Orchids for Three Exiles - Sylvia L. Mayuga
First posted 03:52pm (Mla time) May 21, 2005
By Sylvia L. Mayuga

nangingibang bansa para sa pamilya,
dala ang pangarap para sa kanila
sa konting kita, sila’y mapasaya,
sa kalagayan nami’y walang magawa.
sa bansang iniwan di pa rin masilayan
kaunlarang tunay, puros pa ring kahirapan
dahil sa pulitikang parati na lang iringan
nangangampanya na, malayo pang botohan.

ngunit walang magawa pag kami’y inaabuso
baka raw masira ang relasyon sa bansang ito,
magtiis na lang hanggang matapos ang kontrata ko
sa disyertong tinatawag na “lupa ng pera piraso.”

sadya nga bang ganito ang aming kapalaran?
iniiwan ang pamilya para sa kabuhayan
pagod sa trabaho, lungkot ay kinalilimutan
upang patunayang kami’y bayani rin ng bayan.

sa paglipas ng taon marami akong natutunan
sa mga taong nakasama at hirap na nasaksihan
mapalad daw ako, trabaho nila'y di nasubukan
di nila alam: mas mahirap aking ginagampanan.

Two things tug at the heart in these excerpts from two Tagalog poems by Noel Malicdem, an overseas contract worker in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. One is the human condition of seven million Filipino overseas workers in the flesh. The other is the hidden poetry Noel brings to exile, unheard as he bends his shoulder to manual labor, echoed only in the ears of a few fellow exiles till now, on the Web.

Literature by Filipinos abroad has been with us since the 30s. Seven decades and millions of overseas workers later, the Internet makes a quantum leap possible, as light in the human heart scans class, national and global divisions with art’s longing to bridge them all. In real time on the Net, here’s powerful stimulus to healthy new growth for the stunted tree of Philippine democracy.

Who knows what could happen down the bend of this benevolent triangle? On one side is a foreign host country providing soul friction for turning into pearls, on the other two sides new channels of understanding for a nation in diaspora, as much abroad as on home ground. Art is the open doorway into one another’s inner reality, nowhere quicker than on the Internet.

This is eminently true of the Web-beamed stories of Rey Ventura, who left home after years of underground political activism and lived by his wits as a T & T in Japan. Learning a new language, turning chameleon – talent will out with good karma. Today Rey thrives as a professional in a Japanese news agency and wields both freelance pen and cameras, still and video. He’s also married to a Japanese lady and they have a nine-year old daughter named Maharlika.

With all that has come signal recognition at home. A well-received first compilation of his work in the book ‘Living Underground in Japan,’ published by Jonathan Cape, London in 1992, has just provoked a 44-page critique by Caroline S. Hau, in a book released this month by the Ateneo University Press – ‘On the Subject of the Nation: Filipino Writings from the Margins, 1981 to 2004.’ Now a sequel to ‘Living Underground in Japan’ titled ‘Into the Country of Standing Men’ is in the first stages of publication by the Ateneo press, with the possibility of a double launch of both titles.

But far more impressive than Rey Ventura’s publishing success is his artist’s moving window to life, earned in a foreign sojourn that began as a wandering tachimbo (day laborer) in Japan. His peers in a near-invisible social bottom were homeless squatters, Japanese and migrant, found in the crevices of a wealthy, rigidly hierarchical host country. This is how we meet Gabriel in his ”blue mansion”.

Long after Rey found his footing in Japan, he would regularly return to his old fellow tachimbos and wear their skin, share their heartbeat, then later tell their stories as only he can. Meaning harvested from suffering becomes literature and deathless image

Remembering is what it’s all about. Ask Bert Florentino, playwright and pioneer publisher of Filipino literary gems for the majority’s reach – the Peso Books he began in the 60s. Riveted at 75 to computer and Internet in New York City, everyday he volleys a spirit called Filipino to the world and beyond:

“During liberation in a ruined Manila, I was 14 years old. I enjoyed the liberation years because there were lenses and eyepieces selling for only a few pesos on Evangelista St., Quiapo. Out of them I was able to make my own (1) telescope and (2) microscope. I never owned (and still do not own) a telescope or microscope. Necessity is the mother of invention. So I invented MY OWN…

“Like Galileo, I peered through my 2-meter long telescope hanging from the ceiling and saw Jupiter as a disc with ‘brilliantes’ moving around the planet like fireflies. It was the sight that gave Galileo the insight about the worlds out there and the world he, and we stand on.

“I found a way to learn about reality, uncertainty, incompleteness, relativity – from Godel, Neils Bohr, Albert (that where my father got my name?) Einstein to George Gamow, Shapely, Asimov, Clarke (the 2 popularizers), Carl Sagan, Hawkings, Penrose and the rest. When my classmates were reading comics, I was reading the first postwar books on Einstein and his relatives (wife, daughter, ‘illegitimates’), and his theory (ies) of Relativity.

“To man in the time of Copernicus and of earlier and later scientists, the world was flat for all purposes, as suggested by the Church or accepted by it. Maps at the time showed the world as a flat expanse of ocean(s) and seas. Beyond the edge of that mariner's paper map, where ships are shown falling off the edge as on Niagara Falls, the WORLD, WAS, FLAT.

“Instead Galileo the dissenter, having just peeked through his telescope, said no, the earth was a sphere of ocean (water) and earth (rocks or cold magma). For that time THE, WORLD, WAS, SPHERICAL.

“Until we sent Man (first his instruments, then his body) out of the steady pull of gravity into outer space, the earth only was as big or as round as man's vision of it.

“Man's world for eons, millennia, was as big (or as far) as his footsteps or his horse or his carriage could go.

“Man's boat, car, ship, airplane and Concorde made his world bigger. Then Man sent the Voyager rockets to outer space and other outer-space satellites. The more and bigger the earth became.

“Man started sending out radio signals and slowly or quickly the world, the universe, and the cosmos increased with every big step made by Neil Armstrong's actual trip to the moon, Carl Sagan's recording of evidence of life on earth went to the reaches of the ‘farthest throw ever made’ from earth. (It is still going out, the longest cruise to nowhere.)

“Man's reach started to exceed his arm's length and his eye's ken – the telegraph, the telephone, the edges of the ever expanding Internet's www territory… 'Tis right, the universe or cosmos is as big as the sense of sight can make it, the extent of his radio signals, his rockets and radio signals, can reach…”

And here we reach the edges of what religions call “oneness.” Hindus and animists see it everywhere in Nature. Christians call it God’s heaven, Muslims Allah’s paradise. The Buddha taught us to sit still and find its inner kingdom – like Sufi mystics, Christian contemplatives and the tribal shamans who know heaven is here, right now, with all its pain and contradiction, to those who see.

All roads lead no longer to Rome but to a center in a world with many centers, until humans look upward beyond the rockets and inward beyond the visible. And almost always now, there’s a Filipino witnessing it all in a corner somewhere close – marveling and recognizing, crying out, recording and unreeling memories in celebration.
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