On getting married

In less than a year, four of my friends got married. First was Ruth, my college blockmate, who had a garden wedding. Then there was Nikka, who had her wedding at a minor basilica in Manila. Followed by Abby, who tied the knot by the beach in December, making her last Christmas merrier. Finally, it was Aly, whom I call my twin and a colleague from my first job. Hers was the first church wedding of the year I got invited to. God knows who might be next in line for this year.

Few years ago, I never had a concept of marriage nor I feel bothered about it. I even cracked a joke to my friends that I would only be pressured of marriage if my high school best friend, who was single since birth, finally meets her prince charming. Just a year ago, her prince charming arrived out of the blue, crossing out her No Boyfriend Since Birth (NBSB) label. I was euphoric of the news, abandoning the joke – or deadline – I’ve darted to myself.

I never cast in stone that I would do away with marriage. But I am woke enough to realize that bent individuals have meager chance of being granted with civil union or church wedding, especially in a conservative country where Catholicism is dominant. In fact, when the petition for same-sex marriage was junked, it transpired to me that I am not getting any closer to the likelihood of getting married. So even when the vision is crystal clear in my head, I know that in reality it is elusive. It was saddening, but there were not much plaintive cries. I firmly dealt with life as it is, as it moves on. Besides, getting married was not something concrete I look forward to.

This thinking pretty goes on for quite some time, until my friends started to get married one by one.

Every time I attend a wedding, the couple’s sense of joy reverberates to me. I would look at the groom, whose face would be filled with so much bliss. The groom would pump his fist in the air, victorious enough to proclaim he is the luckiest man on earth for marrying the woman of his life. He would make a sob, overwhelmed by the sight of his wife-to-be walking down the aisle. Then there would be the bride, whose beauty is immaculate as the gates open. Her beauty would shine, as the sun strikes perfectly from her behind. She would walk in between her family and friends, in her pure white gown. At the end of the line, the groom and bride would meet and smile at each other, as if sharing the magic.  Then there they are, ready to make a vow, before the eyes of their loved ones, in front of the altar, before God. Everything would be orchestrated well.

Of all the parts of a wedding, it has always been my favorite when the priest gestures to the couple to exchange words of love. More than the grandeur of the wedding, it is the story and declaration of love that constantly invites me to fulfill it this lifetime. I thought to myself, “Sana ako naman.

I am genuinely happy for my friends who got married. I share the same celebratory atmosphere with them, at the exact moment of their union. I earnestly wish them a happy marriage — a happy family even. Although at the back of my head, I save a little prayer for myself hoping that someday it would be my big day, and it would be their turn to make best wishes for me. Because even if not everybody wishes to be married, I am sure I wanted to be.

I do not know when; I do not know how. From time to time, I still ask myself of the possibility of getting married, holding on to the universe that it would hear me and find ways. Sometimes, I would whisper to the stars, to give me a chance to dedicate and submit my heart to the person I love – loud and proud. Other times, I bargain that I would not demand a grand and lavish wedding — no garden wedding, no by the beach wedding, and not even at an elegant church. Just a plain and intimate wedding, enough to be cherished for lifetime.

A friend once reminded me that no one holds the future and miracles occur at random instances, which speaks to me that I should not retreat from my faith that one day, it would come about. When that day arrives, and it is time to share my words of love to my future groom, I could finally say these intro lines to him:

I used to write about this — about us. Back then I was anxious to open my eyes from dreaming, because I knew reality would always hit me hard. But today, your presence in front of me calls me to try closing my eyes one more time and dream, holding it for as long as I can. This time, I would open my eyes unafraid, because you will still be there. Tangible enough for me to feel and touch. A reminder that this is happening, that this time it is real.

 

To my future mother-in-law

My mom and Ron did not have a perfect start, since mom initially opposed our relationship. But Ron kept coming back to the house proving that he was – and still is, after 7 years – a nice guy. This eventually earned the respect of my mom. The next thing I knew they were a tandem commiserating on my bad habits. My mom would share to Ron that every time I get home from work, I would toss my worn clothes or hang them anywhere. To my mom’s words, “Ang kalat-kalat niyan ni Jef-Jef kapag umuuwi.” Ron would chuckle and would further to my mom that I seem like a passing hurricane whenever I go for a sleepover at his place. (In my defense, his room is just messy that I always take the blame for it.)

Point is, they clicked, and I was absolutely happy for them — for us. I guess what I am wishing now is that Ron’s mom, Mama Do would be as open as my mom.

Unlike the rough start of mom and Ron, Mama Do and I started fairly fine. I was introduced as a friend. Back then, I observed that Mama Do was socially awkward that she would not talk unless you talk to her. I was a sales representative, and it was a challenge for me to have her in my fence. I knew I had to win her trust. I was pulling hard to make a conversation with her, but to what I believed in, there was a recognition from her.

Things happened in between that it turned out that Ron’s close friend was his lover. Mama Do was a traditional mom and a conservative Catholic, that if same-sex marriage becomes legal in the Philippines, and Ron and I decided to get married – at least enter into a civil ceremony – the first person who will sternly object is her. Despite her knowing, our relationship remained steady. I still bless to her and greet her whenever I visit their house. But overtime, her social awkwardness shifted to coldness.

During her birthday, I cheerfully greeted her with a happy birthday. I was beaming in hopes of receiving the same energy, but her response was awkward silence. No eye contact. No nod. No gesture of acknowledgment. She proceeded with her cooking. I looked at Ron with a little dismay, and he locked eyes with me as if telling me it was okay. I crooked a smile, and pretended it was no big deal.

One time I was about to go home from a family gathering at their place, Ron’s relatives and friends waved goodbye to me, and I motioned my hand to bid mine. As I alighted to the service car, I took a glimpse at Mama Do, she was staring blankly to the car. I put in my head that it was just me being too fixated to her reaction. But ever since the birthday scene, I could not help but to be extra conscious.

There is no feeling of anger I have towards her. I am not a parent to invalidate neither judge what she feels. Who knows, maybe she is still in the process of accepting things. Maybe she still hopes that Ron will give her a grandchild… to which can be done through in vitro, nowadays? Scrap. This is potentially an abomination to her Catholic belief, since she believes in the natural way of doing and bearing it. I have no idea of what she thinks or feels, at all. But as for me, honestly, I am longing for her.

I long for a relationship alike to what my mom and Ron has. I wanted to be told how was Ron growing up apart from his fragmented memories, because I am pretty sure that hers was sharp in storytelling Ron’s childhood. The old photos pinned against the wall, I was expecting to hear the stories behind them. I was looking forward to know how Ron confided to her when he had his first heartbreak, or shared his first achievement. I was hoping she can give me pieces of advice of how I can be a better lover to Ron.

It might be out of Mama Do’s personality to fully bring her walls down as I imagined her to be, or to be as extrovert as my mom, but I hope she can make me feel in her uniquely, socially awkward way that I am free to love her son. If not that, maybe she can just make me feel that I am welcome to visit their home, or regard my greetings and not assume I was a transient ghost. Trust me, there’s no shade of bitterness in my last sentence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When in Bali

I do not hate taking photos when traveling, neither I shy away from the camera when there is an opportunity to smile for it. But I make sure that I draw the line between capturing memories and doing it for the ‘gram. Perhaps I just prefer to live by the moment and remember things through my senses.

Remembering Bali

I remember the majesty of the mountains that were perfectly filtered by the sun rays, and how the blow of the winds became a breather in the middle of the hot weather.

IMG_8906.jpg

I remember the three boys who defied the great waves at Tanah Lot temple with their surf boards, that even if I jokingly bribed mom with a million pesos, she would not dare to risk her life.

IMG_8943.jpg

I remember the girl who was startled by the fact that a monkey was face-to-face with her, that it was a moment of truth for her that they were not as lovely as the ones she sees on her kindergarten flash cards — smiling wide with twinkling eyes.

I remember the group of guys who studied the behavior of the monkeys, and how the monkeys tend to be kleptomaniac.

I remember the couple who watched the sunset at the beach, holding a bottle of Bintang. They never knew that they made the sunset a perfect view for others — at least for me. It made me realize that the more plain things are, the more lovely they become.

IMG_6847.jpg

I remember Carol, who was amiable to chat with us about the humidity in Bali, and how she has been wanting to visit Vietnam — even when she was in Bali, and we were from the Philippines.

I remember the shriek of mom when we rode the swing at the coffee plantation, and how she pretended to cook the luwak coffee. Trust me when I say that she has the potential to be part of a morning talk show along with Melai, Karla, and Jolina.

IMG_7765.jpg

I remember the guy couple who was losing breath as they trek Lombok island to catch the sunrise. When they reached the top, they smiled at each other with radiance, as if it was a toothpaste commercial I was gazing. From their behind, I was cheering and wishing they would give each other a smack. Then it occurred to me, that scene only happens in movies.

I remember the group of girls entertained by their gay friend. Gee, I knew gays are fab!

I remember the voluptuous guy crossing the hanging bridge exclaiming, “Shit, I think it’s gonna fall.” Everybody laughed, but I did not think he was offended by his own joke.

I remember the children on the road who were wearing their traditional Balinese uniform. Our driver shared that during Fridays, students wear their traditional attire. They looked like Filipino children in their sarung.

I remember the shirtless guy who remained at his tree house while the sun is showing up. It was the most relaxed place I’ve ever seen. I bet everybody wanted to be in his place at that moment.

I remember the woman in hijab, who gave a piercing scream out of thrill while riding a swing. It was pleasurable to witness, because behind the hijab that covered her, I was aware that she was smiling from ear to ear.

I remember how the two hermit crabs chased each other in sand. It was beautiful to see that they were free, and creeping in their natural habitat.

I remember how petrified I was to meditate on a gigantic rock in the shore, because our tour guide warned us that the tide was getting high. I was completely out of focus, and almost ran away from the shore. But I told myself not to be afraid of the slosh of waves, because our very essence has been connected with nature. It was the most glorious moment I’ve ever had with nature.

IMG_6952.jpg

Missed Moments

I may not have photographed all these moments, but they remain in my head. Just because it was not captured, did not mean it were missed memories. It was in fact otherwise — vivid and fresh.

 

Speak up

Last night, Joshua and I booked a Grab going home. We pinned the pick up point near the Grab booth of SM Megamall. Unlike Grab drivers who arrive at the set location smoothly, ours got lost and confused. The driver was heading to the taxi bay where a long stretch of heads queued; taxis were infrequent.

Josh phoned the driver telling him we would hop in at the taxi bay. I shadowed him as we strode to the new pick up point. Unaware of his environment and consumed by his phone, Josh seemingly cut the queue. This time, there were sharp stares directed to us. As passengers who were beaten by exhaustion became territorial, I have literally taken aback.

Suddenly, an old lady in the line burst, barraging us with words, “CAN YOU TELL THOSE PEOPLE TO FALL IN LINE??? OTHERS ARE PATIENTLY WAITING HERE!!”

She was red, enraged, and pointing her finger at us. Josh was still on the phone but approached the old lady to calm her. I gently clarified to her, “Ma’am, we are waiting for our Grab. Hindi po kami sumisingit.”

She replied, “Thanks for clearing that, but this is taxi lane. Doon nalang kayo mag-antay sa kabila.”

I appreciate her ferocity that instead of reciprocating it with anger I acknowledged her, “OK, Ma’am. But anyway, thank you for speaking up. Not everybody will speak up even if they see something wrong.”

She exclaimed, “Ay nako, hijo! I am 65-year-old. Malapit nang magunaw ang mundo, at kung anu-ano pa ang nangyayari sa Pilipinas! Kailangan talaga nating magsalita!”

Then our driver arrived.

On our way home I thought the old lady was right. Now is high time to speak up especially when we see things are unjust and foul. It was a reminder that when others cannot speak for themselves, we can be their voice.

Leaders of tomorrow

Davao, Philippines — The Unilab Foundation led by the Ideas Positive team organized the Ideas Positive Youth Forum Philippines (IPYFP) in August 2019 where public health issues were discussed and a youth competition commenced. One of the highlights of the event was the Ideas Positive competition that involved the youth on making projects that would help build a healthier Philippines. The youth was composed of young professionals and students who came from various regions in the Philippines to pitch their health projects.

During the three-day forum, I’ve witnessed how the competing young adults presented the pressing health issues in their respective communities.

With their brilliant minds, they provided solutions to aid these concerns. Some of the issues that they have reported were long standing issues in the Philippines. For instance, one group shared that there was a lack of health facility among the Mangyan community that attending to simple illness is a constant challenge. The absence of health infrastructure in the Philippines, especially in the tribal communities, has been an existing and archaic issue.  People in the mountains resort to shamans or primitive healing forms instead of proper medical assistance. In doing so, illnesses remain uncured and diseases continue to spread. Ideally, it is the local government that should be responding in building health infrastructures and ensuring that health care professionals are available in his scope of territory. However, local government may be faced with various issues such as limited budget, governance, priority projects, and the like.

The absence of physical health structure in the Mangyan community allowed a youth group to initiate partnerships and setup a modest health infrastructure – this served as their entry pitch for the Ideas Positive competition. They mobilized few local barangay health workers and capacitated them by partnering with health professionals whose expertise were extensive to impart learnings. Through this setup, a health station was perceived to be the first responder of the health concerns of the Mangyans.

A group from Pangasinan came up with an innovative idea of designing a bike that carries a disaster kit so individuals can take immediate response when the ambulance is still hitting the road. The bike can also be an alternative in cases of disasters when roads become impassible using regular vehicles. The pitch of the group entitled PadyaRescue has already trained youths and adults in their barangay to provide first aid remedy.

As their entry, another youth group educated a community about high blood pressure, and educate them on ways how to prevent it.

Humanitarian work

Apart from dreaming to be a teacher, I dreamed to be a humanitarian worker responding to the plight of the refugees and people who were displaced by the war. Sounds fearless, right? Maybe I got the inspiration to pursue this line of work when I was doing my research on conflict studies. To put it into context, I studied the plight of the Maranaos who sought refuge in Quiapo, Manila due to war in Marawi.

I could have taken an NGO job related to humanitarian work given my knowledge, understanding and exposure in the field. But frankly, I was having second thoughts about it. Is my heart ready for it? Can I really do this? Isn’t it ironic that I am hoping peace for refugees but I am not giving peace of mind to my parents? Clouds of doubt filled in my head.

This lingering emotion in my heart on humanitarian related job made me root for Team Kabanatan. The group provided a modified psychosocial support for children in three schools in Maguindanao where conflicts are rife. They trained teachers on how to ask the right questions with empathy and sensitivity to children who were disturbed by wars and conflicts. They involved parents in the healing process of the children. They empowered the vulnerable ones. More than this, they made partnerships with government entities to ensure that this will be an agenda and an adopted model.

No doubt, they bagged the first place.

Youth as our hope

Zealous to put an end on the same problem over again, these young adults decided to take action and filled the gap. Based on their pitching, fixing and aiding social issues was not a relaxed task. Most of the youths were emotional. Their eyes saw realities that half of the nation do not. They were fervent to bring progress and change. I could not find the right words to describe the intensity I felt when they were delivering their speech with such passion. These were individuals who were younger than me but possess such high values.

I applauded them. I can always write and point whose responsibility it should be and how it could be addressed, but to co-exist with the issue and partake in solving it requires a lot of time, dedication, drive, and courage. As JP, Oro Youth Council stressed during the breakout session on youth governance, “We must co-exist to influence policies.”

On a side note, this should not strip the government from responsibilities. At the end of the day, it is part of their job to provide excellent service to their community in their full capacity.

Young and dumb

Some people would say that they are still young, that they are idealistic. I hated when people say that. It’s as if people are wishing to the wind to kill the dreams and aspirations of the youth. Maybe the system has gotten some of them, and they assume that everybody else will.

When we have the slightest doubt about someone’s desire for change, the least we can do is to keep it alive with our kind words.

 

 

 

27th

The month of August is often associated with ghost month. People would speak that it is not a perfect time to spend money, setup business, get into a relationship, or change career. Worse, it is during the ghost month when disasters occur.

Contrary to what others perceive as an unwelcomed month, for me August is a month that I am looking forward to. First, it is my birth month. Second, it is Ron and I’s anniversary month. Lastly, there are so many Philippine holidays scheduled in August. Who doesn’t love holidays? Edsa is free! See, I don’t have any reasons why August should deter me to feel celebratory.

But it is ghost month!

When I was still doing my corporate job, a Chinese doctor once told me that I should not get worried of ghost month. Instead, he urged me to pray because the act is powerful above all else.  I am not a fan of religion, but I believe in prayer whether in the form of music, meditation, or silence.

27th Year

Today, I am celebrating my 27th year despite the heavy rains. Since I have started that habit of counting my blessings, it’s time to accentuate on the people, events, things, and small victories that I have been grateful for.

Finding God

There was a time when my faith was disconcerted that my connection with God stopped to nurture. Maybe because attending mass became routinely that I was not sure if it was truly nourishing my spiritual needs. It can be that the same religion that preaches love hated gays, lesbians, and trans equating individuals with sin, hell, and damnation rather than flourishing their faith. Maybe it suggested to me that mass goers should not just show up in church, but take actions where help, support, and love are needed. Perhaps I do not just see all who seek God in church as kind and compassionate people. I had my reasons, and it rattled my faith.

Then one day, I was enlightened. I cannot remember when exactly, but it struck me to focus on my personal faith with God rather than think of how others sway my faith. I guess I am grateful that I found God in many ways – not just in church. I notice God when other people extend help to me, when I randomly look at the sky’s peaceful hue, or when opportunities come in my least expected timings.      

Q Family

I have quite a loud family that makes me wonder if I were adopted, but the comparable physical features confirmed that I am not. Whenever I get home from work, I imagine myself lying peacefully on my bed, spending an hour reading a book, and softly succumbing to sleep. That is the dream. The reality is that, my mom’s frequency is at max, and my niece who I am rooming with plays computer with speakers on. Imagine the moment your eyes are shutting, then suddenly you’ll hear loud shootings and squeaks. So there, I leave the feeling of displeasure to you.

Now that I am remembering my niece I am actually starting to hear her voice in my head whenever she attempts to vlog with her “Hey guys! This is Jem, and welcome to my channel!” intro.

The noise annoyance is just one thing. At the end of the day, there are multiple reasons why I am thankful for with my family. Whenever I get home, I am greeted with mom’s appetizing dinner that I forget what diet means, really. My niece never forgets to greet me with hello. During Sundays, it always feels like a feast. My mom cooks sumptuous, and she requests that we devour the food all together. It gives us an avenue to catch up and talk about anything under the sun. Imagine putting everyone in one table!  

Fairly, not everybody is blessed with having a complete, (loud), and happy family.

The One

I could not thank Ron more for staying with me for 7 years. I’ll keep this short since I will be writing a separate post in time with our anniversary. Keso. Haha!

Master of Community Development

My ultimate goal this year is to finish my graduate studies. I told myself that by 27, I should have my master’s degree. You know when people say that life is full of surprises? It’s true. Because at 26, I already earned that degree I dreaded on. It was probably grit that allowed me to finish it, or it could be that I put in advance all my birthday wishes one moment I was wishing to the universe. Either way, this is considered done and a wish granted. Gosh, it feels victorious to type the word ‘done’. Let’s do it again – D O N E.

Advocating for education

Everything is going to plan accordingly. I’ve written in stone that after completing my graduate studies, I will transfer to another NGO / foundation. Not that I did not love Children’s Hour anymore, I just felt the need to grow professionally.

In June 2019, we had our graduation and recognition in UP, and on the following month I received a job offer from three NGOs. I chose to be with the foundation that is closer to one of my advocacies — education. Have I told you that I am a frustrated teacher?

Looking forward to

Maybe I am still breathing because I have yet to fulfill my mission in life. Whatever role I have to play in this lifetime, I hope to do it well. On top of everything else, I am committed and looking forward to gracefully finish that mission.

Carry on, my dear self.

 

Count your blessings

The rain started pouring last night, and I was observing the crowd from our car window as they fidgeted to look for a roof. A vendor who was carrying a pile of guitars on his right shoulder while holding a bundle of ukuleles on his left hand caught my attention. The man rushed to an establishment offering shade and rested his guitars and ukuleles on the wall. He brushed his wet hair, and wiped dry his instruments.

I looked at Ron and told him how blessed we were with a car that protected us from the rain and would send us home dry. While others were problematic with rain affecting how they would make ends meet for the day, I was thinking how I would protect my shoes from not drenching in flood water. It was belittling on my end, but it taught me not to complain in life and to count my blessings.

Fate is clever. Last night’s realization of abundance was not the first. Life’s blessings were obvious in moments I overlooked.

There was a time I had a pimple outbreak because I was scarce with sleep and was working double for my thesis in graduate school. For most of the time I didn’t mind how I look, but that particular night while I was waiting for a bus after class I realized how stressed my face was. I was insecure and felt a lowered self-esteem.

I hailed the approaching bus and sunk at the front row unconsciously dismissing a seat for PWD, pregnant woman, or elderly. It was only then that I realized that it was a special seat when a blind man asked me if we were nearing Starmall. I was about to transfer but I saw that the bus offered open seats. I stayed in my seat while vowing to move when it was necessary.

Honestly, nothing transcended to me instantly when he began talking given my exhaustion physically, mentally, and emotionally. But the man was a real talker so I gave in. I learned that he was a beneficiary of our foundation through one of our partner organizations. He was used to commuting alone under the tutelage of the conductor on his stop — although at times, he needed a confirmation from his seatmate to avoid conductor oversight. He shared that he can only perceive bright lights, but everything was plain white.

I knew the universe was sending me a message that night. One, that my pimple outbreak was a joke. Second, that I should be thankful that despite my rough skin, my essential senses were normal and functional.

An Act of Gratitude

An act of gratitude, like any other habit, is a muscle that must be stretched from time to time. I am teaching myself to count my blessings, to see the bigger picture, and to take a look at my better state rather than complain.

If I am standing too long I’ll think about mall employees who have to endure long hours of standing that is required of their job.

If I am overwhelmed with my job, I’ll think about the people who wish they have a job to pay for their needs and wants.

If I am annoyed by Mom’s frequency, I’ll think about the people who were longing for a mother’s love.

If I am stuck in traffic, I’ll think about the children who have to cross mountains and rivers just to get to their school and back home.

If I am tired of waking up early in the morning, I’ll think about those people who have been fighting cancer just to make sure they get to see the sun the following day.

If I am frustrated with my pay, I’ll think about those people who needed to work twice to get their stomachs filled.

If I thought that my clothes are out of fashion, I’ll think how some parents wish they could give a simple dress for their daughter’s birthday.

If I am hungry for personal space and quiet time, I’ll think about the people who were displaced due to war.

If I complain about not being able to travel, I’ll think of families who just wish they have a home where their family can settle, or think of people abroad who wish they can just stay at home to be with their family.

When I started counting my blessings, I recognized that the list is limitless. Even the simplest form of breathing, I started to be thankful for. As I type this, some people in the world are praying that they could breathe a little better just for a minute.

The next time we think about complaining, let us look at the picture as a whole. Surely, it will hit us that we are way blessed than we could ever think of.