The eloquence of forgetting: Apo Island, Negros Oriental-A A +A
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
The writer’s adventure in Apo Island continues, with lessons in forgetting discovered in its waters, locals, way of life.
“It’s closed,” the guide tells us of the sanctuary. Oh.
Seniang and Sendong have damaged most of Apo Island’s corals and many of its land resources. As biology will tell you, even plants flooded with water do not grow as easily. If lucky, the guide says, revival is expected in a span of two years, sad news for those who only have a span of two hours. But again with islands, any tyranny of unpredictability can be prepared for.
Sea turtles, the guide baits, are found by the hundreds in these waters, as worthy a sight as the sanctuary itself. Of course, he puts in, tourists are not used to looking for them in their natural habitat, so a few hundreds should also be added to make use of those whose eyes have built- in goggles. We decline, counting on the substantial odds of what he claims as “hundreds”.
We found one.
It’s the weather, he justifies. Turtles swim off to calmer waters with ebb and flow like this. When they stay near the shore, they risk feeling the strength of the current. That lone turtle, we followed to deeper waters until he too, swam farther away.
Lest the poignancy of such comes in, Chai, our marine biologist companion, pipes up “I saw a sea snake!,” the ideal remark directed to one suffering from ophidiophobia.
Black- and-white-banded sea snakes are deadly, but marine biologists succumb to selective retention when excited.
“And look at this!,” she adds, a twinkle in her eye, as she plops a black phallic-like slug in my hand. A sea cucumber, she corrects. I hand it back immediately.
“Forget your worries for a while, will you?,” she asks amusingly, as if forgetting were a matter of choice.
She points here and there to dead corals, to live ones, to the difference that separates life from death; to everything that makes the home she calls sea so much more interesting to those without gills. Never mind that knees were scraped, elbows bumped and stomachs were bruised throughout. Marine life, it seems, thrives on the jagged. Comfort is not always an advantage.
“Don’t hurt them.” the marine biologist admonishes when striding over corals, a difficult task considering waves lash at every solid mass that resists, especially bodies.
By the time we finish, the sky had turned into a shapeless shift of grays.
“Naa mo nakitan, ‘day?”, (Did you find anything?) the guide asks with a snicker.
From the shoreline, the sea is a fabric of waves and foam. It crashes into the jagged rocks as if to smooth a wrinkle. The guide hears the unasked question.
“Ang angay ana, ‘day, kalimtan ra ninyo inyong kahadlok. Kalimti ra gud inyong kakulba. Huna-hunaa lang nagdula mo. Nya saligi ang inyong kapitan o kung dili man, saligi ang Ginoo.” (You need to forget about your fears. Forget about your nervousness. And trust in your captain, or else, trust the Lord.)
Again, forgetting. I had started the trip anxious about remembering only to be told more than once, there might be more to learning the other way around.
Even locals affirm this. “Wala may mag-away diri. Kung mag-away man, katulgan ra gud.
Nya pagka-ugma okay na dayon.” Elbaen, a born henna artist, tells us. Problems are slept on, and then forgotten the day after, a useful trait for an island so small, everyone is bound to rub elbows whether they like it or not. They choose to like it.
The center of Apo is where locals easily converge. Women and children sit under kawayan benches sprawled under a Talisay tree, waiting for school’s dismissal, the signal for day’s end.
Elbaen’s store, Salag ni Maya, is also where many of the town’s men, converge. From there, we find Marly who tracks us down to deliver news. The boat is on the other side of the island at the Marine Sanctuary, he says. The waves are making it impossible for it to go back to its original landing point. They were swelling higher than expected. It was time to go.
But it’s too early, we complain. Marly quietly cajoles. With weather like this, it is better to leave right away than risk staying another day.
We wave goodbye to Elbaen and head off to the Sanctuary where the boat awaits. Just when the motor starts whirring, the boat suddenly stops. The anchor was stuck.
In a blink, Marly dives and retrieves the anchor buried about 15 feet underwater. It is an intimidating sight. There is no fuss when he falls in. It is like a statement of fact, a definite conclusion.
Remembering, to me, seems just as effortless, as effortless as diving down the depths of the mind and retrieving the buried anchor. But forgetting, forgetting is a dive into pitch-black waters that lead to unsure currents.
So often has it become synonymous with abandonment – information, thought, memory.
Forgetting, they say, eliminates what one thinks is irrelevant and replaces it, distorts it, nullifies it, stores it in boxes in the back until such time cobwebs deem its contents unrecognizable. For this, it will always be held as a disability. Why is it you can never find a thing when you need it, most complain.
But what then of those we deem valuable, and yet still forget? Concepts like home or fear, for example, all notions close to the heart still fall into pitch-black waters where even Marly finds it irretrievable. What of those?
Perhaps forgetting then is not a just a question of what the conscious finds relevant and perhaps it is not the mind that solely decides. Maybe it is also a question of deeper well-being, the spirit deciding on behalf of the conscious, detaching from what it deems as an impediment for survival, disbarment of the excess.
Those who consider it as a disability may have taken no notice that forgetting is also detachment from the familiar, a skill so essential to growth – a local, for example, veering off from memory and finding that there are still novelties in the hometown, or understanding that fear is just a stream of thought like most information, easily acquired and easily discarded. With as much effort as we place in remembering then - names, verses of poetry, errands that have to be done in the dailies of domesticity – perhaps the same effort should also be placed in learning to forget.
The boat arrives at Zamboanguita by late afternoon, a little later than expected because of the battle with the current. The salt on our faces has dried. The birds have started to come out. Panny and Marly start to organize the motorboat, preparing it for next day’s passage. They hide the life vests, clean out the storage area and assess the damage of the rigger. It would live, they tell us. We watch them work harmoniously, silently, before waving off our thanks.
Already, we have started erasing them - the contours of their faces, details of their clothing, lines of shared conversations – from memory, a process reserved more for those we see once, and never again.
I write this three months after, irresolute of which holds more truth, the parts willingly recalled, or those that have, like the turtles of Apo, already swam off into the waters of the subconscious. Its currents remain unseen yet continue to run deep.
This is the eloquence of forgetting. (Johanna Michelle Lim)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 28, 2013.