Thursday, October 1, 2009

Odette and Ondoy

Philippine Daily Inquirer/Opinion/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
So many pieces have been written about Odette Alcantara and her life and times since her sudden passing on Sept. 22. She was going to turn 69 tomorrow.

I last saw Odette on Aug. 31 at the Ramon Magsaysay Awards at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Although I attend the awards every year and write about the awardees, this year was special because our common friend, environmental lawyer Tony Oposa Jr., was one of the awardees. Odette was there, wearing her “10MM” dog tag which one got by signing a pledge to care for Mother Nature and which Tony conceptualized along with Odette and their fellow greenies.

Suddenly Odette was gone.

Yesterday my fellow women writers and I were supposed to go to Odette’s Blueridge home to celebrate her spirit but last weekend’s disaster-without-compare wrought by tropical storm Ondoy caused changes in our ability to go as a group.

I learned that Odette’s ashes will be scattered in her farm in Tanay, Rizal sometime soon. Tanay, one of the worst hit by Ondoy, and like so many places in Metro Manila and Rizal, is in ruins. Last Sept. 26 Ondoy brought a six-hour downpour that was equivalent to a month’s rain. The destruction was unprecedented. More than 200 lives lost and counting. It was extreme weather at its worst.

Ondoy missed Odette by four days. As I watched TV images of the roaring torrents, I imagined Odette’s spirit rising above the waters, warning, reminding. Ondoy is not the enemy. The enemy is us.

Odette and Ondoy. Two Os reminding mightily.
We, the Women Writers in Media Now (Women) celebrate Odette in a special way. It was at the old Heritage Art Gallery in Cubao, QC that our group often met during the dark days of martial rule. Heritage was a haven for activists, writers, artists, religious and other subversive types. Odette was always there, inspiring, comforting, hatching ideas, plotting moves, conspiring with kindred spirits.

After the place burned down, Odette did not fade away from our lives. She turned her Blueridge home which had a “recycled” ambiance similar to Heritage, into a new haven.

Planet Earth became Odette’s passion and soon her Blueridge home hummed with talk about trees, garbage, composting, recycling, segregating, reviving, invigorating. It wasn’t all talk. Odette walked her talk and moved many people to walk with her and dig their hands into the compost. She went out of her way and out of her comfort zone to teach, to inspire, to admonish, and most of all, to show why. She was Mother Earth personified.

Tall, lithe and almost always ruggedly attired, Odette cut an unthreatening, all embracing, welcoming figure. She had a penchant for outrĂ© puns and jokes. Everybody knew she was behind the “Los Enemigos” by-line that churned out funny but subversive tirades against the obnoxious enemies of the motherland and Mother Earth.

I have written a number of stories and column pieces on topics and issues that Odette had brought to my attention. She would call and talk non-stop about the latest object of her zeal until I realized that, yeah, that’s a good story. And then I’d be on my feet.

Odette often gathered the Who’s Who in the environmental advocacy and introduced them to her chosen few in media. There was always great home-cooked food, wine, art, classical and patriotic music to go with the conversation. And I often went home with a story to pursue and write.
She brought several of us to Vigan, Ilocos Sur to experience the historic place and relish its antiquity. Who else could have helped coin the catchy name KaiVigan (friends of Vigan), if not Odette? During that trip we laughed out loud at the jokes of artist Onib Olmedo and gasped at the torrid tales of writer and art enthusiast Lorna Montilla, both of whom passed on ahead of Lola O and just as suddenly.

Once Odette came to my house unannounced to see for herself my backyard edible garden and composting efforts then wrote about what I did in a magazine. She liked a column piece I wrote (“Someone is stealing my garbage”) and included it in a book of stories (“Doon Po sa Amin”) about persons who did their part for Mother Nature.

I did write a Sunday Inquirer Magazine cover story on Odette’s efforts to turn Blueridge green (“Green Becomes Blueridge”) and make it a showcase of recycling, composting and other pro-nature activities. Odette, with the help of her green-blooded neighbors and friends (Inday Berroya and Clean and Green’s Narda Camacho, among them), turned the barangay’s mini-garbage dump into a garden-sanctuary and ecology center.

Odette held seminar workshops for interested residents. Dealing with hard-headed residents of an upper-class village was no joke, she said. Touching on people’s lifestyles could touch off a neighborhood crisis. “But I’m a chess player,” Odette said to me, explaining how her chess background helped her plan her moves.

In no time, residents and their household help recited “papel, bote, lata plastik” (paper, bottles, cans, plastic) like a mantra and learned how to segregate their waste.

Odette’s green zeal reached beyond her Blueridge sanctuary. She traveled to remote places to teach and show how. She cooked up events not just on Earth Day but all throughout the year in order to bring Mother Nature’s message across. She played godmother to a number of organizations and movements that continue to thrive and strive to make Planet Earth a wondrous place. Only she could have thought of gathering 100 Ramons on the 100th birth anniversary of the much-loved Pres. Magsaysay and make them plant trees.

Something in me softly aches when I think of Odette as having left us for another realm. Adios, Lola O, beloved friend. I can imagine you laughing at the title of this piece. We have lost much this September of our lives, but we will rise again and continue.