Thursday, March 31, 2005

If, you, do, not, speak, for, us

Another media practitioner has been gunned down.

I don’t easily break into a white rage. What I conjured up in my mind was someone, or maybe myself, mounting a podium in slo-mo then mouthing Sophocles: ``Who is the slayer, who the victim?’’

And the adrenaline having risen, to declare with Kennedyesque pathos: ``If, you, do, not, speak, for, us, you, are, killing, us. And, also, yourselves.’’

That was just my mind trying to tame the anger that was surging. All I wanted to say in street-corner language was an exploding, ``BS to you all who did this, and may you be cursed even in the afterlife.’’ But then one didn’t say such things, even silently in one’s heart, while Christendom was commemorating the passion of Jesus and his rising from the dead.

Come to think of it, besides ourselves, who is speaking up for the journalists? Who are the individuals, what are the groups and institutions out there that will come to our defense? By speaking, I mean doing something concrete and reaping results.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The desert mothers

March being Women’s month and today being Holy Thursday, it is a good time to reflect on the contribution of little known Christian women of ancient times.

During my recent visit to the Benedictine Resource Center at the St. Scholastica’s Center of Spirituality in Tagaytay, Sr. Bellarmine Bernas OSB showed me around the new building and library. If you’ve had a Benedictine education as I had (and so Germanic at that), you’d know you’re home amidst this treasure trove that is both ancient and new.

I saw a stack of books titled ``The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives and Stories of Early Christian Women’’ (2001) by Laura Swan, prioress of a Benedictine monastery in the Pacific Northwest. Sr. Bellarmine bought many copies at sale price so that more women and men would know about these trail-blazing women. I went home with a copy.

Swan’s book was the fruit of graduate research in theology and spirituality. ``(When) I began to pursue and collect traces of these women’s stories, it often felt like the sleuthing work of Sister Frevisse or Brother Cadfael in the medieval whodunits I enjoy. I found myself tracking down clues, following strands of evidence, and reading the shadow of texts to find these women. Clues often took the form of rare scholarly material, frequently in footnotes and asides.’’

Women’s history, Swan complains, has often been relegated to the shadow world: felt but not seen. ``Many of our church fathers became prominent because of women. Many of these fathers were educated and supported by strong women, and some are even credited with founding movements that were actually begun by the women in their lives.’’

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bulanghoy, balinghoy

Inday, bayle ta/ Di ko kay kapuy/ Amon pamahaw bulanghoy/ Amon panihudto bulanghoy nga puto/ Amon panihapon bulanghoy gihapon. (Inday, let us dance/ No, I am tired/ Our breakfast was cassava/ Our lunch was cassava cake/ Our supper was still cassava.)

I learned that folk song many years ago from my Cebuano-speaking friends from whom I also learned street-corner lingo, like `Wa ka kuyapi?’ and how to eat boiled unripe bananas with ginamos (fish paste) which, for me, is a gustatory puzzlement. We kept singing the bulanghoy (cassava) song until the guitar strings broke. It was sang best when we were a little soused and it brought us down to earth and away from all the academic stuff.

That song was swimming in my head the past week after 27 school children in Mabini, Bohol died and more than a hundred were downed shortly after they ate fried cassava snacks sold by vendors. Questions were immediately raised. Was it the cassava root that did it? Was it the way the food was prepared? Cassava contains linamarin. If cassava is improperly prepared, this toxic component could remain. When ingested, linamarin converts to cyanide in the human digestive system.

Or was there something else that got into the food? Like poison, pesticides or harmful bacteria? If something had to take the blame I was hoping it would be one of these. I did not want the starchy root to be mired in stigma. Well, two days ago, the Health Department ruled that it was pesticide, present in the cassava snack, that did it. But investigations will continue.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Post-traumatic stress disorder

For those involved in the rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations in the aftermath of the recent series of disasters here and abroad, the realization that the problem is more than material and economic could be daunting. The psychological trauma of survivors could be paralyzing and the effects could be long-lasting if these are not addressed immediately and properly.

The recent killer landslides in our own home ground and the post-Christmas tsunami that killed more than 165,000 people in 11 countries and left millions bereaved and bereft have to mean something and result in something. Otherwise, is it all despair?

Last Monday we wrote about the experiences of a team of clinical psychologists who fanned out to several disaster areas in the aftermath of the 1990 earthquake, the 1991 Mount Pinatubo and 1993 Mayon Volcano eruptions. The team, called HEART (Holistic and Empathetic Approach to Rehabilitation and Training), was composed of Ateneo University masteral and doctoral psychology students led by Dr. Ma. Lourdes A. Carandang, a seasoned clinical psychologist, researcher and author. The effort was funded by Unicef.

One of the fruits of their experiences was the book ``Pakikipagkapwa-Damdamin: Accompanying Survivors of Disasters’’ (Bookmark, 1996). The book is now being updated and redesigned for reprinting. It is a rich source of insights and methodology for those helping survivors to cope with their trauma and find meaning in what is left of their lives. Empowering them is even more daunting. Note that I avoid using the word victim.

That tongue-twister in the title means empathy and more. If sympathy is pakikiramay, empathy goes farther and deeper.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Anti-corruption ribbons, badges

A few weeks ago we were high on the list of the world’s happiest people. This week’s news says we are number 2 on Asia’s graft and corruption list. Are we happy because we are corrupt or are we corrupt because we are happy? Okay, just kidding.

Gusto mong magkapera? (Do you want to make money?) My friend’s boss called my friend to his office one day to ask her that. My friend was working in a government agency/commission that was tasked to improve the lives of many and make people live in peace and harmony.

Easy, the boss told my friend who had spent many years in NGO work before she moved to the government to try it out. (She had since left.) Receipts were the secret. That’s not really a secret, is it?

My friend was so stunned. What came out of her mouth was a polite, ``No, sir, my husband makes enough for all our needs.’’

Why did you give that kind of excuse or reason? I asked. She could have given a better one. My point was: having enough money or being independently rich is not a reason for not stealing. Or that low pay is a justification for being corrupt. Why, some of the most rapacious and greedy already have so much to begin with. Stealing people’s money is simply wrong any way you look at it.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

TV discombobulation

The Inquirer’s editorial two days ago dwelled on Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon ``Dinky’’ Soliman’s warning to parents that excess television viewing by children could stunt their creativity and skills.

Nakakabobo. (It dumbs.) It numbs. Too much TV affects reading skills and seriously inhibits left-brain functions needed for oral and verbal activities. The right brain becomes more dominant and thus makes zombies of TV addicts. That may sound like an exaggeration but try parking yourself in front of the TV the whole day for no urgent reason (urgent would be the stimulating 9/11 or the tsunami updates) and your brain just leaves you. The packs of junk food also vanishes in front of you.

Compare this with reading which makes your mind active and your imagination fly. Compare this with activities such as designing, problem-solving or writing. Writing may be a solitary activity but it does not bring on the loneliness of the long-distance runner. The writer is not really alone. There is a whole caboodle of characters that are alive, ideas and stories playing themselves out in the writer’s brain. And then the images in the landscape of the mind translates into words and these words go to one’s fingers and to the computer screen and finally to the printed page. Later, to be absorbed by other minds.