Pitch Black and Third World in a First World in Honolulu

(Note: It is pitch black here in Honolulu as I began to create this piece in my mind by groping for the right words in this whole day of darkness and gloom; it is Third World in a First World in Honolulu on this day, October the 15th, 2006 anno domini.)


I cannot believe what is happening. Yesterday, I was sharing my thoughts with a stage artist, a Mexican-American who is into one of those Filipino plays on their run for the centennial celebration, the play presumably discoursing about identity and poking fun, light at best, at the foibles of being an immigrant, as stranger-coming-into-a-homing, in a strange land that is the Hawaiian islands.

Our talk was about how we have unabatedly pursued a ‘disconnect’ with nature, with us raping and raping our natural, cosmic, and spiritual resources at the speed of light. An artist through and through—a freelance photographer on the side—the stage actress is on the lookout for a way by which we can inculcate the values of ending this disconnect with the universe and permitting the connection to come about again by a committed and critical and conscientious education of those who care to listen, of those who see these alternative ways of ‘seeing’ and ‘seeing clearly’ our relationship with the universe. “I would want a school in the middle of the wild, in the deep of the forest, in the mountain fastnesses,” she told me.

“A cooperative learning would solve issues about management and curriculum,” I chipped in, imagining the possible in the bold and honest effort to re-create a world different from the one run by the bastards of the universe who cannot see the social injustice of one world having so much while another world has so little.

We talked more about how we would put up the school, away from the reality concocted by the media, a reality grounded in fear and more fear on the big screen and on the idiot box, in print media, and now in cyberspace. We would do a Thoraeu through and through, with his Walden Pond intact.

We said we would honor the universe, revere its forces, bow down to its command to make us realize its terrors and surprises.

The good thoughts about the universe and our being part of it is one good cosmology we need to go back to, we both agreed, as if in one sacred covenant. We are two fools expanding the notion of exile from our own exiling experience, she a Mexican-American in touch with her Chicano roots, me a Filipino, newly arrived in these islands and groping in the dark in terms of the “Hawaiian ways” but in touch as well with my Filipinoness while open to the possibilities opened up to me by this land of my exile, by this new experience I call 'exile.'

I told her about the Ilokanos having a lot to do with reverence for the universe--their reverence and awe for the Apo Init, Apo Bulan, Apo Daga . The sense of atang for the dalapus, for instance, is clearly one of connection and connectivity. All these and many others come into a full view to me now, including the sacred and the sanctified in the “Baribari, Apo, umadayokayo!” and the “Dayudayo, Apo, umadayokayo.” The calling out of someone’s name—the calling back of that name to call out the wandering kararua so that it would come back to the spiritual body and then to the physical bodyr—is one other thing that makes me see the clearly now.

I went home, contented that I am not alone thinking thoughts like this, that recognizing our being exiles in the universe is one step towards healing this disconnect that has given us so much dis-ease and un-ease.

And this morning, we have this earthquake that gave us the real meaning of panic, this morning that we in Hawai`i have yet to shake off sleep from our bodies.

I play with stereotypes here, with Ilokanos in their hard, guttural r’s, pronouncing the letter as if some food is stuck up in their esophagus.

That gives away accent, as if accent is the mortal sin of those who cannot speak the kind of English Simon Cowell parades and promotes on national television.

I remember that Ana Marcelo the Filipino food culture scholar from Sacramento and I have had a long exchange of ideas on the issues connected to our Filipino identity and our accent and we both laughed at the thought that there is much ignorance here on the part of those who have the temerity to say that they are more superior because they cannot be caught with their Filipino r’s. Linmarck Zamora, the creative writer from these islands, had accounted this in his “Rolling the R’s” oeuvre. And the reminders are all over you can hardly miss them. The only way out is to accept that as we keep on trying, we become more of a phony, and eventually, a true fake, which is worse.

A regular visit to the swap meet which on this Sunday, the 15th of October, would have moved me to hoard the leafy greens would not help either but would reinforce my Ilocos Norte Ilokano;; this swap-meet rite would have me forgetting that I have gone away from the barrios of Laoag and that now I am here in the United States.

Having done that, I would go home with my loot. I would consume all those leafy marunggay, saluyot, camote tops, bean tops, and bitter melon leaves and my r’s will not leave me but stick up with me forever. The green leaves are the cause of my mind not adjusting to all those soft consonantal sounds that can only come with swallowing up all those half-an-inch thick Angus steak that could have been good for a family of six in the home country but is served for one person, just one person, over here.

No matter, the swap meet deos not happen today, as in the many communal gatherings that had to be postponed because of the earthquake that struck in the early morning while I am doing my morning meditation on my bed, recalling that indeed I am lucky and blessed because I woke up again to a new day, to this new lease on life.

The soft music, an instrumental rendition of a chamber orchestra in that complicated of composition the tail-end of its name I only hear to be in G flat minor or some such sound, lulls me a bit and that the lulling came from the rocking of the bed that bore my weight and the weight of my unfounded worries as I, together with the steering committee of the 2006 Nakem Centennial Conference, prepare to meet head-on the demands of this international gathering of scholars, academics, researchers, and creative writers, all knowledgeable about what a heritage culture and language are.

But today is a bit different.

The early morning earthquake gives us aftershocks, real aftershocks, those little earthquakes that accompany the first big one with that huge bang that made my nieces and nephew running out of their rooms and my sister, in the restroom, running out as well to say her prayers for redemption of all mankind.

Some other forms of aftershocks are shocking. Suddenly, the radio goes dead, the lights goes dead, and then comes about an eerie quiet, the quietude of the late hours when I do my spiritual reflection and re-connection with the universe and its energies. Out of frustration, I said: “This is Third world.”

Suddenly, people cannot cook food.

Suddenly, coffee aficionados like me realize that here we are, with all the resources of this country and nation to move the whole earth to bow to its democratic dreams and in recognition of the wealth and the power that comes with its superabudance and wealth—suddenly, we are helpless, unable to boil water to have that abominable instant coffee, the poorest of the poor substitute of the real one that comes from the barako in Batangas or Benguet or from the mountain beans of Kona.

I remember the barrios in the Philippines and the ability of these barrios to survive under the circumstance. Like all the folks there, I could have scoured for wood and sticks and all those discarded cardboards to light a fire to induce that cold water to simmer and then, after some time, I would pour the coffee and then stir the coffee to coax the aroma to come and fill the whole hut, up to the yards, up to the neighbor’s hut.

But, here, in this First World becoming Third World, I cannot do this.

As soon as the brown out became complete—no, they call this ‘black out’ over here even if it happens during the early morning unlike in the Philippines where distinctions are necessary between ‘black out’ and ‘brown out’—stores of all kinds closed shop, from the horrible fastfood chains dotting every highway and freeway and street corner to the grocery stores and supermarkets. And the gasoline stations too, unable to pump gas when the power is off, an irony of the first order that makes me realize that we need gas to pump gas.

I run to the university at two but I look at my gas gauge. No luck. I have only a fourth, just enough for me to get to the H-1 and then H-2 that I need to navigate before I hit the University Avenue exit. If for some reason I get stuck up some place, I have to call the towing company that will fleece me once again with my hard-earned money. I go to all the gas stations and spend a fourth of my one-fourth and did not get a drop of the fossil fuel from Iraq, who knows.

I decide to come back and nurse my disappointment.

From the rows of unread or half-read books on my shelf, I take up Gabriel Marquez’s “Innocent Erendina and Other Stories” and the more I realized how pathological this world has become, with Erendina’s grandmother acting as her pimp, pimping her to all the men who would care to pay up for a rendezvous with an innocent heart, this Erendina who cannot even hurt herself.

At five, the power comes back after ten hours. I hop on my white Toyota 4runner, the old and trustworthy care that has kept me company as I relocated my psyche and my body and my dreams in this new work I have got in the university.

I run to the first gas station I bump into. No luck. I go to the other one on the end of the road towards H-1, the freeway that sees me through everyday of my working days, and there, the line of cars snakes onto the parking lot of the other commercial establishments.

I fall in line. I wait for my turn, patiently recalling that other places could have gas rationing but here, in these parts, I have only a line. I count my blessings. I look at the hills in the west, towards the sea of Kapolei, and the dark is gathering there.

I run to the university afterwards. Pitch blackness meets me up on the freeway after Waikiki but I go on ahead, gassing up a bit to get away from the rain and the fog that clouds my windshield.

I reach the university. It is pitch black as well. I go up to my office and deposit my books. I got out and meet the dark mountains from the fourth floor. I fill my lungs with the clean air from the rain and allow the cold of the downpour to creep into body.

I hop back into my car, and I remember that here, in this new islands of my dreams and desires, I am—I will always be—and exile. In pitch blackness like this, I long for the light of dreams pursued—and soon and fast.

A Solver Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
Oct 15/06

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