Sunday, May 15, 2011

15 days

For 15 days starting tomorrow ill be with Nicanor Perlas and other imaginals in the Philippines talking about how we can best develop our "mission" initiatives to contribute to helping make the Philippines a better country. The goal is for all these eco-friendly sustainable initiatives to spawn more initiatives that are good for people, for the environment so that we have a global network of a caring, pro-active, united humanity. I am so excited to be inspired.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pathetic happy endings

Loving is forgiving. But not when it’s the last straw.

Marriage proposals and baby wishes come too late; sorrys sound empty; forever after are just words.

Only pictures, chats, emails, and poems remain - to be easily trashed..

For someone who has loved truly, madly, deeply for three years, moving on sucks.

Let’s hope the future looks more colorful. Just give me a month. And let me ring my friends who’ve been through worse. I can’t hardly wait to start laughing out loud again.

Now what if he comes back? Without hesitation: I’d still run into his arms. Pathetic.

Then one year passes by,

two years,

three years,

and I meet someone different but interesting.

And the whole love story begins again.

But this time it will have a happy ending.

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living purposefully

In my living room hangs this sign I bought in Bohol: "Live well, Laugh often, Love much." It's become my mantra. Everytime I look at it, my temper disappears.

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Lola ni Bayani and Maya

On one of our many visits to Belgium, my usual exuberant mother told her mother-in-law, my Lola: “Mama, you haven’t changed! You’re still the same - still very sexy!” Lola smiled shyly, “Normaaa! Thank you…” Papa later opined that only Mama can get away such an outrageous compliment. My reserved grandmother wouldn’t have appreciated it coming from her children. It’s funny to see how these two women in Papa’s life are so unlike each other: my loud, unabashed, rule-breaking mother, and my always correct, prim and proper, eager to please grandmother. The first time my mother started complaining about the heat and making a habit of unclasping her bra and taking it off in the middle of a meal – even with visitors around – my father joked, “Norma wala’y batasan! Lola would NEVER do that!” Or when Mama would set the table with mismatched spoons and forks grabbed from airplanes, she’d say, “It’s good Lola doesn’t see this!”

I think Mama will agree that Lola beats her, hands down, as the fashionista of the family. Lola always looked good whether she just stayed at home or went out to buy groceries, eat at a restaurant, or watch a play. Always with mascara and lipstick, Lola also made sure that her clothes for the day matched her jewelry, handbag, and high heels. Even her house slippers had heels! I liked to sit in her cozy living room of different shades of purple/violet/maroon carpets, pillows, and curtains and read Suske en Wiske on the couch beside Lola’s collection of elephant figurines or read De Rode Ridder in the huge 2nd floor bathroom amongst the matching blue bath towels, blue hand towels, blue face towels, and blue floor mats.

Every morning Lola would start the day with answering De Standaard’s crossword puzzle and ace it each time. Even the word games on TV would be piece of cake for her. Her favourite reading spot was beside the window on the reclining couch. Nobody else would sit there because that was Lola’s plekje. She would read parts from different books – a chapter of one book in the morning, two chapters from another book in the afternoon, and several poems in the evening after dinner. She loved French and Flemish poems most and would often sit at her desk beside the telephone writing in her journal which she had started to do in her twenties. Her beautiful cursive penmanship would appear on Christmas cards, birthday cards, or simply how-are-you-I’m-thinking-of-you cards to her children, her in-laws and her grandchildren. In beautiful Nederlands prose she shared her happiness, sadness, worries, excitement. She’d tell Bayani and me over and over again during a visit, “Ik ben zo blij met jullie brieven.” (I’m so happy with your letters.) “Ik heb ze vijf keer gelezen de dag dat ik ze kreeg.” (I read them five times the day I got them.) When Lolo was still alive, he would hide love notes all over the house – inserted in books, on her desk, under pillows – which Lola would then find as she was cleaning. After he died, she continued collecting beautiful words and phrases which she wrote on papers she would take out during meals to read aloud to us. I remember thinking, what a terrific grandmother so passionate about language!

Bayani and I enjoyed the storytelling sessions with Lola as we scanned picture albums and listened to passages from her diary while having cookies and milk in the same room as the aquarium and the basket with apples and pears. One of her favourite stories was about when she wasn’t married yet. She would sit in church with her back to the entrance and knew, without looking, the moment her beloved Andre entered the church. “He just loved my long braids,” she gushed. During their first date strolling in a forest, Lola needed to pee so badly but was too shy about doing it in the bushes that she forced herself to hold it in the whole lovely time she was with her beloved Andre. It was excruciating, Lola said, and we laughed.

Lola had plenty funny stories too about her visit to the Philippines: Every time she had to pee in Lola Saria’s house in Panabo at night, she had to go outside to the makeshift toilet holding a kinki (oil lamp) against the dark. I suspect she’d rather do that than squat and pee in a bucket inside the room with everyone else sleeping around her. One night she stayed awake because of a butiki (lizard) on the ceiling. Her mosquito net had a hole in it and she was afraid the butiki would fall on her. Lola Saria’s turning on the squeaky bed and the crickets kept her up all night too. During a meal at a karenderia (outdoor restaurant) with Ninang Veerle and other people, Lola’s legs suddenly started itching terribly. But because she thought it improper to peek under the table, she decided to bear the pain. Finally, after the meal ended, she stood up, lifted the tablecloth and saw the dead rat!

Ever since papa texted us that Lola died four days ago, Bayani and I find ourselves remembering the warm, fuzzy feeling we only get with Lola. We get a krop in onze keel (lump in the throat) just thinking about her and all the wonderful memories in Waasmunster. Arriving in Waasmuster was always the best of reunions. When it was finally time to leave, Lola would hug us tight and plant a piercing kiss smack on our ears, “So that you will still hear me when you get home,” she used to say.

She was the kind of grandmother who had a knack for making her grandkids’ visits never dull as evident from the playground set for her garden she bought among many other things. Many gezellige (cozy) afternoons we’d be eating taart (cake) in the garden on Lola’s lounge chairs and watching the luchtballonen (air balloons) go by. For breakfast Lola served all kinds of bread, chocolates and cheese. For lunch we had her colorful salad and soup concoctions. Just get, my wonderful Lola said. She’d take Bayani and me to the grocery and let us buy any food we wanted. (I don’t remember that but Bayani does.) Every visit she’d give us her CDs – the ones we kept on playing while we were there. We enjoyed wandeling (walking) with her and uncle Raf around Waasmuster. Probably the only grandchildren who had unlimited access to her house, we had a blast exploring her attic, cellar, the schuuren (sheds), and the rooms on the second and third floors. After dinner, we watched the news with her and our parents and have one last round of cookies.

Our memories of Lola always include our wonderful titas and titos who like to take long walks along the river, in the fields, and in the woods – rain or shine. I love listening to them call their mother 'ma-ma' - stress on the second syllable and punctuating their sentences with “allez!” “wablief? “enfin!” “amai zulle!”

We spent afternoons playing badminton and frisbee in Lola’s large garden, swinging from the rope tied around the buekeboom growing beside the pond, or feeding the birds in the shed near the neighbor’s apple orchard. Uncle Bruno let us watch him play drums in the attic. Expert at moonwalking, he taught us how to move our heads like Michael Jackson. Uncle Koen played crazy piano in the dining room like a Mozart genius. Uncle Ludo was the main guitarist as everyone joined him in singing French and Flemish songs or a capella in perfect harmony.

I remember Lola’s 60th birthday. The entire family (15 children, their partners, and 30 grand children) camped out in a cottage in the woods. One by one, we grandchildren would play either the piano, blokfluit, dwarsfluit, the violin, the accordion, the saxophone, or the guitar and then read their nieuw jaar’s brieven (new year’s wishes) to their ninangs and ninongs before receiving gifts from them. This was tradition when we were young.

“Mien laat eens zien, mien laat eens zien hoe mooi je bent,” auntie Katelijne, auntie Rita, and ninang Veerle would sing this to me often. (Mien show us, mien show us how beautiful you are.) Uncle Raf’s Bambalabama craze lasted for a while until a new favorite took its place. Everyone, including Bayani and me recorded songs for him to listen to. He was Lola’s favourite everyone said without any hint of jealousy.

On colder days there’d be little and big family reunions in Lola’s house. Bayani and I would stand with Lola at the door every time the doorbell rang and give three kisses to each new arrival. So just imagine having to kiss all those 10, 20, 30 plus visitors arriving one after another! They’d bring Lola fabulous bouquets which she took such good care of they often lasted for weeks! Once everybody finished hanging all their coats on the kapstok (clothes rack), there’d be an invasion of the living room, dining room, and kitchen with multiple simultaneous conversations going on in between drinking all sorts of bottled juices, alcohol, spuitwater (water with bubbles) and munching on Lola’s stash of cookies, nuts, raisins, and dried fruits.

Sometimes on visits to Lola we side-tripped to Wespelaar and stayed with uncle Ivo and auntie Greet. I remember uncle Ivo taking me cruising in his state-of-the-art electric car all the way to his work to watch a French mini-playback show. You should get a driver I told him once in Brussels and he laughed. He laughed again at all the burps I let at dinner(LOL). I remember the visits to Jan and Agnes where we’d sit and talk about music in their immaculately clean living room. The visits to Marijke en Luc and goofing with their girls in the bathroom. The visit to uncle Marc where we got to watch Isis and Marianne belly dance. At a sleepover at uncle Bruno’s he woke us up in the morning by blasting dance music on the speakers he had strategically placed all over the house. Uncle Ludo couldn’t believe we would be perfectly okay sleeping on his living room floor. At a sleepover at uncle Wim’s we went biking and boating and plucked berries from the garden to make into jam supervised by Katrien’s jolly mother.

The trips that Lola would accompany us on were to Lolo’s grave, to uncle Raf’s home and to her former house on the Polderstraat which she would wistfully pass by. We also always passed by where Lolo pit's house once stood, and passed by tante Irene, Lola’s cousin, who would give mama money for her Philippine causes. Bayani and I loved tante Irene’s garden with cherries and chestnuts and farm horses. I also fondly remember the two visits to say “ciao, miauw” to auntie Lieva in Loppiano. On one of those vacations, uncle Ludo, Lola, papa, mama, me and Bayani were riding the train with on the walls a big sign: “beware of pickpockets” in French, Spanish, English and Italian. When we got out, Lola’s shoulder bag was open and her wallet gone. She was crushed that the thief had taken her wallet and in it the last love letter than Lolo had written her.

Over the years, our visits to Lola became less frequent and our letters too, I regret. Lola was getting old and her memory was deteriorating at an alarming rate. So for the family to take better care of her, Joost, one of my cousins, created www.oma.wandklok, a website where everyone could leave messages every time they visited Lola to tell how she was doing just in case she forgot to tell them herself which was usually the case. 2006 was the last time Bayani and I visited Lola. She was already showing signs of forgetfulness and repeating herself but was still comprehensible and living independently. Things became worse though early last year when Papa went on one of his regular work trips to Belgium. He was shocked by the state of Lola’s short term memory and convinced his brothers and sisters to have Lola undergo a thorough medical checkup. This resulted to her being confined for a while and then being transferred to a home where she received almost daily visits from her children, in-laws and grandkids. We followed their visits on www.oma.wandklok. Last February 5, Papa left for Belgium again without Mama this time and has been visiting Lola every day. Last Saturday, 5 minutes before Papa arrived, our beloved Lola who covered us with kisses, showered us with attention, love and affection, finally passed away.

Rest in peace Lola namo (our Lola). Thank you for giving us the best childhood ever!

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It's easy to make good friends in the strangest places

Out of the blue on my way to the gym, somebody called me and offered a free 3 days and 2 nights hotel stay in Cebu. I grilled him a bit until i was convinced he wasn't fake, and agreed to passby his office the next day to get the gift certificates.

When i arrived, somebody got my basic information, and then offered me an early dinner before leading me into a room full of "agents" who were there to sell a "lifestyle." My agent was all smiles, very cheerful and told me not to worry about having to sit through her 90-minute presentation. "It's going to be interactive and fun," she said.

We talked about her travels, my travels, how much we spent and in between this she introduced me to a life of hotels, spas, gyms, beach resorts - at a big discount. This national and international network of vacation facilities was appealing, I told her, but nothing beats having friends all over the world with whom I can stay for free. Unless, of course, I want to pursue my dream vacations to Turkey, South Africa, and Bhutan where I don't know anyone. Then again, there's always :) Outargued she was finally and so we got to talking about common friends, her work, my work, and her family, my family, and our wonderful boyfriends.

At the end of the day, I walked away from that meeting having bought nothing but extremely inspired by this girl's positivity, hard work, and intelligence despite having been so wronged by her family. She hasn't let her personal tragedies mess her up or blamed them for her decisions. End of story is that we've exchanged numbers and promised each other that we'll keep in touch. Several hours later, here I am writing about it and marvelling at how it's so easy to find good friends in the strangest places.

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