toenails. The more I try to keep my feet out of the way, the more people tend to step on them. And the more I try to hide my toes from view by curving them inwards, the more attention it attracts.

Finally, I woke up one morning with a feeling of doom. My ingrown toenails haven't stopped throbbing with pain the whole night through.

I know I have no choice but to have the ingrowns removed if I were to live for another day. After covering a launching affair at the city hall, I made the trip to a beauty parlor located near the corner of San Pedro and Crooked Road streets to have the dreaded pedicure, not because I want to but because I have to.

I survived the cleaning and poking of my eight little toenails but when it was time to remove the throbbing ingrowns, I was sweating profusely despite the full blast of the airconditioner.

Although the girl who administered the "poking and piercing ceremony" was an expert with her tools, she was unable to stop the pain that seared through my being. I gripped the armrests of the chair very hard that my knuckles turned white.

I tried to divert my thoughts on other things, silently echoing the words of Queen Esther of th bible "If I perish, I perish".

Wave after wave of pain shoot through me, and finally one big toenail is free of the ingrown. One more to go.
Oh when will it ever end, and would I be able to survive more pain?

Scary thoughts drummed through my head. I wondered how many people have already died from developing cancer of the nails caused by infections, from pedicures.
I bit my lips to stiffle a moan as the last bit of ingrown was removed. It was finally over!

When the girl applied merthiolate on the newly-cleaned toenails, a fresh wave of pain shoot up again but it was only for a fleeting moment.

Only then did I realized what a lot of suffering have I been enduring before I had the in-grown removed. Walking and moving about became so much convenient and comfortable again as before I acquired the ingrown.

In life, we have to experience dark moments of pain before they can be removed. But the relief that follows is worth the pain.

Ingrown, as defined by the dictionary is a "grown abnormally into the flesh; inbred habits"

Some of us have ingrown habits that we just endure carrying, while we don't pay much attention to some. Not until they start to throb and finally destroy us. These may include ingrowns like envy and hatred to others. If we will not entrust our 'ingrowns' to the Master of all tools up there, we won't be able to live life meaningfully.

Until we decide that now is the right time to get rid of our ingrowns can we be able to live easier lives because no amount of nail polish can hide the 'in-growns'. If they are not removed, the pain will always be there.*


NOT too long ago, I was at a resort in Marawi City to attend, rather observe a two-day seminar for women leaders in Mindanao. For the occasion, hundreds of dignitaries from all over the island flocked to the city's main resort. Since my companion and I were not participants but just observers, we have not booked at the resort cottages and had to go back to Iligan to our hotel where we were billeted.

During the opening ceremony, I watched in fascination at the fantastic display of colorful costumes (not to mention the heady mixture of different perfumes) from the women leaders and wondered how they could be comfortable in them. My white shirt and maong pants looked incongruous among the whole lot and as the morning wore on, I became more and more concious of my attire. I stuck out among the crowd like a sore thumb.

The resort was perfectly located on gentle slopes overlooking Marawi City and Lake Lanao. The temperature was cool, and I swear I could no longer count how many times I shivered from the cold and for the nth time kidded myself that I should engage the services of a wardrobe consultant if I get rich.

At least my companion had the decency to wear a flowered maroon polo with long sleeves so she looked like one of the participants.

The resort served a delicious breakfast followed by a satisfying snacks even before the breakfast dishes were cleared. I helped myself to two tall glasses of iced tea and immediately after I realized that the resort overlooked the fact that it has only two comfort room cubicles to cater to more than 600 women. With the cold climate and the free-flowing soft drinks and iced-tea, the resort incharge should have foreseen that women would flock to the comfort room every now and then.

My first attempt to empty my kidneys came at around 10 a.m. but I decided to hold it and had to go back to my table after seeing the long line of women waiting for their turn at the two cubicles.

Exactly one hour later, I made my second attempt but had to draw back because the line had doubled. I thought I could hold my urine for another hour so back to my table I went but I underestimated myself because 30 minutes later, I just knew I could no longer do it. I just had to pee.

Marching resolutely to the comfort room for the third time, I went through the long line of waiting women. I understood exactly every unreadable expression on each face but I pushed through and headed straight for the men's comfort room.

Knocking at the door, I bellowed an 'emergency' shout, "Is there anybody in here?"

There was no answer, so I repeated my question. I seemed to hear a scuffling inside but there was no reply to my call so I pushed open the door and dashed to a cubicle inside. I almost kicked the door open but it wouldn't give so I headed to the second cubicle and at last found relief to my troubles.

What I wasn't aware of was that as soon as I barged into the men's CR, a flock of women followed me and made for the other cubicle, but the same door wouldn't give. Some of the women were not able to hold it and urinated on the floor.

The men's CR was already filled with women who were complaining loudly of the resort's lack of facilities when the first cubicle opened and a man peeped out.

He was drenched in sweat, his face red with mortification as he tried to look to the other side so as not to see the women on the floor.

"Serves him right for keeping quiet," I uttered.

Laughter followed the man's hasty exit. I just knew he wouldn't forget his experience for a long time.

Seat snatcher

I OFTEN consider myself a seasoned traveller. While some people think of travelling as an ordeal, my body clock has been fortunately used to 'unwinding' while onboard all kinds of vehicles, be it a ship, a bus, a jeepney or even a tricycle. I think best when I am onboard a moving vehicle. In fact, these are the best and relaxing moments of my life.

Before being 'nailed' to my present job as a reporter, life for me was a series of vehicle rides as work required me to hop from one place to another. I insist on the term 'nailed' because since I started this work a year ago, my rides are now limited to jeepneys and over-crowded multicabs to and from the office.

And multicabs are an exception to moving vehicles that relaxe me, because I definitely cannot relax and unwind in a multicab. I wonder if a sane person in the city exists who enjoys multicab rides filled with long-legged passengers. (Your feet either gets stepped on or you step on another's toes).

Still, I've been spared the 'travelling blues' encountered by some people, and have not encountered any real problems in any of my travelling stints.

Until one cold morning last month when I took the 3 a.m. trip from Davao to Cotabato City. As I haven't slept the whole night yet, I chose a window seat fourth row from the front and drifted off to dreamland immediately after the conductor distributed the tickets and collected the fare.

It was still dark when we reached the terminal in Digos City when I felt like urinating. I went down the bus and headed towards the comfort room to relieve myself. A long line of passengers from other buses were waiting for their turn to use the comfort room and it took sometime before my turn came.

Unfortunately, the zipper of my pants got stuck and it took me so long before it was finally unzipped. I had to really hurry up as I heard the bus pulling out of the terminal. I rushed into the bus and headed for my seat, but lo and behold! a middle-aged man was peacefully sitting there, head resting on the window pane and he was even snoring loudly.

I tapped him gently at first but as he didn't move, I tapped him again, impatiently this time.

"Excuse me sir, but that's my seat", I told him.

The man merely stirred and went back to his loud snoring so I tapped his shoulder again, painfully this time. The man opened his eyes, stared at me in confusion and I had to repeat my declaration before he understood.

"Really miss, I've never left my seat since I boarded, how come you claim this seat to be yours?"

"But Sir, this is really MY seat! Look, here's my ticket straight from Davao..." I insisted, "and there's my bag... I pointed to the overhead compartment and faltered when a glaringly-red bag occupied the place my blue one had been. Before I could sound the alarm that somebody took off with my bag, the man snapped, "then you're on the wrong bus!" his voice intentionally loud for everyone to hear.

Only then did I realize the truth. I turned beet red and did not turn to look at the laughing passengers as I practically leaped out the door and ran back to the terminal where my bus was just pulling away, horns honking with everybody onboard getting cranky because I kept them waiting.

Slimnastics craze

MY struggle to fight the excess body fat started since I laid eyes on the handsomest boy in our class way back in my high school freshman year. It was during that year that I began to feel concious of my figure and decided to try exercising to get a sexy figure. That crush lasted only for two months because I decided that I was too weak and unwilling to fight the urge to overeat and my crush weighed less than my craving for sweets.

I was not that fat because I can still see both my feet when I look down, trim my toenails without doing vast amounts of aerobic movements, scratch my stomach when I feel the need to without asking for assistance from anybody and fit in a seat in the theater or in a car easily but it would be a down and out lie if I say I do not envy the figures of models I see on glossy magazines and television.

I stayed at a boarding house in college with seven other boardmates whose favorite topics are boys, clothes and more boys. For the first part of the year they labeled me a snob because I wouldn't join in their nightly chatter but I just stayed by myself reading most of the times.

We belonged to different worlds. I am a nocturnal being while they went to bed at 10 p.m. and woke up with the crack of dawn. Despite our differences, we share one thing in common -- and that is the wistful but losing battle against the flab. But unlike me, they go jogging every morning when I consider sleep as the sweetest.

I finally gave in to the persistent requests of my boardmates to go jogging with them one day so that very night I retired to bed at 11 p.m. to be able to get a good start the following day. Geesh! What a calvary that was!

There I lay, listening to the rhythmic snoring of my boardmates through the thin walls of their respective rooms while counting sheep until my eyebrows felt strained.

I finally fell asleep sometime around 2 a.m. and have just drifted off to dreamland when Jean's persistent knocking jolted me up.

"C'mon, lets go," she shook me up.

"Uh, okay, I'll give in to their whims just for once," I decided. With half-closed eyes, I slipped on my jogging pants and groped my way down the stairs, miraculously reaching the foot without falling.

My boardmates breezed on while I painfully dragged one foot after the other, longing more than ever for the comforts of my bed. My body clock told me it was still midnight and I should have been in bed because who in his right mind would go out jogging at midnight?

When we reached the park, I sat down on a bench to collect my breath while my roommates jogged around. As soon as they were distracted, I headed straight for a bakery across the park, drawn by the wonderful smell of freshly-baked bread and bought P10 worth of pandesal.

I munched on the pandesal to wake up and before I knew it, I've already consumed everything. I went back to the plaza and made an alibi not to jog with my boardmates back to our boarding house. Instead, I boarded a trycicle back home and went right back to bed.

Sheer motivation finally came when a very sexy student boarded the vacant room next to mine. Wow, how I envied her fat-free figure. She wears body-hugging clothes and earns the admiration of all when she passes by.

Once again I dreamed that I could be like her by getting rid of my excess fats once and for all. This time, I prodded my boardmates to enrol in an earobics class.

For the first day, I groped my way towards slimness. With a few girls who shared the same goals with me (slim and wow-able bodies), we kicked and jogged and did all sorts of movements to wake up the dormant muscles under the direction of the instructress.

I thought that if I worked out a lot, the weight would come off faster but I was wrong. Towards evening I could hardly go up the stairs or move around because every muscle (I was not aware that I had so many before) started aching.

By the second day, aerobics attendance dropped by 30 percent but we still struggled on despite the pain. On the third day, I was forced to 'resign' because I could barely walk and couln't even turn my head due to a stiff neck.

I got everybody's attention in school when I went up the stairs going sideward and landed smack on my feet for the effort. I guess I just have to realize that I was not built with a sexy figure, live with my flabs (alias bilbil) and get used to them.

Tale of the flying jeans

"NO one is allowed to go out in jeans because we will have sundown worship at the lawn after dinner," The booming voice of our octogenarian dean from the door of the dormitory we were staying way back in college made us freeze in the hallway.
"Oh shucks!" I mumbled under my breath. I and my two roommates Lea and Phoebe were already clad in jeans because we had planned to munch on stalks of sugarcanes at the plantation about half a kilometer from the dormitory.
Our dean, whom we all call Mommy, has been famous for her ever-ready stick for beatingany errant dorm occupant and her sharp tongue, two factors which we all concluded long ago why she remained unmarried after all these years.
To be summoned to the dean's quarters at any time of any day never failed to stop any one of the 300 dormitory occupants from quivering with fear.
Time and again I had been at the receiving end of her sharp tongue for failing to join the morning worship which is at the worship hall every 5:30 in the morning (hello, take note 5:30 a.m. is the peak time when I'm in dreamland because I'm never a morning person).
We decided to go out in our jeans anyway but stopped when we saw the dean's stooping figure with the wig covering her head blocking the dorm entrance with her stick. We were back to our room at the second floor in a flash. We were angry because the dean foiled our plans but as we sat scowling in our respective beds, the prospects of munching on juicy stalks of sugarcane getting dimmer when a brilliant idea flashed in my mind.
I eagerly told my two roommates about how we could still go on with our plan, and albeit hesitant at first, they were carried away by my confidence and convincing power. Taking off our jeans, the three of us put on knee-length skirts and went out of our room but instead of going straight to the door, we went to the worship hall and hurled our jeans down to the clotheslines below.
Wearing innocent faces, we went past Mommy's stick at the door and bit back our laughter as she nodded in approval at our attire. Somehow I just couldn't imagine going into the thick sugarcane fields wearing skirts.
We immediately went straight to the back of the dorm and retrieved our jeans from the ground. Laughing and congratulating ourselves for putting one on our ever-wise dean, we put on our jeans, hang our skirts on the clotheslines and headed towards the sugarcane fields, confident that our dean will never found out our secret.
We carried our satisfied grins in our faces to dreamland but little did we know what the next day had in store for us. At exactly 5 a.m., we were awakened by a loud banging on the door. Even in its sleep-befuddled state, my mind told me it was the unmistakable banging of a stick on the door.
Stick! Who else owns a stick in the dorm but the dean! I bolted up from my bed and was in time to see my two roommates doing the same.
Gathering all my guts and trying to control the shivering fear in me, I pulled open the door and came face to face with a very stern come-and-account-for-yourself look from the stick's owner, our dean. "Come follow me to my quarters immediately!" was all she said before walking away.
We were fully awake now. We were all shaking, sure that we would be suspended or worse, to be sent home.
How I wished that the dean's quarter was so far away so that it would take us long to reach there. We pushed each other as to who would go first when suddenly the door opened. The dean motioned for us to sit down. Without saying a word, she tossed our skirts at us and told us never to repeat the "childish act" we had done, then she told us to go. For a while the three of us were unable to move. We were expecting the worst and that was all she did. Once out of her quarters, we heaved huge sighs of relief and thanked our stars we were not suspended.
In our excitement, we had overlooked the fact that half of the rooms faced the clotheslines and so many girls had seen the flying jeans the day before. Naturally, the news spread like wildfire and of course, the dean learned of it.

Texting mishaps

I HAD always been piqued with people who keep on pressing or reading text messages in their cellphones while walking, crossing the street, riding in vehicles or even going up or down the stairs.

I couldn't count the times when I've secretly wished for someone who is texting while walking to fall down and learn his or her lesson but my prayers haven't been answered, until later, when I acquired a cellphone. Little did I know that my wicked prayer would be answered -- on me.

From the very first day I paid for and brought home my first 3315 cellphone a year ago, it became a vital part of me. I sleep with it under my pillow and turn the vibrating alert on so that I will not miss any messages during the night.

I went to eat with the cellphone beside my plate, and practically peer into it every few seconds.

Completely forgetting my indignation for cellphone addicts before, I was not concious that I had already become a member of the texting-while-walking club. I became one of the millions of Filipinos whose lives revolve around these modern-day gadgets that contributed millions to the telecommunication giants.

My cellphone is the last thing I touch upon falling asleep, and the first thing I touch upon waking up.

Sometimes I even touch and tinker with it during my sleep because I was surprised one morning to discover I've consumed my load the night before to a call I never intended to place.

Walking along the Ecoland terminal one night last year, my buddy Sol and I headed towards our favorite carenderia to eat supper at the far end of the terminal. On the way, my cellphone vibrated, telling me that I received a message.

Out of habit, I immediately fished it out of my shoulder bag and read the joke a friend just sent. I didn't waste a minute but immediately scrolled my outbox for a joke to send to my friend in return.

With my full attention on my cellphone, I continued walking, passing through a pile of softdrink cases infront of a small eatery when I felt myself stumble. Grasping for balance, my eyes popped out when I saw a big pressure-cooker full of 'nilagang baka' tumble to the ground after I accidentally hit the handle with my foot.

I stood rooted to the spot as sliced pieces of beef and hot beef soup flooded on the terminal floor. Same as me, a shocked waitress stood rooted a few meters away from me. She regained composure first but before she was able to shout or berate me, Sol got hold of himself first and immediately confronted the waitress and berated her for cooking at a very unlikely place like a terminal floor.

Several customers at the restaurant agreed with us and supported Sol's argument.

I was still in shock, afraid that I will be forced to pay the whole amount of the full kettle as Sol pulled me away. Looking back, I saw was the waitress and a very flustered proprietor scooping slices of beef from the terminal floor and putting it back on the kettle while raining invectives at me.

Woe unto the next customers because for sure, they would not waste good meat. They would just replace the water and cook the beef again.

As soon as we were out of sight, Sol burst out laughing, holding his sides so hard I thought he was going to burst at his sides. Had he known that I didn't see the handle of the pressure cooker because I had been texting, he wouldn't have laughed so hard.

Think I've learned my lesson? you're wrong. Just the other month, I tripped over a display of tomatoes because I was texting while walking in a very busy street in Bankerohan. Unfortunately, Sol was not with me and I was not quick enough to get angry first. I was made to pay P6 for the tomatoes I stepped on.

The "Anting-anting"

ALTHOUGH I still haven't set foot in the island of Siquijor, the fact remains that my mother is a Siquijodnon through and through, born albeit not raised in this place which is tagged to be the home of the "fake healers", where belief in all things spiritual, psychic, mystical, religious, or pseudo-religious is pervasive.

As a child, I used to hear stories from my Lolo when amulets (anting-anting), charms, special prayers (orascion), witchcraft (kulam, barang), living gods, and all manner of cults and religious movements were a part of their everyday life in Siquijor. People carried amulets to ward off bullets, knives, and bad luck, to win at gambling, or attract the opposite sex.

I was still in grade 3 when I first saw an anting-anting and it was owned by a friend of my parents residing in the hinterlands who paid us one of his frequent visits.

Manong Lando, who was in his early thirties used to show us a small bottle containing several undistinguishable roots and barks of trees submerged in a greenish-black liquid.

He told us it was a powerful bottle that would make him invisible, walk in the rain without getting wet, and carry heavy weights without getting tired. Most of all, his anting-anting could make any woman he wants to fall in love with him without even trying (as children that aspect didn't attract us much).

We would ask him to take it out of his pocket and tell us stories of what it could do (which I later learned were just mere fabrications from his over-active imagination). He never would allow us to touch his bottle, "Masuhong ang gahum (Its powers will be diminished)," he would say.

How I wished then to have an anting-anting like Manong Lando's. I could then get even with the new girl next door who always flaunted her expensive toys and dolls because we only played with corncobs for dolls dressed in paper designed out of our own creative minds.

Manong Lando used to ask us kids to pull out white hairs from his head.

"Twenty-five cents for each white hair, and fifty cents for each louse you catch," he would say.

We would all help in perusing his head looking for those prized white hair and lice which we only learned later did not exist in his head. (He knew all along that his money is safe).

One time we decided to play a game with Manong Lando's anting-anting. To make him fall asleep faster, my friend Andy massaged his back while Andy's sister massaged his head. Very soon, Manong Lando started to snore which was the signal we were waiting for. I slowly groped in his pockets for the 'anting-anting'.

Finally the prized bottle was in my hands. Manong Landy was still snoring when we stealthily crept out of the house.

We were hesitant to open the bottle, apprehensive about its smell but I finally took the plunge. I sniffed and covered my nose. Yucks, the smell was terrible. It reminded me of moth balls and a mixture of foul-smelling ointments.

I tipped the bottle and let the greenish liquid swish out. As previously arranged, Andy opened his pants and ordered us to look the other way while he exchange the liquid filled the bottle with his own urine.

We shook the bottle to make Andy's yellowish urine look green, and finally everything seemed to be normal.

We crept back to where Manong Lando was sleeping and returned the bottle back to where I got it.

That afternoon, Manong Lando started coughing so hard. We went to see if we could help him or get him some medicine but we grew speechless and our eyes almost popped out of their sockets when we saw him get the bottle from his pocket, opened it and poured out a generous amount to his palm. He then rubbed his palms together and actually spread the liquid all over his chest and neck!

I covered my mouth with my hand and barely suppressed a gasp as he began rubbing the liquid all over his body. Andy's face turned white and his lips trembled as we waited with bated breath what would happen next.

Suddenly, Manong Lando stopped, stared at the yellowish-greenish liquid in his palm before smelling it. His face turning red, he looked at us.

We stood rooted to the spot in horror. We didn't have to voice our denial because it seemed guilt was written all over our faces.

"W-w-we j-just like to s-see if the magic w-will still work," I stammered.

"What magic are you talking about? This is my ointment for my cough! I was only joking when I told you that this is an anting-anting!" His bellow seemed to free us from our rooted positions and we fled from the room.

Serves him right for making us kids believe he really was someone powerful with his magic bottle. We found out Andy's urine brought him back to earth and taught him never to lie to kids again. (Manong Lando forgave us a few hours later.)

The baptismal drink

I'VE always considered drinking as a vice "strictly for the boys" only way back in college. In fact, the hardest drink I've ever taken was Coolers (I only learned a few years later that it was only used as a chaser for hard drinks).

The night before our graduation from college, we decided to have some sort of a despedida party. Okay, as this was to be our last night together, we booked no arguments and decided to have our first real night out.

With five boys and three other girl classmates, we trooped to a local bar in town. The boys ordered Red Horse and simple Pale Pilsen for us girls. Like me, my two girl companions Jeb and Rose were also first-timers and that was to be our baptismal drink, sort of a welcome to the adult world.

The night started well. I was however unprepared for the bitter taste my first sip of beer gave me. "Yuks, whatever prompt people from buying this high-priced stuff with such an unpleasant taste," I muttered but my pride prodded me to swallow it.

Eventually, my taste buds seemed to adjust to the bitter taste. One swig was followed by another until by the time midnight came around, all of us were quite tipsy.

The first stuff we worked on was the beer. We even tried different brands of beer then we moved on the liquor.
Then it was on to the next class of drinks -- a mixture of Tanduay, beer and coke (they call it "birtancok") poured in a big pitcher and passed around. Not one of us girls liked it. Some of the boys didn't, either.

My head was getting lighter and the group became noisier as the night wore on. By the time midnight came around, we have consumed quite a lot as evidenced by the empty bottles rolling under our table, and swapped more stories than we ever did for the whole year. Some of the boys played billiard, sang song from a videoke machine, while the rest of us shared memories and plans for the future.

It turned out to be like a huge drinking Olympics, where everyone seemed to be contesting with each other in drinking. By 2 a.m., we had just about everything gone. Even the big pitcher of "Birtankok" we snubbed earlier was empty.

Throughout the night, my classmates had already made several trips to the comfort room but I managed to hold it, not until the time when the urge was too strong.

Stumbling hazily towards the direction the waitress pointed.
"Ladies' comfort room is at the right side," I recited what the waitress told me while trying to identify where the right side was.

Seeing a door on the right side, I opened it stepped into the dimly lit room. Finding no bowl anywhere, I sat down on the floor and relieved myself from all the beer and mixed drink I consumed, staring groggily at the yellowish flood on the tiles.

Finally relieved, I staggered to get up and my bleary gaze landed on something which shocked me. For there, in both corners of the small room and hidden beneath untidy piles of clothes were two untidy beds. There was a small drawer with more clothes strewn about. Only then did I realize that I had mistaken the bedroom of the waitresses and pissed on the floor.

That was the last time I stepped in or even passed by that bar again, afraid to be recognized.
By the way, I joined the graduation rites the following day still groggy and almost made a scene when I almost stumbled while marching to the stage to claim my hard-earned diploma

The carollers

ONE night on my way home I passed by a group of small kids on the sidewalk counting their proceeds from carolling. I stopped to watch them with amusement and the scene transported me back to many Christmases ago when we would go from house to house to sing Christmas carols and to collect money. We would equally divide our earnings afterward.

On that Christmas eve, five of us decided to go carolling because our neighborhood store has just displayed some very mouth-watering chocolates that we couldn't afford.

We were usually given 25 or 50 centavos but hoping to earn more, I pointed to the house of Manong Iping, a strict old man who does nothing but drink 'tuba' all day. He seldom talked to anybody but we kids have heard that he had lots of coins stashed inside a "sugong" (a money bank made of bamboo trunk).

After a short conference, we decided to brave it and carol at Manong Iping's.

We sang a hasty "Merry Christmas" and got the surprise of our lives when Manong Iping gave us a whole five-peso coin. Our eyes popped out! He must have been too drunk not to recognize that he had just parted with five pesos or he just decided to be generous to us. For us kids, that was a fortune! We hurried out of the place lest he change his mind and get his money back.

A brilliant idea suddenly flashed in my mind. Four little heads nodded in agreement after I told them my idea.

A few minutes later, my companions Boy and Ron were belting out "We wis you a mary kismas" at Manong Iping's house again. When the door opened, Manong Iping gave them a coin. They bounded towards us, boasting a shiny one-peso coin in Boy's hand. Lani and Bing's turn came and the same thing happened. They came away one-peso richer.

My turn came. I kept a secret smile because I knew I would be the sole owner of a whole peso after my song. I marched resolutely onto the door, took a deep breath and wholeheartedly screetched my own version of "Jinggom Bells". The door did not open when I finished.

I waited, consoling myself that Manong Iping was going to give me two pesos for that song, hence the delay but when the door finally opened, out dashed the biggest dog I had ever seen in my entire seven years of existence, baring sharp teeth a few inches from my face.

Terror immobilized me for a few seconds but suddenly my nerves seemed to break loose and I made a mad dash towards safety.

All hope deserted me when my skirt got stuck to the barbed wire. I closed my eyes and waited for the end with the dog's attack, which did not come. Surprised, I discovered that the dog was walking away. He must have decided that I was too unpalatable a substitute for his Christmas dinner.

My companions have all deserted me after receiving their peso. I slumped to the grass in exhaustion, but the moment I did so, something soft and wet went 'sloooosh' under my buttocks. Instantly, foul odor permeated my nostrils.

You guessed it, I sat on some careless body's 'stool'.

As I was contemplating what to do next, I saw my friends at the store busily munching on chocolates and 'sitsirya' from the proceeds of our carolling without even thinking of me.

I decided to get even with them. Without warning I dashed towards them, rubbing my buttocks on their bodies. I swore they all got a share of my 'loot' but before they realized what was happening, I ran home laughing.

The kids' argument brought me back to the present. Digging into my shoulder bag, I fished out a five-peso coin and tossed it to the pile the kids were about to divide. They looked at me with confusion and joy.

I left them to wonder why I would give them money without listening to their carol. They should be thankful they didn't have to be chased by a dog and sit on someone's stool for that five pesos.

Many people are not too keen or excited about celebrating Christmas this year because they are constantly worrying over the scarcity of money.

What they had missed is that Christmas is really about immaterial gifts of time, smiles, caring, and encouragement from people around us. It is about the gift of friends, the gift of five dirty faces long ago joyfully clanging spoons and softdrink bottle caps strung together and singing carols in their off-key voices. Above all, it is about the gift of love from someone Up there who gave us His only Son.

The flopped samaritan

BEFORE the national highway going to Cagayan via Buda was cemented, passengers are left with no choice but to endure an almost seven-hour bumpy and super-dusty ride in cramped jeepneys from Ulas. The jeep would usually be practically over-flowing with passengers, boxes and all forms of baggage that from afar, one can barely see the jeep.
Upon reaching the boundary of Davao and Bukidnon, passengers are expected to get off for quarantine purposes. The authorities manning the check-point would also check the jeep for the presence of livestock and other animals and confiscate those which have no permit.
My high-school classmate and dorm-mate Lani from Digos with some friends were passengers of the first trip jeepney one day from Davao to a far-flung school in Bukidnon where we were studying.
With the excess baggage everyone seemed to be carrying, they didn't even have space to stretch their legs inside the jeep.
They were, however, fortunate to have for a fellow-passenger a very pleasant man in his late sixties who introduced himself as Minoy. He was going to Maramag, Bukidnon to visit his daughter.
The uncomfortable trip was made bearable by Minoy's endless string of jokes and witty remarks that everyone had a grand time laughing.
When they were nearing the check-point in Buda, Minoy stopped telling jokes and turned sober. Lani asked him what the problem was and learned that he was carrying a live rooster as a gift for his daughter in Maramag, and as he had no permit, he was afraid the soldiers would confiscate it.
Everyone pitied Minoy and thought of ways to help him. A brilliant idea suddenly flashed in Lani's mind. She told Minoy not to worry anymore because she will solve his problems for him. She then unloaded the contents of her big bag. Out came two loaves of bread, a jar of home-made peanut butter, a tupperware-full of cooked rice, fried chicken, fried fish (we were in a vegetarian school) and assorted foods which Lani planned to give as pasalubong to her roommates at the dorm.
Taking the rooster from Minoy, Lani tied its beak with a piece of cloth and wrapped the chicken in a plastic bag. Wanting to make sure the rooster won't make a sound during the inspection and betray its existence, Lani put the rooster into yet another cellophane and then put it at the bottom of her bag. She then loaded the original contents back into the bag on top of the rooster and zipped the bag.
Everyone held their breaths when the authorities checked the jeep, all anxious and wanting Minoy to have his rooster reach its destination.
After a few minutes, the inspection was finished without hitches and the jeep continued on its dusty journey. Half a kilometer from the check-point, Lani opened her bag to take the rooster out. She was mentally patting her self for thinking of such a brilliant idea in time to solve a jolly old man's trouble.
Lani took out the cellophane from the bag, untied the rooster's beak and ceremoniously handed it to Minoy. Everybody cheered but to their horror, the rooster's head slumped forward. There was no need for a veterinarian to pronounce the rooster dead.
Lani was shocked and speechless. In her anxiety to save the rooster for Minoy's daughter, she had tied the beak a little too tightly, cutting off the circulation of air to enable it to breath. She also unconciously tied the cellophanes tightly.
Blushing to the roots of her hair, Lani offered to pay Minoy the cost of the rooster so that he could buy another one in its place. The rest of the passengers also offered to chip in money in addition but Minoy brushed their offers aside, saying that he was sure her daughter would not mind having a rooster for dinner.
Back in school, tales of Lani's 'heroic' act spread like wildfire. Lani became famous overnight and was baptized as a 'flopped Samaritan'. After several years, even now that Lani's already in Canada, the name still stuck.*

The intruder

I WAS attending a five-day seminar a few years back on how to sell books to customers on a house-to-house basis but I guess I was not cut out to succeed in that field because while all other participants absorbed the speaker's lectures, I dreamed of lying on a cool bed and snoring the day away.

We were billeted in the hotel where the seminar was held in Cotabato City on a twin-sharing basis. I shared the room with another girl who was so enthusiastic about the seminar that minutes after our first meeting, I immediately predicted that she would be one of the successful topnotchers in selling books in the future.

However, try as hard as I could, I failed to share her enthusiasm in enticing customers to buy the children's books, health books and other kinds that the sponsoring company was campaigning for us to sell to people.

I was a reluctant participant in that seminar, prodded only by the persistent request of a friend to join. The first day passed smoothly as it was set for acquaintance and briefing about the seminar. The following day however was heavy with lectures and workshops such that by the third day, I was ready to call it quits and pack my things. My roommate however persuaded me to stay one more day if only to get the gist of the lectures.

At three p.m. that day, my head was alredy nodding towards the speaker's direction. Not in agreement but from sheer drowsiness. Finally, I decided to slip from the workshop and headed for our room to grab an hour's sleep.

I drowsily marched to our room and turned on the doorknob. It gave way to my touch. My sleep-befuddled mind argued that I still have not inserted my key when the door opened but I just told myself to reprimand my roommate later for leaving our door unlocked.

Half-asleep, I stumbled to the room and hurled myself straight to the bed to sleep, nearly tripping on a pair of boots on the floor. I pulled the sheets over my body and was surprised to smell a strange perfume in my pillow. I decided I must have imagined things and closed my eyes to sleep, soothed with the sloshing sound of the shower in the bathroom.

I must have been asleep for about a few minutes when the door of the comfort room opened and the banging of the door awoke me. I jolted up and realized that my roommate was in the seminar hall when I left earlier.

"Then who--" my unfinished question was answered when a man with only a towel draped around his waist emerged from the bathroom door.

"What are you doing here?" I fired the question at the woman but she remained at the bathroom door, as astonished as I was.
I looked around and became fully awake when I realized that the shoulder bag on the coffee table was not mine. I also saw that the boots on the floor were not mine, but obviously belongs to another woman. In fact, everything in the room definitely was not mine.

Embarassment enveloped me as I realized that in my drowsiness, I had stumbled into the room next to ours. Mumbling an apology to the woman, I hurried out and rushed to our room to hide my embarassment.

I refused to go out for dinner that night, fearing that I will meet the woman again. I did not say anything to my roommate about what happened, but since then, I always take extra care to check and double check hotel room numbers before barging in to them. *

The victims

DURING the summer of my sophomore year in college, I joined a group of students who sold books and magazines in order to avail of scholarships and tuition discounts for the coming school opening.
Unlike my older sister who was born with an indubitable knack in marketing, I was reluctant to join the group and anticipated days of hunger as our daily meals would have to be taken from the deposits we would get from our daily orders.
I arrived very late on the day the group were to assemble in our area of assignment in Cotabato City so the leader just paired me off to another late comer, one named "Inday", who at that time was assigned to go to the market and buy the group's supper.

The rest of the group, a mixture of males and females from different schools were just lounging around getting acquainted with each other.

Tired from the trip, I immediately went to sleep without waiting for supper, thus missing the briefing which was very important especially for beginners. I was later informed that my partner Inday, like me is also a beginner in selling books.

The next day I woke up late and was alarmed that some of the group had already left for an early start. Rushing to the kitchen, I served myself some breakfast and wondered where Inday was, silently berating her for not waking me up early when she was supposed to be my partner. Another group member named Allen who was left behind said Inday was in the bathroom in answer to my query.

Wrapping a towel around myself, I proceeded to the bathroom
to take a bath but Allen blocked my way and told me Inday was still in the bathroom. I just shrugged my shoulders and went on.

When Inday did not answer my knock, I pushed open the main door and decided to take a bath in the outer portion of the bathroom since Inday was in the shower. I quickly stripped off my underwears and took a bath using the pail under the faucet.

I was covered in soapsuds when the door of the shower room opened, indicating that Inday was through. Opening one eye to catch a glimpse of my would-be partner, I paled and froze in shock and gave a shout when I saw a big burly man with a small towel wrapped around his middle emerged from the door. Grabbing the towel, I hastily covered myself.

"Who are you?" both of us fired the question at the same time.

"I'm Inday, and you are...?" he seemed to have recovered from the shock first.

I did not answer his question but practically pushed him out of the door to continue with my bath.

A flustered Allen tried to explain amidst hysterical laughter that she did try to stop me from entering the bathroom but that I insisted.

Who would have ever thought that somebody named Inday would turn out to be somebody big and tall and very male?

Despite what happened, we still ventured out on our first day of selling books. On the very first house we visited, a portly woman clad in a checkered duster entertained us and showed obvious interest in our books. We were still halfway through our amateur's salestalk when she placed an order for a set of our children's books worth P1,800 and she wanted it delivered the very next day.

Needless to say, we were shocked and overjoyed to have such luck because we're both beginners. Although she did not give us deposits, we were still glad because its such a short term order.

Our leader congratulated us for our luck as we went out the following day to deliver the set of books to our customer. No one answered our knock for a long time but we were sure somebody was inside the house.

Upon our persistent knocks, the door suddenly opened and we were taken aback as our customer, the woman who ordered books the day before stared at us and through us as though she was seeing something else. Then she laughed hysterically and tore at her already unkempt hair. We stepped back, alarmed when a man whom we pressumed to be her husband came out and dragged her back into the house, shrugging his shoulders apologetically at us, silently sending us the message that the woman was not right in the head.

We went back to our headquarters laughing our head off at the unusual experience which remained unequalled all throughout the summer by anyone.

'Throne' troubles

TWILIGHT was falling. The sting of mosquito bites on my arm and the coldness which had began to seep through my thin blouse prompted me to get up from my comfortable perch on a hammock tied between two star apple trees a couple of weeks ago.

About fifty meters away, there was a flurry of activities as the continuous banging on the lid of a kettle announced that dinner was ready. The long line of kids and adults playfully jabbing each other towards the serving tables has began.

I reluctantly left my nook and headed to join the line when I spotted Rob, the American brother-in-law of my first cousin heading in big strides towards my Aunt's abandoned house about a hundred meters away. Rob was married to my first cousin's sister (uh-uhhh, tracing confusing ties always make my head spin) and this was his first time to set foot in the Philippines.

Almost all of my relatives from my father's side convened at the birthplace of my late grandparents for the second family reunion we had a almost three weeks ago. For most of us who had been used to living in the city, everything was a big change.

Although the barangay, which is in Aurora, Zamboanga del Sur is not that far from the main highway, the installation of electricity was still a few kilometers away, meaning we had to use "tingkarol" (a gas lantern) in the evenings, open our eyes wider or grope our way in complete darkness.

Thankfully, my relatives residing there moved heaven and earth to have water system installed.

I glanced at the direction Rob had gone and almost laughed out loud as I realized his control of delaying his 'pooping business' must have snapped after eating too much 'butong' (young coconuts) that afternoon. Early that morning, Rob had already felt the compelling urge to do his 'pooping business' but he tried to divert his attention to other things after discovering that tissues do not exist and no one had thought of bringing a roll.

"Rob, the people here use either pakaw (corn cob), bunot (coconut husk) or grass in lieu of tissues. Maybe you could do the same," I innocently suggested to him that afternoon. His eyes went round as saucers and his jaw practically dropped as he gauged whether I was serious or just kidding.

A peek at the (dis) comfort room also sent him shaking his head and muttering "oh no, not comfortable" beneath his breath. Being used to the luxury in his home in the States, he must have been wondering how the Filipinos survived in such primitive situations but none of us were having any trouble at all.

My cousin Wil presented Rob with another alternative.

"Rob, you can wait when darkness falls and we have an instant comfort room. You can do your pooping business in total freedom and comfort in the middle of the corn field over there, right under the stars," he said.

I lost count of the number of no-no-no!'s Rob released. In fact he was shocked at such a suggestion. Poor Rob, used to such comfort and now being subjected to this situation. Wil suddenly remembered that there was an unused CR inside my aunt's deserted house. Luckily, the water system was still okay, so he told Rob about it, which was why I saw Rob hurrying towards the house. He came back more than half an hour later, the tension erased from his face.

Later that night, he told us that while he was sitting down on the 'throne' in my aunt's abandoned house, the door, with missing locks suddenly opened and he bolted from his seat as the head of a goat poked through the door of the CR.

He hurried with his business while trying to hold the door with his other hand. Before the week was up, Rob was able to adjust to the 'primitive' surroundings. I could just imagine the stories he had to tell back home, especially about his throne troubles!

Casting love spells

I live just a stone's throw away from the highway in a town dominated with Bul-anons and Cebuanos but I never thought that Manang Azun, one of my oldest neighbors who recently passed away was a firm believer of sorcery, gayuma and multi-purpose charms.

As kids, we like to listen to her yarns of long-ago but most of all, we liked to listen to her talk about how to make a person sleepless, retrieve a lost lover, or prevent a wedding from taking place, or techniques in how to capture the man you want although it was useless for us at that time.

Manang Azun kept an assortment of bottles containing a combination of acrid, sweet and earthy-smelling herbs marinated in coconut oil. These, she told us were gayuma or lumay, potions and multi-purpose good luck charms but I believed that those bottles just contained haplas or healing ointments for her rayuma.

Although half of the blood in me is of Sequijornon heritage (my mother's a full-fledge Sequijornon), I have a 50-50 stance on these beliefs but although we may shudder with distaste or laugh our heads off and will not take these folk beliefs seriously, there are still some who believe in them.

I may not have a photographic memory but I stocked some of what Manang Azun told us in my memory. You may find these useful (remember faith can move mountains)...

Do you feel that you are about to lose a loved one? If you feel that your special someone is losing interest in you? (in vernacular "bugnaw pa's simod ni manang") Here is one sure-fire way (but very unsanitary if I may add) to prevent his or her from leaving you.

* In a glass of water, wet and wring your used underwear (yuks). Using the same water, wash your armpits and then add a few drops of your tears. Use the water to make him/her coffee, tea or juice or any beverage he or she likes to have and serve it. Your loved-one will never know what hit him or her and will cling to you forever.

Do you want your loved-one to spend a sleepless night thinking of you? Or do you want to retrieve a lost lover? Manang Azun said this is what you will do:

* In a small piece of paper, write the name of that person and add the words "You will think of me tonight" or "You will come back to me". Burn that piece of paper and wrap the burned pieces in another piece of paper. Pour hot water on a glass and put the paper containing the burned bits of your loved-one's name on top of the glass. The heat is supposed to make that person restless. Within days the person you so deeply and desperately love will be on the road back to you.

While waiting for him or her to come back, Manang Azun gave one more tip.

* Hang a used or unwashed clothing of your loved-one who left above an open stove in a dirty kitchen (abuhan). The constant heat will cause that person to come back to you very soon.

However, if everything does not seem to work and he or she is already engaged to be married to another person, don't despair yet because there is still a last recourse.

* Before the wedding takes place, scrape bits of wood from the doorframe and from the threshhold of the house where the new couple will proceed right after the wedding. Next get some tips of the fur from the tail of a dog and a cat. Wrap it all together in a piece of cloth and bury it in the threshold of that house. Make sure nobody is watching as you do this. Next go inside the house and knock two clay stoves (kalan) against each other. Throw the stoves outside the house afterwards. Chances are the wedding will be postponed for one reason or another but if it will go on, the couple will not stay married for long.

If you have tried the (ridiculous?) suggestions above and nothing worked, it may be that you are not really meant for each other. Also, it is against nature and the moral order to force your will on another person. A relationship based on effects of spells or gayuma never lasts, if it works at all.

Published in Sunstar Davao, May 2, 2004 issue

Midnight encounter

NEXT to washing dishes, throwing the garbage out had always been a source of sibling conflict in our family.

At the tender age of nine, I could no longer count the times I fought with my brothers and elder sister over whose turn it was to empty the garbage bin which seemed to be filled every time we turn our eyes away from it.

For so many times I had planned to run away from home after being at the receiving end of a 'sermon' from my parents for neglecting to follow my schedule in throwing out the garbage.

How I hated to go to the dumpsite! I remember the stinking odor and would hold my breath for as long as I could before throwing the garbage, pail and all, and then rushing back home afterwards often minus the garbage pail. And as expected, I would be ordered to return to the dumpsite to fetch the pail.

I would mumble and stomp my feet but I knew that even if I wore out my feet from too much stomping I still have to make the second trip to the dumpsite to fetch the pail, wash it and return it to its proper place under the sink in the kitchen.

In my boarding house during my college days, I used plastic bags to store my garbage for easy disposal. I was freed from the burden of having to wash a garbage pail but throwing the plastic bags away proved to be a burden because the garbage truck passes by our boarding house to collect garbage between 6-7 a.m. everyday, which is still midnight for me. (I usually go to bed between 2-3 a.m.) By the time I wake up, the garbage truck driver would already be giving his dogs lunch.

Coming home one midnight, I was met by the unmistakable odor of spoiled fish in the room. My eyes went straight to the plastic bag filled with garbage accumulated in the past three days near the wall. I shuddered in distaste at the long line of red ants creeping steadily from under the door towards the garbage bag.

I know I had no choice but to throw the plastic bag that night. I couldn't sleep with the foul odor.

Everybody seemed to have gone to dreamland hours ago in the sleepy little town. (Midsayap residents during that time define 'night life' as going to bed to sleep?).

Gathering up courage, I went down my boarding house with the plastic bag.

I remembered seeing another garbage bag on top of a sand pile at the back of an abandoned store not far from my school. It was a dark and deserted area but still I decided to put my bag there, consoling myself that the garbage truck will pick it up early the next day.

I picked my way in the dark, careful not to stumble and spill my 'precious baggage' and hoping that no one would catch me dumping it just anywhere. When I was just a few meters from the area, I stopped and listened for any signs of life in the dead of the night. Then I froze in fear because I saw the silhouette of a man heading in the same direction.

I stayed where I was, thankful for the darkness that concealed me but not moving for fear of being discovered.

The man however seemed to notice another presence because he too, stopped and stood still where he was.

My heart was pounding so loudly I was afraid the man would hear it and wonder where the pounding sound came from. I held my breath and bore the stinging bite of a mosquito on my arm. I trained my eyes in the darkness to see where the man was but I could no longer see him. I crouched in fear, as if waiting for doom.

The long period of pregnant silence stretched on and on but I did not move from my position. Intuition told me that the man, whoever he was, was still in the area. I was right because after a few agonizing moments, I saw the man get up from a crouching position and ever so slowly, as if in a dream, walked the few steps to the sand pile, looked around before dumping a bigger plastic bag of, you guessed it, garbage on top of the sand pile before making a hasty retreat.

Releasing a huge sigh of relief, I got up, brushed sand from my knees and meted the swarming mosquitoes with the death penalty for taking advantage of my position. I then rushed to the sand pile where my plastic bag joined the two others already there and made a hasty retreat. I never discovered who that man at the sand pile was but I was sure we lived in the same neighborhood.

Thankfully, the garbage truck collects garbage from my present neighborhood at night, when I'm very much alert and alive.


DIGGING underneath a pile of unused clothing in my room one day last year, I came across a plastic bag containing an assortment of familiar-looking objects. I opened the bag and discovered my long-ago and forgotten cross-stitching projects which I started way back in 1998.

"I'm going to finish this in 10 years time," I remembered telling my friend Janet who taught me to cross-stitch.

"First work on something small, like cartoon characters that require only about one fourth meter of cloth, then move on to more elaborate designs after," Janet instructed me.

I paid no heed to her advise because I already have my eyes on a pattern depicting a bride and groom with one flower girl in a light blue motif. The pattern required one whole meter of cloth and yards and yards of multi-colored threads but I had too much confidence that I can do it.

To make it more complicated, I changed the motif which proved much harder because I have to change every piece and color of thread indicated in the pattern.

At first my cross-stitching was so tight, I kept breaking the threads but when I got the hang of it, there was no stopping me. I became a fanatic. Buying patterns, needles and threads became an obsession.

I was so engrossed in finishing my project that I found myself cross-stitching even in bus terminals, in restaurants after eating, before sleeping and immediately after waking up. I even wished I had a few more hands to finish the job faster.

However, I never learned to work as neatly as Janet did. I would only shrug my shoulders in resignation as I look at the jumbled mass of multi-colored threads crisscrossing and intersecting each other. From the back, you cannot determine what design I was actually working on.

I tried to finish the job before a very close friend got married. I planned to give it as a gift on her wedding day but it was harder than I thought.

I was still 80 percent finished with my wedding pattern when my friend's wedding day came.

And went.

One morning I woke up and found that I lost complete interest in it. Just like that and I felt the urge to start another pattern, this time a fat baby girl blowing on a flower. With the same enthusiasm, I worked on the new pattern day and night until it was 80 percent finished.

And the same sickness hit me.

Three-babies-and-a-legal-separation later, my supposed-to-be wedding gift for my friend slumbered inside the plastic bag 80 percent unfinished.

Only the face of the flower girl and the portion near the neck of the groom remained unfinished but somehow I could not seem to understand the pattern or what was left of it after it was marked, cross-marked, criss-crossed and had grown yellow with age. The same with the little girl design. Only a small portion in her neck and face remain unfinished.

It has been over seven years since Janet taught me how to cross-stitch, and the prices of threads and designs and Aida cloth had quarupled.

I sat down with my creation, started to wind some thread on to test it out and was devastated as one of the now-rusty needle snapped in two.

Uh-uh, too late to buy another needle as it was nearing two o'clock in the morning and besides, it was nearing my usual bedtime. I could feel the cross-stitching bug slowly creeping back into my system once again I wanted to go out and buy a needle but had to wait until the stores open.

I spread the wedding pattern on top of the table and went to sleep with excitement over the prospect of finishing the two projects very soon.

Morning came and when I laid my eyes on the unfinished work on the table, my feet almost gave way and I wanted to vomit with revulsion for there, on top of the bride's face and all over her white flowing gown are the mangled and bloody remains of the 'spare parts' of a big rat, gracefully arranged by our cat I'm sure, to display his accomplishment.

Had it not been for the almost P1,000 I've poured for the whole cross-stitch project plus the time and patience, I would have gladly thrown it away.

By now it's now resting peacefully inside a plastic bag (already washed, of course, not by me but by my mother) and buried underneath a pile of unused clothing. Probably, in another seven years I will be interested to dig it up again.


JUST recently, I wrote an article under this column entitled "Needle-mania" containing my brief romance with needles for cross stitching but this one is an exact opposite.

I have always thought that the past two years as a reporter have improved my stamina to battle my fear of needles because I've seen much more 'gory' sights like mangled bodies from accidents and bombings needing to be amputated and all that but an incident sometime ago proved me wrong.

I've surpassed the records of several runners in making a mad dash through the door everytime the nurses from the hospital enter the school room to vaccinate the pupils in elementary because the sight of injection needles always overturn my stomach and make my knees wobbly.

I've tried to overcome this fear. I even enrolled in nursing during my first year in college but I almost did not finish the school year because during the last few weeks, we were directed to get a partner and inject each other with distilled water in the arm and in the butt.

The purpose of the activity, according to the instructor, was to be able to let us experience the actual pain of injection so that we will develop the craft of tender, loving care (TLC) to our future patients.

I shifted to another course during my second year in college.

Anyway, one midnight three months ago buddy Sol whom I haven't seen for quite sometime came and presented me with a 'surprise'(his exact word). Wondering what it was, Sol took off his jacket and revealed a six-inch bloodied bandage just below his right shoulder.

"Just a small gash, the bolo I used to get banana leaves with fell and hit me," he said. I was alarmed but he assured me his aunt had already put malunggay leaves on it for first aid.

But I was not convinced. The amount of dried and fresh blood on the bandage told me otherwise. I asked Sol to just let me look at the bandage again and when he did, I pulled it away without warning. Sol flinched in pain while I went pale for there, staring at me like a mouth with teeth bared was an angry-looking wound about five inches long and about half an inch deep.

My knees immediately felt weak but I tried not to show it. I replaced the bandage, pulled Sol with me outside the restaurant we were in and flagged down a taxi, pushing Sol into it before he had time to argue.

I directed the driver to Davao Medical Center even as Sol insisted that he did not need a doctor.

The nurse at the receptionist almost laughed when Sol told her he just want to have his wound 'dressed'.

"Gabanganga man na sir, tahion gyod intawon na (That's a gaping wound which needs to be stitched)," the nurse said.

What happened next seemed a blur to me. After securing the necessary medicines, the nurse injected both my buddy's arms (without TLC I swear) and directed him to go to the surgical room.

The doctor positioned the needle at the target and pushed while I cringed but I pretended not to be affected. I told Sol non-sense stories while pressing his hands to pass strength to him and to divert his attention from the 'gory' stitching process. His wound required seven stitches.

I could not anymore count how many times I flinched with pain everytime the doctor pushed and pulled the needle when I felt my knees sway. A black object seemed to be heading towards my direction, getting bigger and swirling faster and faster even as I felt all my strength leave me.

"I think I need a drink," I mumbled incoherently and let go of Sol's hands, barely managing to get out of the room before the black swirling thing could claim my conciousness.

I swayed towards the nearest bench outside the surgical ward and sat down, bowing my head to be level with my knees to get rid of the fainting spell when a loud yell followed by a string of vindictives fell on my ears from the man beside me.

Unfortunately, with my vision blurred, I failed to see and sat on the man's wounded and swollen foot on the bench. I will leave you to imagine the amount of pus and blood which oozed from his foot because I think I am really going to faint.