The big difference today is that one can be in touch not only through face-to-face encounters but also through cyberspace (as well as text-space). Nothing beats the former, but – as our kin and friends have populated all corners of the world – we are left with no choice but explore the internet with choices that range from blogging to Facebook.
Within a space of two hectic – and sometimes, frantic – weeks, we get updated as to the goings on, concerns, challenges faced by those within our biological and other type of clans. Thus, we get to know what matters to them most at this juncture of their lives.
Considering the location of my kin, I traveled from Iligan to south Mindanao, then to Lanao and Zamboanga. I heard from those who are in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Canada, the USA, most of the EU countries, most of the ASEAN countries and Dubai. So what matters to them today?
I doubt if there is something else that preoccupies our kin's attention these days outside of the global economic crisis. Most of the conversations and correspondence touched on how hard life is these days given the recession affecting every country on earth! Not only that, but everyone worries the worst is yet to come! Most of my kin believe that if Christmas 2008 brought doldrums and woes, 2009's Christmas will most certainly be bluer and gloomier!
A cousin in Dubai echoes a question that the cover story of the December 15 issue of *Newsweek* posed: Is Dubai's Party Over? The cousin in Dubai is apprehensive; he knows that the $1.5 billion Atlantis resort complex – the one that stands on the enormous artificial archipelago shaped like a palm tree – may run into problems before it is opened to the public much like many skyscrapers that are standing unfinished. Already, an increasing number of the imported 3.6 million foreign workers are being exported home.
My cousin hopes to migrate to the U.S.A. before he loses his Dubai job. But I informed him it might be difficult to get a visa. He is resigned to opening a restaurant if forced to return home. But I tell him, there are far too many restaurants already in most cities in Mindanao.
A niece in Canada complained that, due to the recession, their firm did not give them their 13th month pay. A friend in Florida lamented not being able to spend time with her family in Digos City this Christmas, since her son lost his job and needed all the help from relatives to stay warm in their Minnesota home. The latest figure being quoted as the amount needed to bail out the entire American economy is US$4,000,000,000,000. In short $4 TRILLION, which is roughly 7 % of global Gross Domestic Product! Expect Barack Obama to bring the G20 together immediately after his inauguration to raise such money.
So easy to quote dollars in trillions for some elite quarters in the world. Back home, we count loose change in responding to the needs of those who suffered the most during the holidays: those who remain in evacuation centers after the August skirmishess, the new evacuees in Sultan Kudarat province whose barangays were bombed on Christmas night, the families of those affected by the bombings (in Iligan, Basilan, Tacurong, Esperanza), those affected by the recent floods in north Mindanao and those in places where hope can so easily be crushed as in our prisons.
I visited a city jail in western Mindanao where one of the 33 prisoners is a political detainee charged with common crimes making her un-bailable, so the State could keep her in prison forever. She's already spent four Christmases behind bars and is hoping against hope she will be with her family this coming Christmas in the comfort of their home. But she herself says that with the way our justice system operates, it may take a while before the day of freedom will come her way. Fortunately, there's a TV in their cell and she has a radio; she, too, could converse very well on the most recent global events even as in her cell are drug dealers, pushers and users.
I also visited another political prisoner – a distant relative – in DAPECOL, where 6,000 inmates are packed like the proverbial sardines. In this place where Foucault's panopticism works differently than the French prison system, there are still those under "the minimum status" who have part-time jobs at the nearby banana plantations (where aerial spraying is a matter of course!). Lucky they who have some pocket mone
y for their cigarettes and supplementary food. Thousands more have nothing as no relatives come to visit; meanwhile, their food budget is not spared from the gaze of their corrupt officials.
Michael, my six-year-old grand nephew came along to visit his Tito in prison. He asked me why his Tito was in a "kulungan" (cage). I told Michael to ask his Tito once we reached DAPECOL. Which he did, right after we were all ushered into the visiting hall. "*Ngano'ng naa man ka dinhi sa kulungan, Tito?"* Michael asked him. (Why are you in this cage, Uncle?). How do you answer that question to a six-year-old? The Tito shook his head and mumbled an answer and excused himself to talk to his daughter. Michael commented to me: "*Wala man ko niya tubaga, Lolo*!" (He didn't answer me, Grandpa).
Another six-year-old kid was making news in YouTube. Ethan Borthnick, a Russian-American is the subject of a few YouTubes where he is interviewed by the likes of Jay Leno and where he shows his gift in playing Bach and Mozart. A friend in Paris alerted me to this child wonder. But he was not the only child wonder I encountered during the holidays. I had dinner with a young married couple and their 8-year-old son could tell me all the flights coming in and flying out of Davao City, the kind of planes these were and other data. He also makes mean pencil drawings of such planes.
But how young the kids these days make up their minds about the choices to be made. While taking a nap in my sister's living room, I overheard 5 grandnieces sharing their thoughts on marriage partners as they were watching a teen program on TV.
Grandniece 1 (age 12): *The man I will marry will be bright and handsome.*
Grandniece 2 (age 14): *He will have to look like Robert Pattinson*. (Any reader who does not know Pattinson has no teen girl relative, that's for sure!).
Grandniece 3 (age 10): *He has to be kind, but of course, should be handsome like Robert*.
Grandniece 4 (age 13): *He should be handsome, bright and plays basketball very well.*
Grandniece 5 (age 8): *I don't care if he is not bright and handsome, so long as he is rich!!!*
Grandniece 5 is the daughter of my relative who is a political prisoner. It is easy to understand that the family's financial condition – with only her mother having a job – could be one reason she wants to be rich. But she also hears that those with money and influence could get their relatives out of prison quick. The Alabang Boys have been making headlines and she would have heard of what the boys' relatives have been doing to get their sons out of prison.
Next to the global crisis, corruption and PGMA are the next favorite topics of the season. I had dinner with a family I met during our mission in Zamboanga Sur. During the last election, everyone, except the youngest son, voted for GMA. Now a teacher, the youngest son told me: "I'm so glad the members of my family have seen the light; they are all anti-GMA now, Brother!"
My high school batch of '63 had a reunion in Digos City. The host of the reunion is a classmate in this batch who is now a member of PGMA's cabinet. I failed to attend the reunion given the tight schedule of the Misa de Gallos in our church in Iligan. However, there was another Christmas party hosted by another member of the batch. A good number also attended; this time, I was able to join. The Cabinet member could not be around.
Perhaps because of his absence, most could freely speak up when our conversation entered the political sphere. Practically all are against the Cha-cha, are embarrassed that we are now the No. 1 most corrupt nation in Asia (and second in the world!), would like radical reforms to take place in the government system and are so dissatisfied with the power wielded by local and national political dynasties. But, like most Pinoys today, can't quite decide to take a militant stance.
Meanwhile, the same political dynasties are already preparing for the 2010 elections. Out there, along the highways of Zamboanga del Sur, the streamers – with these words – fly in the wind: HAPPY BIRTHDAY ERANO MANALO OF INK! *Galing sa iyong mga kapatid na sina Congressman at Governor Cerilles! *(The same Cerilles family who has controlling interests in the newly-opened Gaisano in Pagadian City, indicating that the landlord class has diversified in many ways).
Before the holidays were over, I squeezed a visit to the cemetery to visit the graves of my parents and a younger brother. It was late afternoon and a few souls were visiting their loved ones.
I had yellow flowers in my hands which I tenderly placed on their graves.
I stayed for a while. It was a most peaceful scene.
For some of us today, what matters most is to find that space where we can be at rest amidst the turmoil of a world that seems to be heading towards….
For now, though, as 2009 unfolds, I would rather think yellow as in sunshine yellow!
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including "To be poor and obscure," and "Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures," writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner's Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)