By Miles Pobre-Valdez
Far in the hinterlands in an island in
I cherish childhood memories in this place. I value my friends, Muslims and Christians alike. When we were at play and we hear the echoing from the Muslim Mosque, “Allahu Akbar…” and the ringing bells from the belfry of the Catholic Churches, “Ding-dong, ding-dong”, we knew it was prayer time. The sounds were like music to our ears. Our Muslim friends would heed the Islam call to prayer and they join their elders. At dusk, when the bells rang the Angelus, Christians would stop and say a silent prayer of thanksgiving. Families gathered in their humble abode to pray to God.
Way back then, I did not see the difference nor discrimination among Muslims, Christians and the ethnic tribes as they practiced their religious beliefs. To us, religion did not matter when all are one in prayer. There was respect for everyone. Our parents hailed from different parts of the country and the world but they were good role models and we looked up to them with great regard. Here, the affluent and the lowly blended and lived in harmony.
Each one shared and took part in making the place conducive to stay. No one was above the law; all had equal rights.
My playmates, they were a varied lot. They were the children of the community leaders, teachers, gardeners, employees, farmers, policemen and house help who had different cultural backgrounds: Ilocano, Ilonggo, Cebuano, Chavacano, Tagalog, Bisaya, Tiruray, Moslems. And yes, there were Americans, too. They were the children of the American missionaries and the Peace Corp volunteers. They adapted to our ways and we, in turn, learned their language.
We were fortunate kids with this kind of environment. We could freely roam around the neighborhood. Parents would allow our friends to stay the whole day in our house or sometimes we stayed in the neighbor’s house having fun. We created and invented things that became our toys. Other times we played make-believe. We made castles out of blankets and curtains pitched from wall to wall. Pillows piled at the center of the room served as the royal throne. And among us, one would be a king, a queen, a princess, a prince and the rest as loyal guards and servants. Other times, we set up our fairy land in the garden or at the convent where the nuns stay. We played the role of characters in stories we have read or heard. One could be Cinderella, Hansel, Gretel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Jack, The Three Little Pigs, The Billy Goats Gruff or any of our favorite character in the land of fantasy. The nasty ones were assigned the role of witches or beasts until they behaved to deserve the role of the royalty and beauty. Our outdoor games included tumbang-preso, taguan (hide and seek) or luksong tinik. At the school grounds or the churchyard we played catch and run.
On moonlit nights, we gathered together to play patintero, our favorite outdoor game. We poured water on the dusty road to mark the lines where we play. While we, the young ones, ran around, bigger boys and girls grouped as they sang and strummed their guitars. On some occasions, parents organized barn dances for the teen-age group. They took turns on whose house it would be or they held it at the community social hall. The youth, mostly cousins and friends went to the dancing place chaperoned by a relative, not necessarily to be heavily guarded but just to keep them company in going home when the party was over. Such was the freedom in that peaceful place.
People were happy in their own simple ways. And I supposed everyone in the community were relatives because we called every man and woman about the age of our parents “Uncle” and “Auntie” or “Bapa” and “Babu to the Muslim tribe. We kissed the hands of all men and women with graying hair whom we address as “Apo Lakay” or “Apo Baket” to show our respect. Their wisdom, we believed was associated with he number of gray or white hair on their head or the area where the hairline had receded. We called the others who were older than us “Manong” or “Manang”. Everyone seemed to belong in one big family.
Then there was this Old Grandfather, a missionary who had gone to the
Life was simple then. No television sets, no playstations or any electronic gadget to tinker with; no telephones or mobile phones to communicate with friends or relatives. Conversations were interactive. People would feel and act together.
The place remains. But times have changed. People have come and gone. Differences in beliefs and ideologies have caused violent clashes and have shaken relationships or even displaced the former residents. But these do not daunt the happy memories we have treasured. Once upon a time, in this neighborhood, we were a bunch of happy kids who frolicked under the bright or dark skies. We have moved on bringing with us the value of respect, hard work, perseverance, love, kindness, patience, peace and joy. And we remember with grateful hearts.
I only wish that one day, I will see my childhood friends in our small paradise. Most of us have left and lived in some places but I am sure, each one of us have that longing to go back to show our children where we grew up. We will no longer build castles in the air but rather bridge friendships and connect the past to the present. Over cups of coffee and rice cakes, we will reminisce the good old days and share our blessings. And perhaps before we permanently depart from this place we once called our paradise, we can all together pray that it will regain its beauty and tranquility.