Sunday, June 04, 2006

Another year begins for the young at heart

I used to love the first day of classes.

It means a lot to me when I was younger. It means an end to chopping coconut tree trunks for firewood, an end to gathering wild kangkong from the cemetery at the back of our hut, an end to all the household chores.

Of course, classes also mean an end to the adventures of summer in the mountains, the ricefields, the beach, the nearby river. It means an end to all the trips to the barrios to watch the "bayle" and the fiestas that me and my friends love to attend.

The first week of June means looking forward to hand-me-down books, new shirts from our parish priest in exchange for cleaning the sacristy and the altar during summer, new teachers, new classmates and a reunion of old friends.

Early in the morning, my mother would wake us up - a brood of five - and march us out of the hut to the deep well where we take our bath with a Perla soap. (Yes, I used Perla since birth until I came to Manila where I discovered that Perla is not a bath soap.) We have no shampoo, instead we used coconut milk to wash our hair. For toothpaste, we had salt or some smuggled toothpaste from Zamboanga.

After the bath, we sit together around a small table beside what we consider our hearth in the kitchen. Breakfast usually is two boiled eggs the five of us share, corn and "coffee" made of roasted corn.

We recite a prayer our parents required us to memorize before going out of the house. Our father would be waiting for us outside the house, ask each one of us to open our mouth, put some grass in and tell us not to spit it. "Chew it and swallow," he would tell us. It's an annual ritual. Until now my father refused to reveal what kind of grass was it.

We would then walk a few kilometers to school, to a new world, a new experience that opens our eyes to knowledge.

How we survived? Pure luck and commitment maybe. We love going to school. We love to study.

I later came to Manila to study philosophy, theology and many other things only to realize later that I learned nothing and that life is an endless struggle to learn.

My sister, the one next to me, went to a nearby city for college. She married a distant cousin a few days after getting her Commerce diploma. They now have four children.

My other sister went to a farther city, got her diploma in Social Work, went back to our place to serve in the barrios as a social worker, went back to the university a few years later, got her masteral degree, then went back to the barrios to live with the poor. (My favorite sister!)

A brother went to one of the best private schools in the country, studied economics, got honors, was invited by several banks to work for them, decided to go back to our hometown to work as a clerk in city hall, marry one of the most beautiful girls in town, had two beautiful daughters, and continue to enjoy life after building a hut in the middle of a ricefield near the beach.

Our youngest brother was sent to another city. I don't know what he studied. He did not finish, was hunted by some Moro "pirates" for making a fool out of them, escape to several cities, chased women, was chased by women, loved a woman, fooled by a woman, got broken-hearted and cried his life away.

What have we learned from our school? A lot. But the best lesson was dreaming. Yes, I used to daydream a lot. Dreams can happen. It's up to the individual to make it happen.

No comments: