Rizal is Universal

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

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The rented jeepney huffed to a stop before a row of worn-out iron gates. My fiancé Dennis and I stepped out of the vehicle, me pausing as I wrapped my shawl around my head. As well as covering up their limbs, women – regardless of faith – were required to do so. Such were the rules of Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid. The Grand Mosque of Cotabato City.

From under my shawl, I raised my eyes to the palatial structure that loomed unchallenged against a backdrop of cobalt sky. Four were the minarets. I counted eleven domes. All was painted white and accented with gold. From afar, it was a perfect picture of grandeur. Upon closer inspection, however, it showed signs of disrepair. Here and there were bare electrical outlets and worrisome webs of cracks. The walls were marred by paint chipping.
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The crowd didn’t seem to notice the flaws, though. That Saturday, the mosque’s courtyards were alive with people. As we went around the complex, I saw them assemble tableaus, declaiming lines and gesturing in earnest. From these, I gathered they were rehearsing a play. They looked about teenage, all of them donning either an abaya or a takiyah. I felt their eyes on us as we took off our shoes and entered one of the prayer rooms. Inside, I watched from behind the paned doors as they performed. By this time, I was more interested in them than in the soaring ceiling and tiled floor of the prayer room. When there was a collective turning of the heads as soon as we appeared in the doorway, I saw it as a chance to ask if we could take their photo.

To my delight, there was a chorus of yes. A semicircle was immediately formed. Their colorful clothes rustled as they moved, even more vibrant against the white of the mosque. They posed. They smiled. They giggled.

Taking advantage of the moment, I asked if I could join in for another shot. They nodded eagerly and made room for me.

Are you doing Noli Me Tangere?” I said loud enough for everyone to hear while all of us kept our eyes on the camera.

Yes!” replied a voice from the bunch. I caught a hint of pride in there.

 “For school,” chimed another.

Dennis counted one to three.

Click.

I would look at that photo later and note how all of us seemed so at ease. I would smile at the possibility of a sudden, albeit brief, awareness of our shared history – inextricable by way of the legacy of Jose Rizal.
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Good luck with the play,” I said as they dispersed.

They waved at us and I waved back.
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The cracks did not seem as daunting.

Storytime is a series of  stories about my most memorable travel experiences. Read more here.

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