Deciding on the first post for a blog is no piece of cake. Others tend to write about the most popular topics that are sure to drive traffic into their blog; some choose to write about their passions. Choosing mine didn’t take much time, though. It is simply because I decided to look back at the past, not to grieve over it, but to appreciate life’s humps and bumps that made me what I am now: a teacher, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a speck of dust.
Man DOES NOT Live on Bread Alone
I grew up in a big family: six sisters and five brothers. With parents who eked out their living through farming small patches of land, I could say that we really had lived a hand-to-mouth existence. During my grade school years, I frequently had to carry with me vegetables like squash, okra, and string beans to sell on my way to school. Long before I was taught that man belongs to the animal kingdom, I already knew it very well. It’s not because I got Charles Darwin’s genes but because there were a couple of times when we had to partake of the blocks of salt provided by the Department of Agriculture for small cattle raisers. But those blocks of salt were not really for the cattle raisers; it’s for their cattle to lick. Watching our cattle licked it with much gusto always fascinated me, but looking at my mother washing that same block of salt so we could use it for our rice porridge amused me even more.
It may sound strange but there were several instances when I took pity on small, young plantain bananas which were served both as our food and viand. My mother used to boil plantain bananas for our food. For our viand, she would peel green plantain bananas, chop it into medium-sized chunks, boil it with coconut milk, salt to taste, and presto, we had food on our table. Sometimes, for variety purposes, she would boil a spoon-scooped young or green coconut meat with coconut milk. If we ran out of plantain bananas, my mother was quick to serve us sweet potato, taro root, cassava, or bamboo shoots. This was our meal, so regular that my mother has perfected her recipe over the years. Sometimes, however, we’ve got to have a stroke of luck and found ourselves feasting over a carefully measured plain porridge on each of our plates, or better yet, a ladleful of rice. Poor as a church mouse we were though, we were always full of beans. Even until now, I am amused and amazed at how my mother got the idea that an unripe soursop can be cooked and eaten. Of course, I know that the ripe fruit can be eaten, but cooking an unripe one to replace rice which is a staple food is, I think, not a common idea. Or was it only us who had experienced eating a cooked unripe soursop? Man, indeed, does not live on bread alone.
A Challenging Journey
Enduring stabbing pain in my feet from going to school barefooted under the scorching heat of the sun was not unusual. That scene was quite ordinary in the months of February and March. It was quite different during rainy season. Our nipa hut sat upon a knoll a thousand or so meters away from the confluence of the Bagasico and Kabungaan rivers. That picturesque hill was surrounded with wide rice fields we had to pass through in going to and fro our house. When rains were heavy, it was impossible not to experience sticking our legs in knee-deep mud, or worse, wading through waist-high water. Heavy downpour for like two or three straight days would cause the rivers to swell and overflow into the rice fields. This made the inundated rice fields impossible to traverse with our bare feet. In difficult times like these, we resorted to cutting banana trunks, and keeping them together with bamboo stems to produce banana raft that would take us to the other side of the world. That seemingly insignificant banana raft was so indispensable that going to and fro the school, fetching water from a well, buying a gram or two of salt, and even borrowing a bottle of kerosene or a piece of matchstick from the nearest neighbor were impossible without it. Those blistered feet and sticky mud, however, failed to seal our fate. It must have even fueled my journey because I was able to breeze through elementary and high school.
Inching My Way Through College
Sure as fate, inching my way through college was no easy feat. Since our whole family was living on the breadline and there were three of us in college, tightening the purse strings had become my craft. However, no matter how I tried to stretch my allowance and because my school, ViSCA/VSU, was miles away from Bohol, my home province, I ended up frequently fighting with a growling stomach to be able to sleep through the night. In those days, cell phones were not invented yet, or I just had not seen one in our university. So it always took me a paper and pen to inform my parents that I have run out of rice and allowance.
Almost two decades had passed already, but how everything around me got vague every time I went to school on an empty stomach is still very vivid in my mind. I remember one time I was looking around for something to eat… in someone else’s food locker or cabinet and found nothing but a sachet of margarine. It was, for me, the world’s tastiest margarine or it might have been that hunger was the best sauce. It also dawned on me later in the night that I must have a cast iron stomach because, with only a spoonful of margarine inside, I was able to memorize the laws of taxation and even discuss impeccably the laws of supply and demand in class the following day. I don’t know if you would call it pride or stupidity but I’d rather sleep hungry than rob Peter to pay Paul. Oh, if I just had the license to print money.
I remember writing once to my parents a relatively long letter itemizing my expenses, describing my hunger, venting my ire, lashing them out with harsh, unpleasant words for ignoring child spacing when, in fact, they didn’t have a stable job to provide our basic needs. Reading the finished letter, however, made me realize that it would do more harm than good. Rereading it a couple of times a week after I wrote it brought tears to my eyes and made me thankful even more that I did not mail it. So full of rage for my insensitivity and ingratitude, I then tore up the letter. Sending three children to different colleges at the same time was already something we had to thank our parents for. Had it not been for my unrelenting enthusiasm to finish my studies and my parents’ eagerness to send us to college despite our privation, I would have stopped my schooling and given up to hunger. I must say that the mind of a full but unfocused man is in his stomach but the stomach of a hungry but determined man is in his mind. I had to bank on my hunger to satisfy my thirst for success. And with a not-so-lucrative but stable and noble job I have now, I should say that I have successfully satiated my hunger and quenched my thirst. A toast to my hard-earned success!