Malilong: The lovely long ago

The Other Side

I GREW up in a poor town in Masbate. Back then, there was no barangay, only a barrio and it was headed by a teniente, not a capitan. There must have been no more than 30 families living in our barrio, which sat on a hill overlooking the sea, so everybody knew everybody.

We had no electricity and we did not know what a television set looked like. I was eight when I saw my first movie, courtesy of a company that came visiting our town to sell medicine for headaches. Screening was done in the evening in a street near the town market where I sought refuge when I saw a pack of horses running towards my direction on the screen.

That moment of fear notwithstanding, it was an enjoyable evening, worth the one hour walk back home to our barrio in stark darkness. I spent the remainder of the school year bragging to my classmates about the experience, minus my running away from the horses, of course.

School was a structure built by the community from wood that the men cut from trees, which were abundant, and roofing materials woven by women from coconut palms. There was no floor but the earth, which became muddy when it rained because water seeped through the wall. That did not bother us, we were used to walking barefoot on muddy soil.

Because they were built of light materials, our school inevitably got blown away during a typhoon, which came with annoying regularity. But as soon as the skies cleared, classes resumed under the molave tree inside the school grounds while the men and women rebuilt our school.

Our barrio was poor. I mean the people living there were poor but we had enough to eat from the crops that we planted and the fish that our men caught. Until July. We dreaded the month because that was when hunger took over every home. I did not know why. I still don’t.

I remember the many July’s when my sister and I had to dig the earth in search of root crops, when we had only two meals a day, consisting of porridge, and when the older members of the family had to sacrifice their share of the food in favor of the little ones.

We never received government assistance. I did not even know that we had a government. My young mind would sometimes wonder how nice it would have been to have plenty of food on the table, to wear a pair of slippers and to own a transistor radio. But I did not blame anyone for our deprivation. Neither did my parents nor anyone in our poor barrio. We trusted on no one else but ourselves to cope with July. And always we did.

I do not remember our barrio being visited by a doctor. An albularyo tended to us when we were sick. He’d put his hand on the sick one’s head, mumble unintelligibly (an oracion, my mother told me), write something on a piece of paper, put it in a glass of water which he instructed the sick one to drink, always in that order. Was it effective? Well, we survived.

We were poor. We did not have the benefit of medical assistance. I did not know we had a government. But we never experienced having to stay away from each other when we were sick and having to wear a mask in front of someone.

There is now enough food on the table, I own a few pairs of footwear, we have not only a transistor radio but a TV set where I can watch movies on Netflix for as long as my eyes can bear.

But sometimes in my solitude, I wonder if this was the life I wanted or if I miss “the hungry years, the once upon a time and the lovely long ago when I didn’t have a dime.”


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