Rearranging ourselves as best as we could wasn't the easiest thing to do. Every jolt bounced us around some more like we were popcorn over fire. Jeez, whoever said we'll get to and from Sitio Banisil in Barangay Malabog faster this way failed to mention the ride would be like being on a flight simulator simulating storm signal number one conditions.
We were on our way down. It should have been easy, but for the fact the laws of Newtonian physics were inescapable. Somehow we all could not find our center of gravity when that bike was in motion. Not when we were on our way up, and neither on our way down. My legs and spine were screaming for relief. I doubt if I was the only one suffering. Spirits up though, we gamely held on.
The driver's grave countenance was a sight for us to behold as he assigned us our seats earlier. Jess was up there sitting like a misplaced princess on the tank. The lighter ones, me and Aliah, sat immediately behind the driver. Then we needed someone heavier on the rear extension. We had a heavy one alright. His name is Rizal.
Earlier, Rizal said he, Aliah, and Sam were "trilingual on a tricycle". He held on to the notion until it was pointed out to him that his tricycle only had two tires. The driver thought it best to reassign his seat.
Hey, this is serious. To the driver anyway. Ballast, floaters, sinker. Whatever. We'd rearrange again the next time a bike blew a tire. This bucking bronco of a ride was quite an experience – if we lived to tell about it.
Of course, we would. People go up and down these mountains all the time. How do you think did the driver get to be so good at physics? So we did live to tell about it. Texting my volunteers a thank you the morning after, they promptly texted back a wish for me not to call for volunteers again before they could fit back into their skins.
We were up rocky mountain high that Sunday as an end of the sem celebration. The call to set up Dadong's Corner had been met with an overwhelming response. We were flooded with books and school supplies. On the eve of our trip, Flor Buhay sent over through an FX from Kidapawan a box of basic education textbooks. It was all Jess could do to keep the inventory straight.
Looking at our mountain of books, paper products, crayons, pencils, and other school materials, it dawned on us that the problem of literacy education is not a problem of lack. It is, like any other form of social deprivation in these islands, a problem of distribution.
The tide of donations highlighted how much resources we could collectively access even when we weren't really trying. It's an eye opener to some who think that there's not much that he could do with the way the world is.
The world is full of generous people. Some give what they can. Then it is up to others to see that what others give is put to good use.
Nine hardy souls dared the trip, but only after they were assured that rain was not allowed that day. Hey, that's an easy one. How about I throw in the latest intelligence on the security situation thereabouts? No? Yes, that too.
Sunday at 6:30, we took the bus to Panabo where we found growling bikes raring to go our way for a fee. Thirty minutes out on the road and we slipped back into Davao City . Another bone-jarring hour and a half later, the bikes let us off on the mountain road. This was supposed to be Crossing Sitio Banisil. It was 10 a.m. The drivers promised a rendezvous at that same spot by 3 p.m.
Dadong parts a patch of tall grass at the roadside to reveal a narrow trail. Oh, okay. Crossing. Right.
For a little over an hour, we hiked the trail in single file. Ever so often, we'd skirt the edge of the rolling promontories. A thousand feet above sea level, the world would open up to a sea of mountains as far as the eye could see. Now and then, we'd make out clumps of primeval forests shooting up to heaven like a crewcut on a soldier's head.
We arrived to a warm welcome at the village shortly before noon. Jess and I were given the run of a kitchen while the rest of the group played with the kids and talked with the villagers. It's been a long time since I cooked for company over wood fire. Chevy and Aliah inventoried the contents of the medical kit that Joanne had thoughtfully supplied. We had thrown in a bound photocopy of David Werner's Where There Is No Doctor handbook.
Dadong killed a chicken and showed up how to cook delicious tinola sans a lowlander's arsenal of spices. I felt kinship with my ancestor, a Tumanduk binukot from the Panay highlands, when Dadong honored me with the offer for first dibs at his stew. Our communal lunch was relaxed and filling, and soon some of my fellow travelers were sleeping it off on the floor.
A toddler beamed at me from her mother's hip. She reached for my cup of tinola. I gave it up and was rewarded with a sweet smile. You beautiful child, I thought. In her innocence she showed me the wisdom of "Waste not, want not".
It was time to break out the boxes. With Dadong translating, we showed the villagers what we brought and what we hoped they would do with it. A young mother asked if she could read the books, too, or if we only intended it for children. I replied that it would be better if she read the books to the children. That way, they would know what the children were reading. We had selected the books with an eye for the cultural sensitivity of the content, but we could never know for sure. Whatever the circumstance, I am an advocate for parental guidance. The mother's question was very appropriate.
Dadong then conveyed to me that the elders were ready to receive me. They were in a room preparing the makings for betel chew which Dadong had thoughtfully brought as pasalubong. It had been five months since he'd been home.
Thankfully, I was not asked to chew. I was allowed to smoke though. We talked for half an hour, during which they told me about their life in the mountains and their hopes for Dadong and the rest of the tribe's young. I thanked them for welcoming us like family. They thanked us for making the trip up and for bringing Dadong home even for just a little while.
As we came out of the room, the sight of villagers young and old reading books in the main room greeted our eyes. It was some time yet before we could gather them to pose for Sam's camera.