A couple of years before the EDSA Revolution broke out, right in the middle of the bustling city of Cebu, just behind the high- walled Cebu City Medical Center and beside the stinky Taboan river, inside a tiny dwelling where my parents rented for years after getting married, I had the first glimpse of how it was to be alive. How it was like to be born in the slums of old Sanciangko.
According to my Nanay‘s recount of my birth, among her children, I was the only child whose coming to this world was in a sense, unpredictable and out of timing. I’m still amused to know how I surprised everyone when I just slipped through mother without her having to endure any pain of labor. How I bumped my head on the mat that day… and still survived, with still a round head.
Life in the city was hard. With a carpenter for a father and a plain housewife mother who’s not earning anything other than father’s meager salary, it was twice as hard. But there were really good friends that helped us all through our struggles as a family, which we are forever grateful.
However, my parents knew there was something needed to be done than just watched the sun set and wished for another day to be less cruel than it already was.
Though born and spent some years living in the metro, my parents consequently opted to go back to my Tatay‘s (Father’s) hometown in the southern town of Cebu— here in Naga—where I spent the rest of my childhood, teenage and now my adult years.
Life in the city, though I only have little and vague memory of it after we left Sanciangko, was nothing in comparison to the experiences I had living as a probinsiyana. I love every bit of being away from the chaos of the metropolis. I learned to love my place. I learned to love being a mountain girl. I cannot see myself as a native of Sanciangko but a Naganian. It runs in my blood. My heart has been tied to every tree, boulder and slope that has stood witness to my happy childhood—the kind that had ran up mountains, slippery hills, searching for wild fruits and things we could use in our games and sometimes eat, climbed over towering trees gathering mansinitas to eat or just sit up there enjoying the view and the moment, bathed in the cold rivers of Capayawan while battling the urge to ran away because people said the cave near the river was haunted, played like I am every young boy in the neighborhood. I wasn’t that much scared about risking and living when I was young, unlike today.
However, poor work opportunity was probably one of the hardest thing we had to withstand as a family. Each day was a struggle we have to endure as we took our daily activities looking for means to earn something to sustain the day. It was hard in the city but hardest when we moved out. Food, an important basic need we ought to have yet barely have had, was uncategorized. Any kind of food that our parents put on our plate was so heavenly to savor—ranging from root crops to fruits to vegetable soups— was all we could afford to have at that time.
I remember when I was four or five, Tatay (father) brought us to the mountain where he till a parcel of land of a far relative. Possibly realizing that we do not have anything to eat for lunch, he hurriedly grasp his bolo and turned at the back of our nipa hut. I then saw him digging through a portion of land just behind our old hut. At first, I was just watching and observing him, digging and thrusting his bolo to the hard ground. A moment later, I saw him grasp a bunch of roots that has tiny rounded extensions. Innocent and curious as I was, I went over and checked how many root crops Tatay unearthed. Later on, I learned that the crop was locally known as “apale“. Since that moment, when I see apales being sold in the market, I am always reminded by that particular scenario in my life. Camote, apale, gabi, saging (banana) and other fruit harvest sustained us all, at that time when eating corn (since we never had rice until high school) was just too much to ask for.
The mountain served mainly as our only help for sustainability and survival. But behind all those tough moments spending my time in the mountain, was the feeling of oneness with the environment. That drew me into loving one aspect of my life— the one great treasure I’ve been carrying wherever I go, reminding me to always and never forget to look back to where I have come from. Behind all the struggles, was the feeling of gratitude as everyday I got to be where not all was lucky enough to experience—to be on top of everyone, looking at the almost superficial world below me. The mountain was my fortress of hope and dreams that somehow, life would stop being so cruel at us.
Years after years of struggling and with the combined effort and will of everyone, eventually, we did. We carry on because we knew we needed to do something for ourselves, for our parents, for our dreams.
As soon as our youngest started schooling, Nanay found a job as a janitress in what would become our college Alma mater. She grasp that opportunity after failing to pass the Teacher’s Board Exam. Yes, she graduated with a degree in education with the help of her younger sibling, Tiya Inday. She graduated when she was almost forty. When asked why she took on a janitorial job when she could have preferred to teach instead, she would always say that she cannot be too picky about what job to take while her children are hungry. I could not imagine how that job must have blew her self-esteem. But I’m sure Nanay could not care less.
The job that Nanay got, helped a lot to finance our studies while we cling onto every possibility to maintain good grades for the scholarship grants. Everything has to be done well or we will suffer great consequences—stop schooling and face a doomed future. Tatay was still a carpenter with no permanent job. Nanay sustained when Tatay could not bring home what is needed to survive school, growing up, our own needs, expectations, life.
Unlike most teenagers at that time, we never wished about material things because we knew our parents would not be able to provide that to us. We live in the moment. What money we get, we share that to the family. That is one thing I will always be grateful for—because life taught us hard lessons—we learned to live out the value of sharing, like we used to when we were kids. One sibling could not eat more than the other, but because we have a younger brother to look out for, my Kuya (older brother) and I had to leave some food so our youngest could eat more. My Kuya was the most intelligent among us three. My younger brother, well, I wouldn’t call him “our own little scientist” for no reason. He knows every technical job on the planet and I still don’t know how he actually do that. And me, well, I am the most emotional.
We lead different lives now but we are happy with what we have. Afterall, it was my family who is the biggest treasure of my life.
Don’t give up on your dreams because the person with the big dream is more powerful than the one with all the facts.I saw this quote from a magazine my Nanay brought home and it stayed in me until this day.
Just last year, during our first Live Via Crucis, I had the chance to climb that familiar steep slope once again. Bittersweet memories came playing along and I cannot help but got misty-eyed. I cried silent tears and no one seemed to have noticed. Once again, I was captivated by the beauty of that familiar slope whose place in my heart has rooted so firmly like the memories itself—memories that are heavy to bear but always good to savor. If there’s a place where I would want to be, it is right at that familiar mountain overlooking at our residence at present—the place where a young soul used to share her dreams with the trees and the birds and the boulders— right at the summit of Mt. Capayawan.
And to complete it all, it would have been great if I came to know of this song during those precious times in the mountain—a song which Nanay taught me just a year ago. She said Lola (grandma) Thalia used to sing, “I Was Poorly Born On the Top of the Mountain” to my older cousins. I am sad that she passed away too soon. This was probably older than my Nanay herself as I found out that it is a pre-war song used to be sung by soldiers and old folks and those natives living in the mountain who knew how to sing an English song. I wish I knew the right lyrics but honestly, I don’t.
I was poorly born on the top of the mountain,
cherished by the motherly love of the thunder,
playing with the mountain, _____ of the lightning,
thrilling, thrilling kiss of love is always mine.
O my love, o my love, _____ cries today,
I am lonely and helpless without thee.
If I face me see,
You shall not be mine.
I shall surely die with my broken guitar.
If anyone would be kind enough to share the complete and correct lyrics, I’d be totally indebted.
Updated: Jan.27, 2012
One kind commenter has just extended her help. You can browse on her comment below for the right lyrics of “I Was Poorly Born on the Top of the Mountain”. Thanks much, whoever you are! 🙂
Updated: April 09, 2015
I also noticed that many of the readers were searching for the Tagalog version of the song. So I decided to put it up here today. Again, this was shared by another commenter below.
ako’y ipinanganak sa tuktok ng bundok
kalaro laro ko’y kulog na matutunog,
dinuyan ko’y ulap sa papawiring bughaw,
halik ng kidlat ang s’yang kaulayaw.
ay sinta ay buhay iyong pakinggan,
kaunti mong paglingap sana’y makamtan,
kung iyong ipagkakait dibdib mamamatay,