A Lebanese learns Ilokano, and Ilokano translates Lebanese poetry. For my friend, Hsn Uche, who made it sure our paths must cross.

A Lebanese learns Ilokano, and Ilokano translates Lebanese poetry.
For my friend, Hsn Uche, who made it sure our paths must cross. 

IN THE 'The Three Princes of Serendip,' [1754], Horace Walpole talked about the princess of the narrative “always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” [The story, of course, is Persian, and is traced back to the meeting of cultures and languages and human times and time zones, and Serendip is Sri Lanka, or Ceylon, for you.]

I am not from Serendip but from some lowly barrio somewhere in my lowly Ilocoslavakia. But Ilocoslavakia is on steroids, and in so many ways, strutting like a cosmopolitan city of the old and the new, with its other princes acting like overlords of a fiefdom. Which gives us the grand illusion that our Ilocoslavakia knows what it is doing, with its announcements of the good things that have yet to come, announcements we have been hearing since the time of the 'sariugma.'

I was treading on holy ground, perhaps standing before the cathedral of the Sagrada Familia, when his first email came, Ismail. [In an earlier post, this is a name I gave him because I have not gotten his permission to tell the public who he is. And to honor that right to have him remaining anonymous in the meantime, I call him Ismail.]

Ismail--okey, I call him Hassan too, but the last name not included--asked if he could buy the Contemporary English-Ilokano Dictionary. He said he checked with an online bookseller based in the United States, but the bookseller does not ship to where he is now, this friend who does an important job somewhere in another land not his own.

I saw interest in that email, and some urgency, but I was not in a position to deliver the goods nor the service he needed. Like one poet who talked about a man's journey to some sense of self and meaning and telos, I had 'miles to go before going to sleep.'

And so I soaked up all the magnificence and grandeur before me, the magnificence and grandeur born of the gifts of humanity to make life one of splendor despite--or is it because of?--the bundle of contradictions in the intentions of men, in their acts, and in their dreams of extending empires and building some more while destroying communities and civilizations and human languages. I was in one of the hearts of imperial dreams and practices and misdeeds, and I sensed those even as I thought of Hassan's need to learn the Ilokano language.

'I have an Ilokano son,' he said, 'and I want to learn his language.' [I am paraphrasing him.]

'I have Lebanese dreams, and I shall follow the path of Khalil Gibran,' I wrote him back.

Gibran is a beautiful ghost that has haunted me since I got hold of his works. That was during college, when books were expensive, and I had to forego some meals to buy his books. In Los Angeles, I frequented second hand bookstores to grab every Gibran I could get, and gifted those copies to others. On the shelf of my office in the university, there are Gibrans and Gibrans, and no one is supposed to touch any of these, even if some Gibran is a duplicate of the other. The duplicate is always reserved as a gift, the original--meaning the first one with the huge Agcaoili on its inside front cover--is mine to covet forever and ever.

When we had those exchanges, with me acting like a secret agent, I learned he is from Lebanon, and my connection to Lebanon sprang out of thin air. A cousin worked there, and when she was still there, has asked me to visit her and bring me around. I said Yes to the cousin, but Lebanon went through a crisis of some sort, and my cousin came back to the homeland. But Gibran and his Lebanon stayed with me, has remained with me, and refusing to go away.

And then Hassan, yes, Ismail, came into the picture.

Now this dream of treading on holy ground comes alive again, springing like the eternal waters of our hope. And then Hasan, yes, Ismail, said: 'My brothers will bring you around.'

I sent him the dictionary and some other things so he would be able to learn the Ilokano of his Ilokano-Lebanese biological son.

And then he asked me: 'Please sign the dictionary.'

Which I did. And with a dedication too.

I remember the three princes of Serendip, and their happy discovery of many things, and I can only thank Hassan, or Ismail, for this serendipitous thing in our lives, his and mine--and his Ilokano-Lebanese son now living in the Ilocoslavakia of our dreams.

Hassan: May the Almighty of all our human languages and cultures bless you, your son, and your family more and more!

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