I Am Serenaded By Children | Part 3 of I Spend My Birthday in the Mountain and Other Stories

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tarsier south cotabato
Me with the children of the B'laan Tribe in Linan, South Cotabato

I Am Serenaded by Children

Part 1: I Say Goodbye to the Storm Clouds
Part 2: I Squander Half of My Pocket Money

Not even an hour from the Bulaong Terminal in Gensan and I saw the familiar yellow municipal hall of Tupi. The next I remember I'm riding in tandem with Kuya Maulvi amidst pineapples. We were on our way to Linan.
tupi south  cotabato
Hello again, Tupi!
pineapple plantation tupi
Acres of pineapples
It was my second time in Tupi. The first time I was here, it was as one of Green Cross's "Do Good, Get Dirty" winners. We'd participated in the reforestation efforts at Linan – the Tarsier Sanctuary. During that time, I immediately fell in love with its keepers– the B'laan tribe. Even then, I was sure that I'd come back.

At any rate, we arrived at Linan at around 4PM. It was as I remember it. Quaint, peaceful, and simple. The village basically a large clearing, with mountains and hills on its periphery. A dollop of green everywhere you look.

I was greeted warmly by the villagers. Some of them even recognized me. After exchanging pleasantries with the locals, I asked Kuya Maulvi if we could visit the tree-planting site.

"Of course," he said.

We then went up the hill, east of the village, to the site where Treebeard the Bakan was hopefully thriving. It was a short trek. Up here, the shrubs and the trees, had taken on the color of summer: gold-green from all the sunlight.

I was delighted to find out that out of the six saplings we had planted, five were still alive. Treebeard has grown a few inches!
do good get dirty
Treebeard is aliiiive!
Moments later, Kuya Maulvi announced that the local radio station wanted to talk to me via phone patch.

So, there we were, on a gold-green hill, under the fading glare of the late noon sun, huddled over a mobile phone. I talked to Sir Rolly – the coordinator for the reforestation efforts.

Sir Rolly inquired how my return came to be. I told him that I believe in their advocacy and I fell in love with the B'laan. The conversation just circled around that. It ended with "Happy Birthday" by the Click 5 playing over the Tupi airwaves.
LIVE. Being interviewed via phone patch on Tupi's local radio station
We went down the way we've come, and I told Kuya Maulvi I'd brought some candies for the kids. In no time, B'laan children lined up as I handed lollipops and choco-choco to them.
At that moment, the kids smiling and wishing me a happy birthday (it was not yet my birthday but I did not have the heart to correct them), I discovered that happiness could be subjected to gradation. It wasn't happiness I felt during that time, it was elation. The realization that I could be some place else and yet there I was, spending time with people who were practically strangers, brought a profound emotion almost akin to contentment. I was holding back tears when the kids, and the rest of the village, started singing me "Happy Birthday."
Sharing is the best policy.
Darkness had descended when I finished giving out candies. The village did not yet have electricity, but that moment of light and the sprinkle of stars above provided more than enough illumination for my well-being. I sat outside the nipa hut where I would stay the night, observing the ritual that involved slaying a chicken – the same chicken that became the tinola we had for dinner. A few of the kids sat beside me and I asked them if they remembered me.

"You're an actress," declared one of them.

I chuckled. "No, I'm not."

I proceeded to show them pictures I'd taken during my first visit

"That's me," said a boy, pointing to my phone's screen.

I studied him and the photo from my phone. His face bluish from the glare of the screen. "Indeed, it is!"

The kids were hovering over my phone, wanting to see a glimpse of the pictures, and I let them. Then there was a tap on my forearm. I couldn't clearly see the little boy's face, for the moon was our only source of light.

"Happy birthday," said his voice, shy and barely above a whisper. He was holding out a flower!

I felt tears coming but I held them back. I reached for the flower.

"Oh thank you," I sobbed.
B'laan kid
Look at my goofy, dorky face. I was so happy.
Two more boys handed me flowers and not long after, the kids formed a semi-circle around me and started singing me traditional B'laan songs.

The kids' voice echoed, the mountains providing optimum acoustics. The stars above seemed to pulse and blink in time with their songs. The moon was radiant and the air was full of love and joy.

It couldn't stop smiling as I listened.  I hadn't known, and still didn't know, what to expect from this journey. My money was about to run out. I could've opted for a handaan and spent my birthday with my family and friends. I could've slept on my comfortable bed, watched TV and gotten all the Wi-Fi I wanted. But I'd chosen to spend my birthday alone. But I wasn't really alone, was I. And home... Well, home is anywhere you make it. Family is anyone you make it. This was different. But I was nonetheless home and surrounded by family.

And I haven't been to a lot of concerts, but I was certain I'd just been to the best one ever.
b'laan children

Next on the series: I Spend My Birthday in the Mountain

Read more of I Spend My Birthday in the Mountain and Other Stories
Part 1: I Say Goodbye to the Storm Clouds
Part 2: I Squander Half of My Pocket Money

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