At the outset, I offer my sincerest apology to my female classmate for divulging our true age.
Some say that one of the well-guarded secrets of a woman is her true age but how do I give emphasis to the fact that, apart from the memories we share, there is a more compelling reason that has made us long for each other’s company – that was the length of time that separated us since graduating from the elementary grades in the late 1960s.
My best memory of our being connected with each other for the first time ever was through the internet. Thanks for this cyberspace technology that had made the world smaller and more flat. If the less than 10 percent population of the world felt so benefited by this modern communication technology, I can imagine the deprivation of the more than 90 percent who have no access to this human amenity.
It was when Cat (Gladys Glimada in real life) thought of creating the tagapikit blog that we (me and this classmate of mine) had the convenient time to interact with each other. In fact, a lot of long lost Pikiteños had been interconnected through that blogsite which has eventually become our favorite hangout for quite a long time until it self-destructed more than two years ago for reasons known only to the members. The immense popularity of other social networking media like Facebook and Tweeter were also the major culprits. Who would forget the hilarious stupidity and varied insanities that got its way to that blog which we all enjoyed like thoughtless children and carefree adults. I cannot imagine anything more enjoyable and fulfilling than that for the time being.
It was just so unfortunate that Cat’s tagapikit blog didn’t live to this day. Back then, we were just like one group that decides what to do, how to flaunt our laughs, who could be the next laughing stocks and where to go as if we were together all the time in one place in real time. I don’t want to go back to the details of how it went off cyberspace at a time that we thought time was lacking for us to enjoy each others’ company. It was a long story and telling it would just unveil what some few people were like as in there’s always a spoiled egg in every tray, rotten tomato in every basket and snake in every jungle. It was enough said that every Pikiteño engaged in that blogsite was aware of everything that had transpired and we did not want it to end that way.
This means that this classmate of mine and I had been constantly communicating with each other since early part of 2000 and in our private messages or chats, our experiences in the elementary grades took center-stage – from backbiting our overly disciplinarian and petite class adviser whose voice amplitude was barely bearable to the human ear – to the never-ending story of the palmeras only the two of us would know.
We often spoke about seeing each other someday that I guess, if this had required permission from our respective spouses, it might have spawned sort of green eyes from them (LOL). Not because we had a feeling for each other but because, of all classmates, why do we wish so much to see each other. I would suppose that, that feeling was sort of making up for opportunities lost when we were in the elementary grades.
Frankly, even with the ‘palmera connection’ (potted palm seedlings that has become our obligation to bring out in the afternoon and water them before we go home and bring inside the classroom early the next day), we were not quite close as classmate, nor have we spoken much with each other except when it has something to do with the ‘palmeras’. I simply felt that, for her – a consistent first honor in our class, I am simply a non-interest, whatever. Why would intelligent girls seem to be intimidating to most boys? I still have to grasp for the right answer or if that was normal human phenomenon, then I might not be able to find the right answer at all.
In our time, crushes were unthinkable at our age and to talk about it was even sort of taboo. Unlike my grandchild who would talk to me of her ‘crushes’ in school, and to think that she is just a grade one pupil, that ‘crush’ thing is absurd. Could it be due to what I call the ‘early maturity syndrome’ of the modern generation caused by over-exposure with cable television, the internet, electronic toys or the many processed food that they eat? Or all of the above? Frankly, I don’t know but this could be an interesting subject of research for anyone completing his/her graduate dissertation in the social sciences.
By the way, of all things I have been mentioning, the name of my (favorite) classmate is still obviously missing. And so, after much ado, I introduce to you (of course, for those who don’t know her yet) Maria Stella de Sequera now surnamed Kriekenbeek. She married a filger (Filipino-German mestizo). She was a consistent First Honor pupil from grade one to grade six and you will have to mention all the superlatives available to describe her best.
She practices her medical profession in Maui, Hawaii where her family resides at present. Her husband has been into the real property development business.
During the 60th founding anniversary of our high school alma mater two years ago, I asked her if she might be able to come and she simply said that it was not yet in their schedule to visit our hometown that year. “Maybe next year or middle part of the year after that, but I assure you it was definitely in our plan to visit Pikit.” And so, waiting for almost two years seemed just as long as the more than four decades we’ve not seen each other.
When I told her that we were raising funds to complete the bleachers of a covered basketball court, she sent me US$150 which I turned over to the Chair of the solicitation committee.
There were only 12 of us classmates who attended that 2010 alumni homecoming and I don’t know if she was lucky for not being able to come or she could have been the 13th. I don’t really understand why and how the number 13 was associated with some kind of jinx or getting into some unlucky situation even for someone associated with the number. For sure this has no scientific backing but a lot of people still believe in this or at least get affected by it.
When Mr. Kreikenbeek and Mitzi, as we fondly call her, finally decided to come for the much-awaited visit on the last week of May 2012, she made sure that I was one of the few people she would see in her cousin’s house in Kidapawan City. Kidapawan City is about 20 minutes ride from where we stay. I came over with my wife and eldest son who drove the car. And finally that eventful day of seeing each other took place. And you will imagine the quite hysteric moment and what our unbelieving eyes would see after our physical transformation for more than four decades – from one innocuous child look to a bit sophisticated adult that we have become was definitely a striking transformation.
We savored the sumptuous dinner which I believe was part of the preparation for the couple’s grand homecoming to our place. And guess what.. the exotic durian fruit, a common indulgence for us, will never be absent in the dining table.
Incidentally, our class adviser in Grade VI, Mrs. Remedios Barzaga, the mother of Mitzi’s cousin, was there with us. For me, that meeting was a double treat for seeing my classmate and class adviser at the same time and place. I was really delighted to see our class adviser was so full of life still and well, though at age 95, she hardly kicks already.
The couple (Mr. & Mrs. Kriekenbeek) had passed the night in Kidapawan City and the following day was the scheduled visit to our beloved hometown of Pikit. Quite unfortunately, Mr. Kreikenbeek had to stay behind as he had to rest for catching cold and cough. We agreed that they would pass by the house and we proceed to Pikit in a convoy of two vehicles.
Looking back at our hometown more than four decades ago, I am always reminded of how we felt so secure and confident with each other during those times. There were a lot of nostalgic moments that I can recall and they seem to linger on especially that I can only think of happy times together with Pikiteños co-existing with each other in peace and harmony. The town was developing fast as it was one of the pioneer municipalities of the then empire province of Cotabato or before it was subdivided into five smaller provinces. Pikit was very peaceful and Pikiteños had learned to live and love each other like true brothers and sisters until this was disrupted in the early 1970s by the Muslim pocket rebellion in Mindanao (Southern Philippines). From then on, life was never the same again for Pikiteños.
The Mulsim pocket rebellion had claimed about 150,000 lives and unthinkable damage to properties. The most damaging consequence of the rebellion was the polarization between the Muslims and Christians fueled by homegrown hatred brought about by horrible experiences during the war. This is the most difficult thing to rebuild or regain but I had always believed that it is possible though it would go through painstakingly slow process and calculated moves for confidence building and pushing for development mutually desired by both Muslims and Christians.
Today, the town is struggling to regain its lost glory so-to-speak and full recovery will depend to a greater extent on the people themselves and their political leaders. Of course, the town was not stuck with time. Physical development was very obvious now and the psyche of the people had slowly transformed from their respective polarities as they realized that going back to the time when the consequences of hatred and un-peace took their heavy toll on the people’s lives and the economy could be catastrophic.
While waiting for the arrival of Mitzi’s group, these were the thoughts running in my mind as I was trying to figure out the significant changes that transpired in our hometown over a span of almost five decades, especially the scenic views we cherished but had vanished as a price for “development”.
Suddenly my thoughts were disrupted by the arrival of the group and I had to rush out because I would be driving the other car. The road from where they had fetched us to Pikit does not really make for comfortable ride as the Davao-Cotabato national highway is undergoing major repair and reconstruction.
Upon arriving in Pikit, we proceeded directly to the old house where the de Sequerras had stayed until the family decided to sell it when they finally left Pikit at the onset of the rebellion in the early 1970s. Mitzi was never short of telling stories of their childhood memories and unforgettable experiences in that old house.
I think the most unforgettable one that she had mentioned was when they were playing hide and seek and the best hiding place, of course, was the darker portion of the house that was the basement. All of a sudden she heard a hissing sound somewhere from the darkest corner of the basement. Thinking at first that it could just be the sound coming from a playmate who might just be telling her in a soft voice to keep quiet so that the ‘seeker’ won’t find them, Mitzi ignored the hissing sound. Not until it turned out to be the sound of a big python snake which had found the dark corner of the basement a convenient place to settle, did they start rushing out in hysteria and calling the neighbors to come to their rescue.
Consequently, several of their neighbors came to their rescue and they decided it was best to kill the python to make sure it does not return to join the next ‘hide and seek’ game.
We were planning to reach for some classmates in town but since her arrival had no prior announcement, we decided to drop the idea. And so we agreed to proceed to the town hall where two of our classmates are working. At least we can mingle with some classmates. The other classmate (Mitzi’s favorite classmate, I know) we had contacted before hand is on her way to join us in our hometown of Pikit. Pikit in the local Maguindanaon dialect literally means joined together or conjoined. Unfortunately, we met only one of the two classmates in the town hall. The other one was out on field work.
We decided to have our lunch in a restaurant in the corner of the town plaza where we will be joined in by another classmate (Mitzi’s favorite). She’s Marlyn Custodio. And how could the two be not the closest of friends among us classmates? Mitizi was the consistent valedictorian and Marlyn was the consistent salutatorian.. as if our teachers had known only two bright pupils in our class (LOL). They, certainly, are the brightest among us and though the ‘silent’ competition for academic supremacy was always there, that has never interfered in the intimacy between the two.
We savored for lunch, what else, but our favorite native foods such as mudfish (dalag), native chicken tinola and fresh mango fruit brought by Marlyn.
The last leg of the journey-back-to-our-hometown was revisiting our classrooms in grades 5 and 6. The structures were perfectly in place after more than four decades though there were noticeable cracks in some areas on its floors and walls. Nothing would escape the wear and tear of time. We had a short pause on every significant and meaningful spots in the building (at least for the two of us) to recall things like who was the teacher-in-charge in this room, where do the palmeras stand, and of course, the never to be forgotten tik tak toe sounds of the famous shoes of a male classmate.
Mitzi was asking me about some buildings that were no longer standing here like the H.E. (home economics) building, industrial shop building and the classroom of Mrs. Maputi – a teacher in grade three whom Mitzi had some sort of unpleasant memories with (something that I will never divulge). Yes, we were like chasing some vanished views and structures if only to revive memories of them that we had some kind of attachment with, one way or another.
Then, it was time to go back to our respective bases (me to Matalam and Mitzi to Kidapawan City) but not before we visited the tinagtag factory – a local Muslim delicacy that looks like an intricately woven fabric of crispy rice cracker, though it’s nothing but powdered rice mixed with sugar, small amount of fresh chicken egg and water. The whole mixture is placed in a coconut shell with holes at the bottom where it trickles down to a frying pan. The coconut shell hangs suspended on a rope directly over the frying pan and attached to a wooden handle where the operator makes a circular motion of the coconut shell as the powdered rice mixture trickles down. When the stuff turns brown it is removed from the pan and folded to its desired shape, thus we have what looks like the one below.
Mitzi bought several packs of tinagtag as a ‘bring home’ to some relatives and friends which incidentally included us. That was very kind of Mitzi to have included us in her list.
Now it was time to be on the road again. On the way back, Mitzi must have made a last glimpse of our hometown until it has drifted out of sight, not because it would be her last visit, but only to record clearly in her memory the picture of her hometown where the beginning of her dreams were carefully nurtured and realized for what she is now. On the next visit, I am sure any change or improvement in our hometown will register more clearly in her memory and vision.
So long dear classmate. This rare occasion of seeing each other after four decades was simply amazing. I look forward to the next visit, which I hope will be sooner than four decades, and will always be excited about it.