Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Almost silver, part 8

(I'm picking up from where I left off in part 6)

In three years…

That was what we said when people asked when we were planning to get married. My mother thought three years was too long. We were already in our mid-20s. Other people said the same. My mother, especially, thought that women should get married and start having children before 30. They had to think of their biological clock.

In the days and weeks that followed our Los Banos commitment on July 7, Fiance and I spent much of our free time together. Our romance developed faster than our newsletter, which up to that time was still in the process of coming out with the first issue! We eventually realized that we didn't want to wait that long. We said we'd get married "next year" .

But even this started to feel like forever. We were sure of ourselves anyway. So on August 17, we decided to get married in December of that year. We had four months to prepare.

The first thing we did was to inform both sets of parents and schedule the pamamanhikan, we called Summit Meeting. This was when the guy's parents formally asked the girl's parents for their approval of the marriage. It may include more than just the couple's parents. Uncles and aunties might participate (which I asked not to happen in my case).

During the pamamanhikan, the guy's parents were in effect courting the girl's parents on his behalf. Sometimes it did not go smoothly. There might even be tears. The girl's side might give the guy a hard time or make whatever demands. I had seen this happen when my parents were occasionally asked to join and give moral support in a pamamanhikan, especially in sensitive cases (e.g. the couple had eloped). I tagged along at least three times as a child.

In my case, my parents had no qualms at all concerning my marriage or choice of spouse. "Ikaw naman ang makikisama (you will be the one going to live with him)," as my mother often said. Besides, I had already graduated from the university. I was free to date and get married.

My future in-laws' pamamanhikan was just a matter of formality. It was also their first time to meet my parents. I remember them bringing a kaing (big basket) of sweet lanzones to our house. We served them a dish that my best friend helped prepare. The talks went well. The four parents got along from the start. It helped that they all loved to talk. There was no uneasy silence.

Lanzones fruit
(image from

In the end, the only thing my father asked was to have our wedding on December 14 during the new moon. Fiance and I believed any moon was like another, but we gave him that. We agreed to move our date one week earlier. The earlier the better.

My 1985 planner says "THE BIG DAY" on two dates. Dec 21 was our first choice, "God-willing".

So there, our marriage had our parents' blessings. Meanwhile, we had already started taking care of other things like applying for a marriage license at Quezon City hall (I believe applicants' names were posted publicly in case one was already married) and making to-do lists and schedules. I also started attending cooking lessons at my friend's house. I was eager to learn to cook more than tinola.

We also attended the required family planning seminar also at the city hall (ahh, I can't forget this one because the middle-aged female instructor couldn't stop giggling while talking about the condom. We are all getting married here, come on.), consulted with a doctor for natural family planning options and possible fertility tests (which she did not approve for us), went for marriage counseling with our wedding sponsors, met with the officiating minister, etc… We also went through an engagement handbook together which was a big help in the planning process.

We had four months to prepare and a shoestring budget. We wanted a garden wedding. Could we pull it off?

(To be concluded)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Almost silver, part 7

(Hubby obliged to write this post in this series. Thanks a lot - tweet.)

Who's That Girl?

The first time I ever laid eyes on That Girl was back in '78 at the Campus Crusade tambayan (hangout) at the College of Arts & Sciences building, UP Diliman Campus. It must have been lunchtime. I was sitting near the entrance to the tambayan making up my schedule for the week. I looked up and there she was.

She looked like she was looking for somebody but couldn't find her. She glanced at me and smiled. I smiled back. She turned to go and as she did, I noticed her hair, it was braided into one long, thick black rope behind her, down to her waist. Not many girls sported that length then. Hence the vivid recollection years later.

The next time I spied that long black braid of hair and that toothsome smile she flashed at me, it was at The Lord's Church in Cubao. I knew it was her. That hair, that smile.

My sister Beck pointed her out to me sometime later. She said she liked her; she was unpretentious and down-to-earth. I guess they'd talked before. At that point we hadn't. Beck didn't always play matchmaker but this time, she was quite excited about That Girl. So I made a mental note to be open to the Lord's leading. I wrote a short prayer in my journal: "If she's The One, please preserve her for me." It was three years later that I would finally decide celibacy wasn't for me.

Yes, I'd been seriously considering celibacy. I wanted to take the apostle Paul's admonition to young men who were single to remain unmarried to better serve the Lord without the distractions of domestic life. I was heading towards that direction. But after getting to know That Girl better, I felt right about at least considering a relationship.

There were other girls, some I'd really gotten close with enough to also consider. I don't know, she seemed the right fit. So I started bracing myself for The Proposal.

Having had no experience with serious dating, I proposed marriage the first time I ever talked to her about us. The first and last girlfriend I had then was in high school. I didn't know that proposing marriage should have come later after we'd dated. But what the heck.

I remember that night vividly. I took a public jeepney from Katipunan to UP campus, (I didn't even make a call to tell her I was coming over) walked over to her front door, nervously knocked and waited till she opened the door. I blurted out something like, "Can we take a walk?" She sweetly obliged and we headed for the DiliMall which at that time was already closed. So we sat down near the closed doors of the mall, not the most romantic spot for making a serious proposal. No diamond ring, no speech prepared, I was going to wing it.

I told her a bit about my history and how I've been praying for the past three years, on and off, about her, and if she was willing to take a risk with me, if she'd pray about it. She said she'd pray about it and tell me when she's ready. I felt relieved to get it off my chest and now, in the meantime, we'd go out and get to know each other better--you know the drill.

The story is pretty much the same as she recounted it already in her previous posts. Me getting off in the wrong town (even then I had a terrible sense of direction) and getting soaked in the rain with single rose stem in hand looking really pathetic; walking around UP Los BaƱos and finally receiving that sweet Yes on a rock in the middle of a bubbling stream.

It would be another Rock that would keep us afloat through the many turbulent waters we were to go through in our 24 years of marriage. It's been one heck of an adventure that I would not exchange this for anything. What a great partner God has given me to ride this whitewater raft with! And even now as she waits for me to reach my full potential--after 24 years of wishing, hoping and praying--she waits with the patience of a Job. Who knew that That Girl with toothsome smile and braided hair would turn out to be the love of my life? Who knew?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Almost silver, part 6

Nestled at the foot of Mt. Makiling is the UP Los Banos campus, a premier institution in agriculture and forestry. I loved its rustic charm. I spent many vacations in the area where my parents had a house outside the campus and my grandfather tended a homestead on the slopes of the mountain.

At the entrance of UP Los Banos campus
(photo taken from flickr\misha1976)

My plan was to take This Guy on a stroll under thick forest canopy while enjoying the breeze that Glade could only hope to match. The sounds of birds in the trees... The crackle of dead leaves and twigs on the ground you walk on... perfect for a Sunday afternoon stroll. Never mind if we got stranded by the rain for a while, and later encountered an angry dog on the road. Goodness, stop barking like mad! And please don't chase me. I'm gonna lose my poise!

College of Forestry. We got stranded by the rain somewhere here.
(photo from

Coming down from the College of Forestry, we crossed what is known as the "never ending bridge". (According to folklore, if one were to cross it at the stroke of midnight, one would never reach the end of it and just keep walking until he turned his shirt inside out.) I had passed this bridge several times but never knew what was at one end of it--until that Sunday.

The "never ending bridge". That's the jeepney, the public transport
that goes around the campus and neighbouring areas.
(photo from flickr\archieaustria)

Turning left at the end of the bridge, we saw a sign that said Hortorium. I read on the Internet that this hortorium has "a collection of approximately 20,000 species of herbarium specimens" and thousands of ferns, ficus, palms... I love nature!!!

We followed a path amidst dense flora until we reached a creek which I think is called Molawin. It runs under the "never ending bridge" and traverses the campus. We hopped on rocks and boulders to cross and explore more of the lush greenery on the other side. So this is what's under that bridge!

Inside the Hortorium, the Molawin Creek
(photo from

Settling down after the excitement of this discovery, we sat on a boulder and talked. We kept our voices low because although the place was secluded we were not alone. A mother and child playing by the creek kept glancing at us and were probably eavesdropping.

Notwithstanding the presence of other people, we finally verbalized what was already getting obvious. There was no need to prolong This Guy's anticipation or agony. We were engaged!

We sat on a boulder that looked very much like this one.
It could even be it. I wish we had a camera with us.
(photo from

Our engagement would become official with the subsequent traditional pamamanhikan when Fiance and his parents formally meet Fiancee's parents and ask for her hand in marriage. Fiance and I weren't born at the turn of the 20th century, and pamamanhikan was probably passe in the '80s, but that was how we wanted it. It would also be appreciated by both sets of parents.

Fiance and I called it The Summit Meeting.

The Summit Meeting would be happening sooner than later. Why??

(To be continued)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Almost silver, part 5

When This Guy and I started seriously getting to know each other, I lent him my past diary to fast-track the process. I wanted to make sure he was not under the impression that I was a typical church-going choir-singing conservative girl who walked around with a halo. NOT! I wanted him to know early that I did not have it all together, I had screwed up here and there, had made poor choices and bad decisions, could be selfish and immature, among others. Can you accept that?

He risked being transparent and vulnerable too. He laid down his cards. Life had dealt him a mix of good and really bad ones. I was relieved to discover that this was one authentic person.

Now we could close the books of our past and concern ourselves with the present to see if we could have a future together. I had a growing sense that this was it. He felt like home. This was one relationship I felt I could enter into without having one eye on the exit.

Towards the second month since The Proposal, I was sent by my office to conduct fieldwork in various towns of Laguna for at least a week. This is a good time to be apart, test myself and mull things over. He saw me off at the BLTB bus terminal with a package of letters, cards and a compilation of music on audiocassette. He said I was to read each one on the day and time of day indicated on the envelope, with accompanying music to boot. I had enough reading to do for the whole week of separation. Then he'd visit me in Los Banos where I'd be staying at my aunt's house.

My fieldwork was exhausting. I traveled alone by public transport to different towns in rainy weather everyday. But his letters cheered me up. I could not wait till the next installment but managed to resist peeking.

You can tell he loved to write.

Finally, the day of his visit came. I was waiting outside at my aunt's little sari-sari store by the side of the road waiting for his arrival. Finally, at around 8pm, I saw him approaching. It turned out that he had gotten off at the wrong Crossing--the one in Calamba--where he went asking around for someone with my aunt's name. Realizing this was the wrong town, he took another ride to the next town of Los Banos. Poor guy! He got rained on. The rose stem he brought for me got rained on too. I tell you, I was so tempted to give him my Yes! at that instant.

But I would wait till the next day. I had a better plan…

To be continued…

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Almost silver, part 4

How do you know if you've found the RightGuy?

In my case, I had entertained a number of WrongOnes to know what wasn't working. Wrong timing. Wrong motive. Wrong status. Wrong priorities. Wrong whatever...

But what about what's Right?

Fortunately, This Guy came at a time when things were back on track in my life, when I was open to God's leading. Surrendered would be a better description. I was done telling God what or who was best for me. It was time for Him to reveal it.

It was only after This Guy told me about his intentions that things started to make sense. The visits, the calls, the books, audio cassettes and vinyl records (no DVDs yet) he lent me, the side glances, the friendliness... they were more than friendly!

So now we were dating. More visits and calls. I started getting cards and notes (no emails yet). I discovered he was not only a talented artist. He was an excellent writer, he deserved to be our newsletter editor.

At first, I wanted to keep this development low key to give me time and space to process my thoughts and feelings. I kept a few people in the loop, my closest friends and family. But being in a small church, it was only a matter of time before it became obvious that This Guy and Girl were dating.

We went on cheap dates to Red Ribbon and Dunkin' Donuts.
Sweeeet! Literally :-)

"I am going to tell you a shocker," a close friend, who was also his friend, said after I confided in her. "I started praying for the two of you last year." Really? She knew about it earlier than I did. I believe a few others had known too but kept quiet.

On another occasion, the spouse of one of my closest friends outside the church told me, "Mas gusto ko 'to. Kalimutan mo na yung isa. Kundi, hindi ako a-attend ng wedding mo, 100%." (I like this one better. Forget the other one. If not, I will not attend your wedding, 100%) He said it in jest, but he was not 100% joking. For some reason, This Guy struck him as my better match.

Sometimes it helps to listen to the feedback of people who love you and care about you because you can be blindsided by our own feelings and biases. But I preferred to listen to those who shared my core values.

My parents approved of him too. For me, my parents' blessings were paramount when it came to my choice of life partner if I were to get married. I needed that covering.

I was getting drawn to This Guy and things were falling into place. Oh God, I am REALLY falling in love!

But was this God's will? I prayed and prayed.

I had the answer in two months...

(to be continued)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Almost silver, part 3

Rewind, 1981...

"Hey, you might know this guy who's now attending this church. Younger brother of Ate Becky. You went to the same university. Fine Arts graduate," a girlfriend excitedly told me. A welcome addition to the single churchgoing male minority?

"No, I don't know him," I replied. But I knew Ate Becky.

One Sunday morning, this same friend pulled me aside as I was preparing for choir behind the sanctuary. "He's here!" she whispered and we both peeked through a slightly opened door. "That's him," she said trying not to be obvious. He was talking with some people before the service.

"No, he's not familiar," I said again and turned around, wondering what was so exciting about him.

On the contrary, I looked familiar to This Guy. He told me years later that he once saw me in the University circa '78. The image of a girl in long braids apparently stuck in his mind.

So here we were, attending the same church. Without my knowledge, Ate Becky started playing matchmaker and "promoting" me to her brother. He began to give it serious thought, serious enough to start praying about it.

Meanwhile, I was clueless...

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. I felt relaxed around him whenever we bumped into each other. No awkwardness on my part. He turned out to be very friendly and easygoing.

He was one of the reasons why I was encouraged to join a small group of Young Professionals on a trip to Banaue Rice Terraces. I was not an active part of the group, but at least he was there to talk to if ever I felt left out.

The trip was fun and so was the company. But I was more absorbed with the beauty of the place and its chilly weather. It didn't occur to me that destiny was unfolding and my destiny was right there in that small group.

Having lunch in one of the roadside souvenir shops in Banaue.
I can't remember why we were eating in a souvenir shop.
There was probably no eatery nearby or we were being cheap.

We actually did not have a lot of one-on-one conversations on this trip but we briefly tried out a borrowed pedal-less wooden bike together. Kids rode this downhill and dragged it uphill.

Fast forward: So what happened after the surprising proposal?

(to be continued)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Almost silver, part 2

The morning church service was over and the sanctuary was almost empty. I was sitting at the back pew waiting for someone or something.

"If I were to marry someone from this church, it could only be him," I thought to myself as I watched This Guy walk across the front aisle.

What a strange thought. First, This Guy and I were not close friends even though we had known each other at church for three years. We had few opportunities to get to know each other better. I was involved in the choir. He was involved in many things BUT choir.

Second, I felt I wasn't ready for a commitment because my emotional state was conflicted at that time. As young people would say on their Facebook relationship status: "It's complicated". In my case, however, I was singly complicating matters. The only person losing sleep was me. Don't ask me to explain. It's a girl thing. It's complicated.

Third, that was only a thought, not a feeling. No sparks or butterflies in the stomach because of Fourth, I thought he might be considering other girls.

I left the thought at that.

In the weeks or months that followed, I found myself in the same church newsletter editorial team with This Guy. We both took the exam in mid-January of 1985 and in February, we were given our assignments. He landed the role of editor, and I, the associate.

In preparation for the first issue, we had team meetings, and then just-editor-and-associate-editor meetings. The latter became more frequent. This increasingly turned into getting to know you rather than getting the work done, and went on for about three months. I didn't read much into this developing friendship because I had several platonic relationships with the opposite sex. Male friends confided in me, shared very personal matters or asked for advice. This could be just one of those.

Then one night, This Guy suddenly proposed. I was totally caught by surprise. I thought he'd be merely seeking some wise relationship counsel. He admitted that he had been praying for me for quite some time. And I never had an inkling? He must have been really, really discrete. Or I was really, really dense.

God, I need Your wise counsel!!

That's me in one of our choir concerts.

That's him leading at a Young Pro fellowship.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Almost silver

"Lord, I want to get married this year," I remember uttering New Year's Eve 1985.

It was more a sigh, a wishful thought, a fleeting feeling I threw in with other more pressing prayers as I spent the last minutes of '84 locked in my room while waiting for the countdown. Those days, I liked to spend the strike of 12 with God, thanking Him for the past year and praying for the new one. I'd be in my room until I was called down for the traditional fireworks, greetings, exchange gifts and media noche (midnight dinner).

That prayer was a long shot. I was not engaged. I did not even have a boyfriend. But I felt ready to settle down. I was tired of the single life. I had been saving and investing my savings and had enough to start a married life. I was tired of wrong suitors coming in and and out of my life. And I could already cook tinola (as shown in photo below).

I'm so ready!!

As the New Year unfolded, I got busy with work and grad school and got involved in a newsletter project in our church. I brushed off this prayer and soon forgot about it.

Apparently, God did not.

(to be continued...)

Chicken tinola (image from My friend taught me how to cook this when I was in university.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I am attracted to anything ethnic. Garments, trinkets, musical instruments, baskets, hairstyles, makeup... For me, these--not designer shoes, clothes, perfume, jewelry, etc.-- are the closest to what can be called my fancy.

I still have bamboo flutes and other native instruments that I've collected since my teens. The nose flute and mouth harp are my favourite. When Kontra-Gapi, an ethnic music and dance ensemble at the University of the Philippines, was just being started by Edru Abraham in 1989, I was excited to join along with several college students. But because I was already working at that time, married with two babies, and taking graduate studies on the side, I quit after a few practices.

I also collected some malongs, or tubular skirts, from my field work or my father's trips to Palawan or Mindanao. I wore them at home quite a lot those days. Here, I used them mostly for display at cultural events until I wore them again during my trip in Sierra Leone last summer. Speaking of Sierra Leone, I was attracted to the native skirts women wore on the streets, at home or in the farm. I brought home a couple of couple of those bright African wraparounds.

I think this cloth is made from pina (pineapple).

I liked ethnic bags, trays and baskets too. Unfortunately, most were too bulky to bring to Canada when we moved here. I was only able to bring the smaller items. These, and some other things we bought afterward, are now part of our home decor that has a touch of ethnic. Just a touch. Hubby doesn't want to overdo it.

Hey, that's my basket!

My affinity to the ethnic goes beyond things. When I learned about Philippine tribes in Social Studies in elementary or high school, I used to imagine how it was to be part of an ethnic tribe. I fantasized about being a T'boli girl wearing colourful trinkets and thick makeup. Or an Igorota, especially after watching the movie of the same title starring Christopher de Leon. I wished I were playing the role of Nora Aunor.

How would I look in this?

Even years later, I imagined living in the mountains, carrying baskets on my head or a child on my back, walking barefoot on trails, harvesting rice on terraces...

I used to hear family say that my maternal grandmother, whose ancestors came from the island of Mindoro, might actually have Mangyan blood, which could explain her dark skin. My grandmother was tall, dark and had lovely deep-set eyes. I would be proud to have Mangyan ancestry even if city folks sort of think less of native peoples.

The only thing that snapped me out of my tribal imaginings was the reality that living in remote areas could mean living without a normal city toilet. I'm okay to fetch water, but I may not last without a commode, sorry...

But I am not completely detached from the ethnic. I love ethnic people. My current job connects me with tribes in Africa, Latin America and the Philippines. What I do at my desk is impacting people groups in the Congo, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Nigeria, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay, and a host of other countries.

Occasionally, I still want to wear something ethnic, and I don't mean just Filipino.

"I want to look exotic," I thought aloud one day. Ethnic-exotic, not dancer-exotic.

"Mom, you are in Canada. You ARE exotic!" one of my boys quickly pointed out.

Why, of course! Here Canada, I am as ethnic as pork adobo or fresh lumpia. In fact, I belong to what is called "visible minority". My face alone has ethnic written all over it.

I'm exotic!

(Photos above were conceptualized and art-directed by hubby for Shell's calendar. They are stylized, rather than real ethnic look).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Makeover, again

(part 2 of 2)

"So Mom, how's your makeover going?" Gino asked me about a week ago.

"Well, it's still going. I just haven't decided on my haircut. And I'm running out of clothes," I replied. "I don't know how long I can sustain this."

"Wear a mini-skirt, black stockings and high heels," he said.

I didn't say I wanted an extreme makeover. Just a makeover.

"I already did that. Well, it's not really very high heels..." And it's not a mini. Just above-the-knee skirt.

My boys sometimes give me unsolicited fashion advice, but hardly ever when I ask for it. As Markus once said, "Like I care, Mom."

Not too long ago, I did an inventory of the clothes in my closet and dresser. I don't have a lot of clothes, but I realized that with a little mixing and matching, and some accessorizing, they're good enough. I just need to be creative with what I have. Besides, I have so many mostly unused trinkets from my mother.

But I'd like some new clothes too.

"Pwede ba kong bumili ng damit? (Can I buy clothes?)" I asked my husband. It's not that I need to ask his permission, but if I want a makeover, maybe he should know what I'm up to.

"Yup!" he answered.

"Palagi? (Always?)" I was baiting.

"Yup!" he said again. He knows me well enough not to fear letting me loose in a department store. He knows stores are more likely to go bankrupt than I am to become shop-oholic.

It's not that I don't like shopping. It's just harder to shop when you are the one budgeting and holding the purse strings and looking after the bills and stuff. I want to make sure that I get the most for the dollar. So I take a looong time browsing the racks, which exhausts myself and anyone who shops with me, until I finally leave the store with barely anything. Or with nothing.

It is easier to shop when my husband is with me. "Just get it," he'd say. I often need that extra push.

Recently I asked him to buy me something from H&M store near his workplace in Vancouver. "Can you get me a black hat? Not the beret. You already got me that. Get me one with a lid," I told him.

Like always, he was quick to say yes.

"Really? My wish is your command?" I acted surprised. I knew he wouldn't say no.

The other night he came home with my hat, and a few items for himself. Smart guy!

"Do you know how much this hat costs?... $10!" he exclaimed.

"$10??! That's expensive!" I exclaimed. He gave me a puzzled look. I quickly picked up that we were exclaiming for the opposite reasons. "...Or is that cheap??" I gave him the puzzled look.

"If you want a makeover, first you have to makeover your budget," he said.

Admittedly, for me anything that is not on sale or on the clearance rack is expensive. Which is why I like Ross. I get nice clothes on its clearance racks, good enough for my so-called makeover.

"Lerryblossoms, what happened to you?" a close friend finally asked me after noticing my mix-and-match several days in a row. She's used to seeing this Plain Jane wearing the same o' same o' for years, and not this above-the-knee skirt, black stockings, not-so-high heels, trinkets and all.

Nothing happened to me. Just trying to be more creative with what I already have and what I can afford.

(from an ad designed and illustrated by hubby)

Friday, October 30, 2009


(Part 1 of 2)

“I want a makeover,” I told my husband recently. I don’t know if this was triggered by the change of season, or it was now my season of change.

“Sure,” MrB said without hesitation. He had heard this from me a few times before and he always approved. I hardly followed through though. I know, I know, other ladies are probably going, Shop till you drop!

“First, change your hair. Get streaks,” he said. But that means I'd have to go to a real salon, not to my mother’s 79-year-old friend in Seattle who cuts my hair by donation. I am open to getting a salon haircut but I'm not sure about the streaks. Won't that be a little costly and will be gone in two months?

“What if I just get a wig?” I asked MrB recently while browsing a catalog. A wig might be a better idea.


“What if I just copy one of these styles,” I asked. “Like this curly one.” I pointed to a wig that was big and frizzy. I like a hairstyle that I can get away with even without combing.

“That requires a certain type of personality,” MrB replied. “It’s not you. You need to have a leonine personality with that kind of hair.”

I can growl. You should know that by now.

“You are too sweet and quiet...,” he quickly added. That’s how to criticize your wives.

Talking about haircuts, I remember one disastrous cut I had years ago, back when I only had two kids. My mother and I went to a supposedly good gay hair-cutter who had a shop in his house. In the Philippines, the best hair-cutters were openly gay. So I was confident he would do a decent job. I told him I wanted a perm with bangs.

After the curlers were removed several minutes later, I realized to my horror that the front curls were “overcooked” and the sides weren't great either. I didn't say anything but I was not pleased at all. I looked like a poodle, but I didn't want to say it in hopes that the curls would relax after a few showers. Besides, my mother seemed pleased. Of course she would still say, “Wow!” even if I ended up looking like a pit bull with lipstick on.

As we walked to the waiting shed to get a jeepney ride home, I noticed people giving me a second look. I wanted to bark. Arriving home, our maids just smiled or snickered. They were careful about giving any comments.

Not my husband. As soon as he saw me, he did not hide his shock. He was briefly at a loss for words—gracious words—then he said it like it was. He jokingly mentioned the word "poodle". That’s it. I’m going to Ricky Reyes tomorrow. Ricky Reyes was, and remains perhaps, one of the more popular and pricey (by my standards) salons in the city.

And so before 7 am the next day, my husband and I left the house together to avoid the crowd of commuters. We took the bus to Greenhills where the salon was located. He left me there and proceeded to his workplace, which was a short ride away. Sitting behind some tall plants, I waited till the salon opened.

The hairdresser who attended to me couldn’t hide his amusement. He cut my hair really short to remove the almost kinky tresses. In the end, I had the shortest haircut I ever had. I was not very pleased about it, but it was certainly better than looking like our canine friends.

Because this happened shortly after the movie Ghost became a hit, I joked that I wanted to look like Demi Moore, instead, I looked like the ghost.

I’ve had better haircuts since and a few so-so. Often, I just grew my hair straight and long.

This time around I think I'll try something different. In keeping with my makeover, I might get a new haircut before Christmas. It could be one that will go with the “sweet and quiet”, or one that's a bit more daring. Grrrowl!

Whatever, I need to do it before my next visit to Seattle. Or by donation it is.

Demure Demi-Moore-trying-hard. My hair has
improved by this time.

(To be continued)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

If I were a rich man

"Mom, you know what I'm going to do when I have a one million dollars?" Markus asked me yesterday as I was cooking breakfast.

Take a grammar lessons? "No, what?" I replied.

"I'm gonna put $950,00 in the bank and spend $50,000 however I want."

"What about giving? How come there is none for giving?" I asked.

Markus paused for a moment. "Okay, I'll put $850,000 in the bank and give to charity."

"What about for Mommy?" I kidded.

"Okay, I'll get you guys a better house," Markus said.

"So how do you plan to get a million dollars?" Now I was curious.

Markus described in detail his idea of a high tech gun he will invent for the military, and lost me in the process. No, not a weapon of mass destruction.

"Isn't that being used yet in computer games?" I asked.

"No. I will be on the headlines: First 14-year-old with a billion dollar idea," Markus was excited.

"So you are going to be a billionaire. Not a millionaire," I said. Does that mean we will have a waaay better house? Mom of 14-year-old billionaire doesn't know what to do with new sprawling property in the Bahamas.

"But for now I will be a waiter," Markus said as he carefully carried the platter of fried eggs I just finished cooking, and a saucer on one arm. Back to reality.

"That's still a job. Any job is good for your resume," I assured him. As long as it's decent, that is.

Nothing wrong with dreaming. I will wait while you waiter. Now pass me those eggs.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Traveling mercies

(tenth and last of a series)

Shortly before leaving Makeni for Bo in the southern region of Sierra Leone, a few people, including 2 pastors and their wives, arrived at the staff house to see us off. They wished us traveling mercies. Our host prayed for us and then we took off in the same bus that brought us to Makeni. We loaded less supplies this time. But we now had my suitcase, which arrived while we were in Makeni.

The bus we contracted to take us from Freetown to Makeni and Bo

The first hour of the trip was smooth. Then we reached a junction where we were stopped by police at a checkpoint. I heard the police say that the road was very bad. We proceeded anyway.

For the next 3 hours, we traveled on rugged dirt road in the middle of vast fields. Occasionally, we passed by clusters of homes. But for the most part, there was just nature.

I saw few vehicles on this road traversing the middle of Sierra Leone. There were SUVs that would have no problem with this road condition. We were on an old mini-bus.

This is not a good place to experience a vehicle breakdown, I thought to myself. I remembered the pastors who sent us off. Those blessings for a safe trip, I receive them all, I prayed silently. The phrase traveling mercies gained new meaning for me.

What a way to Bo!

It started to rain around 4pm. I didn't know how far we were from our destination but it certainly felt like we had been driving forever with no end in sight. With the rains, the roads got muddier. Oh no...

Thankfully, we got to Bo in less than an hour after it started raining. Our bus made it safely! Thank You, Lord, for Your traveling mercies.

The staff house in Bo was not big enough to accommodate all of us. We were billeted in a new guesthouse instead. When I first entered my room, I felt so relieved to have a real bedroom with its own bathroom and a toilet that flushed. I don't know how long I sat on the bed just enjoying the comfort. I savoured the moment. Ahhhh...

Our project in Bo had its own challenges. We were already feeling the stress of the job and it was taking a toll on our bodies. But we gotta do what we gotta do, and we did it, with the help of God. We were able to finish well ahead of schedule. Our team left Bo a week earlier and went back to Freetown.

The road from Bo to Freetown was much better than the interior road we took from Makeni to Bo. There were more communities and structures along the way too. We stopped at a small market place somewhere. Children selling produce approached our windows.

When I started taking pictures, more children came. "Apatu, snap me! Snap me!" they said. I had heard that word before when I was in Makeni and walking on the street alone. Children called out, "Apatu!" I just smiled or waved at them. What could they be saying? I wondered. I didn't really care to know, just in case it was insulting.

But here in our mini-bus, I got curious and asked our local companions what apatu meant.

"It means 'white person'," he said. Me white? I found that amusing.

Back in Freetown, we spent the first day contacting our office in Canada and the US to get our tickets changed. We had nothing much to do but wait for our departure.

Finally, the day came. I was happy to be at the airport again, eager to go back to my family and to Canada. I thanked God our work in Sierra Leone was completed, I got my suitcase back, and I gained new Sierra Leonean friends.

Thank God for His traveling mercies.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A shack experience

(Ninth of a series)

The night we arrived in Makeni, it was quite dark at the staff house/office we would be staying at. The little battery-operated white lights above the dining table were weaker than a 5-watt bulb. It took my eyes a little while to adjust to the faint lights over a meal of bread and cheese for dinner while having a team meeting on the work ahead.

Afterward, our hosts prepared our rooms. My two colleagues shared one, and I had one adjacent to theirs. We were each provided with a mattress with a bed sheet that we had bought in Freetown. I dumped my things on the floor, laid in bed. This is comfortable foam. Never mind the plastic cover, I thought. It was stuffy with the windows shut, but I was wary of mosquitoes so I kept them that way. Besides I was afraid of what was outside those windows. My imagination started to work. I prayed and dozed off.

In the morning, I saw my room better. I can live with this. It may not be the best but, hey, you've got to be a trouper in this kind of work. I will be out the whole day anyway, I thought. I hung the clothes that I bought in Freetown on the clotheslines near the ceiling. I opened the windows to check out the outside--a path, lots of plants, a wide unkempt lot, a shed and a few houses about 100 metres away--to let some fresh air into my warm and humid room.

It did not have many mosquitoes. Instead there were tiny ants crawling on the floor and on my mattress. I saw two creepy crawlies on the window ledge too that looked like small cockroaches but not quite. I was told there was also what my colleague recognized as the bug that caused the Nairobi Eye. I closed my windows shut again.

My bedroom for the next 8 days.

After breakfast of bread, cheese, tea and occasional eggs everyday, we left the staff house and did our work up a hill. We came back no earlier than 7pm. After dinner of bread, cheese, tea and occasional canned food or plantains, I went to my room.

Now what? Too early to sleep and nothing to do. I was grateful to have a laptop. I journaled the events of the day and did my official reports till I became sleepy.

I brought a couple of books to read in addition to the Holy Bible. One was Paul Young's The Shack, a fictional book that I had been trying to read for a long time, and Grace Walk by Steve McVey.

As you might recall, I started reading from Isaiah 40 back in Freetown. The chapters after that repeatedly gave me assurances of God's protection, power, greatness, and compassion... Verses were jumping off the pages and coming alive.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Is. 41:10)

I found The Shack compelling and riveting. I don't want to give away the plot but encourage you to read it and judge for yourself. This book gave me fresh insights into God and pain and tragedies in life. I cried buckets. Good grief.

The book showed me how much more about God there is to know, how He is way greater than religion and the box we have put Him in. It stirred in me a desire for the intimacy He wants with me. Papa...

And so in my dark and humid sorry-looking room, I spent many sweet moments listening to and talking with the God of the universe. Sometimes I ranted and cried for the pain I had seen and tasted in my own life and dear ones' lives, and then cried some more realizing that He was and is in the midst of all of that bringing hope and redemption to the ugliness and messiness of life. Sometimes I was just awed by the great unconditional love He has for me, and that there was nothing I can do so that He will love me more. Overwhelming!

The Christian life is an impossible life, so the saying goes. There is no way I can live it but to let Christ live it out in and through me, which is what He wants to do in the first place.

In my previous entries, I wrote a series called Pampered. This time I wanted to experience the intimate pampering, so to speak, that I can have as a child of the Heavenly Father.

Here in this "shack" I experienced many moments with a loving yet sovereign God who gave His Son for me. I would not have been in a better place.


(Next, Traveling mercies)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


(Eighth of a series)

I had the opportunity to attend two churches in Makeni. The first one was an indigenous church established 10 years ago by four young men without help from missionaries. The pastor, who was involved in our project, invited me to attend there on my first Sunday in Makeni. My two American colleagues attended the church of our dialogue director.

I went to this church after my stint at the radio station. It had a very humble structure that the members themselves were gradually building. At least they owned the property located between a residential area and a field.

I arrived towards the end of Sunday School and was ushered to the front where there were two chairs on the left side facing the altar. I was asked to sit on one. The other chair was for the pastor for when he was not speaking.

I felt very undeserving of such special place. I don't deserve nor want this honour. I'd rather sit at the back. Feeling very humbled, I obliged. That was how they wanted it and I was learning to just go with the flow.

More people started coming for the main service, which was called divine service. There was a lot of singing and clapping and swaying and even dancing. It was so alive.

When they prayed, they prayed altogether. I assumed they prayed in Krio, Themne and Limba dialects. This is amazing, I thought. All I could understand was occasional English words adapted into Krio and "Papa" for God. We have the same Papa.

I was reminded of what the Bible says in Revelation 14: "...he had everlasting good news to declare as glad tidings to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people." This is why we do what we do.

The pastor asked me to speak about myself and our project which he translated into their language. After that, he delivered the sermon in Krio. Because it had many English words, I was able to understand what he was preaching about, Binding the Strong Man.

At the end, they gave me a special welcome song and dance. What a warm welcome.

Me with a local congregation after the church service

The second church I attended, this time with my colleagues, was a larger church that met at a temporary structure while they were raising funds and constructing their permanent one nearby. When we arrived, at least five Sunday School classes for different age groups were being held in different sections of the church. Everyone was repeatedly reciting and memorizing a verse.

Walking to a Baptist church

The adult class was memorizing Matthew 5:12, which I also memorized just by hearing them say it over and over. I don't know how it's spelled but I can say it in Krio. I don't even know the English version. Repetition really works.

A bible portion in Krio. Guess which part? (photo from

Like the first church I attended, this one was so alive. The singing was loud and animated, complete with a choir, keyboard and drums. Young and old sang and danced. You will not fall asleep here. I thought this humble church would put to shame many dead ones in the West.

"Papa! Papa God..." People called out during the congregational prayer.


(Next, A shack experience)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

On air

(seventh of a series)

On our first day at the radio station where we rented an unused studio for our project, I got to chat with the production manager, an old Themne man in his 60s. He was very eager to talk about Sierra Leone and to show me around town.

"You should come with me to town one day," he volunteered. Our staff house was in the outskirts so I had not seen the town center. Then he said something about me going on air. "Give an exhortation. Talk about a Bible passage and what you are doing here," he added. I thought he was joking.

"Sure," I replied smiling. I was riding along until I realized he was serious. He assured me that it was perfectly okay to talk about Jesus and the Bible in a government-operated radio station in their town which was 70% Muslim. There was religious tolerance in Makeni, as in most of Sierra Leone.

As much as I thought it was a wonderful opportunity, I realized I was unprepared and unqualified to expound on a Bible passage on such a short notice. I used to teach a College & Career Sunday School class for which I prepared for many, many hours within the week. I couldn't just wing it. It was a big responsibility.

But I had agreed to speak. Besides, when else will I be given the same opportunity? I have no idea what I'm going to say, God help me. I could talk about our project, and then what?

I remembered I had a pamphlet from work that talked about Jesus. It was a simple presentation of the gospel to which I could add my testimony. I could personalize it with my experiences and insights. I will share what I have and it's up to God to use it. That took the burden off my shoulders. I immediately worked on my piece. That was on Friday.

On Saturday, Mr. Production Manager told me my schedule was on Sunday morning. I didn't think it would be that soon. He introduced me to the Lady DJ that would host the show. I should be at the station at 9am.

Sunday came. While the rest of the recording team was taking a break from work and preparing for church, I was waiting for the young teen accompanying me to the station. He came five minutes before nine. There was no way I could hike up the hill in 5 minutes.

I arrived at the station a little late and sweating heavily as usual. Mr. Production Manager immediately ushered me to the booth and I was introduced by Lady DJ on air. Still catching my breath, I read through my material.

The announcer's booth is behind that door.

My talk was done in 15 minutes. The program was for 30. With time to use, I asked Lady DJ that if she had any questions. What am I thinking? What if she suddenly asks me some deep theological question?

Lady DJ leaned towards her mic and slightly turned her face to the right where I was seated facing her. She began to talk in her DJ accent and modulated voice.

"You said in your exhortation," she spoke slowly, "that you received Christ in your life when you were 15 years old... How long ago was that?"

LOL! I couldn't help laughing on air. I was caught off guard. Do you have any deep theological question?

"That was a loooong time ago," I chuckled, but gave her the number anyway. Oh, she's doing the math.

Oh well, I hope she remembers the other things I said.

See the big patch of sweat on my blouse.

(to be continued -- Papa)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

In Makeni

(sixth of a series)

We did our recording project at a local radio station located on top of a hill. Every morning, we hiked up around 10 minutes from our base on a rugged path. This made me really sweat and pant. My younger colleagues and the locals didn't seem to have the same difficulty. It took me a few days to adjust to the routine. Ugh, here we go again... I will walk and not faint... I can do this... This is good exercise, I kept reminding myself. I am burning calories and developing leg muscles... Not that I need any more (leg muscles). Sometimes I sang quietly to myself to take my mind off the trek.

We hiked up this road every morning with our
recording laptops.

We worked the whole day into the night as late as 9pm. Once we stayed up till 10. Going down the hill at night was tricky because the road was dark and often muddy after the day's rains. With only lanterns to guide our steps and with my poor eyesight, I had to be very cautious.

Although Makeni had no electricity, the radio station had its own generator that supplied its power 24 hours a day. The major thing that disrupted our work was the rain. It made a lot of noise on the tin roof so we had to wait for it to die down. We also experienced some technical glitches with our equipment that the techs managed to work around or resolve.

One of the techs recording

I was the administrator/journalist. My task was to document the whole process, do interviews, handle the money and other administrator stuff.

Me, on the laptop, surrounded by local
recording participants

I had ample opportunity to interact with the local people every day. I really enjoyed this part. I learned a lot about the Themne culture and community, and made more friends. What a friendly people! All they needed was for you to smile, say hello, ask questions, and they would start talking. They loved to talk with strangers. The were very quick to offer help too. "May I help you, please?" I thought that was very polite.

They liked being photographed too. This man, who was
walking by as my picture was being taken, indirectly
asked to be in the photo. "Please join me," I offered.

(Next, On air)

Destination: Makeni

(Fifth of a series)

Riding through Freetown's busy streets, I noticed how much trade was going on, a good sign that the country was picking up from the devastation of of a horrific rebel war (1991 - 2002). Many people were selling goods along the streets.

A Freetown residential street

On one street where we spent a long time in traffic, a steady stream of vendors, more men than women, peddled their wares and approached vehicles. It was interesting to see what people carried on their heads, shoulders and arms: car accessories, wall clocks, CD cases, toothpicks, lamps, tools, used books, bags, phone cards, nail cutters, foodstuff, cotton buds... Wal-Mart has left the building!

These people are very enterprising, I thought. At the same time I felt rather sad that able-bodied men and women were unable to find a more productive source of income. Factory work, for instance. Or construction. Or even cottage industries. How much can one earn from selling cotton buds all day? I really hope the best for Sierra Leone. May it continue to rise from the ashes.

We stopped by a gas station to load up more supplies for our trip to Makeni in the Northern Province. Bottled water. Lamps. We also picked up some mattresses that would be our beds. Goods were cheaper and more available in Freetown.

Loading mattresses into our mini-bus

The road to Makeni was good. We stopped at a few police checkpoints along the way, which are probably post-war security measures. After 4 hours, we reached Makeni around 9:20 pm. and went straight to the office that would be our house for the duration of our stay. It had 5 rooms that were mostly empty. I was assigned to one. The staff house, like the rest of the city, had no power. Water was fetched from a deep well.

Under dim battery operated mini-lights, our team had a short briefing with our Makeni coordinator on the work that we would start tackling the next day. After that, I set my alarm clock, laid on my mattress on the floor and hoped there would not be too many mosquitoes because my net was still in my missing suitcase.

Before dawn, I was awakened by the Islamic call to prayer from the PA system of a nearby mosque. I don't need an alarm clock here after all. Later, I took a bucket bath. I grew up taking bucket baths. It felt like I was in the Philippines. Because water was scarce, I used a bucket of water sparingly and efficiently. I was pleased to take a bath and do some laundry with just one bucket! Now I was ready to work.

Our staff house. Local people waiting to audition
for parts in our recording project

(Next, In Makeni)

Friday, September 04, 2009

Freetown shopping spree

My team had been in Freetown for two days but my luggage was still nowhere. The plane expected to bring it was diverted to another airport due to a thunderstorm.

Because we had no time to wait for it as our project was outside Freetown, I asked to be accompanied to buy some clothes and toiletries. Aminata, a local Sierra Leonean lady, graciously agreed to take me to the Freetown Central Market.

"Do you have a cellphone? Do you have money with you?" she asked me as we walked to the market. "They pick pockets here."

"No, nothing that can be stolen," I assured her. I had no cellphone. I had money but it was in a money belt under my clothes.

"Ok, don't talk. If you want anything just point. I will do all the talking," she said. I closely followed Aminata as she walked briskly. I noticed how straight her body was, like most women in the city, and if fact, Sierra Leone. I thought that maybe this posture was brought about by having to carry things on their heads from a young age. I noticed my slouching shoulders and straightened up.

The market was a very busy place. Vendors had their wares on the street sides or on the street itself.

Freetown market (photo from

We stopped by a boy who sold bright-coloured blouses, and he immediately started pulling out tops from his basket on the ground.

"I prefer t-shirts," I told Aminata. "Cotton t-shirts... Like what that boy is wearing," I pointed to a teenager walking by. I wanted something comfortable.

"You want a boy's shirt," Aminata made sure she heard me right. I assumed t-shirts were unisex, so I said yes. She led me to a stall selling what looked like over-sized faded boy's T-shirts worn by teenagers. I picked out the smallest ones I could find that looked the most feminine. My fault. I said boy's shirt.

Next, Aminata brought me to a narrow alley where there were little stalls on both sides and more sellers in the middle. We went to a stall selling skirts and female tops. Ladies clothes! That's more like it, I thought.

"Ok, just choose what you want," Aminata said as she handed me cotton skirts and tops to try on. I fitted them over my own clothes in the fitting area that was covered by nothing but a couple of shirts.

"Remember you will be away for month," Aminata continued, handing me more clothes to try. She also got a few items from the adjacent stall. I had never bought as many items in one shopping trip. I was beginning to like it. Aminata, though younger, was acting like a doting mother.

When I said I had enough, she began haggling with the sellers. They talked in their language animatedly and sounded like they were arguing. It was very interesting to watch. Finally they calmed down and Aminata took out leones from her purse in thousand denominations. One US dollar is equivalent to more than 3,000 leones.

"What else do you need?" she asked.

I was embarrassed to say undergarments aloud, so I whispered, "I need some brassieres."

"So you need some BRA?" she asked loudly. "Do you want custom-made or the ones from bills?" I did not understand what she meant. From her explanation, I gathered that container goods were received in Freetown, perhaps as donations, I'm not sure, and some secondhand ones found their way to the market. She called them bills or bales. I can't remember now. Custom-made ones were new.

"Custom-made," I replied. Have we been buying secondhand? Is that why they look faded? I wondered. I couldn't care less now, but please, no secondhand undergarments.

She approached a lady who was selling brassieres arranged on a flat round basket in the middle of an alley. The bras came in various colours and embroidery. I thought they were a little flashy for underwear. Or were these also outerwear?

"She needs some bra," Aminata told the vendor and then she lightly touched my chest. Excuse me? I was caught by surprise and was unable to react. I have two real ones, in you case you have any doubts.

"Small," she added. Excuse me! How can you tell that with this thick denim top? If I didn't know any better, I'd think that was adding insult to embarrassment. I was half-amused and half-shocked and took everything in stride.

The vendor started fitting several bras one after another over my top. I stood there like a mannequin trying to ignore the people watching me. As the only non-black person in the busy alley that had so many male vendors, I was attracting attention.

Yes, that's OK with me. No, too small. Too big. Too pointy.!

This is hilarious,
I thought. I don't care. Nobody knows me around here. They will not remember my face.

We bought a few more items then I was done shopping. I didn't bother to ask who was covering the cost of the purchases--the airlines, the project or me. I was pleased with my new set of clothes.

(to be continued, Destination: Makeni)

My first morning in Freetown

I woke up a little chilly because of the A/C in my room. I freshened up with baby wipes and headed down to the hotel lobby. After exchanging greetings with the receptionist, I asked if water in the washroom came at a certain time.

The lady was very apologetic about the lack of water at the hotel. The city was having a problem, she said. I think a main water pipe was damaged in a road construction project somewhere in Freetown. Water would be brought up to my room in buckets.

"That's all right," I replied and stayed for a little chat. I'm not usually chatty, but this is Africa, and I know they are a very relational people. I made the extra effort to talk.

"You're my friend," the receptionist, told me graciously at the end of our small talk. I've made one friend!

The temperature outside my hotel room was hot and humid. My body was no longer used to that kind of heat as if there was a heavy blanket over the city. I felt suffocated. I quickly laid back in bed, enjoying the remaining cool of the A/C that just got turned off with the hotel's generator.

Can I stand this heat outside without fainting? Suddenly, four weeks seemed too long to be away from the comforts of home. No luggage. No water. And now no power.

"God, I really need a promise from you right now," I prayed in the dark with fervour and some hyperventilation. I pulled out my Bible and reading lamp and opened to the first thing that came to mind, Isaiah 40.

I wanted an immediate promise from God. Instead, the passage talked in length about God's greatness, how He measures the waters in the hollow of His hands, how He weighs the mountains in the scales, how He calls each star by name... If He can do and see all these things, surely He can see me in this dark and lonely room. Surely there are more stars than people.

I sensed God wanted me to focus on who He was, rather than on what He could do for me at that moment. Meditating on His greatness was enough to make my worries insignificant. I stopped looking for a direct promise. But at the end of the chapter, however, He gave it anyway.

...those who hope in the Lord will renew their They will soar with wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.

I will walk and not faint! Lord, when I get out of this bed and leave this room, I will have to walk with Your strength...

This promise, and others that followed in the next days, would sustain me in the days and weeks to come. As you will probably read in my next entries, we really roughed it out.

View from the veranda of our hotel

Later that morning, our local contact came to the hotel. We talked about our plan of work then headed out to his office. It rained a lot that day. Although my rain jacket and umbrella were in my missing luggage, I was grateful for the rain. It literally cleared the air.

Next, a shopping adventure.

My luggage goes missing

It was around 10 pm. I sat in a small room at the Freetown-Lungi International Airport in Sierra Leone waiting to report my lost baggage. The airport worker was an old man who was manually filling up a long form. I watched him insert carbon paper in between sheets. Carbon paper! I had not seen this in a long time.

More passengers started streaming into the room. One Caucasian guy with a thick European accent was ranting. "How can this happen from London? This thing does not happen!! But of course in this place, anything can happen..." He was upset and agitated. I thought, Shush already. You are obviously a foreigner in this place. Do you want more trouble than a simple missing luggage? Another guy kept enumerating all the precious and name brand items in his missing suitcase. Hey mister, keep announcing your prized possessions and you might end up permanently losing them.

Poor airport worker. He went about his business slowly, unmindful of all the disturbance going on in the cubicle. Was he pretending not to hear or understand the nasty comments going on? I wondered. I sat quietly beside his desk and avoided making any comment or expression that could fan people's tempers. Just report the loss, people. Ranting and raving won't solve anything.

The Freetown International Airport during the day (photo from

After reporting my baggage loss, we squeezed into a waiting vehicle and drove 15-20 minutes on a long and dark stretch of road. There was no power in the area. The houses were few and far between until we got closer to the dock. Thankfully, we caught the last ferry ride to Freetown.

Freetown ferry from and to the international airport in Lungi . The Sierra Leone River separates Freetown from Lungi. (Photo from

Exhausted, we arrived at our hotel past 1 am. It was not much of a hotel room but at least there was A/C. I tried to sleep and not worry about my missing bag. At this point it was just an inconvenience. I had packed essentials in my hand-carried one that could last me three days. Besides, there was nothing precious in that suitcase. No great clothes, remember? Mostly old ones and hand-me-downs. The only thing I would feel bad about losing were the malong skirts my father bought for me more than 25 years ago. Sentimental. Everything else was replaceable.

Next, waking up to reality. My first morning in Freetown...


I finally realized my dream of stepping on African soil when my office sent me to Sierra Leone, or Salone, on a project last month. Sierra Leone is on the west coast of Africa north of Liberia and south of Guinea. What an exciting opportunity!

As office SOP, I visited a travel clinic and got some shots. Yellow fever. Typhoid. Tetanus. Meningitis. Hepa A & B. Oral vaccine for cholera. A weekly tablet for malaria. I never had so many vaccinations at one time. What about those who actually live there, are they protected? I wondered. With the required yellow fever shot, I applied for a visa.

Even before my visa came, I had been making several travel preparations: gathering the personal and work-related items to take on the trip; making lists to do, to pay, to bring, to buy, to leave, to repair, to follow up; making verbal and written instructions for the home and the office... Is this typical of mothers and wives when they travel, or am I just the obsessive one?

I think it took me more than two weeks to meticulously organize my three travel bags--one check-in, one hand carry, and a backpack. I wrote down everything that went into each bag so I'd know where to look when I needed anything.

"Mom, what are you packing?" Markus asked as I sorted through piles of items scattered on the floor.

"I'm not packing any great clothes," I replied.

"What great clothes?" he teased.

"I mean, not office clothes." I had done my research and was packing accordingly.

On the day of my departure, I took a shuttle bus to the airport after finding out that this was cheaper than taking a taxicab ($46 vs. $75). I was at the check-in line 5 hours before take-off.

"You're early," the British Airways agent at the counter told me.

"It's my ride," I replied. I intentionally chose an early shuttle schedule because I don't like worrying about missed flights. I would sleep at the airport if I had to.

I checked in my luggage along with a big group of South African athletes returning from a competition in BC who were also flying on BA, on the flight before mine. As I watched my luggage on the conveyor, I worried for a moment that my suitcase might be thrown in with theirs.

I spent most of the trip from Vancouver watching movies on my personal screen and enjoying airplane food. I don't know a lot of people who like airplane food. Me, I don't care. Just feed me. I saved the non-perishable snacks, sugar, salt and pepper for my stay in Sierra Leone. I wanted to drink those cute bottles of white or red wine too, but I thought I'd do it on the flight back.

Our plane landed in London before I finished Wolverine, which made me regret seeing 17 Again, Che and The Soloist before it. At the Heathrow Airport, I met my two American female companions, both around half my age, for the first time. After a short layover, I was on a smaller BMI plane that would took us 7 hours to Freetown-Lungi International Airport.

The sun was setting now. I mentally tracked our location. Flying over Spain...over the Mediterranean Sea...over Morocco...

I'm in Sierra Leone! This is Africa! I HAVE ARRIVED!


My luggage had not!!

(to be continued, My luggage goes missing)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Pampered, part 3

I feel I should continue the Pampered series because I wrote to be continued even with the maybe in my last entry. So here's the last part.

Young and restless

My childhood was a blast. The campus we lived in gave me a wide playground which included lots of open spaces, people's yards, university buildings, public structures, and so on. We kids played outdoors most of the time. Tumbang preso. Sipa. Piko. Taguan. Agawan base. Holen. Goma. Tex. Siyato. And a host of other games now considered ancient or already non-existent.

We climbed trees and rooftops. We jumped from branches and porches. We crawled under our homes looking for coins and other items that had dropped between the wooden floors. This was one of my favourite things to do with my friends. We lived in barracks type homes, each one divided into three units for three families. The crawl space was probably a meter high, and we went from one end to the other.

We crawled on our bellies inside pitch dark underground steel culverts that served as water drains. We were unafraid that there might be snakes hiding inside, or that we might get stuck in the middle because the drain was narrow. We walked and did stunts on railings pretending to be gymnasts. We bathed in the rain and played in water puddles after a storm.

We scoured the surroundings for "trashures". We turned bottle caps and empty cigarette packs into currency that we pay each other for certain games. We assigned them values and everyone abided by it.

In those days, there were still a lot of fruit trees in the neighbourhood. We never hesitated to ask permission to climb someone's caimito or guava or tamarind or aratilis tree. I was not scared to go high up until I fell from a caimito tree.

We went in and out of neighbours' homes to play, watch TV, have a drink or just chat with friends and their parents. Everyone knew everyone.

During moonlit nights, we played hide-and-seek. We ran around and screamed and nobody complained. We were children.

Those were fun years.


But though I experienced a lot of freedom to roam and play, my parents set limits. I thought I was more sheltered than some of my friends. I had to be home at a certain time. I could only go so far and I always had to ask permission to go anywhere. I couldn't just slip quietly out of the house. They refused to get me a two-wheel bike no matter how much I begged. "Baka maging mitsa pa ng buhay mo." (That might cause your fatal accident).

I was not allowed to sleep over except with relatives, nor join Girl Scout camping. I often had to plead to be allowed to go to excursions. I liked excursions and field trips, so I often had to struggle to join one. My father signed those slips reluctantly, always complaining about permission slips that contained a waiver on school liability.

My father used to call me with a certain kind of whistle. He would stand on our front porch or balconaje and make this loud whistle. Hooooot! When he did that, I had to leave what I was doing and run home. Everyone in the neighbourhood recognized. "Uy, tawag ka ng tatay mo." (Hey, you're father is calling you.) I had to go home quickly or be scolded.

Striking a balance

It is probably because of this background that I developed a taste for adventure and the outdoors and play. On the other hand, I am also one for boundaries and rules and permissions. I feel safe within those parameters.

Even when I was already in my 20s and still living with my parents as a single person, I still needed to let them know my whereabouts. I called if I was going to be late. I called from out of town when I was on a field assignment.

Even if at that time I was already working and could go out with friends, sometimes for days, I still felt the need to let my parents know beforehand as if to get their approval. If I told them of my plans and they did not disapprove (which they never did once I was out of university), to me that felt like their blessing. It gave me a sense of covering and personal boundary.

Like many parents, my father and mother had concerns about my going in and going out. After all I was a single girl. I knew they, especially my mother, worried when I went out of town and stayed out late. But they chose to trust me. That unspoken trust followed me wherever I went.

I admit, there were times that I pushed the limit and tested what was out there. I tested my own limits. I made some bad choices when I was just learning to spread my wings, and learned the hard way. But my parents' love and their trust were like an internal whistle long after my father had stopped actually doing it. I sensed it when I had to go "home".