Tuesday, November 07, 2006

‘Santa Cursed’... from YOUNGBLOOD section of INQ7.net

‘Santa Cursed’
By Eileen Grace V. Bacotot
Last updated 01:27am (Mla time) 11/07/2006

Published on Page A13 of the November 7, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

WHEN I was a kid, I used to fantasize about being a rock star/astronaut and giving Bono and the rest of U2 a run for their money.

But fate decreed otherwise. Also, my parents had big plans for me, and being a rock star/astronaut was not one of them. It just didn’t sound right to them.

Being a good girl, I tossed away my dream of becoming the first Filipina rock star to land on the moon. Little did I know that I’d end up realizing a tiny part of that childhood fantasy.

No, I didn’t turn out to be a rock star/astronaut. I became a microbiologist by day and a videoke singer by night instead. I know from the look on my boyfriend’s face that I rock each time I sing Tori Amos’ “Cornflake girl” during our videoke sessions.

Three years ago, I packed my bags and headed south. I traded the comforts of city life to work in the boondocks of Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur.

My friends couldn’t believe I accepted the job. They all went berserk and protested, “WHAAAATTT!?!? But that’s way too far!” They made it sound as if Santa Cruz were on the moon.

Despite the raised eyebrows and protestations of friends and loved ones, I was determined to go. No one could talk me out of it.

Just a 45-minute drive south of Davao City, Santa Cruz is a long stretch of coastal communities with relatively fair weather and very friendly residents. It is dotted with numerous sandy beaches, huge rocks that break the tide and eternal, seamless skies that kiss the horizon. It’s one of those places with a homely rural feel.

I never thought I’d end up working in the town. But the first time I went there I found myself enjoying the walk down its streets. I was very happy to soak in its ambience.

Or so I thought.

I soon found out that the town doesn’t have a single 24-hour convenience store. There are a few “sari-sari stores” [neighborhood variety stores], but they close as early as 8 in the evening.

Back in the city, I was a mall rat. I used to comb the malls for great buys during midnight sales. Now I find myself in a place that turns into a ghost town by 10 p.m. The “trisikad” [pedal cab] and the tricycle are kings of the road in the town proper. But in the evening, you are likely to find yourself walking to get home.

In Santa Cruz, the hackneyed saying “When it rains, it pours” does not hold true. When it rains here, it means no power supply for long hours. And when the power goes out at night, the town is instantly transformed into a dead town -- no television, no radio, just silence all around.

Before I knew it, I was calling the place “Santa Cursed.” Given all the inconveniences I experienced, I should have packed and left days after arriving, but surprisingly, I stayed on. Something at the back of my mind was telling me to do so.

Never mind if there’s not even a single 24-hour convenience store in sight. Never mind if my favorite radio station NU 107 is reduced to buzzing and bleeping. Never mind if I have to walk home after singing a few songs at the videoke bar by the sea because the tricycle drivers have gone fishing. I always find a reason to stay.

Sometimes when I am lying awake at night in my trundle bed, loneliness overwhelms me and leads me to endless questioning. Why am I here? Do I deserve to be here? Will I be able to serve my purpose here? What if I worked overseas instead? Why did I become our family’s breadwinner? What lies ahead of me in this rural town? When will I settle down? Will I ever settle down? Will somebody ever want to settle down with me?

I really don’t know the answers to these questions. They say that every little thing we do has a purpose. I do not know what my purpose is. And I don’t know what that means. But it sure sounds like everyone has a noble task to perform.

I am no hopeless romantic. I lead a very boring life. And I don’t believe in happy endings. Still the blood in my veins says I am Filipino.

Have I perhaps gone too far? Call me a pathetic nationalist. I know I am not even making sense right now, but hey, so does everybody else in the local government. Are they making sense when they celebrate the town’s 122nd fiesta and spend hundreds of thousands of pesos on irrelevant events when there are worthwhile projects to consider and pour their resources into?

The town cannot even put one trash can in the whole public park or install lights on the bridge. Local leaders really ought to do something about the situation and they can start by just performing the tasks spelled out in their job descriptions, without too much fanfare and without any hanky-panky.

Santa Cursed has so much to offer. But why, oh, why has this town, which predates the proclamation of Philippine independence, remained miserably stuck in the past?

Maybe it has something to do with what the Spaniards said and did. It has been said that in the 1800s, the Spaniards would plant a cross in every place that resisted their presence and then curse it with these words: “Forever the people in this area shall sacrifice in the name of the cross.” But there is antidote to every curse. It is a strong potion that will unite everyone in town. It is called hope.

The truth is that even if Santa Cruz looks like a ghost town to me, there is hope. So long as the fish vendor continues to flash her contagious smile even though her fish is not sold out, there is hope. So long as I see children happily marching on their way to school, there is hope.

Much as I bewail the sad conditions of this town, I have learned to live with them. I cling to that hope that I will be around to witness this town finally awaken from its deep slumber. I yearn for the day when this town will be fully developed. I yearn for the day when I can go anytime to buy something at its first 24-hour convenience store. I even dream of being inside a mall and looking for bargains on midnight madness sale.

When that happens, I supposed I would still be a microbiologist/videoke singer. And I’d be congratulating myself for my decision to settle down in the place I once called Santa Cursed.

Eileen Grace V. Bacotot, 27, works in Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur, as a microbiologist in a desiccated coconut plant.

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