Sunday, December 24, 2006


This morning, I woke up needing a lift in my spirit. So I called my little friend Jordan in Cebu. I miss him and I also miss the noise (I can't believe I miss the noise ) that I have gotten accustomed to upon waking up in my apartment in Cebu. There's the neighbors' rooster and its' incessant crowing, then there's the other neighbor who seem to get it's cue from the rooster then starts the radio with its' eardrum blasting cacophony.
But most of all, I miss Jordans little feet dragging his rubber slippers while pacing back and forth in front of my door at 530 a.m. It's my cue to open the door because if I don't, he not only drags his slippers louder he also makes a loud coughing noise. Jordan and his siblings with their jobless father lives close by me. The siblings collectively struggle to make money by whatever means possible and still barely eats 3 times a day . Jordan puts in his share of income from an occasional sweeping and wiping clean the bench seats of passenger jeepneys. His mother died when he was 6 years old and has since then basically raised himself. I knew his mother but I really did not know this child but he attached himself to me even though I only saw him occasionally when I came to visit from the US.
This time when I came to live in my apartment in Cebu he lost interest in everything else; his little income and his little friends. He would stand in my front door literally for hours waiting for me to use him for errands in return for some food. I told him he can leave, that I will just call for him when I needed him. But he prefers to hang around me because he likes to observe what I do. You see, he thinks I am rich because I come from America. He is intrigued by the things I have that they don't have in their house. He is awed that I have food anytime I want to eat; all I have to do is open the refrigerator. I feel compassion and affinity for Jordan because I see myself in him. Growing up poor, I also once longed to be like the rich. I slowly introduced him to the better side of life ; I replaced his mismatched, oversized hand- me- down rubber slippers, bought him a couple of shirts and pants and provided soap and water in exchange for him to bathe everyday and stay clean around me.
It took weeks before he got all the hardened grimes out of his body. From years of not bathing more than twice a month, the grimes did not disappear instantly but came off layer by layer. The family has to choose the best use for the money; between bathing(buy soap and water) and eating, the choice is not difficult.
Jordan is 12 but he is mentally deficient because of malnutrition. But he is considerate, he is kind and has the childlike innocence that you don't find in 12 year- olds nowadays. Whenever l take him to do grocery shopping, he would always insist that I don't carry or lift anything. He likes to go with me because we always get something to eat, sit around and people watch. And even though he can't carry on a conversation, I still enjoyed his presence because I am rewarded by the sparks in his eyes everytime I tell him he can order whatever he wants to eat.
But one day, I told him I can't take him with me, because I don't have extra money to eat. He still begged me to let him tag along anyway. I knew then that I would never feel alone in Cebu.
He could not carry on a full sentence to make sense,and only knows to write the alphabet of his name, but knowing that his heart is sincere, I try to be patient with him. He wants so bad to help his family financially that whenever I gave him money, he runs to his father and give it all away. I struggled to find the right words to explain to him that his gesture is good, but that I want my money to buy food for him, not cigarettes for his father.
When I talked to Jordan today, he was busy preparing for the "exchange gift" that the neighborhood kids were planning to have. I made sure he had money to participate but he did not sound happy, I asked him why, he said he wished I was there. Jordan understands what it means to be in a crowd and still feel alone. Me too, wished not to be alone this Christmas. I controlled the tears and promised to see him soon. I taught him how to read and follow the calendar, so he asked me what "date" is soon. I struggled for the answer and he asked another question, " Your voice is broken, are you sick? Is it Christmas in America now?" Jordan may not be smart or able to read and though his voice was filled with childish curiousity, I felt the echo of care and concern.
No, Jordan, Christmas is tomorrow, but yes, my heart is broken. Again.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Why I hate Christmas

When I see two trunks of banana trees with real fat bananas ripening on the tree tied on both sides of our doorway, I know it is Christmas. That was our Christmas tree. The bananas were so fat it was splitting the skin. We picked and ate anytime we want one; that was how my dad celebrated Christmas when we were growing up. No Christmas dinner or dressing up for church and definitely no gifts. We had one rich relative who would come and give us a calendar and t-shirts advertising his business.

The rich probably celebrated Christmas but I would not know because I did not have any rich friends. I was 24 years old the first time I received a Christmas gift for myself and for myself alone. It was from the wife of my boss; they are Americans. When she handed it to me, I unwrapped it right away, and she told me, I was supposed to put it under the Christmas tree and wait til Christmas to open it. But we didn't have one.

As the years progressed and my families mindset improved, my sister started making a Christmas tree made out of tree limbs covered with some white soap bubbled to look like snow. Then she would put empty boxes wrapped in red and green japanese paper under it. That was the only improvement in our Christmas celebration. Of course we did not open the boxes because there was nothing in it. I did not question the snow, considering that the only snow the Philippines ever saw is on tv. We did not feel depressed in December because we did not expect any gift from anyone. And we did not feel tired in January and the rest of the year trying to pay for the gifts we were forced to give and could not afford.

Fast forward to now. We have big things and we don't sleep well at night. I live in America, and Americans are "freedom loving people" but I am so polarized I have lost my freedom trying to be free. Free from sarcasm. One group says we should boycott any store that does not mention Christ-mas in their greetings. Another group says, it does not matter -as long as we get a day off for the "holidays." I like both ideas but I have 2 equally precious friends who's polarizing me. I tell them it's not Christs' birthday we are celebrating anyway but rather a celebration of pagan origin. It is the merchants who entices us to buy.., not Christ. Christ wants us to celebrate everyday. How do we do that? By being Christlike. And I have yet to see one around this time of year. If you don't believe me, try cutting in front of a shopper who's eyeing the last X Box on sale.

I hate Christmas because it creates too much traffic. Christmas brings on a lot of depression. It brings out the best in people and also the worst in people. At work, this is the time we gather around cookies and flavored popcorns and talk about our bosses. We talk about our bosses everyday, but Christmas brings on the biggest complainer in us. What do you mean 100 dollars? Dave gave us 200 plus fruit cake. (Dave was the boss 10 years ago, and we compared him then to the boss before him too.) And when we ran out of complaints towards our bosses, we start complaining about the gift from our men. Which leads to pondering ...he does not care as much anymore.
A coworker walks in to work after Christmas grinning ear to ear and prods.."So what did Santa gave you?" Those with stable marriages have no problem giving the details. Those of us who are alone pretends to be ok with it and lies about imaginary gifts we received and imaginary things we did with family and friends..(it is a lie of course but we told this lie over and over in this Christmas season, that we started to believe it is true.) And some of us just pretends to be sarcastic about Christmas and say we don't like it, when in fact we love it, but hate the fact that we have no one special to spend it with.

So before I get so sarcastic here, let me stop so I can drive over to a friends house. My friend is trying to reach out, " Do you think you can stop by and visit for a while?" The depressed voice on the other line could as well be mine and it is only 10 days before Christmas.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Lost and Found

I just came back from Costa Rica and I am still buoyed up by the experience I had. I don’t bother with maps because I am not good at reading them anyway, so on my second day in San Jose, I was lost like a needle in a haystack. I did not know how to get back to my hotel. Don’t ask me, but yes, I did not have the phone number or the street name of my hotel. And by the way it was not a hotel but a dungeon… I mean a hostel. It’s not like I can just tell the driver to take me to the Hyatt or the Holiday Inn.

After asking 7 policemen who could not even say -No English, and 3 attempts to get a taxi to take me, I soon realized my only help is Jesus. I scanned the place for people who looked “white” and or dressed like they were going to their offices --with the hope or assumption, that they would be able to help me in English. None of them was able to help me. I walked and walked hoping to find a familiar building only to find myself feeling more confused. If only I could find that corner store called “El Kiosko,” that would be my reference point. I was almost hysterical because I started to question myself. Maybe it is not the direction that’s the problem, maybe it’s me. Maybe I am losing my mind. Then I came up with an idea to call a big hotel in town and get their English- speaking receptionist to help me. I crossed the street where I saw a young woman on a pay phone. “ Do you speak English?” She looked at me with the same look everyone has been giving me the last 3 hours.

Then suddenly, a young man appeared to my left in perfect English – “what do you need, I speak English.” “Can you help me dial a number?” “You have to have a phone card.” I didn’t have a phone card. He saw the paper in my hand with my hotel name that I scribbled earlier for the useless policemen. I now started to notice his disheveled look. On non-emergency situation, I would run away from this guy, but his English was so valuable to me at this time. His left eye was very red, hair matted and a big crater on the right corner of his parched and cracked lips. “I can’t find my way back to my hotel and I don’t speak Spanish to direct the taxi drivers.” He glanced at the paper in my hand again – “ Are you staying at Pangea?” Yes.

He knew how the hotel looks like and he gave me directions. I could not believe my ears. “Would you walk with me please?” I was almost begging, I just could not take the chance of getting lost again. “ I can’t, I have to meet my mother at the bus station.” He was walking away as he was saying this. I headed in the direction that he gave me and tears started to well up. I kept flickering my lashes so people won’t notice me crying. I was so grateful to Jesus for providing the man to help me but I also wanted to do something for the man. But no way in the world I would try and find him.

From a distance I could already see the gate to the hostel. I am home, I thought, but my heart was heavy for that man. I wanted to do something for him; he looked like he could use some food. I got back to my room, laid in bed for a while then went up to the roof deck restaurant and swore I am not leaving the hostel until I leave for the airport to come home. That’s how traumatized I was. Two hours went by and I gathered enough courage to get myself out of the building and venture out in another direction. Maybe this other part of town won’t be so difficult to navigate, I encouraged myself. I needed to go find a bookstore and buy some books. I decided to walk since I can’t communicate with taxi drivers.

After a few blocks I sat down to a cup of cappuccino in one of the nicer cafes’ and found a waitress who spoke enough English to give me directions to a bookstore. This time I wrote every street landmark to guide me back to the hostel. I found 7th Street Books. Browsed around for 30 minutes, bought a cookbook and headed back, but I passed by the plaza and thought I could get some sun while I read my cookbook. I had my head buried in my reading when a man approached me in Spanish; all I could understand was the word “Senyora” but I gathered he was trying to sell me some odds and ends.

I noticed the book in Spanish was almost dilapidated, 2 coasters made of cardboard and a green box of dental floss in his hand. “No Espanol” I cut him off right away. He reverted to English, “ I just need to buy bread and coffee, I have AIDS and I have been living on the street for 29 days now because my mom thinks I am gay. I am not gay and I don’t do drugs. She is ashamed of me.” I was staring at him and tears just started streaming down my cheeks, I could not believe it. “ Don’t you recognize me?” “Senyora, I am sorry, my memory is bad because I am very sick.”

“You were the one who helped me at noontime, I was lost for 3 hours and you don’t understand how distraught I was. I wanted to look for you to thank you.” I asked him to sit down but he shook his head and pulled his shirtsleeve and showed me the lesions on his arm and stomach. I insisted and had him sat down next to me because I wanted to hear more of his story.

He used to live in America a long time ago, he does not know who gave him the AIDS virus because he had sex with several different women. I asked him if he was sad or bitter, he said no. He does not feel sorry for himself either because he knows that when his body finally give out, the worms will feast on him in the ground, but his spirit will go back to God who gave it. He just wants his mother to accept him and believe that he is not gay or a drug user. His mother promised so many times to see him but has yet to show up. She was not at the bus station. I thought of taking him to a restaurant to eat but instead I just handed him the money. As he turned to walk away, he said, “ I don’t know if I will see you again, but I will not forget you.” I will not forget you either Eric, and yes, we will see each other again. When Jesus comes back.