Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The last to know... from www.inquirer.net

Youngblood
The last to know

By Nina R.T. Landicho
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:55:00 10/22/2009

Filed Under: Education, Family, Employment

I am pregnant at 18. What could be worse than that? Being pregnant at
15 or 14? No. Being the last to know.

One fine Saturday morning recently, I was awakened by my mother's
call. My phone said I had missed four earlier calls from her. She
asked me how I was doing in school, and I mentioned happy events that
had transpired, leaving the not-so-happy ones for last. She then asked
me if school pressure and my recent conversion to vegetarianism were
making me lose weight.

Now, my mother is the type who gives her daughter the freedom to learn
things on her own. So her questions about school were too unusual for
me to comprehend. Something must have pushed her to call me. Her last
question about my losing weight was a prelude to breaking the biggest
news of my life: I was pregnant. Without a boyfriend, that is.

I wondered if I was one of the first humans to have mutated on account
of too much pollution and ultraviolet rays. But if that were the case,
surely being able to reproduce asexually couldn't be one of its
effects, I thought.

Since I had gained weight during the summer vacation and took to
wearing loose shirts and half-an-inch-above-the-knee shorts when going
to market, people in our place assumed that I was pregnant. And to
help confirm their worst suspicion, I was rarely seen strutting my
stuff around town.

The news about my "pregnancy" tore my heart. I was afraid it would put
my future in peril. I castigated myself for acting so carelessly and
letting my whims take over my better judgment, and thus getting
pregnant at such a bad time.

To be pregnant at this time would mean that I have to stop school for
a while. That would probably take the life out of me since I love
going to school. School is where I see my dreams beginning to come
true. Listening to lectures from professors who've been there and done
that, wrote this and got that, makes me want all the more to be in
their place some day, empowering young minds and fueling young
ambitions.

Not going to school because of pregnancy would rob me of my only
chance to secure a better life for myself and my family. I know it's
hard to find a job; not getting a degree would make it even harder. I
cannot throw away everything my parents did to send me to a good
university and all the part-time jobs I took to fund extra expenses. I
know that the best thing for me to do is to earn my degree and not
think about things that might distract me from achieving that goal.

Being pregnant at 18 without a job is not something I look forward to.
Just thinking about the high cost of medical care if I want to have a
healthy child is enough to deter me from doing something I deem
irresponsible. If I intend to become a good mother, I will be doing
myself and my future baby a favor by entering into that interesting
stage only when I am ready and able to provide for my child.

But that is me carefully weighing the stakes involved in getting
pregnant. Some people apparently think I am capable of acting
foolishly.

Gossip like this one about me being pregnant shouldn't be taken
seriously, I know. But I can't help but be affected not only because
it concerns me but it is also reflective of a serious problem we have
as a country and as a people.

One doesn't have to check official statistics to know that jobs are
difficult to come by. One can feel it. Since few jobs are available,
people have more time to do other things, like gossip. If people were
engaged in productive pursuits, they would have little time to spread
unverified rumors. And then surely I would not have been worrying
about this nasty "news" being circulated in my barrio.

Maybe if their stomachs weren't making funny noises on account of
hunger, people wouldn't have fabricated such gossip. Hunger does a lot
of funny things to some people. Sometimes it makes them jump to wrong
conclusions based on the flimsiest reasons, like a couple of pounds
gained from sitting on the couch all day watching DVDs and eating so
much nilupak. I suspect that people who feel miserable find comfort in
seeing they are not alone in their misery. Maybe other people's fall,
even if imagined, is a great equalizer. Maybe this is why we love
gossip so much.

Perhaps lack of education makes people prone to gossip. Education
shapes people's mind. A good education makes a good mind, but not
necessarily a good person. However, a good education widens the range
of inferences one can make from certain situations. Had some people
asked me what was really going on, the gossip would have died
instantly, for I would have answered honestly.

A place at the end of the road. That's how a foreigner described our
place many decades ago. Some things have changed since then, but most
have remained. Our barrio no longer is the last place where the bus
stops. However it remains underdeveloped. The people's main sources of
income are cash crops like coconuts, corn, bananas and cacao. Some
households grow their food on their backyard.

To survive in such place is quite easy. If that were the only
consideration, I might decide to raise my child there. We could live
on vegetables and corn. But what if my baby gets sick? The closest the
barrio gets to modern medicine is a trained health care personnel. Our
health center sits pathetically at the heart of the barrio. The
benches are the same benches I sat on when I learned to write my name.
The structure looks like a wooden matchbox, with hints of cement
holding tired boulders together.

When I was in grade school, it seemed to me that our barrio was the
last place in this country to receive books. I had to share my
dog-eared mathematics textbook with a partner and we took turns
bringing it home. I do not know if the situation is still the same
today.

Even though I love the place where I grew up, I cannot blindly praise
everything in it. Going to a university away from my hometown opened
my eyes to the fact that the kind of education being handed down to my
place is not enough. It's not enough to develop citizens who can
reason well and weigh facts carefully and objectively. Aside from
gossip, I believe that lack of education has other heavier
consequences like the quality of participation in matters affecting
the nation.

Since I cannot change the way people see things in our place, I have
resolved to lose weight. This reminds me of what Sallie Tisdale wrote
in an article entitled "A Weight that Women Carry": "If I tell someone
my weight, I change in their eyes: I become bigger or smaller, better
or worse, depending on what that number, my weight, means to them."
Considering how my barrio mates think, if I go back there during the
semestral break sporting a much leaner physique, they could very well
say that I have been sniffing weeds or I have had my imaginary baby
aborted.

How's that for a comeback?

(Nina Rachelle T. Landicho, 19, is a BA Communication Research student
at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.)

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