Am leaving in an hour for Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, to join Inay and Yen for the New Year. We are a very small nuclear family, and Inay is ailing a bit though getting better. Girlie and Ayen left yesterday for Lucena City to greet the New Year with her parents, her siblings and their partners, and Ayen’s cousins.
We are not superstitious. What we do and where we are at the beginning of 2008 will not determine what happens to us for the rest of the year. Still, some tinge of this popular belief persists.
Girlie, Ayen and I usually do a shuttle – Christmas in Naujan with Inay and Yen, and then New Year in Lucena with her much larger clan. But this year, before we left Naujan after Christmas, she asked me to tell Inay that I will return today. “Inay is old and ailing. Ayen and I have you for the year and many more years,” she said with a quiet smile. I gave her thanks for being her usual sensitive self.
My son Yeyi and his wife Minette will greet the New Year together in Singapore. For them 2008 will be a year of changes. He is preparing to take on new work that will keep him in London for most of next year, while Minette stays with her new job in Singapore. I can recall only one Christmas when Yeyi and I were together. I hope he and Minette will manage to spend all their Christmas and New Years together.
Yesterday Meth Jimenez and the Clean and Green staff picked me up at 5 am, and we traveled from the Orchidarium in Luneta on a four hour drive to Botolan, Zambales. Two days earlier, she had asked me to check if the Ayta community I work with were willing to host a tree-planting ceremony on December 29. “It is the 80th birthday of Ming Ramos, our chairperson, and we want to plant 80 trees in her honor, though she is in Hongkong and cannot be present.”
I called Carling, the president of LAKAS (no relation to FVR’s party!), and he said they were happy to host us. He immediately mobilized 20 members to prepare the 80 holes for planting. In return, I told Meth that we should also advance the process of forging a partnership with them, to set up a nursery of indigenous species: “Can we also do a signing ceremony of the MOA among Clean and Green, LAKAS, and ELF?”
The hour and a half drive from the exit gate of SBMA to Botolan was an eye-opener to Meth and her staff. “The mountains are so brown, and so bald!” she exclaimed. “It will take years to reforest them.” She and I are already starting a new reforestation program in our home province of Oriental Mindoro. I had to agree with her that the mountains we see in our home island do not look as bad as those in Zambales.
And yet the Zambales northern mountain range is one of the 14 significant biodiversity areas identified by the Foundation for Philippine Environment for its strategic program of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. I have been invited to join the FPE board, and they have done very good work in assessing the various species of flora and fauna in the various sites.
But who are at the people and communities at front lines of biodiversity conservation? In most of the areas, the indigenous people’s communities. In this case, the Aytas, though many of them have been displaced by the Mount Pinatubo eruption and scattered to various lowland and foothill resettlement sites.
We had a brief but meaningful time with the Aytas. Carling brought a few dozen very young Ayta children and teen-agers to help. He gave us this perspective about the ceremony: “The trees we plant are really mainly for their generation. We will probably not be around anymore to see these trees in full growth. But we hope that our children will remember us when they enjoy them in the distant future.”
I don’t recall if I saw the poster at the Clean and Green office or at the LAKAS learning center. But there was a quote that caught my attention, though I don’t remember the exact words. Something about older people planting tress that we know we will live for a hundred years. Those who do this must be optimists, or have a sense of community not just with the present, but with the future.
On the way home, Meth and I also talked about the other event we both attended , the night of the 27th. It was the final wake of Hernan Jopson, Edjop’s father. He died a day a day short of the 40th day after his wife, Mommy Jopson died. His children could only attribute his peaceful death to his burning desire to be with his wife on Christmas day.
Candy kindly offered to drive us home from the wake, and she expressed what we all felt during the wake – it was family and community gathering, not for grieving but for celebrating a full life lived in the the service not just of family but of a wider community.
That set off a conversation about how we would want family and friends to arrange our wakes. I said I want a concert. Girlie wants a feast of her favorite dishes. She also teased me about what we think will happen to either of us should one die ahead of the other. “My mother said that when a wife dies first, the husband usually dies very soon after. But when the husband dies first, the wife gets to live longer!”
Not the funniest thoughts for the Christmas season, but we felt the laughter warming our hearts on the way home.