on the seven sands of the (united arab) emirates, there was the awakening of a friendship that would withstand the test of time. much time was spent drinking tea and exchanging thoughts on the politics of the day. there were lighter moments, perhaps a stroll on the beach (corniche) without sandals and followed by an all-you-can-eat buffet at the hilton.
there was a camping trip to oman where the word, "freezing weather" was redefined as the desert night sent chills up our spines. we could only giggle the night away as our companions lay sleeping that night. she sang "leaving on a jet plane" to lull me to sleep but to no avail. i had stayed awake the whole night and met the dawn as i met the sunset over a rock cliff...trying to touch the horizon of light. i climbed up the rock mountain and stood there for a photo op. it was during the ramadan of 1995 that this took place.
flashing back to the inevitable friendship. she was the school registrar at that time when i enrolled in 1995 on my third year of high school. i had asked wether the uniforms had a specified length. i had just come from the US where skirts were fashionably short, even in a catholic school. she said "no." i also asked if she could give me a new set of notebooks since the once she gave me where for kids and i couldn't possibly continue writing down notes while being distracted by a "teenage mutant ninja turtle." so, began a verbal tussle of what length i should wear my skirt and if she'd give me the notebooks i requested. i even insulted the design and fabric of the skirt which happened to be designed by her mother (faux pas). i vowed to hate her from that day on and my brother decided to exchange notebooks with me so i'd quiet down. in retaliation, i wore the shortest skirt (one inch above the knee, when all the students wore them three inches below the knee or longer) in the whole school. so, after that horrible verbal assault on each other, i was in a new school with some students that transferred from my old school. there were not many new faces but i had made friends in my class. it was bearable.
the days passed and i sweated the first bead which dropped from my forehead while sawing a piece of wood for workshop. it was october and school was just settling in and everything became a routine. a friend, bryan, invited me to join a rondalla. i had previous encounters with a bandurria (an instrument of spanish descent which was played in a group of other stringed instruments. it had 16 strings together and was strummed to play. it was common in colonial philippines.). i had learned from my brother when i was 8 or 9 years old. he too was in a rondalla. so, i tried my luck again.
to my surprise, on the first day of my attendance, i saw her - the registrar whose life i had made miserable on account of a skirt and notebooks. i was silly then but i had principles. an ugly notebook was simply a hindrance to learning. so, began our teacher-student status. i was always respectful to a teacher so i didn't insult her in her house. i patiently learned the strings and the notes and listened by ear for the tempo and rhythm of the songs. i adjusted well and was at par with the best player, charie macapagal, in a couple of months' time. she was the best strummer and could memorize without difficulty the songs that were so dear to my heart. i had began a journey home to knowing the philippines again.
she was responsible for throwing fuel to my longing to be home. she spoke of her university with sprawling grounds. later, i would go to the same university and not less than in the same college would i also take my courses in the same field of work - media communications. she had specialized in broadcasting though. i became a journalist. evident huh?
going back, so the months passed and the occasional tea after rehearsals became more than occasional but rather a ceremony. the other students would go into jamie's (her sister and about my age) room and talk about other things. i stayed behind with my teacher trying to pick her mind. she would play jim chapell in the background and i was enthralled at his mastery of the piano.
this all happened before i was bound to go home again in 1996. but fortunately, she would go home before me. she wanted to study again in the philippines and pursue her dream for a radio post in dzfe (the master's touch), a fm christian station that played classical music spotted with God's word as intermission.
we spent the last eid (after ramadan) in an island with her family. i was so stressed out in leaving her that i had cramps the whole time while i was swimming on the beach. later did i know that she would go home to the philippines too. so, my heart could rest and i hadn't lost (again) a dear friend due to my incessant life of moving about.
her name was unique and long, devery jean katrina tronco tumilba, ate chi for short.