Ayen@21

Twenty-one years ago, on August 20 1990, Girlie woke me up at 3 am: “Take me to the hospital. I can feel that my water bag is about to break.”

The nurse at the Diakonessenhuis Hospital brought Girlie to the labor room, while waiting for the doctor. But Girlie insisted that she be transfered to the delivery room as soon as possible. Sure enough, when the doctors arrived, it took Girlie just a few minutes ( tatlong iri lamang ) to give birth to Ayen.

I heard the attending doctors mutter: “She came out so quickly. This is a record!” This was followed by a comment on Ayen’s size: “But she is so tiny!”

Ayen was two weeks premature, and had to stay in an incubator till her lungs fully developed.

In the aftermath of Ondoy, Girlie and I retrieved our water-logged files and found copies of our xeroxed announcement about Ayen’s birth: “She came sooner than we expected. She is smaller than what we wanted. But she is our baby! We love her and will take care of her.”

It’s an appropriation of the metaphor I used in 1986 to advocate what should be the attitude of the left about EDSA – It’s like watching the birth of a premature baby: “Sooner than we expected, smaller than what we wanted.”

The challenge to us on the left was to recognize it as still “our baby,” to claim our fair share of its multiple parenthood, and exercise our share of responsibility to take care of it and nurture its growth.

Many comrades in the left disagreed. And even much more on the political right. One military officer told me frankly: “We did not restore democracy so that you on the left will have a part in it!”

Together with those who identified with our political project of “popular democracy,” I tried to be consistent with my advocacy and adopted a stance of “critical collaboration” with the government leaders of our democratic premature baby.

Ironically, Ayen was born outside the Philippines, in the Netherlands because other in the government forced me into unofficial exile. But with her birth, Girlie and I decided to return to the Philippines. Better take our chances as citizens in our homeland compared to the uncertainties of “aliens” with only temporary permits to stay.

To improve our chances, I asked to meet Apeng Yap who had come to the Netherlands for backdoor talks with the NDF. “I want to go home with my family,” I told him. “Can you get government to guarantee my safety?”

His immediate response was classic Apeng: “The government cannot guarantee anybody’s safety!” But he added quickly that he would see what he can do. After a few months, he sent word that he had managed to remove my name from three watch lists – the immigration, Malacanang, and the military.

As a newly-arrived baby in the Philippines, Ayen suffered asthma from the pollution ( possibly also  because her lungs took time to develop fully ). Growing up acclimatized, she now manages to play touch rugby, even in the rain and on muddy grounds.

Girlie named Ayen after her close friends from the women’s movement, LaRainne Abad-Sarmiento. But we dropped one of the “n” from her name, since she has already two double letters in her family names – Villariba and dela Torre.

As parents, Girlie and I exchange notes from time to time about how we should be rearing Ayen. Of course we want to make sure that she experiences what we tell her is our “unconditional love.” But shouldn’t we also prepare her to live in a world that will still be challenging to women, despite all our struggles for greater gender justice?

We haven’t pushed Ayen to any specific social or political engagements. We know that she will make her own choices, in her own time. We hope to be an influence on her, but there will be many other influences. After passing UPCAT, she chose to take up Psychology. Asked why, part of her answer ( only half-jokingly ) was to help her understand her parents.

Come October 2011, she is scheduled to graduate, hopefully with honors.

Over her birthday meal, we asked about her plans. She says that she may teach for a few years before taking up her Masters. But she also wants to try the world of work, outside the academe. Her wish list still includes a residential course in a Danish folkehojskole.

She wants to take up blogging, but has not yet settled on her blog profile and name.

She is all of  21.

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