A friend once told me it took her three years to finally come to terms with the fact that she has a different country from what she has known to call home. I held on to this, thinking my time would come. That give or take a few years, I would gradually have a sense or a semblance at least of attachment to this foreign land. It’s three years now–I’ve never felt farther from home.
That’s sad. And ungrateful I might add when others would attempt anything to cross borders and oceans to be here. But I guess if for others it takes three years to acclimatize, for the luckier others, less, for the unfortunate others, more.
I tried. God knows I did. It’s something that ought to happen without a hitch. But doing so has proven to be a struggle.
Maybe my definition of the word itself is fuzzy. Because for me home is where you most become yourself. At ease, carefree, fulfilled, happy. But this is probably why the feeling of belongingness in this land is challenging because my depiction is just so abstract.
I’ve moved quite a bit; settled in different towns and cities. Readapting was quite easy for some reason. Maybe because I always knew that these were temporary. Like four years in a campus dormitory sped by because I knew once I was done, I can waltz back to my mountains. Three years alone in a house by the outskirts of a city was a breeze, or another three years shuffling among flats in the deserts went by as swiftly. True there were challenges in every move, numerous ones, but I somehow glided with the changes.
Which gives me reason to believe that I’ve always associated home with a sense of permanence. And that is why getting to accept that being here for a long-term, if not permanent status, is arduous and demonstrating itself to be such a formidable undertaking.
I’m writing this obviously for my sake. Like a self-help missive to prod myself that there’s nothing and no one to make it better for me other than me.
Perhaps I should begin by redefining my perception of home. That it ought not to be singular, not necessarily physical–a more versatile, more encompassing definition. That I should not only associate it to where my family and loved ones are, or that it’s only home when I pay for the upkeep of the roof above my head. After all, I was able to make a home for myself at the top bunk of a rowdy, co-ed dorm room. Or at a grandpa’s pint-sized cabin near a river. And even at a flat shared with eight other people with varying personalities.
Home can be where you will it to be and not necessarily where you want it to be. Hence I should be able to create it, anywhere–so long as I put my heart to it. I was just too stubborn to start doing so.
After all, I live in a beautiful city. Topography’s just like that back in my town with its coniferous mountains. Weather here’s bipolar and so unpredictable but we have the best summers too. People are friendly, transit’s reliable most days, there’s plenty of jobs when you know where to look, and tons of adventures to do if you’re the outdoors type like me. Most importantly, this country has welcomed me with open arms and offered me an array of opportunities.
It should have been so easy for me to call this place home. But I stuck to my sentiments. I keep on yearning for people who are not here. I was missing the different kind of freedom that I indulged in elsewhere. And that a huge part of me was in denial, subconsciously thinking that I’m here on a quite lengthy vacation. These all need to change. It won’t be overnight for sure but I believe accepting the reality that my fate might be tied to this city is a big first step.
I will find my reasons to be ‘at home’, plenty of them. Both pragmatic and sentimental ones. It might take another three years, or three months, but I’ll get there eventually.
It’s been a year since my favorite local historian left to join her forefathers after a century of a life well-celebrated. I remember her not with grief but with continued awe of how she graciously led a life with purpose. Though I cannot help but be unpleasantly reminded of one unjustifiable failure that I should have managed to complete while she still breathed the gusts of the highlands.
When my pen was more cooperative and my mind thirsted for knowledge and preservation, I once vowed to myself to put into paper the rich local folktales that my grandmother kept vaulted in her retentive mind but willingly and gladly shared without much prodding. I started with a sentence or two of the lovelorn yet reckless An-ananga and his princess of unparalleled beauty then stopped for reasons unknown. I don’t even recall where I kept that lazy draft.
Alas! Now my foolproof source is no longer here and I definitely cannot rely on this 30-year old, withered mind to recollect and revive the colorful lives led by those vibrant characters. It is tragic that I failed to immortalize them while she was still alive but it will be more of a misfortune if I do not attempt to do so.
The plights of the gutsy An-ananga, the exploits of the brave Sadsadyokana, and the wit of Pal-pal-ama against the sneaky Oto-ot deserve to be retold. These tales are great reminders of our local culture’s richness and it would be such a shame to let them be drowned in the advent of modernization and technology.
Where to start? I have no idea.
I need to go back to those years when this once young mind savored the evening story-telling with the grandma. With the imaginary warmth of the dying embers of the ‘dapwan’, I go back and start with, ‘A long, long time ago…
Perhaps she didn’t like it as well. Her very long, silver-white hair had to be sheared, right above her ears. It had to be cut because she had to spend most of the hours lying down in bed, tangling those locks that once gloriously crowned her head. She wasn’t bed-ridden, not just yet, but old age has taken its toll and even sitting down wearied her already.
She used to say it was taboo to cut the hair of an old woman as all her memories are stored in those long, thinning tresses—a personal belief she insisted even among us, her grandchildren. But like all the other things she had to give up doing, this was one of the beliefs she had to renounce too.
The years have finally caught up with her. But no one really knows how old she is exactly. She has outlived all of her friends and generation-mates. There are times I can’t help but think that she’s going to live forever, in the literal sense that is. But I, among numerous others know that she will, in one way or another, she is really going to live forever. She has left in us a legacy that makes us want to make the most of what life has to offer. She, now in her silent world, old and weary but with those knowing eyes that are still very much alive. They continue to sparkle with wisdom—of told and untold knowledge she has accumulated through all those years.
Prisca Sumedca Banayan, fondly called Lola Banayan by everyone else, is considered by those who know her as the oldest living citizen of Sagada, Mt. Province, a small tourist town nestled in the hills of the Cordillera mountain range. No official documents could prove that but we accepted it like it was a fact. We did so not only because she has been around longer than anyone else but also because up to now, her say on community issues are still revered, a rarity in a traditional community where the opinions of the male old folks are the ones taken into consideration.
She was born in the unfortunate era when women were regarded lesser as that to men. When her only brother was encouraged to go to school, she was made to stay at home and perform the daily chores despite her insistence that she attend school as well. Despite being adamant to her father that she be given the privilege to go to those classes conducted by the American missionaries, she wasn’t allowed. There were few victories which she fondly recounts to me every now and then. She managed to escape her father’s watchful eyes and was able to attend a class or two. Thus her very sparse knowledge of a few English words—grandfather, stick, green, little girl, cloud, among other words that she can mouth with that self-satisfied grin of hers.
Yes, she is illiterate, hardly the kind who can possibly do much for her society as she was never given the chance to be educated about the new ways of the world. But that’s what makes me admire her so much. I’m in such awe at her wisdom, wisdom not acquired in the academe, but one which was nourished by years of braving a life that seemed to offer so much in so little time, a life that challenged her to make whatever little thing she had into something huge.
Even as a toddler, Lola Banayan had always been a favorite of mine. I had this unquenchable thirst for stories and she had endless of those. She had this knack of telling stories that could enthrall me for hours, knowing that I had an attention span that lasted for such a short time. It was in these stories that I gleaned a lot of things, for these were not just tales designed for bedtime but these were stories that were brimming with local lore and history that are unfortunately left undocumented.
I never really got to ask her where she got these stories. But I could picture this scenario where as little kids before, she was among those toddlers who like me, were eager to get as many stories from her elders as well. I see her huddled around the dying embers of the fire while maybe her grandmother or mother recounted tales long lost to the younger generations nowadays. But in my case, I can still remember them like they were told to me yesterday.
These stories were set in the rural suburbs of villages with female protagonists who always emerged victorious in their own plights. Even in my young mind, I somehow always pictured one of those heroines as my very own grandmother. For me, she embodied the traits and characteristics that enabled those characters to be victorious in their own respective exploits.
Lola Banayan’s own glorious feat cannot be measured by the community contributions she made or by any distinctive deed that would earn her a seat in the town council. In fact, she had so little but she gave so much. As a wife of a farmer and a mother of ten children, her life revolved around rearing this huge brood while toiling everyday to be able to support the family. It was the time when paid labor was rare and to be able to survive, one has to literally work their bodies off. That was what she did. To her, there was no difference between night and day, as long as her lithe body could allow her to toil and labor. Accounts from my mother gave me a picture of a woman who worked as hard as a man to be able to provide to her family. As life was truly hard those times, it wasn’t enough depending on the resources that were available in the vicinity. They needed other commodities aside from the homegrown crops that they plant throughout the year. The idea of barter trading was also recognized by the highlanders. As it was, Lola Banayan always took it as her responsibility to trudge those mountains on foot while carrying a sack or two of her produce with hopes of exchanging it for a certain amount of the highly-valued salt from their lowlander brothers. This scenario already gives me an idea of the kind of hard labor and sacrifices that Lola Banayan had to undergo just so no one among the family members could ever go hungry.
As a mother, she never failed. She made it sure that there was not just enough food for everyone but also made it a point that what she missed before, she won’t make her children forego the opportunity of being learned. She was more than dutiful to encourage all the members of her brood to attend the public school that was being run then by American missionaries and some pioneer highlander educators. She knew that she needed all the hands she can get to help her in the fields for the family’s daily sustenance but she took it upon herself to do all the chores though some of her kids were already old and more than capable to help her out with the livelihood. For her, it was more important for the kids to go to school than to have them help her in the fields instead. She eked whatever little they had to be able to provide paper, books and school clothing for her children.
Fate tends to be kind to those who persevere as Lola Banayan was blessed with children who knew the importance of hard work and who recognized and valued the sacrifices of their parents. Their kids grew up to be industrious and diligent ones. Though far from being pampered, they fared way better relative to their mother’s experience. This however did not make them complacent at all. Values were embedded in their young minds. More than the lessons they encountered in the school, were the morals that were constantly being imparted by their parents. Lola Banayan always had adages and life lessons to share to her children. My mother often re-echoes these to me, morals that are really very familiar as I usually hear these from my grandmother as well.
When her kids were old enough to fend for themselves and have families of their own, she continued to be a doting grandmother to her grandchildren. No wonder she became a favorite of most.
Though already aged and silver, her desire for literacy was never quenched. Benevolent local educators held informal learning during night times and Lola Banayan was always a punctual attendee. Those few months she spent under the tutelage of someone a lot younger than her increased her meager vocabulary on English. She was able to create a sentence or two using the language and that was already a huge thing for her. They say that it’s never too late to get educated but this unfortunately applied to Lola Banayan. Her very flimsy grasp of the English language is all she could boast of. Time and human nature was not so kind to her. If perhaps the opportunity was given to her during her younger years, that would have spelled a huge difference.
However, whatever she missed out, she made up in the wit and knowledge that far transcends what a learned man has. Her integrity and her outlook about life, her selfless love, her huge and open heart, among other truly outstanding virtues earned respect not just from her children and grandchildren but from everyone who knew her.
She has a lot of friends, but most if not all of them, she has outlived already. That attests how old she is in years already, but her strong memory of history’s events as if they happened yesterday more than affirms the length of time she has lived already. It is amazing how someone her age can vividly remember events long gone. Her memory’s so reliable that a lot of local writers consult her for their outputs. I myself have repeatedly consulted her for my researches and studies that included local history. She continues to be my best local historian as her accounts of past events though not based on actual dates are always specific and detailed.
She led a life that is far from easygoing. She epitomizes the hardworking mother who sacrifices so much for the sake of her children as she manifests the kind of woman who can be submissive if it means sacrificing her wants for the greater good.
She led an ordinary life, no outstanding feats that could make her standout in the community, but how she was able to live it is what is extraordinary. True it was difficult but she never did once complain or be pessimistic in her outlooks. She talked about the harshness of life but recounted these with a strange fondness that is quite hard to comprehend. Life’s difficulties did not make her bitter in any way but instead made her stronger and more persevering, not just to get by but more for the sake of the people around her. That to me is a life well-spent. Not to sensationalize but I can really see Prisca Bacagan as one of the heroines in her numerous folk tales. I could repeatedly listen to her own story and not ever get tired of it.
We belong to a society where we put so much premium to one’s academic achievements. So much indeed that one’s background in the academe correlates to societal status. Perhaps it is for this reason that individuals are endlessly clamoring to have that distinct title attached to their names as they see that this could give them the edge in a highly-competitive environment.
The following essay relates the story of a woman who wanted so much to be educated like everyone else but who was unfortunately prohibited from being able to do so. Despite this, the author deems her as one who has lived a truly virtuous and purposeful life, even more so than others who were able to attain an academic diploma.
Calidad humana is to be depicted by not how worthy an individual is in terms of accomplishing his or her personal feats, but as to how many people he or she has unknowingly affected in a good way with his or her deeds. The person portrayed in the essay is far from being controversial or famous. But her simple, humble but laudable deeds and virtues make her an exemplary individual in her own right.
It is sad that we can be so hindsighted with one’s capabilities as we base these on societal statures. But there are a lot of people like the one in focus who contribute to society without even intending so or knowing it–humble and selfless individuals who are grounded on their values and who make the most of life even with life not offering much to them.
*Lola Banayan inspired my entry for this essay competition for “Calidad Humana”.
It was Pacquiao’s much-anticipated fight with Mayweather then so the otherwise busy Manila streets were all ours. Save a few cars here and there, we had the roads to ourselves and had the luxury to cruise at 120mph while intently straining our ears for the blow-by-blow account of the commentator on the supposed fight of the century. I winced every time our Manny got a hard one, felt riotous when they announced Floyd as the winner, but I knew that the awful feeling which was gnawing at my insides was largely due to the fact that I was getting scared the more distance we covered away from those familiar mountains back home.
I was due to fly with my husband that day. There was of course excitement. I’ve never been one to say no to any prospect of exploring a new place. But we both knew this was different. The moment I bade goodbye to my family, the reality I’ve been trying to ignore months prior was hitting me full on, and harshly at that. I could still feel my sister’s tight grip as she was trying hard to put up a brave front, always the stouthearted one that she is. Mama’s sobs still resonated clearly as for the first time, I had to be the stronger one between the two of us, reassuring her that I’d be back the soonest I can. That was the first time I’ve seen her let down her defenses as she unabashedly cried for her youngest daughter’s departure. My dogs’ fluffy tails still seemingly tickle my nostrils as I try to shake off their questioning doe-eyes from my mind. It was not a pretty scene.
I’ve said tons of farewells to my family before but nothing as sentimental because we always knew I would be back, maybe the next weekend, the next month, or even the next year. No matter how long I’d be gone, what I’d do, and where I’d go, there was comfort in those goodbyes as they knew I’ll come back soon enough and still be solely theirs. But this time was undeniably different. A man, my husband, was whisking me off to start a new life with him. And it was not just to the other side of the mountain.
It was a myriad of emotions. Excitement, dread, anticipation, despondency, happiness–all for their respective reasons. For the first time in a lot of years, I felt like a little girl, my mother’s little girl. But that constant squeeze of my hands made me a bit brave. That reassuring smile from the man beside me made me feel that everything will be okay.
After two glasses of wine, two unfinished movies, and disturbed dreamless half-naps, my husband excitedly woke me up for my first view of Canada. I feigned pleasure. But the bigger part of my being was wanting to board the next plane back to the Philippines. I felt defiant and only comforted myself with the thought that I was here on a two-week vacation. That was how much in a state of denial I was.
I had the warmest of welcome from my in-laws, friends and relatives when I got here. That helped a lot. But as the days dragged on and I fell into an obsessive routine of scouring job sites and ads so the soonest I could find something to occupy my days with, there was that unavoidable void. Days were longer (and they literally were) as I pined for the familiar comforts of home. I grew spiteful towards my husband (which was totally unreasonable given that I should have braced myself for this big leap) as I felt like I threw a huge chunk of who I was and what I do for something so uncertain. But I knew I was being utterly irrational. I was simply homesick.
He was very patient throughout the ordeal. He showed more understanding than I deserved. And he did his best to introduce me to the mountains here. He knew what to do.
We started out with simple walks in parks and reservoirs. Then that escalated to hikes and reaching several summits. I began appreciating what was here on his other end of the world. And I concede, the views here are fascinating. What used to be just postcard images or wallpaper screens can now be actually seen with the naked eye. There’s an added magic to that. Every moment I get myself engulfed in the magic of greenery and foliage, I was transported back home. I loved every trek and hike that I always looked forward to the next. Gradually, I succumbed. More than the physical pleasure of getting mesmerized by picturesque scenes, each trip meant reconnecting to that part of home.
Without realizing it, a full year has passed. I’ve experienced the full cycle of the seasons. One year gone means one year closer to being back home.
It’s been a struggle making a new place my second home. It will still be for the next few years or so. The homesickness will not be snuffed out lest I make that first trip back to Sagada. The mountains there will always beckon me but for now, I have to view horizons from other peaks.
Another long weekend has passed and you’re probably posting your pictures on Facebook and Instagram about your marvelous trip to Sagada. Those numerous photos you’ve taken using that ridiculous monopod which you’ve waved around town while you clicked at ooh-this and aah-that with your face always somewhere in the picture. You become the envy of your friends for you were able to ‘conquer’ Sagada and you went on indulging them with your stories of mountains and Igorots. Blah-blah, yada-yada.
Forgive the cynicism but you make us hostile. Yes you bring moolah to our place. You eat our food, sleep in our beds, buy our goods—you’ve created one major livelihood for us. But this does not entitle you to act like you own the town. The first rule in entering a place beyond your territory is to display utmost respect to its people, their values, and the environment. If you cannot do that, then Sagada is undeniably not for you.
You must have overlooked the fact that Sagada is a small 5th class municipality and we’ve never packaged our place as a pretentious getaway haven that caters to your city comforts (not unless you’ve been misled by your travel agencies who, if you happen to know, are not natives to the place and do not know jack about the community). It grates our ears when you come here being stuck up while you look for your Starbucks and your McDonald’s. You snobbishly demand for towels and hotel amenities from our lodges and homestays yet you must have forgotten that you’re only paying a measly sum for your accommodation (FYI, we have the cheapest inn charges). (Another side but necessary note: My blood still boils whenever I think of that cheap visitor who stole my boots and my books when we’ve graciously welcomed you to utilize my own room just so you can have a roof over your head for the night.) Our wood-paneled rooms are clean, warm, and cozy and if you think you should be getting more than these from your 300PhP or less, then you’re bonkers. We don’t run hotels, we’re humble innkeepers.
You grumble sneeringly at our fluctuating internet signal and act as if your disconnection from wawawa means your life. We don’t need to remind you that you’re in a rustic town way up high in the mountains where people have long since lived lavishly and generously without the internet and your urban sophistications.
You know, we’re willing not to mind your tactless disregard of our reverence and preference for simple living—that which we wish to supposedly share with you. But you go beyond being gauche. You come to our place and ask for jutes or mj or ganja like it’s buying pandesal from the next door bakery. You regard the locals as if we’re nitwits and you mock our ethnicity with your ignorance. Your incessant and stupid(for lack of a better but apt term) queries about where to find Igorots with their tails, Igorots who stage dances for your sheer pleasure, and Igorots living in caves makes the Igorot in me want to throw my Igorot spear at you.
You come and litter our place without the tiniest thought for our town’s cleanliness, cause public disturbance like you’re still back in your sleepless cities, invoke heavy traffic with your vans and SUVs—mindless of ‘no parking’ signages posted right where you senselessly parked your vehicle. You do not heed our municipal ordinances and even have the audacity to be arrogant when we try to relay these to you.
It’s pretty obvious I’ve zeroed in on local tourists. Truth is, we’ve grown biased and have come to appreciate foreign visitors more because they know how to appreciate us back. Since the town opened its doors to tourism decades back, foreigners have kept on coming back for the countryside experience which Sagada primarily offers. They come with nothing else but their big backpacks and the expectations of delightful experiences with our nature and our people. They don’t come seeking for what’s not here, they’re not pretentious, they give reverence to our traditions and are not at all ignorant with regards to Sagada’s taboos and values.
Though time has inevitably changed the whole backdrop, we have kept our values in place. We Sagadans still appreciate the same things. We give the highest reverence to our simplistic rural life and if you can’t respect that, you and your toffee-nosed self do not deserve the Sagada experience.
I have to stop. My obvious hostility might drive you away. Do bear in mind that I do not at all reflect the whole town’s sentiments. And as another disclaimer, I am not generalizing. There are a lot of local tourists who are in awe of the place and its people, for what it is and for who we are. You are the kind of visitors we would love to keep on coming back.
Respect begets higher respect. So if you encounter a Sagadan with raised brows and you find we’re not as friendly and hospitable as we innately are, you know there’s a reason for our hostility.
A two-hour, bumpy ride through verdant mountains brought us from Kin-iway, Besao to Panabungen. Panabungen is a sitio of Brgy. Laylaya which is host to some of the Episcopal Diocese of the Philippines’ livelihood support programs. The Episcopal Church’s foundation has been spearheading programs that benefit residents in chosen areas of various provinces around the archipelago.
I’ve been lucky to have a friend (thanks Arianne! 🙂 ) who’s an active advocate of programs that are being implemented in the place. Today, they’re dynamically promoting the organic growing and cultivation of mango trees and hog-raising thru organic feeding and methods as well. I had the opportunity to meet several beneficiaries of these programs and witness the educational immersion of the foundation’s staff with the community members.
It was a very fulfilling experience. I had the pleasure of being with a jolly company and the opportunity of setting foot on another part of our province. This is when we say we become tourists in our own place. One of the secret wonders of our mountain ranges is that there’s always someplace new to set foot on. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there sprawl thousands of rambling acres that are yet to be explored and enjoyed. I could brave hours and hours of a bumpy ride if it means looking at the endless lush and greens of our mountains.
I look forward to going back to the place and this time around, it’s to help pick the mangoes come summertime. (Arianne, *wink*)
Your Sagada experience will not be complete if you don’t dedicate some hours getting lost in the Jamaican vibe that the locals are particularly fond of. The legendary Marley’s reggae influence has found home in this rustic tourist town.
The new place in town is Ysagada Downtown Bistro. Formerly, “Kusina Ysagada”, YSAGADA has undergone a major revamp by converting the cafe into a bistro that embraces you with a reggae ambience.
Simplistic, chill and cozy-homey. Enjoy good food and refreshing drinks at the town’s coolest reggae hangout. We are located at Dao-angan, Sagada near Ayeona Souvenirs and George’s Guesthouse. A ten-minute leisure walk from the town center, Dao-angan is the new prime spot in town.
As a plus, get to meet the town’s local artist, Mr. James Gabriel Wandag who co-owns and manages the place with wife Antonette. James is the talent behind majority of the famous Sagada artistic and statement shirts. If you get lucky, you can have your own shirt or any artwork customized to your own liking.