PANTAW A MAREG: A Mother’s Pain

MELBOURNE (MindaNews / 04 September) — My two daughters, Schaharazhed and Rojan, spent the best years of their lives as students of Werribee Secondary College here in Melbourne, Australia. But it was initially a struggle of belonging and acceptance in a multi-cultural environment speaking an English that is different from our version of Filipino-Meranaw-American English. My girls were not only new kids on the block,  they missed the comfort of our home and familiar people.

After just a few months, my girls had different stories to tell however. They were of triumph and recognition. They made a distinction of being the Guro sisters who are smart international students. After a few years, both sisters received awards from their beloved school and were genuinely feeling happy and content as Melburnian Muslims.

Fast forward to 2017. History repeated itself. I never expected my daughters would also experience Martial Law like me, but indeed, we are doomed to repeat history when we do not heed the signs. My husband, who is now working in Davao City and I decided to let the girls transfer at Ateneo de Davao to finish their studies. It was the most practical thing to do, I am still in Melbourne, and my husband works in Davao, and the latter has everything–including stable Internet that young kids are so crazy about. But, it was not that simple.

My daughters cried. We never thought we would get fierce resistance from them. We thought that while they would be sad, they would grab the opportunity of living in Davao with their father and experience a semblance of Melbourne life once again — no brownouts, running water, stable internet, and all the perks of living in a city like Davao. Both refused to leave their alma mater, Mindanao State University, and were determined to stand by her and defy us. But they were willing to wait out the war.

As an online mother, I wish they followed our advice and transferred to Davao instead. That would remove a lot of worry from us parents who are both away from them. But as Kahlil Gibran says, our children are not our children. They come through us but not from us, and while they are with us, they do not belong to us.

Nor-Anisha Schaharazhed (L) and Elinisha Rojan (R) with Sari the mascot of the Mindanao State University (MSU) at the main campus in Marawi City on August 22, 2017, first day of the first semester of schoolyear 2017-2018. Photo courtesy of Team Pantaw a Mareg

As an MSUan myself, I did not doubt that they too would rally behind their alma mater as most of their fellow students, both Meranaws and non-Meranaws alike did. As a Meranaw, I know it also means standing by and for their fellow Meranaws at the same time and make the last push for Marawi. But it is a fight that they, of their own accord, must own not for the glory of it, but the fact that it will help them withstand the constant fear of the Sword of Damocles falling any time. We can only give them sufficient armor, but they will go to war alone, and they must believe in the battle they are fighting for, or they would have already lost even before they leave for the battleground. No chain mail in the world can ever replace a brave heart.

My husband and I had long been fighting for our fellow Meranaws since the day we got married. Our tiny cottage was the home of young Meranaw idealists, members of our group called Inged a Pilombayan loosely translated to “the home or place where (the young grew up and were) nurtured” who believed we could change the world. Our world changed indeed. In fact, it caved in on us, literally and figuratively speaking.

As parents, we both know that we could not take credit for our girls’ bravery and discernment of what they are taking up arms tor. I named Nicole after Schaharazhed, the narrator of the Arabian Nights who eventually saved her fellow women and proved the King wrong in his sweeping revenge. My second one, the Papa’s girl, is named by my hubby after me, combining my two first names to create a unique name all her own. I added Rojan, after the Arabic and Urdu roh or soul and the Kingdom of Rohan of the Lord of the Rings. But still, we cannot own their battle.

They are our children, but they have their own thoughts. Our struggle is for today and a future we will never visit, not even in our dreams as Kahlil Gibran reminds us. But our daughters’ battle is for the future they can see, and they will live in, and we cannot let our own fear and insecurities be the burden that will drag our children down in the time that they can weigh and discover for themselves whether they are just our children or their own persons. Even as I worry, and curse not only the war but our poor telecommunications in our country, I watch my two little girls, now like two towers looking down on their “maito ka bes Mama” and allow them to write their own stories and destinies, and be the masters of their own fates.

It is under our watch, their parents, that their beloved Inged a Pilombayan fell and became powdered. How can we be sure we know better than them? My daughters, both named after courageous fictional characters, are proving themselves to be the real personifications of their namesakes. But they are just two of the almost ten thousand stories of young MSU students like them who all made a decisive statement for us all. My story is also but one of the ten thousand mothers who can only watch their children enter the battlefield. My husband’s story is also just one of the ten thousand fathers who needed to be sturdy and reassuring yet mentally alert to extract his children from the warpath if things turn for the worse again.

“You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth…
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is table.”

Tawakkal. In Allah, we trust.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Elin Anisha Guro of Marawi City is Director of  Mindanao State University Press and Information Office, on study leave to finish her PhD at the School of Culture and Communication at the  University of Melbourne in Australia. She finished her MA Media Studies at the New School, New York City as a Fulbright Scholar)