COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 21 March) — The Quran tells us, “Say: ‘Nothing will befall us except what Allah has decreed for us; He is our Protector. Let the believers, then, put all their trust in Allah.” (Quran 9:51) The Bible offers the same wisdom: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. […] That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11,15)
When we first met each other nine years ago, I barely knew what I wanted to do with my life. I had already been writing for years, always with confidence in what I knew and how I expressed that knowledge. But I was also already 24, jumping from one job to another in search of some meaning. Whenever I received the terms of reference for a new job, I never really thought much about it. I had tasks; I was good with tasks. I had been doing tasks all my life. I adapted easily so I didn’t mind the uncertainty, but I also thought if something was finally the right fit for me, I would feel it. Maybe I would finally stay.
Barely one month into a new post I held in a news network, I decided to quit and fly out to Cotabato City for two weeks, just because a friend asked me to meet with you and maybe work in the Bangsamoro. I was curious, and I wanted to see if there was something for me here.
What I found wasn’t just something. To me, it felt like it was everything. Barely a week in the city, I already knew I would accept whatever you offered me as long as it means I get to be a part of the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center.
But it could also have been just the excitement of being in a boat travelling across the Liguasan Marsh to a camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. You gave me a camera and taught me what to look for. What to remember. Not to mention you knew I’d go for that kind of adventure.
A few days after I went back to Manila just to tell my father I was taking a job in Cotabato City, I sent you a link about the displacement situation in the region. Your only reply was “Return to Cotabato City para hindi ka na mainggit. ASAP ”
Without me having to tell you anything, you knew I would rather not leave the city if only I didn’t have to tell my father about my decision in person. You knew things felt right for me, before I even recognized and acknowledged it.
It was during my years working with you when the difficult but necessary process of unlearning started on my end. Looking back at our messages, I realize I asked you way too many questions I shouldn’t have been asking the executive director in the first place. But always you answered me with a question, giving me an opportunity to reconsider my impulses and my initial reactions. Often, I found that there was something I needed to unlearn to finally get things right.
Whatever I have unlearned all these years, they no longer serve me. We both know my Manila education barely prepared me for the path you so willingly paved, because you had the same education. What made us different were the lens through which we viewed the world, and you taught me how to see things from your perspective.
When you offered me a job, what you really gave me that day was purpose and a bit of meaning in a life that never really made sense to me. I lost my mom to cancer and now I lost you to cancer, too. Nothing ever really made sense, but I remember how one time I messaged you about grieving over things that aren’t ours to control and you told me, “times like these, we must be adopt the attitude of Zen Buddhists. Everything happens for a reason.”
This, too, I believe, is the attitude Muslims and Christians must adopt according to our faith. Allah is our Protector; God has made everything beautiful in its time. My only prayer is that I hope I was a good vessel for Allah’s protection and God’s beautiful intention in your life, because you succeeded in doing that for me — as my Boss, as my Kuya, as my Kaka Zen. You may have failed in finding me a suitable husband, but we both know I don’t need one. Whatever you left for me to carry through the rest of my life, they were and will always be more than enough.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.
(Marrian Pio Roda Ching is a feminist writer who has been working in the Bangsamoro over the past decade. She relocated to Cotabato City in 2012 upon accepting an offer to work as the communications officer of the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center, a human rights organization then led by Atty. Zainudin Malang. Since then, she has served as a senior writer for the ARMM’s Bureau of Public Information and senior reporting assistant for the UN Refugee Agency. She now works in the Bangsamoro Parliament. This piece was first posted on her FB page. MindaNews was granted permission to publish this)