Childhood Memories of Flores De Mayo

When I was a kid, I looked forward to summer. Who didn’t? School is closed. Every day is spent playing outdoors and swimming. Also, my parents would take us to visit our grandparents in Eastern Samar during summer. And it goes without saying that we would have to drop by Tacloban and visit Gaizano and the Children’s Park. Gaizano was the only mall I knew of when I was a kid. I have fond memories of their kiddie rides.

There were lots of summer activities back home but the highlight of them all is the Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May). Catholics and Aglipayans celebrate the Flores de Mayo every month of May to honor the Blessed Virgin. From what I recall this is a two-part tradition. One is the Flores and the other is the Santa Cruzan.

Back in my hometown, kids get excited for the Flores on hot summer afternoons. We wear white and pick flowers to offer to Virgin Mary. I remember my friends and I raiding our yards for flowers and sometimes our neighbors’ too. Santans in red, pink yellow and mostly, orange; hibiscus/gumamela, daisies and rosal are the usual choices. Bougainvilla not too often gets picked because it wilts easily. Roses are housewives’ treasures and therefore not up for sacrifice, not even for the Virgin.

Image source: alfredgalura.blogspot.com

Image source: alfredgalura.blogspot.com

Before the Flores starts, there usually is cathechism, which we can barely get through due to excitement. As the novices and seminarians rave about the harps and angels in heaven and the fire and unending wailing in hell, we squirm in our seats, tightly holding the bunch of flowers that are slowly wilting as lethargy creeps in with the afternoon sun. Sweaty hands try to straighten the creases that start to appear on starched dresses while carefully avoiding the menacing glare of the saints at the altar.

Our hearts start to swell as soon as cathechism concludes and the Flores commences. We hang in anticipation as the elders choose the kids who will be carrying the letters of the Ave Maria from the church entrance to the altar. The giant letters made of light blue and white crepe paper are the holy grail for the kids at the Flores.

Image Source: braincontour.com

Image Source: braincontour.com

Basically, mass is celebrated during Flores with more emphasis on the virtues of Virgin Mary. We also sing the Salve Regina, which is in Latin, and surprisingly get the words right. Looking back, we didn’t really understand what the prayer meant since it was in Latin or if we were pronouncing it right but hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?

After the mass, we would fall in line and are given treats. They used to give us galletas and candies. Depending on the mass sponsor, sometimes we get fancier pastries. And when I say fancy, as a five-year old, I meant bread with bright red or yellow filling.

At night, the celebration continues in the form of the Santa Cruzan. This is a processional novena still in honor of the Virgin. I remember the elders constructing a bahay kubo as a makeshift altar with the image of the Virgin surrounded with flowers, both fresh and crepe paper. During procession, the rosary is recited interspersed with Visayan songs for Mary. The part I like best is we get to carry bamboo torches. You know how in the movies, the townsfolk carry torches to burn the village witch? We kinda look like that except ours is a solemn procession with some overeager toddlers running around.

My friends and I at a Santa Cruzan circa '89

My friends and I at a Santa Cruzan circa ’89

After the novena, snacks are served. And on some nights, if you’re lucky, there is social dancing. Back then, no one was embarassed to dance. Regardless of age, size and dancing skills or lack thereof, the dance floor never lacked of participants, all in the name of fun and camaraderie.

The culmination of the Flores de Mayo is on the 31st where there’s a procession and mass. The sagala is no ordinary procession. This is some sort of religious pageant where good-looking ladies and gents of the community play biblical characters. This looks similar to a procession during town fiesta. Needless to say, this ends in a street party under a starry summer sky, all in the name of the Blessed Virgin.

Image source: atasteofasia.eu

Image source: atasteofasia.eu

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The Lamentations Of A Traveler

Image source: www.123rf.com

Image source: http://www.123rf.com

The stars that dotted the sky are flirting with the buttery moon. The night seems so alive as the sea breeze play with your hair. The anticipation in your eyes are veiled by the shadows of the night. You have been dreading this trip and kept pushing it back, pretending that there are far more important things that needed to be dealt with. But just like the other things in your life, this journey had a way of coming up to the surface, confronting you with the reality that you need to face. There’s no delaying it. Despite the fear and the hesitation, you had to do it now.

Despite the lack of sleep and the fatigue from a day’s worth of traveling, you can feel joy well up from deep inside, a shadowy memory of a not-so-distant past, a watercolor of vague images on a summer afternoon. The faint whir of the boat jolts you back to the present. The slight swell of the waves holds a rhythm that is ever so comforting. From time to time, a whimsical spray of seawater teases your face. The almost black shadow of an island looming in front of you is getting bigger by the minute. The lights from a distance are either from other boats or from the houses near the sea. They bring warmth that soothes your weary bones. The sea at night is dark but littered with twinkling diamonds, glittery just like the tears that slowly fall down your face.

The things that you fear are those that can make you happy or sad or both. This is a bittersweet reunion for you, a homecoming you would rather just pencil indefinitely on your to-do list. As the outline of the huge shadow is becoming sharper and the sleepy homes near the shore becomes clearer, the memories wash over you: the good, the bad and the ones you have buried and pretended never existed. The past is a box of pictures you’d rather keep at the bottom of your closet, never to be opened again; yet the denial will keep haunting you until you have to stare at the photos again, be reminded of the people and stories behind their smile.

The crickets and the waves have replaced the sound of the motor. You have finally reached your destination. You got off the boat and when your toes dipped in the water, you were greeted by the mossy pebbles, probably not the same ones you played with when you were five. Nevertheless, they felt the same.

You are the daughter who had left but has now come back. The cold night air gave you goosebumps but you don’t feel cold at all. Instead, a slow-burning fire has ignited in your soul. The island has engulfed you in its arms, a mother overjoyed by the return of one of the children she lost to the sea.

The moon is still buttery yellow but is now slowly hiding beneath the clouds. The stars are still glittery, just like the tears you’re trying to hold back as it dawned on you, you are home.

Image source: iasminahampel.wordpress.com

Image source: iasminahampel.wordpress.com

*The author would like to write an ode to her hometown but she is lyrically challenged. Nonetheless, this is a tribute to her home, Maripipi.

Maripipi: A Very Brief Reunion

After almost a decade of being away, I went home on the 27th, not exactly for a vacation but to attend a friend’s wedding, which was on the 28th. It was a really short stay at the island I miss the most but nonetheless, fun and refreshing.

On the 27th, at 9 a.m., I was aboard Seair on the way to Tacloban. Estimated length of travel is an hour and fifteen but we landed at Daniel Romualdez Airport approximately 45 hours after take-off. My friend Jomari met me at the airport and took me to Kuya Kent’s house for lunch.

After a home-cooked meal and a brief siesta, we went to the terminal of Van-Van’s to board a shuttle to Naval, which is the capital of Biliran, my province. It was a 2-hour ride.

Image source: biliran.boards.net

Image source: biliran.boards.net

The sun has set when we reached Naval, hence, there were no more motorboats bound for Maripipi, my hometown. We then took a tricycle to Kawayan, a town directly facing Maripipi. It was a short ride, about half an hour. It was already dark when we reached the port of Kawayan, but the sky was full of stars and the moon was bright, buttery yellow. It was a lovely sight.

Image source: biliranisland.com

Image source: biliranisland.com

Then it sunk on me, I was almost home. The sea wasn’t so rough when we crossed to Maripipi, just a mild swelling of the waves. It was a beautiful summer night. Van Gogh would have fallen in love with it.

If you want to know more about Maripipi, the size, population, livelihood, history and what have you, you can easily use Google and/or Wikipedia. I’m not going to detail those information for you. What you need to know is I grew up in this island and will always consider it home. The town has a close-knit community, and many of the people I love are from and/or here.

Image source: www.flickr.com

Image source: http://www.flickr.com

Recently, the island has become popular to  tourists. They fell in love with the blue waters, especially that of Sambawan.

Image source: greenxplanet.blogspot.com

Image source: greenxplanet.blogspot.com

Since I started my trip back home at early morning, I was pretty beat when I got to the Zafico’s house. That’s where I stayed for the weekend. Polay and Jayby Zafico are my childhood friends, and their parents Nay Delia and Tay Pedring are one of the nicest people in the island, also close friends of my parents. After a dinner filled with catching-up, we headed straight to bed. The sea breeze, crickets and the sound of the waves lulled me to a deep sleep.

I woke up refreshed at around 6, without an alarm, which is kind of a rare thing for me back in the city. The house was already abuzz with the two kids, Dwayne and Jedric, playing at the yard; Nay Delia fixing breakfast; and Polay packing clothes for the beach wedding.

This was the scene directly from where I was sleeping.

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I eagerly took my tablet and went outside, circling the house and took shots. I was like a giddy tourist. This is the mainland of Biliran, a view from the back of the Zafico’s house.

Mainland Biliran

Mainland Biliran

The house stands on a cliff and surrounded with trees. Down below is the sea.

view from the bedroom

Bananas don’t come from the fruit aisle of the grocery. They come from a faraway place.

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Tay Pedring had just finished painting this table. Ain’t she pretty?

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Nay Delia still prefers using a traditional stove for cooking meals in their dirty kitchen rather than the gas-operated one they have inside.

Old school

Old school

After breakfast, we were off to town to board Ma. Lourdes (motorboat), which would take us to Sambawan where the wedding will be held.
CropperCapture[56]

Sambawan is a group of islets, which has white sand and pristine blue waters, home to a diverse marine life. This was recently developed and has been made more accessible to tourists.

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Although, personally, I was disappointed with how they’ve run the development and of their new policies, I’m still grateful to have visited Sambawan again. The last time I was there, I was still in my early teens.

CropperCapture[57]

After the reception and fully enjoying the waters despite the unforgiving heat of the sun, we headed and boarded a motor banca. I was shocked when they initially asked for a 700-peso fee. That was just outrageous. 300 is the usual amount. This is what tourism brings to some people, capitalism and greed. Polay haggled with the banca operator and they agreed on Php 400.

After a quick shower to wash off the salt, Polay and I went back to town. I wanted to visit the church and light candles. It is tradition to do so plus I wanted to offer prayers of thanksgiving that I was able to visit the island again.

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This is the St. Michael Archangel parish church. It stands on a hill directly facing the sea.

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The islanders believe that St. Michael watches over and protects the whole town from natural disasters, pirates and all sorts of bad things.

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I grew up in this church and I love the stained glass windows. I wish I could get married in this church, if only because when you go out of the front door, you’d be facing the sea.

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Early Monday morning, I was aboard Ma. Lourdes again to take me to the mainland. After a short reunion with my island town, I was again on the road back to the city.  While I was on the boat, the sun had exploded into a beautiful array of colors, and so then I started slowly counting the days when I’ll be back.

early morning

Totally Beaching

Boracay Sand

Boracay Sand

Let’s clarify this once and for all, you don’t swim in the beach. You go to the beach and swim in the sea. According to Merriam-Webster, a beach is a shore of a body of water covered by sand, gravel, or larger rock fragments. But seriously, if you do swim in the sand or on gravel, then who am I or Merriam-Webster for that matter, to contradict that.

It’s summer again and the sweltering heat is driving hordes of people to the beach. What I wouldn’t give right now for a dip in the pristine blue sea even if it’s under the cancer-inducing glare of the sun. It’s this time of the year that I would love, love, love, love be in Maripipi right now, the island paradise where I grew up in.

 

 

 

 

Photo source: greenxplanet.blogspot.com

Maripipi Island Photo source: greenxplanet.blogspot.com

When I was a kid, my mother would forbid us to swim if unaccompanied by adults. She was terrified of the thought of us drowning. Also, she does not want me to spend so much time in the sea because I was pretty dark skinned when I was little. If you’re not a cute kid, the least you can do is at least not be too dark, lest you be teased mercilessly or worse, be pitied. Anyway, it was really hard to follow my Mom’s orders because we live just a few steps away from the sea. So during summer, as soon as school is out, my childhood friends and I would be frolicking in the sea. That was how I learned to swim. If you’re an islander, no one teaches you how to swim. You just do. It’s part of your instinct. Now I don’t swim gracefully as a mermaid or a member of a synchronized swim team but I am a pretty decent swimmer.

 

 

Photo source: myspace.com

Photo source: myspace.com

 

When I was in high school, the allure of the sea has faded just as I became more conscious of my complexion. I would only swim if I’m attending a beach party or in certain occasions like San Juan (Saint John’s Feast Day), Easter Sunday, et cetera. Then in college, I came here to the city and grew farther away from the sea. I would come home on semestral breaks and christmas vacation but was no longer interested in spending time in the sea. Although, nothing beats the sound of the waves at night to lull you to sleep.

 

 

 

Puerto Galera

Puerto Galera

Boracay

Boracay

 

beach buddies

beach buddies

 

Now that I’m already a member of the labor force, meaning I only get a limited amount of time for vacation, I realize how much I miss the sea. Truly, you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone. I miss how carefree you can be among the waves. I miss rubbing the salt crystals that have formed in the skin when the sun has dried the sea water. I miss waiting for the tide to rise because no one likes swimming in low tide, at least not back home. I miss home.