Leaving Mrs. Joy

Nonfiction by | August 18, 2019

Thirteen years ago, my brother Nicko and I were given away to another family. Mama never told us to prepare anything that could have enlightened us why we had to come with the two women waiting outside our doorway. She told us to be good and the rest would be provided. I had no instinct as to where those women would take us.It was as if I was deceived by the absence of any instinct as a child. But now that I have already arrived in this age with a little courage to confront my own ghost, I think of the woman named Joy who treated me as her son when none of her children would love to.

Out of Mrs. Joy’s meekness, I oftentimes found it difficult to utter any word when I was with her. It made me hesitant to tell her that I was hungry, that I wanted to take a piece of pan de sal she had placed on the plate. She was a woman in mid fifties who wore a loose duster all the time. Her crimson hair clipped back. The thread at the end of her faded blue scarf began to lose. I always found her sitting alone on her chair. A mug of coffee slowly grew cold by her hand. She would look at the vacant chairs as if waiting for the arrival of a long gone beloved or friend. I knew nothing about the silence of her mornings. What I remember was that no one had arrived to join her.

I was living in a house that was different from ours, in the village called Novatierra, Lanang. There I couldn’t see large trucks passing. The only sound I could hear was the growling of her dogs caged in a dark cell.

Continue reading Leaving Mrs. Joy


Nonfiction by | July 28, 2019

Ilang buwan ring busy-busyhan ang Fiona. Matapos kasi ang ilang linggong pagka-ospital ng nanay niya, inuwi nila ito sa bahay. Comatose pa rin. At ang Fiona ang nasa frontline ng pag-aalaga.

“Takot kasi sila magpakain,” sabi nya.

Sa ospital pa lang kasi, nasanay na si Fiona sa pag-aalaga sa kanyang ina.

“Kapag may parang kumukulo sa tiyan nya, ibig sabihin non nakarating ang food na dinaan sa tubo,” sabi nya.

Sya rin ang taga-linis ng lahat ng dumi, taga-tanggal ng laway, taga-punas, taga-bihis, taga-paypay.

At dahil di na nga kami gaanong nagkikita dahil minsan na lang itong umuwi ng bahay, hanggang text na lang kami.

“Kabado na ako, parang this is the moment na talaga,” text nya sa akin kagabi.

Di ko alam kung paano magreply.

“Pero ready na ako. Nakakaawa na talaga sya. Anlalaki na ng mga sugat sa likod. Kita na ang spine,” dagdag na text nya.

“Antay na lang tayo sa tamang oras,” tanging nasagot ko sa kanya.

Kaninang alas nueve ng umaga, nagtext ang Fiona ng: “Wala na si Moda.”

Continue reading Moda


Nonfiction by | June 23, 2019

“The top ten candidates are…”one of the hosts announced. The audience shouted in chorus with the drum roll. The hosts repeated the catchphrases for a second, a third, a fourth time—I could hardly remember. The blinding light blinked at me. In my mind, I wanted the hosts to hasten the announcement so I could remove my golden shoes at once, fly off the stage, and head home right away.

The hosts called Candidate number 5. Candidate number 5 had an indescribably strong presence. She was probably between 15-16 years old, one of the youngest candidates, whose personality belonged to the spectrum of Latin-American faces. All through-out the pageant night, it seemed like the chances and time had aligned for her—she received the following awards: Ms. Facebook, Ms. People’s Choice Awards, Ms. Audience Choice Awards, and all the awards from the sponsors of the pageant, a one year supply worth of beauty products, and the judge’s choice for the neo-ethnic and creative attires. Whenever she would walk the stage, all of the people in the gymnasium would have seemed to fold in a lingering applause.

The Candidates for the Mutya ng Calinan 2017 had an age range of about 16-24 years old. But with pageant make-up and pageant gowns, no one could accurately tell who belonged to a specific age bracket. All of the candidates looked relatively similar that night. We had similar facial features. We had similar make-up. Our hairstyles would seem to complement each other’s hairstyles. Some of us took the high bun, the classic beauty pageant hair style; some had their long, flowing big curls on. All of our costumes begged for a lift, the crowd’s approval, and the judges’ praise with their elaborate hues and intricate embroidery.
Continue reading Limelight

Talking With My Sister

Nonfiction by | May 26, 2019

My mom once told me that children are not passive observers but rather, active ones. What they are exposed to and what they observe, especially when they are in the stage of growing up, become the foundations of their well-being. What a child hears is what a child speaks. What a child hears every day is what he will eventually adapt and master as his first language, his mother tongue.

Growing up with parents who taught in the University of the Philippines meant growing up with not only a sense of patriotism but also with appreciation of language, culture, and art. My mother, Prof. Joycie Alegre teaches theater and film at UP Tacloban and my father, Dr. Edilberto Alegre used to teach literature in UP Diliman. They believed that one way of becoming was through embodying one’s culture. And language, as what they taught me, was part of my evolving culture. As a result, we used Tagalog every day.
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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.
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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.