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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

An Open Letter for Katrin and Kidlat

This letter is long overdue and no matter how difficult it is to write, I know I must. Please let me begin with the last series of events on our last days in Davao with my Fulbright group of teachers. And then I can write about the Kapwa 2 Conference.

On our last weekend in Davao, our group of 13 Fulbright teachers, went to Lake Sebu to visit a Tiboli weavers’ community. This is the same community that our first Fulbright group visited two years ago. We were told that because we bought so many of their tinalak in 2006, the weavers were able to start a store in the small Lake Sebu downtown. We visited that store in July and we were told that this year their project is to build a long house that would house all the weaving work so that "quality control can be maintained."

We went to Lake Sebu with Fr. Alejo and his contacts in Lake Sebu, a Tiboli couple who run a mission school, arranged our visit to the community and our stay at Estares resort. As it has been raining that weekend, it was decided that we would be safer being transported to the village on a flatbed truck rather than the habal-habal. So there we were, on a huge flatbed truck weaving and heaving our way into the heart of the hidden village.

Upon arrival we were received by Jenita Eko, a young Tiboli woman who is studying to be a lawyer; she has taken up the leadership in this community. She spoke to us about her dreams of the longhouse, of creating sustainable livelihoods for the women in the community, as well as creating opportunities for the men to support the women. She ushered us into a Tiboli house where an elderly woman was weaving. Pictures were taken. Waved goodbye. Then went back into town to go shopping for souvenirs.

Upon our return to Davao, one of our teachers suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. She is now recovering in California after more than three weeks at Davao Doctors hospital. Another teacher, Kalpna Mistry, who was only 28, had a fatal heart attack and passed away five days after the first teacher fell ill. After our group departed for the US, Fr. Alejo came down with dengue fever and needed transfusion and is now also recovering. The rest of us held on to our fragile, frazzled nerves and we were nurtured and sustained by the community that wrapped us in their loving kapwa embrace: the Mandaya Hotel Staff, the Katribu artists, acupuncturist Benji, nurse Karen who travelled all the way from Manila to support us, Fr. Antonio Samson and his staff, the doctor friends of Fr. Alejo, and especially our hosts: Fr. Alejo, Melotte and her team – Pons, Wija, Christine, and Tetchie and Ruben.

So this is the reason why this letter is late.

Needed time to heal, grieve. Asked the gods if we have failed to make offerings; if we have tresspassed. Asked for forgiveness. Went to the ocean to unburden my heart. Walked in the woods to talk to the spirits.

The events of our last week in Davao may have overshadowed the memorable encounters of the preceding three weeks but really, I must write (briefly for now) of those awesome three weeks:

Our encounters and dialogues with --
--Ateneo elementary and high school teachers;
--the American Studies majors at the university;
-- the public school teachers and the students at the Davao City National High School;
-- the elementary school madrasa and the children who were learning Arabic, English, and Pilipino while learning about Islam and Islamic values;
-- the public and private Special Education schools.
-- Our homestay with our host families;
-- Our visit and dialogue with the artist Kublai at the Ponce Suites Inn;
-- Hanging out at Taboan at the Matina Town Square on Tuesday nights for cultural performances; Our trip to Samal Island to the endangered bat caves and Hagimit Falls.
-- Our excellent lecturers at Ateneo de Davao on many topics: Mindanao history and geography, Indigenous Peoples education, Peace and Development Issues, Globalization, Eco-Tourism initiatives, Sustainable Development strategies, Islamic Peace Process.

-- Our visit to the first and only Indigenous College in the Philippines – Pamulaan – where 30 cultural groups represented by 100 students are earning degrees in Anthropology and Education with emphasis on Indigenous world views and how they are developing strategies to address their modern sociohistorical realities with an eye on sustainability and cultural preservation.

This was the high point of our trip for me because it reinforced what the Kapwa 2 conference was all about – the privileging of the indigenous discourse in an age of globalization. At Pamulaan, I heard Datu Saway all over again: his conceptual paradigm of the Talaandig School of Living Tradition: Mother Nature is indestructible. IPs belong to Mother Nature, therefore, we are indestructible. To see the same discourse at Pamulaan fleshed out in an academic program gave me faith and hope in the power of the Indigenous…and Indio-genius.

So now I thank you, Katrin and Kidlat, for inviting me to participate in the Kapwa 2 conference. The creative integration of the arts, cultural advocacy, academic banter (or intellectual masturbation, if you prefer) was like medicine to my body and soul. The highlight of the Iloilo segment for me was the third-day symposium on the Schools of Living Tradition – the place of honor accorded to the various IP leaders and their vision for their communities – was a very strong piece of the conference. The memory of this segment is also what led me to tell the Pamulaan students: you are the hope of this planet, don’t ever forget that!

The palengke approach was very effective for me because I sensed that this is how it works best for us as Filipinos – multi-culti in every aspect. Perhaps it is only to western-educated academic and straight-laced that such delicious melange of diversity can be a bit disconcerting. But not to me – I loved it! I loved how we honored our bodies by dancing as a community. Dance as an expression of the fire in us and the fire that connects my energy to others. Yes!

Thanks, too, for the films that were shown after the conference in Iloilo and also in Baguio. Kidlat, I watched the films you gave me (thank you!!) when I got home and I’m thinking of creating a semester-length course around the films. I have also since then watched Werner Herzog’s "where the green ants dream" and it gave me a glimpse of your connection with him. Trawling google, I’ve read many of the articles that have been written about your work as an independent filmmaker. It seems to me that another angle needs to be written about your collaboration with each other (and with your sons) and the creation of HAPI as a vehicle for strengthening the discourse on Kapwa.

It was wonderful to meet other culture bearer/artists like Boy, Rosalie, and Momo and the Katribu collective, along with the IP national living artists like Apo Fred and Mendung Sabal and the young and powerful artists like Ruel, Irene, Jason, and KKK. Plus to see the same work being done by Japanese filmmakers, Korean, and Maori/James – is just truly inspiring!

Now you can tell that I really got delirious with pleasure in Iloilo and Baguio. I started babbling about wanting to bring Kapwa 3 to the Bay Area/Northern California – about raising lots of money to bring you all here! Can it be done? Yes! And how?

There are no impossible dreams. Please, let’s make this one come true!

One more thing that really touched me deeply: On the films you gave me, Kidlat, you wrote: Para sa Indio Genius ng Fil Ams – I felt that you were finally affirming the work of decolonization that so many of us Fil Ams are doing and that you can trust me to be your partner in this work. Thank you for this.

Katrin, I missed having a chance to have a long sit-down dialogue with you. I hope you are back in good health. Please keep me posted on your projects. I had planned on working on the babaylan book during this Fall sabbatical but given the most recent events, I don’t know how this plan will work out. Perhaps the universe has other plans. Maybe the babaylan doesn’t want to be written about. I don’t know.

Thank you for honoring Ver Enriquez. I honor you back.

Much love and gratitude,
Leny


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