Monday, August 29, 2011

Staying Live

Eid Mubarak!

Just keeping this blog rolling, just staying live until something more important or momentous comes up.

I am back in muggy Dammam for the Eid Al Fitr holidays, though at least it's no longer as humid as it was during most of the summer. It has dawned upon me that there is so much me that is into Dammam-Khobar. Despite that Riyadh is a World City in terms of its economic, political, and cultural influence, I am still at heart one with the Eastern region of Saudi Arabia.

For those who want a better explanation of what Eid is all about, this is not the place to do it. Suffice to say comparatively of the two great religious festivals of the Muslim faith Eid Al Fitr (as opposed to Eid Al Adha) follows a period similar to Lent in the Christian faith, but its celebration is closer to that of Christmas, where Eid Al Adha follows a period closer to Holy Week in nature, and is apropos celebrated like that of Easter. For me personally, I would rather celebrate Easter more than Christmas, but maybe all those companies and businesses have got it right - Christmas sells better.

On the 1st of September the new order in the office would have reached one month. It was a so-so month, Ramadan being what it is. No developments, no promises. I feel sad for a member of our team who had to leave the Company involuntarily (the new PC for getting sacked), and I don't want to go into the justifications for his departure. Everyone has his or her truth when telling their side of the story. As far as I am concerned, the current order has to be a bit tougher for the Filipinos. As the ranking official left - the former "Godfather" also exiting the company "officially" at month's end, this strangely gives me some extra amount of motivation. Konting tiis lang, mga kabayan. Kailangan natin 'to, masyado tayong nag-relax. Gitgitan na ngayon.

Some love-hate involved with this holiday - it's fun to kick back a little, but I am not too impressed. It's the just the way I feel, no offense to those who devoutly follow the rule and are truly appreciative of what Ramadan is to their faith. It's the same way I feel about major Christian holidays - maybe I'm just channeling my inner Scrooge.

Since I have just moved in my new flat, I haven't had the privilege of hooking up all the amenities needed for modern living, i.e. a good Internet connection and cable TV. My inner compass tells me that with so much going on outside of me, I need to take care of what's inside. Some creative force inside me wants to break out, and I would like to harness it fully this time. No sideshows or other distractions. I don't know where it would lead, only I hope to get something done. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Letting the creative force grow within me also means getting in touch with my own memories - as an observer of life, I can only convey it through the lens of my own experience. This time around memory lane brings me back to seventeen years ago, during the run-up to World Youth Day 1995. At the time, I was involved with the Volunteer Committee, which was tasked to recruit and train volunteers for the event. For all the great press WYD '95 received afterward, I wouldn't have believed it then - in the end, even the organizing committee was all about who knew who, not about who was most capable. Well, even the Church is not free from that.

(Before somebody grabs some incendiary material from all of this, let me stop you by saying: World Youth Day '95 was successful because God got involved, plainly and simply. Quote me on that.)


Oh yeah, the story. Somebody got a crazy idea to have a picnic/bonding activity in Tagaytay in the middle of August. During typhoon season. You bet, the best combo in the world for a failed trip. The four fellows in our organization who were most invested in this entire enterprise - Gerard, Feds, Robert, and me - were divided on this issue. The first two gentlemen were saying NO, THANK YOU (I'm pretty sure there was another event at that time involving women and food, I can't decide which one went first), the third one was saying, "Tagaytay? In the middle of a typhoon? You kidding?" and of course only one guy was all enthused about the project --- mainly because I was stupid enough to volunteer bringing food, and second, because I knew the girl who was my crush at the time was attending.

End result: Gerard and Feds fell by the wayside, having decided to stay back, while I begged and wheedled Robert to drive me (yes, only me) and we followed the rest of the campers to one of the private rest houses situated on the Tagaytay ridge. I don't know about Robert at the time, but 1994 me was really agog at the whole trip.

We arrived at the place at almost noontime, since we had to wait for everybody else at the meeting point before we left. (Ah, how things change. Those were the days without cellphones, when you said that if you were coming along, you would.) Since we didn't have PSPs or tablets, people actually sat down and talked, if only to shoot the shit about their favorite song, or share some silly jokes, or, as things went during the time, play Truth or Dare.

From a projected group of about 30, we ended up with around 16 or 17 people. There were people from the Kamanava (Kalookan-Malabon-Navotas-Valenzuela) group, where my crush was based, some people from the Manila group, and mostly from the organizers (associated with the Auxiliary Missionaries of the Assumption, or AMA). Since the rain ruined everything, we had no choice but to stay indoors. A good thing since the place was built like a ranch house or the main house of a hacienda.

Truth or Dare was the fun part. Maybe it's just me, or maybe I wasn't just about to play the "all holy" card (which, sadly, a lot of people involved in these things often do). I ended up with showing the white garter of my jocks and mock-kissing another guy on the lips. To be fair, a lot of the other volunteers were really God-fearing people and were very conservative in their ways. No doubt I shocked some people.

It was fun. Overcompensating sometimes has its rewards.

Afternoon came and it was decided that we couldn't go home because the storm had reached its full strength. We played Pictionary with girls versus the boys. The boys, apart from not knowing one another, were not really up to the demands of the game. So we were being badly beaten when some of the guys resorted to the oldest trick in the book - cheating. One classic example I still remember: one guy just put down a stick figure, and in just two seconds, another shouted, "Caveman!" And we still lost. Yup, we deserved it.

Late in the afternoon and the storm at its height, going home was ruled out of the question. Sometime after 6:00 pm the lights went out and the Luzon power grid was knocked out of commission. The place was big enough to accommodate twenty or more people in the bedrooms, but nobody wanted to be alone, especially since some mischievous fellow suggested that the place was haunted. End result: everybody ended up pulling out blankets, comforters, and mattresses from the bedrooms and we spread them all out in the living room.

We managed to get some candles and somebody brought a flashlight. As usual, it was ghost story time...

Throughout the proceedings, I couldn't sneak in a word edgewise with the girl. She was surrounded by her friends, and later on in the day, she was surrounded by other boys who were less circumspect about their intentions. I can't really say right now what made her remarkable - time does have its way in blunting some very obvious truths about people. She was beautiful in a way that was less about her appearance than it was about her personality. That's all I can say.

Later in the evening people gravitated towards their own corners in the living room. Finally it was just three or four of us talking and it was me and her (!) sitting across one another. The conversation was probably about the most mundane of topics, but that she talked to me, almost solely to me was the crowinng point of the day. Well worth it, dude. Well worth it.

Wait... it doesn't end there.

It was still raining when I woke up at around 2 a.m. (my estimate) but the winds seemed to have died down. What woke me up was the touch of somebody's foot on my thigh. Well, whaddya know, it was her right foot! Apparently she didn't like sleeping on the floor and decided to sleep on the couch directly above me. I had acutally offered earlier in the evening for someone else to sleep there, but nobody took the invitation (seeing as how I scandalized some of them earlier in the day, I could understand).

I'm sure the Gentle Reader would ask, what was her foot doing there? Was the foot moving? If it did, was the movement meaningful, as if she were sending a message? To this day, I don't have a clue. I just prayed, and I prayed with all my heart that I wouldn't give in to the temptation that opportunity offered. What can I say? I was young, and for all my sangfroid about these things, I was unsure and uncertain like anybody else.

I'm sure her foot landing on my thigh was innocent, whatever she felt about me. After about twenty minutes, she stirred and turned on her left side, lifting her leg back up to her level. Now that her foot was gone, I couldn't wait for ir to come back, sick puppy, that I was. It never did. And with that, the temptation to do something melted away.

In the morning, we all parted ways. It was a successful trip - for lack of fixed activities, but because we survived the night together, the bonding exercise worked. We packed up, got into our respective vehicles, and drove back to Manila. Tree branches, leaves, and other various debris were scattered on the way home.

I had wanted to ask her if she remembered anything during the night but perhaps a wiser being stood in my way and stopped me. Some time later, she asked our group if we wanted to attend their fiesta in Kalookan, which we did. The highlight of that evening was me managing to break my glasses on a ceiling fan. A story for another day.

About a month after Tagaytay the four of us were drafted into the General Services Committee, to which we only agreed because there was a stipend involved. I lost contact with most of the people in the Volunteers committee and with that, I lost touch with her. We managed to see each other later on during the event itself, but we were too busy with our respective duties that all we managed to do was say hello.

One could say I was an idiot for letting it go like that. How was I to know things would turn out that way? That is what being young is all about.

I remember her today because of that small touch and the foolish way I reacted to it, knowing I will never regain the innocence of that moment. Now, seventeen years past, life can remain so fragile. We human beings, if we so choose, would be weak and fragile instead of strong and proud as we should be. The past month of Ramadan holds that promise, weak as we may be, we gain strength through our faith and devotion to our Lord.

That small touch of humanity is what makes acts of kindness we do for strangers special and blessed. I was blessed to have met my crush, who I'm certain remained active in her way in her parish and was a vessel of giving to others. I will call her Evenstar, though her real name, which is probably after an ancient Catholic see in Syria/Iraq, is just as poetic.

Robert gave me no peace about this Tagaytay episode, and it earned me the name "studing" (pronounced STOO'ding) - meaning I was both a stud and a gay (bading) at the same time. Or maybe he created that name for Jay Pascual, whose long locks, pale white skin, aloofness and quiet elegance made him quite the target of young girls' affections. Jay's look at that time was not quite Goth, but it convinced me adolescent girls would love vampires. As they do now, in a different way.

To the Evenstar, I hope you remember in a good way - with the bleached blur of softness and sweet joy that nostalgia often brings.

Now, time to step away from the keyboard and enjoy this vacation....

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