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Monthly Archives: April 2012

The End Of A Homeless Journey

An old nipa hut renovated, a spacious house filled with kidslaughter and noise, a picture of  home  that now  comes  alive only  in my memory.

We never had our own home.The place where I was born and grew up belonged to my aunt, built from her soldier husband’s pension, killed in action during the Second World War. Since my dad acted like a father to her two kids, she had left her house to his care, a token of love and trust when she decided to build a life with her kids in Manila. No signing of papers. No attorney fees required. Just a  simple act of kindness so that my dad can have a place to  start  his own life.

The house had gone a lot of renovations but there were parts of it as well as pieces of furniture that had remained. It also had weathered a lot of storms and earthquakes, of rains and heat, yet it  had stood still, a sign of its strength and antiquity.

With the people that had lived before and to those who had gone, either to greener pastures or to the other life, the house symbolized more than an edifice. It reminded them of their childhood, of the things they used to do and now only remembered, of the simplicity and the tranquility of life, free of demands and stress. A place where  one wanted to come back over  and over again.

Through the years passersby will admire our house for its uniqueness and space, its wooden floors always inviting one to lie down and retire after a tired day, the sliding windows wide and safe enough to sit on its sills while enjoying a shared story. The dining table, long enough to hold a mini feast while  the adjoined window faced  what used to be a bamboo fence and a star apple tree that had to be chopped down so that a basketball court can be built.

(One of the very few photos left of our old home)

Space. Comfort. Inviting. These best describe the home I used to live.

It was a nook that was enveloped with sadness when my father spent his last days and where his remains would lie before he gets buried, not to the nearby chapel, telling my mom that he had a home to return to. An abode where we heard the sound of his first grandson’s wails a few months after he was laid to rest. And a place that was filled  with laughter, squeals, yells and songs when all us had our own families and get together during the Holiday Seasons, the loudest coming from my seven kids.

I thought it would never end.

But the heavens had  different plans, it seemed.

Our home was built in a place whose inner circle had venoms, jaded people who go way back. Rooted from several generations in the past, incurable even with countless prayers, church visits and novena intentions. I always thought that miracles do happen, even to the most hopeless situations.

I was wrong.

Small talk started even before I was born. Legally it was not rightfully ours. But of what use is the law when one can manipulate it for ulterior motives. When one’s self worth is defined by endless back stabbing, spinning tales enough to believe in and when generosity all too often is masked by getting something in return.

A week after the house had been newly painted and refurnished, we were told we had no reason to stay. My dad had long been gone but that was the less painful part though hearing it directly, literally from the horse’s mouth would confirm it. Sadly, this time it did not come from a horse, but from my dad’s blood relative. We had no choice but to leave.

Our neighbors who had become my parents friends’ were saddened about what they have learned and witnessed. Since our house was located in front of the chapel, nobody had missed that day when we had moved. They still cannot believe that a nipa hut which had been the only home  our family ever had would be the cause of envy and hurt. My mom  kept her emotions intact long enough, until we arrived at our new apartment. It was only then she let the tears and herself go, still finding it hard to accept that we were driven out from our own home.

A few months after we had moved, we were told our house had been torn down. Less than a year from then, three lives were lost and one of them was my brother. It was like watching a tear jerker movie  only this time it happened for real. It was hard to believe that what the house used to represent was now  turned into a tragedy, hurting not just one family , touching not just one’s soul to its very core.

Our lives may never be the same. An old friend once told me loosing ones’ home is like letting go of  one’s roots, the pain goes much deeper. And as I try to shield my children from it all, fate  chose  to do it differently. Though it would be impossible to find the same comfort  that our old home had given us, I know that I will not leave this life homeless. And in time my children and I will again find our lives secured, happy and content in a place we can  really call our own.

The Legend Behind The Song “Alfie “


What’s it all about, Alfie? Is  it  just for the moment we live

What’s it all about when you sort it out Alfie

Are we meant to take more than we give, or are we meant to be kind

And if only fools are kind Alfie , then I guess it is wise to be cruel

And if life belongs only to the strong Alfie

What will you lend on an old golden rule

As sure as I believe, there’s a heaven above Alfie

I know there’s something much more

Something even non believers can believe in

I believe in love Alfie

Without true love we just exist Alfie

Until we find the love we missed,  we’re nothing Alfie

When you walk let your heart lead the way

And you’ll find love any day

Alfie

These are the lyrics of a beautiful song composed by the great legend Burt Bacarach.It was also the theme song for the movie Alfie (played by Michael Caine and Jude Law when he made the remake). It had been nominated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Picture, Best Writing and Best Song. Because of its musical arrangement and lyrics, great singers like Dionne Warwick, Barbara Streisand, Cher, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan (where I got my name from, as told by my dad),Whitney Houston  to name a few have their own renditions of the song.

There was a time when a local channel here in the Philippines used to showcase a Burt Bacarach musical special and my dad together with my siblings would gather in front of our cabinet size National Panasonic television set to watch it. Unlike the usual musical shows with glitzy costumes and glaring spotlights, his shows were very different because it showcase his musical composition in progress together with his artists. It was very hard to be in front of the camera, exposing ones’ work as artists need lots of space,time and tranquility . Some artists do not even want their work discussed until it had been completed. With Burt Bacarach , he takes you with his journey and since he was a musician, composer, arranger and singer, you get enveloped with his passion, his love for music that when he plays his piano, he conducts at the same time. He was the first composer I have witnessed who had to stand and beat while his head matches with the rhythm. What more, when the composed song had satisfied his meticulous scrutiny, he takes the viewer to the recording studio. So as a child I have witnessed the raw recording of some of his songs , a feat that nobody was able to accomplished until now.

Because of Bacarach’s genius, he had composed songs for the Beatles, Carpenters , Dionne Warwick,and even the original Dumbledoore himself Richard Harris. I could still remember him singing ” Mac Arthur’s Park. ” Some of his songs were  Close to You, Arthur’s Theme, Raindrops Keep Falling In My Head, That’s What Friends Are For, Say A Little Prayer, A House Is Not A Home… the list goes on and on.

Bacarach is now 83 years old. He still is very in demand. He still gets recognition around the world and sometimes acts as musical director for the Oscar Awards. He also became a guest judge and mentor once on American Idol in 2006 where his songs were featured at the Finale.

If every person has a National Anthem, mine will be Alfie. All my kids know that. I usually have my repertoire when I am doing the laundry, a trait that I had inherited. There was even a time when I sang the first line and my autistic son Red would reply by singing “Alfie.” Though it was a difficult to sing, the lyrics made by Hal David and the music of Bacarach conveys a message so touching that unsurprisingly, a lot of artists include it in their repertoire when they have concerts, not just because of the vocal challenge but the simplicity of what the song represents.
When I was browsing youtube.com for a video of the song with lyrics, I had a difficulty finding one. It was either a video of the artist singing it or one with just lyrics. I also found one where Bacarach was interviewed and admitted that it was his most favorite of all the songs he had made. That explains why each time he gets recognized, he will definitely play the song on his piano, sometimes with his eyes close. There was also a time that he sang while he played the music, even thanking Hal David, the lyricist, as he told the audience “he hoped he had done justice with the song,” before he sang it. But what was more remarkable was the first ever recording of the song  with the original British singer Cillia Black where she only agreed to sing if Bacarach flew all the way to London,that he will be the one to arrange it and that he will play the piano. The gifted composer did that and more. He conducted a 48-piece orchestra and had less than 30 takes before he finally agreed to have it recorded. This happened in 1965, years before I was born. According to Black, Bacharach had her cut eighteen complete takes before he was satisfied with her vocals while Bacharach’s estimation of the session’s total number of takes including partial ones is as high as “twenty-eight or twenty-nine.”

Just like Henry Mancini, Michel Legrand, Sergio Mendez, Burt Bacarach was one of my first music teachers. Listening to his songs reminded me of my childhood, of the National Panasonic television which is now a cabinet for my mom’s old pocketbooks, which my kids’ usually sell if they are running short of money, of how a song can be repeatedly listened and why one cannot get enough of it. Sadly it also conveys that most songs nowadays may not equal the timeless quality of the songs then.And I hope, just like fashion, these songs will again be in fad, because they deserve not just to be listened but to be passed on to the next generations.

click your mouse to youtube.com and you will understand why this man is one of the best of all time)

(video credits to youtube.com and additional  recording information from google.com)

The Art Of Letting Go

I had a talk with a bald man the other day who I secretly call Confucius about letting go . I told him that my inseparable kids, Sam and Red, will be heading for Ilagan, Isabela tomorrow for a summer camp . Sam was encouraged by her college instructor to be a volunteer so his brother can also join in . They will be with other volunteers, street children , orphans and special kids in Isabela for ten days . Sam will be a caregiver  and baby sitter to  a different kid. Red will be with her new sister  for those ten days as well . I cannot help myself not to worry.

Before Sam decided to join , she explained that Pedya Kamp have been encouraging volunteers and giving summer camps since 1991. Spearheaded by a group of doctors from Makati Medical Center, they have travelled to other parts of the country and even to the  US as well  to give and share the joys , of having not just a memorable summer but “of turning moments into memories, ” as well . Her instructor,  who had been a volunteer since its first year had found it fulfilling and wanted to share that experience with my daughter.

As always I had lots of questions  even though the registration fee for being a volunteer only costs 200 pesos and the summer camp will be totally free. Aside from the required  seminars that she has to attend, there were other activities that she needs to go to . I have no questions about her taking care of other kids but it was Red that I was concerned about. The group will leave Manila at 10:00 in the evening as it will be a six hour drive, and all through out the trip , Red will start to bond with her new sister which is a first.  I suddenly felt a pang of separation anxiety for my son.

“I  do not think that the idea of your son being with a stranger for ten days worry you , but the thought of not  being needed anymore worries you more, ” told my bald friend. I told him that was not true. He replied with a confident laugh in which he said, ” You must have forgotten that I can see through you. ”

I wanted to strangle the man though I know it will be useless as he was a self defense instructor. So I just told him how hateful he was which he knew was not true . In which he replied with a smile and added, “You cannot be with him all the time . He needs to grow up even if he is a special child. You  just have to learn to let go.”

It was not easy. Over the weekend I would find myself  thinking of those ten days that Sam and Red will be away in Isabela . Though the group had coordinated with the Mayor and his constituents, I still am worried , mostly with Red’s condition  because his speech is still delayed. Sadly I cannot even visit them because of money reasons and the demands of my work. Tears in my eyes dwelled knowing that I was having a hard time letting go of my son  and my friend was right.

Perhaps it is just normal for us parents to be attached to our kids especially if they have special needs. We tend to be protective, doting , always running to their  side  to the point of being extreme, forgetting  they are children who  need  space and yearn lots of play and adventure. And at times I am guilty on some counts. I  fear that if Red plays with other kids , he will get hurt simply because he cannot be understood. He is so hyperactive and might hurt other kids without him knowing what that means. Some parents still do not understand that and I cannot explain in detail about my son’s condition every time. It is an endless cycle that my kids and I had gotten tired of.

Sam reassured me that  parents, guardians  and relatives will be updated by the days’ activities through facebook . As volunteers they were advised to refrain from using their phones except during emergencies because they need to be focused on the kids that they will be taking care of. They have schedules that needed to be followed. Activities like swimming, arts and crafts, visiting the locality and other tourist attractions,  going to church and a Special Olympics  will definitely fill those ten days. She added  that by the time she and Red returns home, he would have learned how to swim and improved on his speech.

( images credit to facebook.com )

As  parents, we want our  kids to become independent and productive citizens of the society. Aside from giving them the opportunity to learn, we have to trust them enough to know what the world really is. That may sound impossible in Red’s case, but in order for my son to believe in himself, I need to have a little faith that he can do it. I need to teach myself because one day he will have to rely more on himself so not to  burden  others. He need to spread his wings in order to fly, and if one day he falls , I need to believe that he will try again . Until he can do it. He might get lost in the process but I know he will return. That much I know…because he is my son.

Only In My Mind

We have always been taught to be polite. Not in only in our words but in our actions as well. From the home, to the school, to the workplace, we have always been reminded to be careful with what we say because the words that come out from our mouths and how we act  signify what kind of persons we are. Especially if one has kids , worst, if one happens to be a senior, in terms of age in a team. They observe and absorb the words and  all the things you do. At times it takes an effort  to keep your mouth shut or better yet, become mindful on your reactions to certain uncompromising situations.

It has been a long time that I had practiced my religion. That does not mean I do not pray anymore. Since I started working, I rarely hear mass but  that does not mean I do not visit the church. I do find it hard not to sleep, worst , snore when I do hear mass. That is one of the tradeoffs of working on graveyard shifts. And since I need to work, I just make do by simply making my religion a personal one. But there was a time  when  I dropped everything just to hear mass and that was when my teammates decided to bond together after shift.

We were newbies and still adjusting to our closing shift which was from 5:00 in the morning till 1:00 in the afternoon. Our team decided to go to church first then have lunch after that. And so that’s what we did. Everything was going fine, I even joined the  singing , until I smelled something. A smell that cannot be denied, that my nostrils cannot escaped from . I was trying my best to reject the scent, but the more that I pushed myself the stronger it became. I am not sure if it was the combination of sleepiness or hunger pangs, but I was starting to get dizzy. So I told my teammate, Faith, whose name was so appropriate because it seems, I am almost running out of it, of the situation.

I told her , “If I collapse any minute, will you be kind enough to carry me?”

She immediately became worried and asked me what’s wrong. So I told her the reason while pointing my underarm.

“Mommy please behave, you are inside the church.”

I felt like a kid that had just been reprimanded, but I was just being honest. I mean what did she want me to do, tell the stranger next to me that I am about to faint because of her body odor? That would be impolite. Besides, we were  inside the church, hearing mass  and it would be brutally frank if I tell her how she smells.

So I asked for guidance,  enlightenment and strength to hold on. I just had one ardent wish. That is for her not to go near me, and of course that the mass would end sooner. Until the priest said, “Let us show each other our sign of peace.”Heaven forbid, please spare me,” I told myself. My teammates kissed me, telling me ” Peace mommy.” Finally, I did the inevitable, I faced the person next to me and trying my best to smile, told her “Peace be with you.” But what my seat mate did next almost made me cry. She hugged me in return.

I almost died.

After I finally got a hold of myself, I looked at my teammates, and  found out they were trying their best not to laugh.

After that day, I promised myself, that if things can be avoided, I will never, ever hear mass when I am hungry or sleepy.

Why No One Throws Away Memories

Long before Facebook and Twitter  were born, and computers and mobile phones invaded our lives, people had trusted the postal system to connect with their loved ones. Sending letters, especially greeting cards on special occasions were the fad at that time . And when you say greeting cards , the first thing that comes to mind will always be Hallmark Greeting Cards.

In the Philippines, National Bookstore had grown to be the most widely visited store not only for books, school supplies, but also for greeting cards as well. It also had been a favorite rendezvous  if I am ask for suggestions when meeting a friend. Since I love  to read, I do not get bored and even forget that I am waiting while I scroll the pages of an interesting book or scan some Hallmark greeting cards that would catch my fancy.  A very simple whim, which I have never outgrown.

Part of the reason why I love  giving out greeting cards is because of the thought that comes with it.Though it is a given  that each time you give a gift , it is the thought that always count,  the mere simplicity of the act plus the poetry written on the card  touches anyone’s heart especially if  you are not really good with words or had ran out of it.

There had been a time when Hallmark Greeting cards had very heartwarming commercials . It even had a jingle composed by the gifted Jose Marie Chan , whose lyrics I have learned from a classmate who became a  very good friend until now. I have to admit I  missed those commercials . Of  giving and  receiving greeting cards as well. Of simple acts of kindness.  Of little things, like sharing and doing an extra mile out of real concern, without any ulterior motives on the side.

It is so overwhelming to get swamped with technology and information, as you get drunk with fame and recognition. I just hoped that when a person gets a slice of the good life, he can still find the time to look back  and remember that, more often than not,  in this world, it is the little things that count a lot.

 

 

(Hallmark Greeting Cards Jingle was sung by Richard Tan. Video credits to youtube. com )

My Second Language

My eldest daughter Samantha had always this thing for languages,  English, Spanish, French and Korean.  She had always been a wide reader since she was a kid , a bookworm and she had lived with that title until now that when we had moved, my other kids and I had complained that most of her things were books that needed to be hauled because some were hardbound bought on sale . We were talking about my second article that  was just posted on the online magazine missoandfriends.com which also happened to be the shortest and most commented post on my blog .

“I had a chat with one of my American  friends the other day. She told me that I write well considering English is not my first language. ” Sam told me . I was not really surprised.

I grew up in a family where we watched mostly American shows and documentaries. My dad sees to it that we rarely watch Tagalog sitcoms and movies that sometimes  he and my mom will have a short argument about it. My mom reasoned out that we are Filipinos and that we should learn to appreciate our own but my dad would jokingly reply that we should not patronize everything that is Filipino. He does not want us watching tearjerkers like “Flordeluna, “Gulong Ng Palad,” and “Inday Badiday’s” Show  about local  gossips and intrigues that we have to go to my Aunt’s house just to watch these shows.  He even added he would rather see us watching educational game shows , the Oscar Awards, The Grammys and other documentaries because we get to know a little bit of history in them. I could recall telling my dad that I was a having hard time understanding them, obviously because my vocabulary was limited. And he would just laugh at me , saying,” Then do not take it word for word. Jut pick the word you understand and take it from there. “
“What if I understood  it  wrong, what then?” I was young and  afraid to hear feedback if I spoke in English and somebody would correct me afterwards.
” Then you are learning.  Just practice until you become better, ” He said.
I cannot remember a time that my siblings and I talked in English. Coming from a public school, I can remember when we were not allowed to talk in our dialect so we can practice our English which was not followed diligently simply because it was hard. We sounded different due to our cultural accent  that sometimes  when we ran out of words, we  just laughed  because we felt stupid trying to learn a language that was not our own.
So how did I learn to communicate well then, be it oral or written for that matter ? Allow me to share some of those tips.
1. Never stop reading. You do not have be a total bookworm like my daughter, but if you are then that is just fine. Have the time to  read even short posts, quotations , articles , print advertisements. Even comic  or music magazines will help. You do not have to buy new ones . My kids and I are fans of book sales , that when I take them out for a treat, I let them choose books or magazines that cost as low as ten pesos. The idea is to read and  learn new words, sentences and phrases.
2. Start  watching American shows and movies. Choose family and kid friendly ones, either animated or not. The plots, the twists and turns plus the story’s dialogue  are great topics for you and your kids to start a short discussion  even after you had  watched them. You not only bond as a family but learn from each other as well.
3. Be open for opportunities. There are a lot of short courses where you can improve your communication skills, workshops where you can honed your talents. The internet has lost of venue for that . Just be careful on  what groups you join or the people you interact with. Choose a community where you can share your opinions  but still be mindful of basic courtesies.When I had been a stay at home mom for 12 years, I thought I will not be able to work again. I am an undergrad and my chances of getting work so I could send my kids to school were very slim. But when there was a free call center training in our place, I grabbed that opportunity and applied. I was discouraged because of my educational background but there was one interviewer who gave me that chance and encouraged me to take advantage of it. And the rest, was, what they all say, was history.

It took awhile for me to learn. But with every feedback, coaching and mentoring came humility, focus and understanding. It may have not been easy but the rewards were tenfold. Now after six years of hard work,  most of my clients over the phone would know that I am not an American but would commend that the clarity and spontaneity of how I communicate can be mistaken from that of another country, of another culture.  In which I am grateful but would admit to them that I have never been to any other country other than my own.
It is true that English is my second language. It may had helped me tremendously to be financially independent and creatively share my true self.
But it also helped me realize that our  world is  not really that big for me to forget where I originally came from.