Thursday, September 16, 2021

Tabada: Picking guavas


“Ani, ania, anima (harvest, here, soul).”

Penalizing miscegenation, the linguistic kind, I first encountered in the arena demanding language purity: school corridors. In the 1970s-80s, posted notices warned that students were fined if overheard not speaking in “straight English”.

These good intentions to produce daughters possessing the hallmark of expensive private school learning—mastery of English— resulted in my earliest act of rebellion: exhaling in Sugbuanon in the students’ comfort rooms, which no teacher or nun ever used.

While other classmates stole a puff or two or lined their eyelids to vamp the lone male teacher, I chatted or, if alone, muttered in Sugbuanon while flushing or washing hands noisily.

I did read, write and speak English in class. But I could not tell stories in English.

At home, I never woke, stretched, and yawned, “Gosh, flapjacks again?” because it was Papang’s radio blaring Sugbuanon “balita (news)” and commentary mingling with last night’s rice, exorcised with “ahos Bisaya (native garlic)” and the “buwad Besugo (dried fish)” that seated the soul betraying the body left in bed and resisting the call, “kaon na (let’s eat),” that I woke to and carried around all day, even in the strictly-no-mixing corridors of language.

Living in Cavite for some four years, I find that confused rebel still loitering inside, slipping into Sugbuanon while composing the next set of English conversations to prove Papang’s money was not wasted on education.

“Namayabas” comes to mind when, in conversing with Tagalog speakers, I compose mentally in Sugbuanon, mangle Filipino, and finally hide in English, which most often alienates the listener: “Inglesera (English speaker).”

Oh, I ate the apple of English in the wilds of academe but I also took timeout to steal and devour “bayabas (guava)” like any self-respecting school truant of my hardened Bisdak (“Bisayang daku” or native Bisaya) roots.

Do I regret bunking off? This mongrel creature of “saksak-sinagol (mishmash)” linguistic roots cares only to dive into stories, swimming promiscuously with English, Sugbuanon, and Filipino. And the insurgent strains of Spanish that invade but have also been infiltrated by our stories.

Recently, I listened to a priest born in Cagayan de Oro, posted previously in Pili, and now serving in Cabuyao, Laguna. In Bisaya, he told the husband and I about a recent incident involving female suicide bombers at Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay.

“Wa’ gibalita (that story was not reported),” he said.

The fugitive is inarticulate, silenced. Except in the sea of stories that bypass the regimentation of language, surging in the byways connecting our humanity.


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