The Prisoner

Nonfiction by | May 12, 2019

“Bomba… bomba! Halin dira. Bomba! Ahhhhh… Ahhhhh… bomba!” He would mumble words, words that were hard to understand, plain nonsense for those who pass by the store near his isolated room. People in our neighborhood were used to hearing him shout. Sometimes it was very loud that even the ones living in the next block could hear. Whenever he tried to break free, we could hear the sound of clanking steel.

When I was a child, my mother often asked me to buy ingredients and other things in the sari-sari store. Our neighbor, Auntie Alma, had a store in front of her house so I didn’t need to go far every time my mother asked me to buy something for her. But it was a Sunday and Auntie Alma was out to go to church. I had to walk around the street to find another store so I can buy a sachet of Sunsilk and Safeguard. My mother instructed me to return immediately because my father needed it. I walked to the end of the street and found a small sari-sari store. I was very happy that I didn’t need to walk far to buy the shampoo and soap. “Ayo, ayo!” I called. There was no response except the barking of dogs and a voice of a man screaming. I was surprised and scared for a moment. I stepped back a little and hesitated to buy but I remembered my mother’s instruction. I looked at the dog and noticed that it had a leash so I was confident that it would not hurt me. I looked at the small room connected to the house of the store owner where the voice of the man came from. It was locked. I took a step forward and peeped inside the store but there was no one. “Ayo, ayo!” I called louder so that the tindera would hear me. I thought that she was watching TV because I could hear the sound in full volume. When she didn’t come, I called louder, competing with the barking of the dogs and the screaming on the other side of the store. She went out of their house and walked toward the store. I noticed that she was a bit mad because I called her. I asked for the things I needed in exchange for P14.00. When I got the sachet of Sunsilk and Safeguard with me, I turned toward the room, curious about the man inside. “Ante, sin-o nang sa sulod sang kwarto? Sagad tana ka syagit ah. Kag ngaa sa guwas sang balay niyo ang kwarto niya?” I had a lot of questions in my mind but she just dismissed me and told me to go home straight.
Continue reading The Prisoner

To Pull A Hook

Nonfiction by | April 28, 2019

(excerpt from an essay)

AKO NA POD kuya bi,” my younger brother Sean said while trying to take the fishing rod from me.

Paghulat gud,” I told him, moving the rod out of his reach. “Nagahulat na ang talakitok sa akoa o.”

Ganina pa man ka.”

Lima na lang ka labay,” I promised him. I whipped the line out into the sea, away from the shore.

MY FANCY FOR fishing started with envy. I was hooked to it after seeing an episode of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on television. The titular character and his rowdy gang of country boys had run away from their homes and were fishing in the Mississippi River to feed themselves, competing who had the biggest catch in the process. I watched with envy as they roasted the fish over open fire and devoured them when they were cooked.

I was seven years old back then at my grandparents’ farm somewhere deep in Polomolok, South Cotabato. There was nothing much to do except for the daily trips to the river that my grandfather and I had to take to tend the cows. People in Polomolok mostly farmed for a living. On special occasions, a cow, maybe a goat, and a couple of chickens would be butchered for a feast, but the daily diet consisted of vegetables, which was virtually everywhere, and fish—fish from the market and fish from the river. My grandparents were able to buy fish from the market, but I wanted to try eating fish that I myself had caught.

Fishing was originally developed to find food in the wild for survival. As time progressed, fishing evolved to include the activity as a pastime. Recreational fishing is a luxury for those who have pockets full of money with time on their hands to cast carbon-fiber retractable fishing rods with high-end reel and a line of nylon connected to a floater or a sinker with a plethora of colorful artificial baits, one for each type of fish. While this is so, the tackle, or the entire fishing equipment, used in Polomolok only consists of a good-length bagakay for a rod, a coil of thin, transparent nylon, and a single hook. Baits can be found wherever there is moist and healthy soil.

Tay, bakal na bala sang bunit,” I requested my grandfather one day.

Sa sunod ah,” he answered.

The dialogue continued for days.

Same plea, same answer—always sa sunod, sa sunod, sa sunod.

Continue reading To Pull A Hook

Food: Emotional, Political, and Powerful

Nonfiction by | April 14, 2019

Editor’s Note: This essay first appeared in worldpulse.com.

In 2006, my mother decided to open a small carinderia (local eatery) outside our home. It was a typical carinderia: of tight spaces; overwhelming nook and crannies; aromatic and powerful smoke from burning charcoal and wood; buzzing of customers eager to have their orders taken; and an orchestra of scents and sounds. Not only did Mama offer affordable meals but she contributed to the dietary diversity of over 100 households in our community. She whipped up amazing and tasty meals which she became famous for such as law-uy, a soothing vegetable soup with lemongrass and bits and pieces of fried fish and monggos, a filling mung bean soup with green, leafy vegetables.

My mother has always been a brave single parent in my eyes – resilient amidst poverty and strong in the face of a vicious cycle of pain. But my mother as an important actor in the food systems never came up. I have been a part of numerous global fora and have sunk my teeth on many advocacies, but it was in a recent forum which opened my heart and brain to many narratives within food systems.

I participated in the EAT Asia-Pacific Food Forum, a gathering of more than 500 food systems stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific region. The forum aimed at unpacking the challenges facing the Asia-Pacific food system as part of the overarching goal to transform the world’s food system. The forum was held in Jakarta thru the leadership of the EAT Foundation and the Indonesian Ministry of Health. It was an honor to be part of the forum representing the Philippine Coalition of Advocates for Nutrition Security or PhilCAN. The EAT Asia Pacific Forum served as a platform to discuss global food concerns, overwhelming as these may be, the format was personal, encouraging, and inspiring. Within two days, I tried to learn as much as I can, jotting down notes, taking images of the poignant slides, and personally linking the insights with my own reflection and experiences. I am sharing some of the connections here.

Continue reading Food: Emotional, Political, and Powerful

Lolo’s Toy Parrot

Nonfiction by | February 24, 2019

When I was a kid, lolo (my grandfather from my father’s side) used to have a life-sized parrot that looks so real. Its’ feathers are so soft and the beak and claws look so sharp that if you touch it, it could really hurt you if it’s not in the mood. The parrot always mimicks what lolo says and most of the time lolo likes to make fun of the people passing by his store. Lolo has a small sari-sari store located in front of an elementary school. Thus, most of lolo’s customers are kids. Everytime a kid buys in his store; it is mostly because of the parrot. The kids are curious to see the parrot; they thought it was really the real thing just like how I thought it was back then.

Lolo was a strict father according to my father. He implements curfews and takes education seriously. He told my father that the only inheritance that he can give is education as he doesn’t have many properties. He is a firm believer that education is the key to a successful life. He even handed down that belief to us his grandchildren at a young age where at that time we could not fully understand what he means. That is why occasionally when we visit him, my brother and I always bring with us our papers from school with a one hundred percent mark because not only he would be so proud of us but he would also feed us with anything in his store plus his favorite Royal True Orange drink. During the time when the parrot is still functioning, I’d remember him smile and say to his parrot, “Very good Abi” and the parrot would mimick him in a high pitched voice.

This was our routine- me and my brother everytime we visit lolo, until one day, the parrot stops functioning. Lolo said the parrot died because it is already old. The way lolo said it made me sadder than learning I will never see and hear from the parrot again. Even if in that time I already knew that the parrot is just a toy, because of my curiosity, my father told me the truth, I saw in that instant lolo’s grief- he cared so much for that nonliving thing. That somehow made me realized that even though lolo appeared to be strict, scary at times and strong, he has a soft side- he cared so much for everything and everyone he loves. When we got older and we can only visit him once every three months or fewer times than that because we are busy with school, the first thing he would ask us after we put our head in his hand is how we are doing in our studies and when we answer him that we are doing well, he would smile, pat us in the back and tell us to continue to study harder.

Perhaps the memory of the parrot is the memory that I have chosen to share because this is where I saw lolo the most human. The parrot brought out his cheerful, funny bright side but also showed his compassion. He was a man of few words but when he opened his mouth to tell his stories about his childhood, his adventures as a police officer specially his encounter with the New People’s Army at the time where the town he was assigned to was attacked by the NPA and he was the one who made the shot that made the NPA go away immediately, his eyes always sparkled with excitement and delight. That is why even though I already familiarized his stories, I’d always show my interest in listening to him.

Indeed, it is a wonder how an absence even of one thing such as the toy parrot or a person such as lolo make such a big impact to those who were left behind. After the toy parrot is gone, the store got a little silent and after lolo’s death, the house seemed a little empty. The ‘duyan’ or hammock where he used to sit all the time to watch a boxing show or a Kuya Germs movie or a Fernando Poe movie is no longer at the sala but transferred into the second floor. Also his youngest daughter who worked faraway for a very long time decided to go home and settle down and my cousins and I got closer to each other after his death. We used to see each other once every 2 to 3 years but now, we are seeing each other more than once a year. It is amazing even though lolo is gone, he continues to bind us all together and even though we can no longer see him, we can still feel that he is still looking after us.


Abi Andoy is a licensed real estate appraiser and is working in a Municipal Assessor’s Office in Surigao. She is an alumna of Ateneo de Davao University and she writes occasionally.

Home by Sunrise

Nonfiction by | January 27, 2019

Its tongue twister of a name born out of the B’laan tongue, “Flom’lok” means “hunting grounds.” When I was new in Davao, every acquaintance I met had a hard time pronouncing the name. /P/ push air out of the mouth for the first letter and roll over the rhythmic /l/ lulling of O’s, savoring the “mmm…” in the middle to suddenly stop at the sharpness of a /k/, suspending the tip of the tongue afloat inside. “Polomolok.”

“Where are you from again?”

“Polomolok.”

“Pol, Pol, where is it located?”

“Between Gensan and Koronadal; 17 kilometers from Pacquiao’s city of origin and thrice that distance to the other side, the former capital, of South Cotabato.”

“Wait, so Koronadal is formerly Marbel?”

“Yes. It’s complicated.”

“Pol, Polo…”

“Polomolok.”

A short awkward silence, then the conversation would progress to the difference between the three Cotabatos.
“So, how’s the war?”
Continue reading Home by Sunrise

Staying Alive (excerpt)

Nonfiction by | January 13, 2019

Tita Lacambra-Ayala takes her time with friendship. One might think her a forbidding presence in public, with her pursed lips and sharp eyes, watching over everything in all-knowing silence. She is a true Crone. In our initial encounters, I didn’t dare speak to her without being summoned.

I can’t say when she decided we could be friends, although she did come to the launching of my book Women Loving in December 2009, offering a newly-reprinted copy of her first book, Sunflower Poems in exchange for mine, saying that these were her Baguio poems. She meant to underscore something we had in common: living in Baguio City then moving to Mindanao to start anew. She also gave me a coco-bead necklace that clashed with my dress, but which I wore anyway like a talisman. When she placed it over my head herself, it made me feel like a graduate receiving a medal for academic excellence. Or maybe a medal of valor. It didn’t matter that nobody got me flowers.

I remember on International Women’s Day the following year after a meeting of the Davao Writers Guild, Ricky de Ungria asked her whom she was currently reading. Tita quickly replied: “Lilia Chua, Edith Tiempo, Marjorie Evasco, Ophie Dimalanta, Jhoanna Cruz.”

I had long been a feminist, but I felt like that moment had turned me into a feminist writer, joining a weave of women writing of their experiences as women and for each other. But regardless of the politics, I couldn’t quite get over the fact that Tita Ayala was reading me. Never mind those poetry anthologies that excluded me! I needed to keep writing because Tita was reading me. Continue reading Staying Alive (excerpt)

Write Here: The Visibility of The Writer from the Region

Nonfiction by | November 25, 2018

In one literary event in my hometown, Iloilo City, I jokingly told my audience, “ako gali si Karla, ang taga diri nga indi man taga diri” or “Ako pala si Karla taga-rito pero hindi naman taga-rito.” This is my writing place. When I am in Iloilo, the emcee introduces me as a writer from Cebu. In Cebu, I am always the writer from Iloilo.

I first came to Davao in 2011 for the Taboan Writers Festival as a delegate representing Cebu although my works are not entirely in Cebuano and I am not a Cebuana. I do admire Cebu, in fact, I now consider it my home; however, my roots will always remain in Iloilo. It is my diri, dito, dinhi, here. Being a Filipino writer is a quest to situate the self in a multifarious linguistic and literary space.

Two years ago, Cebuano National Artist (but actually born in Dipolog, Zamboanga) Resil Mojares delivered in UP Visayas in Iloilo City a keynote speech that asks the provocative question, “Where in the World is The Filipino Writer?” Mojares urges the reader to view his paper as “notes or his desultory thoughts” on the place of the Filipino writer in the world.

He opens the discussion by quoting Pascale Casanova’s book The World Republic of Letters that traces the historical formation of what she calls “world literary space,” a space that has its own capitals, provinces, borders, forms of communication, and its systems of rewards and recognition. This space is dominated by “big” languages and “big” literatures, while “small” literature in “small” languages are “either annexed to dominant literary spaces or are invisible outside their national borders.” The word Eurocentric was expectedly mentioned, and he highlighted that Southeast Asia and the Philippines do not appear in any pages of this remarkable book. He explained that he is not complaining, well aware that our literature may be among the marginal and invisible, and Casanova’s lens made it even more marginal and more invisible.

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A Prayer for My Father

Nonfiction by | July 22, 2018

I was taught how to pray before I knew how to write. But my father made me learn both at the same time.

While my mother wanted me to memorize the Lord’s Prayer at the ripe month of six months, my father, a non-Catholic, had explained that a prayer only consists of four words: Thank, You, God, and Amen.

That, my father explained to her daughter, who would one day tell him she is a lesbian, is all you need in prayer.

So when I had learned from my CLE teacher in Grade 2 that a prayer had four parts instead of four words, I was skeptical in making my own prayer. I remembered thinking that my father knew prayers so well, maybe that was the reason the Lord’s Prayer started with an “Our Father”—to honor fathers. Years later, I would learn that the “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer was a form of adoration.

Being the ambitious kid who wanted to have the best written prayer, I told my teacher I didn’t know where to begin. Years later, I would take up a degree in Creative Writing and would still ask that same question—especially when I write about my father. My then late-30s teacher wrote the acronym A.C.T.S on my paper with her veiny hands and said, “This might help you write.”

I. ADORATION

A prayer must always start with adoration. Think of it as a letter heading. Put an addressee so that the letter wouldn’t get lost.

I had to make sure my prayer was heard by God and no other deity. It is meant to be sent. My CLE teacher told us to always start the prayer by saying His name or an adjective that connotes praise before His name. It shows respect to His power.

I hated myself for not having an adjective to describe my father. I felt like I had no respect for him since I couldn’t associate him to an adjective. Maybe generous? Because he gave me the toys I wanted and the books I wanted to read. As early as two years old, he knew I preferred books to toys.

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