Friday, October 04, 2013

Not just another history lesson

A visit to the 9/11 museum three years ago aroused my professional curiosity. While I empathized with those who lost loved ones on that fateful day, my feelings were divorced from any human anguish. This is not to say I didn’t feel for people’s loss. It just means that no matter how hard I try, there is no way I could imagine or even fully understand their pain.

I went around the museum three years ago, browsing through the varied memorabilia like I read World War 2 accounts in history books. To me, it was all part of history and as a history teacher, I felt it was my responsibility to use these materials to give life to my lessons. I needed to make these people real to my students - as real as they were to those who loved them.

Fast forward to 2013, I had another chance to visit New York City. Needless to say, a visit to the One World Trade Center (also known as Freedom Tower) was at the top of my list. Again, I had to feed the same curiosity I had three years ago.

Getting off the subway at Chambers Street, the building made of glass, steel, and stone loomed in the distance. The sun shone brightly that day illuminating the majestic height of the tower even more. 

Entering the memorial, the mood was sombre. There was a hushed silence despite the number of people that crowded both north and south pools. Set in the footprints of the original Twin Towers; the pools, from where a thirty-foot waterfall cascaded into a center void, had a low protective wall or railing where the names of the victims were inscribed.  

As I clicked away at my camera, I couldn’t help but notice lone figures here and there with their bowed heads in quiet reflection, or a couple or two with their hands stretched out on the bronze stone, as if softly caressing the person whose  name was etched on it for all eternity. Many times, in between clicks of my camera, I whispered a prayer, and asked for peace for those whose lives were indiscriminately cut off and comfort for those who still mourned for them.

Three years ago, my visit to the 9/11 museum was greatly motivated by my desire to make my history lessons as inspiring as I could. This time, I hated to admit even to myself, that I simply wanted to earn some bragging rights for getting to visit a place that held much significance. Shortly after though, the realization left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt I desperately needed something to save me from such selfish motives.

And someone did. From underneath the cascading waters that flowed into the void of nothingness, he came to my rescue.

He was Ronald L. Gamboa. Born on April 30, 1968 in the Philippines, he had since lived in Los Angeles, California. He was a passenger of Flight 175. Like many others, he too died on that fateful day.

I never knew or ever met Mr. Gamboa. But he was from the Philippines as I am. We spoke the same language, lived and breathe the same culture, probably even shopped or visited the same places in Manila at one point or another. Looking at his smiling face on the Name Finder that was made available for visitors at the memorial, I suddenly knew my visit wasn't just another history lesson. It certainly did not earn me bragging rights.

9/11, twelve years later and three years since my first visit, was not just real. It had become painful too.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Follow Fest

Welcome to Melissa's Follow Fest Day 3, a platform building opportunity for writers of all kinds.

Anne Organista

Fiction or nonfiction?

What genres do you write? 
I write mostly romance, women's fiction, literary fiction, and poetry.

Are you published?
Some of my articles have been published in magazines, both online and print. Last May, a short story (flash fiction actually) I wrote was included in an ebook entitled Flash 500 compiled by Nicole Pyles and Carrie Sorensen.

Do you do anything in addition to writing?
I teach part-time and am a freelance writer. I am also an educational consultant and part of that means facilitating seminar-workshops on teacher training.

Where can people connect with you?
My blog would be a good place to start:
Due to some hacking problems, I don't use twitter or facebook too much but you can find me over at:

Is there anything else you'd like us to know?
You may want to check out Flash 500 where two of my stories are included.
If you're interested in reading some stuff on education, you can also find some of my articles here.
I also participate in Denise Covey's Write...Edit...Publish Blog Hop every month.

Thanks for visiting!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Moving on

There was a time when Erin met Jack and he held her hand that made her feel warm and fuzzy all over. Erin's heart skipped a beat as she shyly held her hand out to him. It fitted right in like a hand to a glove, or maybe she thought that because it was the only way to think.

     “I’ve never met anyone like you. I’m feeling something kind of different.”
     “I think I am too. Do you know what this is?”

There was a time when Erin thought she loved Jack and couldn’t live without him. Then, she thought his presence completed her life; and that everything was just right.

     “I love you with all my heart. My dear Erin, will you marry me?”
     “Of course I’ll marry you! I cannot imagine a life without you.”

There was time when she thought the days were better because of him. Then, she thought that sharing the fun and the tears was all that mattered to make their love strong. Deep in her heart, she wanted so much to believe that nothing could ever come between them.

      “I promise to love you from this day forward; until death do us part.”
      “I love you Jack. I am yours forever.”  

Living with Jack however was not what Erin imagined it would be. Still, she loved him and remembered the promise she made to be his forever. Each day, across the green meadows and yellow lilies, she patiently waited for him. The cool night breeze whispered in her ear to lay her head and rest. No, she said, waiting like this only brought him closer to me.

       “Forget it, Erin, he’s not coming. He’s been gone for days!”
       “A few hours more... I want to be ready for him when he comes.”

Things went downhill as fast as they came. Funny, she thought, the days seemed brighter when Jack stayed away. She enjoyed working and reading; and working some more. Equally so, there was a peaceful calm on the nights he didn’t stay.

       “Look at yourself! Isn’t this fun?”
       “Yes, it is. But wouldn’t it be more fun if Jack was here?”

Erin started to count the days when Jack didn’t come home. They outnumbered now the days when he did. Like a warrior before a fight, she tried to be strong. But the pain tugged at her heart and threw her like a wrecking ball. It was just no use. She knew she couldn’t hide it anymore.

       “How did this happen? Where did I go wrong?”   
       “Oh honey, don’t punish yourself. None of this is your fault.”

Photo credit:

Happiness does not last forever, Erin realized. Some women find the men of their dreams; others don’t. It’s as simple as that. But letting go isn’t as simple when it meant coming to terms with reality, admitting her mistake, shedding off what used to be a part of herself.

       “When you love someone, it’s never really over."
       “But Jack has sailed off. Doesn’t that mean you should also sail off in yours?”

Erin packed her bags, took one last look at the house she once called home, and went away. There were many memories there, she cried, though she knew this was the right thing to do. Lots of things can be fixed. But relationships can’t be fixed, not when one doesn’t see the need for it. She knew that now.

       “Don't look back, Erin. Put the past behind you and start over.”
       “Letting go is hard, but it still is one small step. Starting over is what I’m scared of.”

For months, Erin mourned. She mourned so much she didn’t even know if she grieved for Jack or for the life she thought she had with him. Then, she imagined herself waiting for him one day. Maybe if she waited long enough, he’d come and take her away. But he never did; and through her tears, she suddenly knew she didn't grieve for Jack or the life she had. She grieved for the woman she had become.

       “Life moves on, Erin, so should we.”
       “But I don’t know how...”
The air is crisp and dry now; the leaves have turned a bright orange. Erin blew a smoke as she gathered the ends of her coat closer together. It’s strange, she smiled. There was a time when she thought she couldn’t live without Jack. Apparently, she realized now that she could.

Linked up with Write...Edit...Publish Blog Hop
Word Count: 731
A full critique or general comments would be appreciated

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Going a step further

I've often heard that writers are born, not made. It's either you have what it takes to be a writer or you don't. Well, I don't know which one is true except that if one wants to be something, a doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer, or whatever it is people wish to be; I think one needs some sort of preparation. 

I haven't exactly practiced what I just said. I want to be a writer; well I am, in some sort of way. I've written some stuff for magazines, both online and print, but I haven't found the time to take any formal course on writing. Despite that, I still dream of writing a book that people would like to curl up with and read. After all, why write if nobody read your book, right?

As some of you already know, I've made my blog the stage for some of my written works, both poetry and short stories. I wanted to test the waters and see how people would react. But I do know that at some point, I need to take it a step further. 

This is why I got pretty excited when I heard about Story Cartel's offer of five scholarships to the Story Cartel Course. It was pretty exciting for five reasons:

Photo credit:

1. Maybe if I get lucky with this, I can make "that step further" I was talking about earlier.

2. Maybe the course can help me get over the humps I've experienced before.

3. I'd be pretty lucky to get this because I can never afford the course without it.

4. I'm in dire need of a mentor.

5. I'd like to be part of a community of writers with the same dreams, hopes, and interests as I do. It would be a bonus if that same community can give me some encouragement and critique as I forge my way into this exciting but intimidating world of writing.

Some of you may also be interested in the course. Hop on to this link (deadline is on September 17). Who knows, you might get one of those scholarships. And if you do, you heard it from me. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

When push comes to shove

I’d like to take a break from my usual reflections/doodles here on my blog to talk about something else. Today is August 26, a holiday here in the Philippines due to the celebration of National Heroes’ Day. But citizens are taking this day to a higher level by staging what is now called the “Million People March” in protest of how our supposedly national servants have used public funds for their own private gain.

Corruption in this country is nothing new. And while I love my country, I couldn’t say the same for those Filipinos who drag the rest of us into the quagmire of their dishonest pursuits and dirty dealing. Many times in the past, political analysts, reporters, and writers have said that the root of all evil in the Philippines is corruption. It keeps the rich forever enjoying their sweet life and the poor eternally impoverished by the lack of opportunities and severe blows brought on them by the hand of those that are supposed to serve them.

But I think there is a much serious problem than corruption that ails our land. Why would someone steal from another? Why would one usurp the right of another for a good life? Why would people ignore the law and do their own thing?

I think, and I’m being bold here when I say that, Filipinos do not really understand the real meaning of love. Yes, we love. We love our families. We love our friends, our colleagues, even perhaps the street vendor who we meet every day on our way to work. But when push comes to shove, we love our families, our friends, our colleagues first before we can even think of proving that love for our country.

Without that love, I guess it is easy to steal from another. It won’t even cost me not to respect the right of another if doing “it” would improve my life. Some people might call it the law of seizing opportunities regardless of who gets hit in the process. If I didn’t love my country, why would I subject myself to its rules; whether they are the mundane rules of traffic or the more essential ones that uphold life and liberty?

I may be wrong. I could be wrong. But I do believe that if love is real, then it should go beyond the self and one’s next of kin.

This is perhaps why the pork barrel scam that has angered the nation these past few days has taken us to a whole new level. It challenges us not only to speak for ourselves or our loved ones, but for the million others whose rights have not been respected and those whose life’s opportunities have been stolen from them.

Corruption is real. And it is very wrong. But love is just as real. And it is real love for our country that we need to strengthen all the more. 

Photo from: www.

Incidentally, the photo above (a visual pun of a thumbs down and a pig’s silhouette) is the “abolish pork barrel” logo my nephew designed to reflect the sentiments of people about the issue. 

This post also reminds me of something I wrote last year on a few little things we can do for a better world. That time, I said that youth is not an excuse not to do anything. Well, being alive, no matter how old, is no excuse not to do anything. These little things I wrote about then couldn’t hurt us to build a better country now. Hope you have time to read it here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Magic of Batanes

Modern contemporary living has its own appeal to most people. However, a rest from its noise, pollution, and crowded cities is always a welcome rest for the jaded soul. One sure place to give this respite is Batanes, an island province in the northernmost part of the Philippines.

Unlike any other place in the country, my fascination with Batanes lay in its raw and pristine beauty. Compared by some to the Scottish Highlands, Batanes is rugged and provincial. With no posh hotels, elegant malls and classy restaurants, its charm lies in its rustic setting amidst a backdrop of magnificent scenery only heaven could match.

Touring the island, I was completely in awe at the majestic mountains of Racuh a Payaman. The endless rolling hills, known to some as Marlboro Country because of its wide grasslands, is home to cattle and horses that roam around it freely. We reached the top of the mountain just as the sun set across the horizon. The shades of yellow, orange and red were bright and beautiful. It was so beautiful in fact I had to remind myself that this was actually real and that I was not looking at a heady mix of colors splashed on a painter’s palette. This, and the cool mountain wind, provided a tranquil spirit for the nature lover that I was.  

As we sat down to rest from the hike up the hill and marvel at this wondrous piece of creation, a group of kids played tag. Clearly, they had mastered every inch of the hills as they went up and down its gentle slopes and wide turns effortlessly. Clicking my camera to catch their impish giggles, I sighed at the irony of it all. While we build national parks and put tons of money into kid-safe equipment in the city, these kids had these majestic mountains for their playground every single day of their lives.

Perched on the hills’ highest point, we saw the entire Batan island, the coastline of Diura fishing village, and the towering Mt. Iraya in one sweeping glance. The view of mountain cliffs, pebbled shorelines, and green pasture were breathtaking. The lighthouses that dotted the islands gave me a sense of peace I had never experienced before. Looking toward a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean and rugged mountains cliffs that faced the South China Sea, I felt like I was held in a warm embrace, kept safe in the bosom of this rugged land.

If the mountains provided a reflection of the island’s rugged and natural beauty, the traditional Ivatan village was a charming site of both culture and history. The entire village is lined with traditional stone houses. Built and designed to withstand typhoons, earthquakes and other natural calamities, they are built with thick walls of stone and lime covered with roofs made of several layers of cogon. 

One of the oldest house in the village and which is still used today is the House of Dakay. Built in the 18th century, it is owned by Florestida Estrella who welcomes everyone who visits her house. Stopping to take a picture, we learned that this old, quaint stone house is the most photographed house and Lola Florestida, the most photographed woman in Batanes.

Walking and cycling around the village, I felt for a moment back in Ireland where the grassland, mountain and sea seemed to forever stretch out before me. The grandeur took my breath away that I felt compelled to stop my bike and for a moment, hold every detail of the land in my mind where I could perhaps glance at it again when my visit was over.

Just as the Ivatan stone houses are remnants of a culture and history we only read about, its people continue to live and breathe this culture. Devoid of all material possessions most of us city folk couldn’t live without, I found the Ivatans with a freshness and positive energy that was almost too contagious. Stories of Ivatan virtues such as gallantry and honesty were true after all.

A visit to the well-known Honesty Coffee Shop, where merchandise is unmanned, is sufficient proof. Here, the honor system is practiced in paying for any goods taken from the store. Though curious at first, there was a greater need to enter the store to wet our parched throats and rest our wearied feet. After putting the payment for the drinks we took in an old wooden box, we noticed the traditional Ivatan headgear that hung in one corner of the store. Called “vakul”, the headgear is produced by the local women’s cooperative and is made out of Philippine date palm or Voyavoy leaves. It is used to protect the Ivatans from rain, wind and sun. Like foolish children, we took pictures trying it on and laughing at how we looked, unmindful of its true use to the people of the islands.

Tucked quietly below where the first Ivatans lived is Rakuh-A-Idi Spring, better known as the Spring of Youth. The spring is full of locals and tourists alike. Whether one goes in search of the fountain of youth, or to offer prayers at the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto located near the spring water’s main source, is not important. Taking a refreshing dip in the pool below could definitely be its greater appeal.

A truly remarkable spot where one gets a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean is the Valugan Boulder Beach, so-called because its shoreline is literally filled with big and small stones spewed by nearby Mount Iraya.  

Another picturesque area is Nakabuang Beach, famous for its rock arch formation. While it does not offer the white sands of Boracay or the underground river of Palawan, it is an ideal site for picnic, camping, and snorkelling.

Recently, an equally stunning landmark was added to make one’s Batanes’ experience truly magical. Located on top of a cliff with a 270 degree view of the sea, mountain and sky is Fundacion Pacita, boasted to be one of the best boutique hotels in the country. 

Fundacion Pacita used to be the home-cum-studio of international artist Pacita Abad. Abad is best known for her colourful murals, the latest of which is a modern pedestrian bridge in Singapore called The Alkaff Bridge. Today, more than a boutique hotel, Fundacion Pacita supports the art works of young Ivatans and other conservation projects, a true reflection of the artist who began it all.

Many people who visit Batanes fall in love with its ragged mountains, breathtaking scenery, cultural heritage, delicious cuisine, and a whole lot more. I don’t know if it’s any one of these or a combination of all that makes Batanes a magical experience.

What I am sure of is that Batanes offers something I do not see or experience every day; that fresh and unspoiled beauty of the human spirit.


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