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Nicole sings of hope

A sweet, soft voice filled the humid air as I made my way through the cluster of houses ahead.

Ang kailangan mo’y tibay ng loob kung mayrong pagsubok man
Ang liwanag ay ‘di magtatagal at muling mamasdan
Ikot ng mundo ay hindi laging pighati’t kasawian
Ang pangarap mo ay makakamtan basta’t maghintay ka lamang”

It was a fine Saturday morning, a week after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered the Visayas, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of people homeless and hungry.

“Magandang umaga po,” I greeted the group of people ahead. A mother was washing clothes in the nearby well and men were trying to repair their damaged houses. My Filipino greeting must’ve caught Nicole’s attention that she stopped singing, looked out their window and smiled warmly at me. She had been singing her baby sister to sleep. An uprooted coconut tree lay beside their small hut. I stopped beside it and scanned the neighborhood.

I heard someone call out to me. It was my colleague. I remembered I was there for an important purpose. I took pictures and asked questions. In that small coastal community, many houses were also either washed out, roofless or heavily damaged. The community wasn’t as heavily devastated as Tacloban, Capiz or Northern Cebu but they were just as affected. Families now lived with relatives and neighbors or in makeshift houses made from what remained of their old houses. Sources of living were destroyed. Food was scarce. Classes were suspended because of damaged classrooms. Children had school supplies no more.

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A mother sorted through soiled clothes and household items while her two sons tried to salvage wet books and notebooks. A single father gazed at his 3 children after their day’s work in the farm. His little girl told me she wants to be a teacher someday. A boy clung to her mother’s side beside the empty space where their home had once stood.

These images spoke of unspoken struggles and uncertainties. Amid silence were brief blank stares. These images made my heart heavy. But their smiles, though awkward at times, brought a glimmer of hope in me… that despite the grim circumstances, they were slowly coming to realize all hope was not lost. This hope I found in a Christmas star which hung among whatever was left of a home. On the bus going back to the city, I closed my eyes and remembered Nicole’s cheerful and hopeful voice singing a song of hope.

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Courage is found in unlikely places – J.R.R. Tolkien

Iridescence

“May rainbow din po ba sa heaven?”

I woke up with a terrible headache, having barely slept that night. It had rained hard all night and dark clouds loomed the horizon that Saturday morning, dispelling all my excitement. The day hasn’t even started, but I felt it was going to be bleak. At 6 am, I groggily set out for my early morning class excursion.

I stood beside a puddle of rain water at the side of the road. I looked down at my muddy red sneakers and noticed the rainbow-like effect created from the thin film of oil on the puddle, which probably leaked from the trucks that came and went through that narrow road leading to the dump site at Pier 18. I dipped the tip of my shoes in the puddle and watched the ripple spread, my mind dreaming of hot chocolate and pancakes.

“May rainbow din po ba sa heaven?” Her tiny voice jolted me from my daydream. I lifted my gaze upward and saw her looking at the iridescent oil slick. She wore a shabby shirt and shorts, a frail body underneath. Her slippers needed replacement, her feet were covered with mud and dirt. Her eyes were wide with amazement at the rainbow. She looked at me with tired, sad eyes and smiled. I smiled back and nodded my answer. Then, she ran off before I even got a chance to ask her name.

On our way back to the university, I thought of that little girl again. Her sad smile haunted me. Young as she was, I felt that she was already exhausted and tired of life. I prayed that she would find hope in that seemingly hopeless place, even in simple things such as that rainbow in the puddle.

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The vicious cycle of poverty traps many poor families and pulls them deeper and deeper into a world of helplessness. If people in dire conditions lose all hope that they may one day be able to break out of poverty, the next generations are the ones who will truly suffer. Seeds of hope, such as what rainbows after a rain create, can be seeds of dreams and seeds of a better life. Let’s all try to plant seeds of hope and dreams. Let’s not get tired to do so, even when we feel nothing is getting better. Let’s not forget to hope and hopefully, one day, our world will truly be filled with joy and life.

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Don’t Look Back

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You can’t look back – you just have to put the past behind you, and find something better in your future. ~ Jodi Picoult

Smile, No Matter What

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ~ Leo Buscaglia

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Her heartwarming smile greeted us as we made our way through the row of little huts along the village’s main road. It was almost midday and the sun was blisteringly hot in that almost arid place. It was so hot but she didn’t mind. She just flashed the most sincere smile I have ever seen. It was a smile that had the potential to move the hearts of anyone who cared to notice.

That bright smile shook my lethargic heart. She, whose future was uncertain because of intergenerational poverty, looked so happy while I, with so many choices and opportunities, felt so troubled. It amazed me how she could still smile when her stomach was empty and her tiny feet were bare and full of scratches. All throughout the day I saw her running around and playing with a  younger girl and her smile rarely left her tiny face. Each time I saw her, I was reminded that I had no right to complain about how hot it was or how my feet ached. I felt ashamed that I, who had so much, still whined about petty things. Her innocent smile shamed me.

I remember the quote that was written in a coffee mug I bought a few years back. It said, “Happiness is not in things, it is in us.” May the smile of this little girl always remind you and me to look for happiness not in material things but in real, genuine relationships.

I pray that this child will grow up well and make a positive mark on this world. I pray that God will usher in good people to help her and the rest of the children in their village be provided with better capacities and opportunities. I hope that she won’t ever forget to smile even in the face of difficulties in life. God bless you, dearest child.

Planting Seeds of Hope

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Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders. – Henry David Thoreau

Standstill

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Disappointments. Stagnation. Mediocrity. These three words pretty much characterize my life at the moment. My pride is having a hard time accepting this but it has no other choice. It worries me that I, who dreamt big dreams and had grand plans, would let my life reach this point without making a bold move to change the course of things even when I had the chance to. I fear that I have changed so much, sadly, not for the better. Day after day, I disappoint myself with mediocre ideas, plans and outputs. At night when I wait for sleep to take over my anxieties, I wonder what happened to the person I thought I was and wanted to be.

As I slowly come to terms with my present self, I cannot help but feel anxious of the seemingly bleak future ahead. I know it’s time to step out of this debilitating state and rise up to new challenges. Yet, I feel the familar string pulling me back inside that already comfortable hole. It’s a viscious cycle that’s been eating up the remaining hope in me. Everyday is a struggle to break free and it’s tiring and frustrating. I’m tired of disappointing myself over and over again. I’m tired of being a mediocre. I’m tired of being the dispassionate person I’ve become. I am desperate for change. But where do I start?

Celebrating Love

Today is a very special day for my parents. It’s the day they vowed to spend the rest of their lives loving one another before God. So today, I honor that love that brought me to this world… a love that saw beyond age (my mom’s a decade older than my dad)… a love that transformed their lives and mine. I pray to God for that love to grow stronger each passing day. I pray that someday soon, I will also find and experience that same kind of love. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! ❤

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Courage

The fulfillment of your dreams begins with that first brave step forward.

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One Sunny Day

Yesterday was a bright and sunny day. Before dusk, I took my dad’s bike and rode to the beach near our old family house. I wanted to sit on the sandy shore while I waited for the sun to set, just like I used to when I was younger. The sunset yesterday was worth the wait. It was really beautiful. Aside from that, I also got to see fishermen coming home from a long day at sea, with their families and relatives eager to see the day’s catch.

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Today, I woke up to the sound of the rain softly falling down on our roof. I look out my window and see dark gray clouds hovering over our town. I still hope I’d get to see the sun before I leave for the city tonight.

Lessons from a Lady Named Joy

Remember Jaja – the little girl I met on the bus going home to the province? I still think about her sometimes and wonder how she’s doing. I hope she’s well and happy and enjoying her childhood.

On my trip back to Manila after that vacation, I met Joy. What really got me interested in Joy was that she reminded me so much of Jaja. It was like I was seeing the adult version of the little girl I met a few days earlier.

I arrived early at the bus station, which was just a block away from our house. Mom and Dad walked me to the bus, as they always do. The long vacation was over, and a lot of people – both tourists and locals – were on their way back to Manila. Good thing I was able to reserve a seat, although the seat I got was already at the second to the last row.

It was almost 8pm, and the bus was about to leave, but the seat next to me was still empty. I took out my iPod and book and began reading while the light was still on. A few minutes after 8, our bus still hasn’t left the station. I guess they were waiting for some more passengers who reserved seats. My seatmate was one of them. I was almost getting drowsy when finally, she arrived. She sat down beside me, catching her breathe. She must’ve raced her way to the bus station to catch the last trip going to Manila that day.

“Hi, are you heading to Manila, too?” she asked me. “Yes,” I answered. “I’m Joy,” she smiled at me. “Mae,” I smiled back.

I stowed my book and iPod and readied myself for a conversation with Joy. I wondered what her story was and I was eager to know. I didn’t get disappointed because Joy was very talkative. In fact, we talked until 1 in the morning. Her high-pitched voice floated inside the bus, along with the soft snores of the passengers.

For 5 hours, I listened to Joy unfold her life. She just went on and on with her stories. As I listened to her, I noticed how similar her story was with Jaja’s. Like Jaja, she was orphaned at a young age and was left to the care of her aunt. Since college, she had been living independently while her aunt went abroad to work. She has learned to live on her own and look after herself. She told me about her past relationships, and how her ex boyfriend left her for another woman. She told me about her work, her colleagues and struggles. She shared that she wanted to try her luck overseas, hoping her life would be much better. She was only in her early twenties and she seemed be very enthusiastic about everything. I felt how strong a person she was, probably because of the circumstances in her life.

Joy travelled alone during that trip, her first time to do so. She was supposed to travel with her friends but her schedule didn’t permit her to join them. This didn’t hold her back from getting the most of the very long weekend so she decided to explore Ilocos on her own. She recounted her adventures to the different tourist destinations she visited, places I myself haven’t even been to considering I lived almost half of my life in that province. She excitedly showed me the photos and videos that she took from the places she visited.

Joy had a positive outlook in life. I envied her and wished I could have that same confidence and positive attitude. I thought of Jaja and wished she’d grow up with the same positive outlook.

At 1am, she must have noticed that I was so sleepy so she finally told me to sleep. I slept thinking about Joy and Jaja and prayed that they both have a bright future ahead of them.

I don’t normally talk to strangers on the bus but God allows us to meet other people to let us realize and learn things from them. Tonight, I’m headed to the province again for the long weekend. Before I leave the house, I just had to finish this post I started two months ago. I’m looking forward to hearing more inspiring stories from strangers!

What Do You See?

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Your vision will become clear only when you look into your own heart.
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens. – Carl Jung
 
 

Sometimes, We Need to Take a Break

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Nearly There

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My Love – Hate Relationship with Rain

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I have a LOVE-HATE relationship with rain.

I love it when it rains because it makes me want to snuggle and sleep.

I hate when it rains on weekdays or schooldays because I’d get so sleepy and lazy at work or in class.

I love how rain cools down the hot weather in my city, especially during summer.

I hate it when it rains just as I’m about to head out somewhere or when I’m about to go home because I hate wet clothes clinging to my skin and commuting is particularly hard in Metro Manila when it’s raining.

I love the sound of the raindrops pouring down on roofs and pavements.

I hate it when the rain comes with loud thunder and lighting.

I love it when it rains at night because I don’t have to use the AC or the fan (less electrical consumption = more savings).

I hate it when it rains incessantly that even the water from the faucet and shower gets cold (I don’t like taking a bath with chilly water. Brrr!)

I love the rain because it brings back good memories from my childhood – bathing in the rain my friends and cousins, playing board games, card games or hide and seek inside our old family house, and many many wonderful memories.

Why Dad Cried

My dad is a tough guy but he’s also gooey on the inside, especially when it comes to family. I remember the first time I saw him cry because of me. I was in second year high school then and was still not allowed to have a boyfriend. But stubborn as I was, I got myself into a relationship and dad found out eventually. I still recall that morning when he told me he wanted to talk to me. I sat down on the sofa with guilt written on my face. Dad sat beside me quietly. When I looked up, tears were welling up from his eyes.

He told me in between croaks, “Dorothy Mae, anakko, leppasem kadi pay lang ti panagadal mo! Uray agpakasar kanto nga sigud no makagraduate ka ti college. Ti nasken ket makalpas ka. Uray siak to pay ti aggastos ti kasar mo.” (Dorothy Mae, my child, please finish your studies first. You can get married right after college, if that’s what you want. I can even shoulder all the cost of your wedding, as long as you finish college first.)

It was a lengthy sermon from my dad and all I could say was, “Wen (Yes), Dad.” I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t planning on getting married at that moment or in the near future but I just kept silent. After that, I did break up with my boyfriend then. I think we got back together after a few months but it eventually ended when I had to go away for college.

Of course, I finished high school – with honors – and graduated from college on time. I’m pretty sure my dad was so happy to see me finally receiving my college diploma. He must also have felt relieved that I didn’t have a boyfriend that time.

Run to You

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I wish I was this little crab, so I could run to the sea anytime.

I Love Writing

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When I was in high school, I kept a journal describing in detail the highlights of my teenage years. I was also fond of writing poems and essays back then. When I go home tomorrow night, I’m gonna try to look for those journals and notebooks and post some of my writings here. I’m expecting it would be filled with corny, cheesy thoughts but it would be fun to just remember those days. I just hope they’re still in the memorabilia boxes in my room.

Let Kids Teach You

While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.

~ Angela Schwindt

I’m a Daddy’s Girl

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I suddenly miss my dad. Probably because it’s Father’s Day on Sunday? Or the fact that he’s coming over to visit this weekend? Maybe. I miss being a daddy’s girl, which I still am. I miss our fights, our crying moments, our hugs with mom.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

P.S. I love you (and mom) a lot!

Sunrise

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Sunrise at Abra de Ilog port, on the way to Apo Reef, Occidental Mindoro

Welcome each day with gratefulness in your heart and love and blessings will flow abundantly.

Boredom

BORED? Why don’t you try something new?

Favorite Subject: Recess

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School bell in a rural area the Philippines

It’s common here in the Philippines that when asked about our favorite subject in school, we jokingly answer RECESS. But since recess is not really a subject, it is my favorite time of the day in the school. When the school bell was rang signaling both snack and lunch time, I was grateful to have a few minutes to take the lessons off my mind and just relax and feed my ever hungry stomach.

In effect, recess actually is an important part of the day in school. For one, it gives students the time to process what they’ve learned. It also provides them an avenue to interact with their classmates and schoolmates. Recess helps develop interpersonal communication skills among students.

For teachers, recess is a chance to rest for a while before the next hours of grueling work. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs ever. My parents are both public elementary school teachers so I know how hard it is to be one. (That’s the reason why I never dreamed of following in their footsteps.) 

By the way, do you a lot of public schools in the rural areas here in the Philippines use empty shells of bombs during the World War 2 as school bells? My school had one.

Ding! Ding! Ding! It’s time for recess!

Learning to Ride the Bike

I can’t remember exactly when I learned how to ride a single bike. I must have been 6 or 7 years old then because I recall having a hard time reaching for the pedals.

I can still clearly remember how it happened. It was summertime and I really wanted to learn so badly. I already knew how to ride the bike with a sidecar, and I wanted to level up. All day, I nagged my father to teach me until he said yes. That afternoon, my dad detached my grandfather’s bike from its sidecar and he started to teach me. The road in front of our family house was dusty but I didn’t mind. All I wanted was to learn to ride the single bike so I can join my friends and neighbors in their biking adventures. For the next few hours, he patiently held the bike while I pedaled and tried to balance. After a few meters, he would let go of the bike but he would still be running after me just in case I fell. We did it again and again, but I always lost balance after a few meters.

Come dusk, Dad told me it was time to end the day’s bike training. I didn’t want to stop. I just couldn’t give up. So I told him to go home ahead. When he was gone, I told myself that I could do it even if I have to learn on my own. I mounted the bike, put my right foot on the right pedal, pushed forward and tried to balance as I pedaled my way down the dusty road. But because it was getting really dark, I didn’t notice the big stone along the road. I lost my balance, crashed and got a scraped knee. It was painful, but it didn’t stop me from getting up and mounting the bike again. This time, I told myself to try one last time.

I summoned all the strength and courage in me, took a deep breath, and started pedaling. You know what happened next. I did it. I finally learned to ride a single bicycle. Hurray!

See, it takes courage and perseverance to realize a dream, coupled with guidance from other people and from God. But it must all start with your decision to pursue what it is you want to do. Sometimes it’s hard to start, sometimes it’s even painful, but you won’t go any far unless you take that first step.

Balloons and Cameras

I love balloons. Seeing kids with balloons always make me smile. Even just the sight of balloons make me happy.

That’s me, loving the balloons!

See how happy I was having seen these cute balloons? I just had to have my photo taken with them at that time. Thanks to my friend Rocky for taking this photo.

Like any other kid, I grew up wanting to have at least one of the balloons from the children’s parties I was invited to. Here’s a proof of that:

Me and my Aunt at a family friend’s birthday party

My aunt told me she was laughing at me because I didn’t want my photo taken. But I guess the photographer just couldn’t resist making fun of me. Whoever he/she was, I thank him/her deeply for this photo. It brings back fond memories and never fails to make me smile.

From a kid who was afraid of the camera, I love that I grew up to be someone who came to love it a lot. 🙂

Back to School

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It’s back to school season again. After much thought and self-convincing, I’ve decided to enroll this semester hoping to finally finish my masters degree soon. I certainly hope I’d finish it before I reach the 5-year mark for maximum residency at my school. I should have been done with it already if I didn’t stop for 3 semesters because of some other important opportunities. But I’m glad that my inspiration to pursue my dream never wavered. I thank God for the resources and opportunities He has given me to be able to soar high and reach for my dreams.

For all of you going back to school, may you never lose hope and faith. May all your dreams come true! Cheers!

June Series

The month of June is the start of the school year here in the Philippines. This month, I will be posting photos and stories about kids and childhood and anything connected with children – school, play, fun. Join me in reliving the joy of being a child.

Stay a child while you can be a child. ~ STEPHEN SONDHEIM, Into the Woods

Float On

Anjel floating in one of the islands in Sorsogon

Anjel floating in one of the islands in Sorsogon

My mind is weary from the busy-ness of the city. But I always find solace in the gentle swells of the sea. All I want to do is float my tired body along the clear blue waters and drown the world’s noise. I love listening to the faint sound of the waves softly crashing on the shore. It keeps me calm and serene, and sort of detaches me from the world. Too bad, there’s no sea in my city to comfort me, and only recorded sounds of the sea keeps me company at night after the day’s work.

Lessons from a Little Girl Named Jaja

My wristwatch told me it was 11:00pm. I had been at the Florida bus station since 9 in the evening, afraid I might miss the bus because of the terrible traffic along Quezon Avenue. My bus finally arrived so I climbed up and took my seat. It was the last seat on the extra bus that day. If it were not for that last seat, I would have waited until midnight or the next day  just so I could go home and be with my family for the Holy Week.

I was glad to be seated at the second row. Most of the time, I travel alone when I go home to the province. I wondered who my seat mate would be that night and I prayed it wouldn’t be a guy who might turn out to be a maniac. That’s when I met her.

“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Jaja,” she replied.
“Hi, Chacha!” I happily welcomed her.
“It’s not Chacha. It’s Jaja,” she blurted out.
“Oh, sorry. Hi there, Jaja!” I repeated my greeting. And that started our interesting conversation.

Jaja is 6. In fact, she told me it was her birthday that day. “Happy birthday!” I greeted her. “Thank you po,” she shyly replied.

She was with her Tita Bing and her girl friend, and just like me, they were bound for Laoag for the Holy Week.

“Naku! Lagot ka diyan kay Jaja, sobrang daldal niyan,” her aunt warned me of Jaja’s talkativeness. I told her I didn’t mind although when I travel, I usually don’t talk to my seatmates. My iPod and books are my constant travel companions. That night, I turned off the iPod and closed my book and decided to talk to Jaja. It turned out to be one of my best encounters with God.

Jaja was really talkative, just as her tita warned. She kept telling me stories about her toys, her playmates, her relatives. In between, she asked me numerous questions like where I was going and what I was going to do when I got home. Sometimes, I didn’t know how to answer her questions so I just smiled and nodded to her.

Out of nowhere, I asked her if she was going to miss her mom during her vacation. Nonchalantly, she told me her mom was already gone. Jaja said she was named after her mother – Juanita Antonia – because she died after giving birth to her. I was speechless for an entire minute. I didn’t know what to say and I stupidly stammered, “Do you know how she looked like?” She told me her father used to show her her mom’s picture which he kept in his wallet. I asked Jaja if she’s going to miss her dad. Her reply shocked me to my core. “Patay na po si Papa. Naaksidente po siya  sa motor,” she announced, as if her father’s death did not bother her…but I know it did and she was hiding her sadness in the way she smiled. She became silent for a while. At that moment, all I wanted was to be in my room and release the tears that had been threatening to fall from my eyes. I gathered up the courage to comfort her, “Okay lang yun, andiyan naman si Tita Bing mo. Siya na lang magiging mama at papa mo.” It was a stupid statement, and she told me, “Hindi ko naman po siya mama.” I never dared to reply back. Then, there was that awkward silence again.

Her Tita Bing saved me when she told Jaja to sleep since it was almost 1am. I seconded her. I told Jaja we’d better sleep because everyone at the bus was already asleep except for the two of us. Her tita handed her her teddy bear. Jaja told me she couldn’t sleep without it. I asked her if she ever prayed at night. She told me she didn’t. I told her we we’re going to pray before we slept, and that she only needed to repeat after me. I closed my eyes and travelled back to my childhood, recalling back the prayer that I prayed every night then.

Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom His love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

Jaja stammered the words after me, but she was smiling when I opened my eyes. After that, we said our good nights.

The bus had become icy cold, and I asked Jaja if she felt cold since she was only wearing her favorite pink jumper dress. She said she was, and asked her tita for her jacket. However, they found out that Jaja’s jacket was left behind. She gave Jaja a large t-shirt instead. I knew that this would not keep her warm. I, myself, was already shivering. She kept stirring in her seat. She was holding her teddy bear like I would hug my mom when i was cold. So I decided to share my sarong with her, hoping it would make her feel warm and more comfortable. “Thank you po,” she said with eyes half-closed.

I smiled at her but I quickly turned to look out the window into the dark, cloudy night. I cried. I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. I cried for a while. I couldn’t sleep. The entire conversation with Jaja slowly sank in. I remembered my mom and dad. I realized how lucky I was that I still have my parents with me… that they are still alive, though getting older. I felt really blessed knowing that I had a mother and father who took care of me as I was growing up, who saw to my needs, and who were there during all the birthdays and milestones in my life.

I used to feel so afraid just thinking about my mom and dad and other loved ones passing away. I could not even try to imagine my life without them. I always prayed to God not to take them away from me too soon. That night, I suddenly felt a coward compared to 6-year old Jaja beside me.

Jaja is a brave and strong girl. Young as she is, she has already experienced far greater trials that I had in my entire 28 years of existence. Before I finally convinced myself to sleep, I prayed for that little girl sleeping soundly beside me. I prayed that she would grow up healthy and strong. I prayed that God will give her good people who will guide her well. I prayed that she will understand all the things that happened in her life as part of God’s wonderful plan for her. I prayed hard for the best for Jaja.

When I got home that day, I rushed to hug my mom and dad, silently thanking God that I still have them with me.

Donsol Getaway Day 2: My Encounter with the Gentle Giant

After the lovely night with the fireflies of Ogod River during our Day 1 in Donsol, my travel buddies and I were all so excited to see the famous Butandings (Whale Sharks) of Donsol, Sorsogon. I was pretty hyped up because this day marked the fulfillment of one of my travel goals – swim with a Butanding.

We got up early since the staff at the Donsol Tourist Center told us to be there at 7am so we can join the first batch of boats heading out to sea. We arrived earlier than that but when we got there, the place was teeming with tourists – mostly foreigners – all waiting for that chance to get a glimpse of the Butandings (dubbed as the Gentle Giants). According to the locals, a lot of these foreigners keep coming back for days just to swim with these giant but gentle sharks. Good thing we already registered the day before so we didn’t have to go through the orientation anymore. When our BIO (Butanding Information Officer) arrived, we got our gears ready. Life jacket – check! Snorkeling gear – check! Flippers – check!

Boat used for Butanding interactions

Kuya Egong, our BIO, told us as we headed out to the Donsol bay that there’s a 50/50 chance of seeing and interacting with a Butanding. I know that when we heard him say that, we all prayed in our hearts that we would. I silently prayed to be given that special opportunity to see and swim with an awesome creation. Finally, Kuya Egong briefed us on what we needed to do once the Spotter signaled the presence of a Butanding.

It took a while for the SPOTTER to spot a Butanding. By that time, there were already a lot of boats filled with excited tourists. We had to race from one place to another just to get close to a Butanding. But when we got really close, they would dive deeper into the sea. I prayed, “Lord, just give us one chance to see your precious Butanding.” My prayers were immediately answered as our Spotter finally called the attention of the BIO.

Mr. Spotter

“Ready, set, jump!” shouted the BIO. The small area in between the boats was crowded with swimmers. I jumped and looked down in search of the Butanding. Lo and behold, before me was the biggest fish I have ever seen live making its way across the Donsol sea, its mouth wide open ready to take in its food. Sadly, it was my first time to use flippers and the one I rented was so big that I had a hard time catching up with the Butanding. Even so, I was happy that I was finally able to swim with a whale shark.

When we got back to the boat, I silently hoped for another chance to see another Butanding. And yes, my wish was granted! I got to swim with these sea creatures for two more times. During the 2nd time, I still tried to wear those huge flippers hoping I’d be better at it this time around. However, it only slowed me down. I watched as the Butanding swam past me, while I continued to struggle with the flippers. I didn’t even see where my friends were anymore. All I saw in front of me was a tangle of legs and bubbles. All of a sudden, an angel in yellow and black diving suit came to my rescue. He must have noticed that I was struggling so he grabbed my arm and pulled me forward. When I realized what was happening, I looked down and saw that the Butanding was right in front of us. The guy kept pulling me forward and guiding me where the Butanding was. That was the best 1 minute of my Donsol trip. Whoever he was, I never got the chance to thank him, but I’m pretty sure I will always remember him whenever I see a Butanding.

The BIO

Though tired, I was very grateful to God for allowing us to see and swim with the Butanding. Other tourists seemed to not  get tired as they went back into the water again and again just to see a whale shark. Once was enough for me. It was a bonus that I got to see it thrice. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to take a photo of it but it is enough that it will forever be etched in my memory.

The sunset that day was exceptionally beautiful – one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life. Again, I was reminded of the great love God has not just for me but for His entire creation. Thank you, Lord, for the wonderful life and world you’ve given me.

Tips before you go swimming with the butandings in Donsol:

1. Make sure it’s the season for whale sharks in the area.

2. Don’t use flippers if you’re not used to it. Or better yet, practice first.

3. Check that your snorkeling gear is in great condition. Make sure it doesn’t have leaks or anything, especially if you’re just renting one from the resort or tourist center.

4. If you’re not a good swimmer or if you don’t know how to swim at all, stay close to the BIO or ask him to hold you.

5. Always be ready once you’re on the boat. When the BIO says JUMP, don’t hesitate and just jump!

6. Don’t be too greedy. Let others have their chance, especially if there are a lot of tourists wanting to see the Butandings, too.

7. Please, please, please follow the guidelines and code of conduct when swimming with the Butanding..

There you go! If you’re planning on heading to Donsol or any other place with Butanding sightings, I hope you will have a great time interacting with them. Have fun!

Thoughts from the Toilet Bowl

February 20, 2011 ~ 10:30PM ~ Paraclete Renewal Center, Tacloban City, Leyte

Oh, what a great day this has been! I consider myself blessed to be in the midst of amazing and wonderful people. It is just so heartwarming to witness and hear stories of learnings, gratefulness, and transformation… of simple, often unnoticed people taking baby steps to confidence… of life lived well and good… of lost dreams and new ones. I love the delicious food and lovely chit-chats with new acquaintances and most of all the beautiful full moon and night sky full of stars! I truly deeply love this life!

Today, I also learned many things about life from someone who’s living it to the full. I certainly look forward not just to a happy and contented life, but a life of learning from mistakes and wrong turns, of forgotten dreams and new adventures. Best of all, I want to live my life giving glory to the One who created me.

Life is beautiful, if you see it that way. 🙂

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