It was her way of simplifying her life now that she is about to go away, this student who is also my teacher in advocacy work.
I first met Debbie Andres when I joined the first meeting up of the Pukengkeng Liberation Group, the collective of women who were doing the Vagina Monologues in three languages for the Women's Month in February and March 2006. By that time, I had been asked to translate Vagina Monologues into Ilokano and which I did, in full, and to my personal satisfaction, the reward for doing this was psychic, and purely so.
She impressed me as reserved, a bit introverted, her smile shy but sweet. Manang Precy Espiritu introduced her to me but since they were many Pukengkeng Liberation women at that time, I could hardly catch up with their names. I would go from one seat to another and the Pukengkeng Liberation women were all there, radiant in there Pukengkeng Liberation advocacy, never minding if the world were to burst because of the freshness and newness of the words in that Vagina Monologues play. And Debbie was one of them, listening perhaps to the magic of the words, surprising as ever with their possibilities and surprises.
I remember that I had a bit of an exchange with Consul Betita at that time. The intellectual and aesthetic exchange was about my translation of an expression and in defense of my translation technique, I impressed upon the group that I was somehow lecturing to them about the creative and philosophical strategies to translating a work as sensitive as Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues, with all the English terms incommensurable with the Ilokano terms. Oh, I had a hard time figuring out the terms, the words, the concepts, and contexts. I was waxing philosophical at that time, and I got away with the translation, or so I thought.
I would come to meet Debbie again when I realized she enrolled in my literature in translation class, my first at the university.
She remained the reserved, shy, introverted Pukengkeng Liberation women even in my class. Or perhaps I intimidated my students which was why not many would raise their hands if I asked questions. Which justified my roll-calling technique and no one was ever spared because the class was small, the number of students the ideal one for a class that needed a lot of time for discussion and interrogation and negotiation.
One day right after our class, she and Jeremy Sabugo, another one of those perpetually dependable students of the program-- the students who would do everything and anything to make you realize that the program is worthy fighting for-- told me about 'The Plan,' as if, in a Franciscan way of taking on the vow of poverty and simplicity, 'The Plan' becomes the over-riding principle in one's life. I imagined Francesco of Assissi when he decided to give away his earthly belongings to all those who needed them in that powerful melodrama of a film, "Brother Sun, Sister Moon." Clara of Assissi, his girlfriend, followed suit, and both Francesco and Clara eventually founded two strong religious organizations pillared on poverty, this giving away, in an absolute sense, of what you have still got so that, in the end, you have to have nothing but only your sense of being and becoming based on that material--and spiritual--nothingness.
In a way, this is what Debbie said: she would call all the hungry and foodless friends and familiars and gather them in her campus apartment so that they will feast upon the food in her pantry and in her ref or else, she will have to memorize where the trash cans were.
She said that she had that wonderful lumpia from Maui prepared by her mother. That was a lumpia only a loving mother could make.
Upon hearing the lumpia bribe, I took keen interest in it, more for its Maui mysteries and magic and less for its being a lumpia. The fact, too, that it was prepared by her mother added some touch of the extraordinary to that prospect for food bingeing. Forget the slimming tea or some such crap all capitalists invent including those make-believe world GQ, Men's Health, Details, and Men's Vogue use to deceive us of the hidden energies that have something to do with a genuine love for our bodies. Perhaps that prospect was what moved me more and more into imagining that that wonderful lunch of gorging the best food ever was worth the try. The fall semester was about to fall and the rite to redemption in the spring term has to be welcomed with gusto, with that lumpia lunch and all. And then, of course, Debbie the host and cook, is leaving for London.
Wednesday came, and this was the day when students come for placement examination in the Ilokano language. There was anticipation on this Wednesday but with the placement examination on the run, I almost forgot it were it not that Absalom, another one of those dependable guys in search of their Ilokanoness dropped by to say that, "Hey, we had to have that Debbie lumpia finished off."
I gave myself a break from all these nitty-gritty details of admin work that bring me here at the University at the first crack of early morning light until the last lights of day and even after that, when like Loring Tabin's metaphor of Escopa's flickering lights, the lights on Tantalus flicker and flicker so lustily in the deep dark of the Manoa valley moutainside.
Even as we waited for the shuttle to bring us to that part of the university where the seniors' apartments are, I thought of the metaphor of leaving, and the urgency of doing so as a prerequisite for the finding of that which we cannot find in the here-and-now. This is the lot of all seekers, searchers, and finders--and Debbie, apart from her need to go light for her London studies--is ever ready to take the first step by disposing all of her food, with us as the consumers of that largesse.
I think of this food ritual as a meta-narrative, a discourse, an imagery, a metaphor: the eternity of the passing moments, the gorging of food in the effort to find some reasons to be strong, of the urgency of saying goodbye in order to say hello in that cycle of saying goodbye and saying hello.
There was bounty in the food counter: the 'adobo' Jeremy can properly pronounce, the only Ilokano word he can pronounce with the proper Ilokano accent; the lumpia with its promise of a blessed and graced meal, the chicken wings and thighs cooked the 'cooking ng ina mo' way, the greens that invited the thought of fiber and vitamins and balanced diet, and that immorally delicious cheesecake with all the crumbs that make you remember the sans rival of Manila's French Baker or Goldilocks.
Ah, I tell myself: We eat so we can go on in life.
Ah, I tell myself: we leave so we have a reason to come back.
A Solver Agcaoili
U H Manoa
6 Dec 2006