The Malihini

Competition Day 1

I buried my toes in the sand and watched as the waves rolled and kissed the shore. They’re bigger than the ones I’ve ridden. Way bigger, and we’re not talking about glassy waves. We’re talking about waves with white water that’s seven to eight feet high. Short board waves, not long board waves. Yet here I am, competing as a malihini in the long board division of the 2014 Philippine Wahine Classic. I must have been out of my mind when I registered.

What if I fall?

It’s just water.

But still.

What if I fall?

Then I heard another voice in my head:

Oh honey, what if you fly?

I found myself second guessing. I thought of backing out especially when I failed to catch a single wave during our training before the competition. Quitting is always easy, but the awful aftertaste of regret is always difficult to let go of, especially when it haunts you every single day. Once the pingpong battle in my head ended, I decided to just push through with the competition. I already paid for my ticket, I traveled a thousand miles to compete, and quitting sounds insane. I decided to apply the concept of open space, the one that says “whatever happens is the only thing that could” so I could manage my expectations.  If I’m meant to win, I’ll win. If I’m meant to lose, I’ll lose. What’s important is I go out there, paddle my little heart out and surf. I also managed to read a text from my mom before paddling out for my heat. She said, “have fun, waves are your friend”.

Preparing for my heat. (c) Ivan Montalban

Preparing for my heat. (c) Ivan Montalban

Paddling out was a struggle for me and Joeren, my caddy. I remember him asking if I want to give up and I said no. Yes, the waves are scary and I’m risking the possibility of drowning and breaking my neck but I didn’t travel all the way from Mindanao to quit. Seeing that I’m determined, Joeren asked me to turn around and start paddling for my first wave. It was big and scary but I was committed. I paddled and stood once I felt the push. My ride was a little shaky at first, but I had to make sure I won’t fall. We were allowed ten quality rides. Carla Rowland told us that ten 2’s are better than two 10’s.

(c) Janine Agbon

(c) Janine Agbon

Second ride. (c) Janine Agbon

Second ride. (c) Janine Agbon

By the time I made it back to where Joeren was, he asked me to turn around again and paddle for my second wave. My arms were tired but I paddled anyway. Second ride done. I tried to get three more rides, but I kept slipping. Next thing I knew, we were down to the last two minutes. We gave each other high fives and paddled back to the shore. Joeren kept saying “I told you, you can do it!”. I just smiled. I was too tired. At this point, I wasn’t sure if my rides were good enough. I just wanted to rest.

Moral support from this kickass surfer! (c) Janine Agbon

Moral support from this kickass surfer! (c) Janine Agbon

Before heading out for lunch, my cousin and I approached Carla Rowland and asked for the results of my heat. I was so stoked when I found out that I landed first place and that I’ll be advancing to the second round! I was grinning from ear to ear. I didn’t expect it at all! When I told Joeren about it, he was stoked as well. We were told that the continuation for the Malihini Longboard Division will be moved to the next day because of the wave conditions so we decided to grab lunch and rest for a while.

Day one ended with lights, music, and booze as all surfers made their way to Aliya Surf Camp to party and for the awarding ceremony. Daisy Valdez was able to defend her title as the Open Shortboard Champion and Candra Jordan who came all the way from California won the Open Longboard Division.

(c) Ivan Montalban

(c) Ivan Montalban

Divine Smith, our DJ for the night! :) (c) Ivan Montalban

Divine Smith, our DJ for the night! :) (c) Ivan Montalban

Competition Day 2:

Two knocks on the door- that’s what woke me up. My cousin opened it and Brian, our friend, was there. “Time to go to church”, he said. We dressed up, checked the wave conditions and the competition schedule, then made our way to church. After church, we wolfed down our breakfast then made our way to Aliya Surf Camp for day two of the competition.

So stoked to see this! :) (c) Ivan Montalban

So stoked to see this! :) (c) Ivan Montalban

I was in Heat 5, round 2. This gave me enough time to observe other surfers. My cousin was out first who won her heat and advanced to the quarter finals. For round 2, I was on my own because Joeren had to teach. He told me “I know you can do it, and you don’t need me there”. Shudder.

(c) Ivan Montalban

(c) Ivan Montalban

There are moments in life when you only have yourself. I have to admit, day one was easy because I knew that Joeren was there and as long as he’s around I’ll be fine. For day two, I had to toughen up. While paddling out, I kept reminding myself that everything will be okay. First ride, fail. Second, manageable. Third, okay. Fourth, wipe out. Paddle out, try again. It was almost impossible to reach the line up and it was hard to paddle against the current. We were all struggling but we still gave our best.

(c) Ivan Montalban

(c) Ivan Montalban

I didn’t make it to the quarterfinals, and that’s okay. I told myself that I’ll just have fun and accept whatever the competition results will be. For me, it’s enough that I finally had the chance to surf again after being landlocked for a long time. My cousin finished fourth, and I’m very happy for her. She’s improved so much from last year and she’s proof that hard work really pays off.

(c) Ivan Montalban

(c) Ivan Montalban

I ended the trip by burying my toes in the sand again. I stared at the ocean, as if trying to take a mental picture of the waves that were rolling in front of me. Fall, I did. Hard. But fly, I did, as well. I was asked why I decided to compete despite being landlocked for six months and my answer is, well you have to start somewhere. Yes, I haven’t surfed for six months and my skills suffered, but I’d like to think that whatever’s meant to happen is really the only thing that could. Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith and surprise yourself. It’s like falling in love- there’s no specific schedule. It just happens to you. I now experienced what a real competition is like, so I know what to expect next time, if I decide to compete again. Surfing is as fluid as it can get. All you have is yourself, the board, the waves, and that 10 seconds worth of commitment to paddle, stand, feel the drop, and ride. This experience taught me to trust in myself more, and to not be afraid of falling. Sure a wipeout will shove buckets of saltwater down your throat, but what do you do after that? You get back on the board, and you paddle out again. I also learned to open myself up to possibilities, and to more good things. :)

It’s been three weeks since the competition and I’m still on a high. . I went home with a huge bruise on my right arm because it was hit by a fin, but it’s all worth it. I learned so much from this experience and I met a lot of people. I’m just glad I took the risk.

I’m very thankful for my mom, gave me permission to take time off work to compete, and for sending me messages of support all throughout the competition. My uncle, who lent us his car  so we don’t have to commute and to Manong Dario of course who drove for us despite lack of sleep. To  J9 who encouraged me to join the competition and made sure that I enjoy my first Baler experience. Fin, for cheering me on when I told her that I was thinking of backing out. Brian, my Monopoly Deal partner for the water (yay!) and for the support, of course. Esh, my roomie, it was so nice to see you again! Ivan, for helping us carry our stuff and for taking our pictures. Sagasa Surfkada, it was very nice to meet all of you. Siargao crew, it was great to see you again! Mico, thank you so much for lending me your board and for telling me to imagine Siargao when you noticed that I was scared. Joeren, my masungit-na-mabait caddy for helping me brave those big waves. Of course, to Carla Rowland and Ian Zamora whose passion for surfing and love for the Philippines made this event possible.

Fellow wahines who competed, kudos to all of us!

Saltwater Musings : Siargao

When you’re a wahine stuck in the city and programmed into a daily routine, you begin to crave for the ocean. Once you notice with every glimpse in the mirror that your tan lines betrayed you and decided to disappear, you begin to crave for the ocean even more. With each passing day, the craving intensifies and the only way to satisfy them is by watching your surf videos that your lovely friends captured from eons ago. You know that things have gone bad when day in and day out, all you can think of are long rides, sunsets, stoke, surf, sand, and sea. This is when you become thankful for friends who invite you to Siargao for a surf/soul searching trip (thanks, Liz).

Siargao is probably the best surf spot I’ve been in. I’ve heard about it from surfer friends and I can remember painting mental images of the place based on how they described it. I used to be scared of surfing in Siargao because of the reefs and what they call “professional waves”.  I am far from being a professional surfer. The biggest wave I’d dare ride is only six feet high and that’s after convincing myself that the worst thing that can happen to me is a wipe out. Siargao always gave me a combination of fear and excitement that whenever I thought visiting it before, I’d chicken out. I guess it’s true that there’s beauty in timing. I think if I went there before, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did.

It’s only been a week since that epic Siargao trip and all I can say is I never left. Yes, I’m physically back in the city but everything else is still there, riding those waves, enjoying the good vibes, and staying stoked. That place gave me so much and I’ve only been there for six days. I got to be in my element again, and it was humbling to know that six months without surfing brings you back to square one… at least for the first two hours of your mini reunion with the board and the ocean. It was frustrating that I couldn’t catch a wave, that I kept falling, and that I was being robbed of patches of my skin because of the reef underneath. However, it was also very fulfilling when after approximately two hours of not giving up, I finally got that long ride that was enough to keep me stoked until the next day. The next two surf days were about learning how to do the frontside and the backside which were both challenging at first.

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We also chanced upon fellow surfers (Xave, Pia, and Mico) who were also there for vacation. We went island hopping to see more of Siargao on our second day and it really is beautiful. It’s sad to see that there are buildings being constructed after almost every kilometer. There are hotels, condominiums and resorts, claiming the place as theirs when it really isn’t. Everyone wants to own a piece of the land. Everyone wants to own a piece of paradise and its alarming. The locals say that Siargao has changed so much since it became popular. Its spot on the list of the popular surf destinations worldwide has its good and bad side and everyone’s just dealing with it. My only prayer is that they get to preserve its beauty.

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The ocean lent its ears to oohs and ahhs as our boat docked from one island to another. The waters were clear as crystal, it was fun to dive and be all mermaid-y without having to worry about landing on someone’s trash. The corals had were painted with a beautiful symphony of colors, it was hard to focus on just one. There were fishes of different shapes and sizes that swam in distances both far and near- depending on who was brave enough to touch the human skin. The salty Siargao breeze was filled with our laughters, jokes, and tricks with the GoPro. There were moments when we would randomly burst into song or dance once a good song plays in Spotify. Our day would end with the obligatory Monopoly deal where everyone’s competitive side showed.

(c) Mico Cervantes

(c) Mico Cervantes

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(c) Mico Cervantes

(c) Mico Cervantes

(c) Mico Cervantes

Liz and I did a lot of walking during our stay and this allowed us to explore the resorts in the area. Of all the resorts we’ve been to, Hotstpot stood out because they were very accommodating, the interiors were nice, and it had the ambiance that we wanted. Before surfing, Liz and I went there to hang out, order some drinks, and watch surf movies. Hotspot also offers board and GoPro rentals for Php 500/day which is really cheap! Their sexy chicken is a dish worth trying after an epic session. I give it two thumbs up!

The last day. :( (c) Hotspot

The last day. :( (c) Hotspot

(c) Hotspot

(c) Hotspot

Notes:

1) Respect the locals.

2) There is no ATM, so make sure that you have enough money. Meals cost around Php 80 – Php 130 but they have big servings, so it’s like having two meals in one.

3) You have to bring small bills since they almost always don’t have change.

4) The airport transfer will cost you around Php 300.

5) Go out and explore the island. There’s so much to see!

6) Think twice before accepting beer or any alcoholic beverage from people.

7) There’s a yoga session at the tower every 9:30 in the morning.

8) Be sure that your USB has enough disk space (17 gigs) so you can copy your videos from Hotspot’s GoPro.

9) Brace yourself for lots and lots of walking.

10) Enjoy each surf session and if you can, wait until the sun sets on the horizon.

Siargao is a paradise. It’s a great place to get lost in. You bask in its wonder and thank God that there’s a place like it in a country that’s fascinated by constructing giants in the concrete jungle. It’s a place that welcomes you with a warm embrace and gives you a heartache once the day of your departure draws near. You meet people from all over the world, speaking different languages, molded by different cultures, united by one thing : surfing. Okay, some just lay down and pray to the heavens that they get tans instead of freckles but you know what I mean. Siargao heals you in ways you can never imagine. It gives you picturesque sunsets that make you close your eyes and thank God that you witnessed that. It gives you ride-worthy waves that bring you from the line up to the board walk. It gives you locals who are nice enough to lend you a helping hand when they sense that you’re having trouble. It blesses you with the opportunity to know more about your teammate/travel buddy/friend who’s just as game as you are to explore the island and brave walking down dark streets since there are no street lights as of writing. Most of all, it gives you a chance to breathe, to take a break from the city’s fast-paced lifestyle. Siargao is a beauty, and I will forever be thankful that I ended my 6-month streak of no surfing in that island.

I leave you with this video that my friend Xavier D’Souza made. Thanks for reading! :)

Bottle of Dreams

Since last month, I’ve had several attempts to write this blog entry but I’d always end up clicking the “move to trash” link that’s just a hover away from this box. I don’t know if it’s writer’s block or lack of inspiration, but it seems like whenever I plan out my blog entries, I lose the words to give my entries justice. When something beautiful and meaningful happens in your life you want to share those moments down to the last detail, so here goes: Eco Choices  received two awards during the Ramadhan Fair last July: runner up for best booth and 1st place for best product both in the non-food category. It came as a surprise because the exhibitors designed their booths beautifully and worked hard on their products! I remember shaking during the presentation because aside from being sick, it felt like I was defending my thesis. I totally forgot about preparing for the Q&A portion since I was too focused on the product’s design.

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I call my entry “Bottle of Dreams”. It’s made of  three dream catchers attached to a bigger dream catcher that hangs on top of a re-purposed wine bottle that functions as a candle holder. There are accents of handmade water hyacinth paper, abaca, and Swarovski crystals in between dream catchers.

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I was thinking of Gaza, the planes that disappeared and crashed, and the different natural disasters happening all over the world while working on the product. It made me worry about the kind of world that we’ll be passing on to our children and to our children’s children. Are we doing a great job at creating a safe space for them, or are we too focused on owning a piece of what we call “paradise”? I think that a lot of us have forgotten that our time on this planet is temporary, that we’re here to nurture and care for Mother Nature so when the time comes for us to meet our Maker, we’re sure that we’re leaving a safe space for the future generation. With everything that’s happening in the world today, one can only HOPE that good things will come.

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It is believed that dream catchers originated from the native american indians who created this to protect the sleeper from bad dreams. The dream catcher, when placed near the bed, catches the bad dreams that perish once the sun rises. The good dreams however, slip through the hole and fall on the sleeper underneath. People say that the product represents a bottle of nightmares and not dreams, but I choose to look at the bright side if things. It’s all about perspective, after all. The dream catchers are representations of our dreams and hopes for the future that, when caught, are stored inside the bottle. The light from the candle serves as a reminder to keep the fire in our hearts burning, to BELIEVE in the power of our dreams especially in moments of despair.

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One of the things I learned is that PEACE is not the absence of war. The dictionary defines peace as “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility” but I think it’s more than that. Everyday we deal with factors that challenge us – traffic, pollution, noisy neighbors, etc. You try your best to maintain that state of Zen but once you’re close to reaching it, something happens. There are also times when you find yourself in a quiet room but once you’re aware of the silence, fear comes and your mind is filled with memories and mental notes that becomes static noise. Then you think of the silence again, and you fear it again, and the cycle goes on. This is the same with our dreams. Life has this annoyingly beautiful way of setting up traps to see if we’re passionate enough in working for our dreams. Giving up is easy, but looking back with regret is difficult. You wouldn’t want to look back at your life with a long list of what ifs now, would you?

To me, the Bottle of Dreams is more than just a candle holder. It’s a reminder to work hard for our dreams no matter how tempting it is to give up.

 

Photos by: Aliya Agbon

Canon 550D

2014

 

 

Kissing the Sky

I’m back from my hiatus! Yay! If you’ve been dropping by this site and keeping yourself from sending me a pm or an email because I failed to update for the past few weeks, then I’m really sorry. My hands have been very busy with work, crafts, and the furball that at the end of the day I’m physically and mentally drained to blog. Sounds like an excuse, but it’s the truth. Still, I’m back and yes, I have an entry for you. Thanks for visiting this page, by the way. Most of the time I’m clueless about who the readers of this blog are so I just put in stories that I feel a lot of people can relate to. Since I’ve been MIA for quite some time, allow me to share with you an exciting story. I conquered my fear of heights last summer!

My jaw dropped when my mom told me that we’ll be paragliding. The immediate image that entered my head was a zip line but of course we know that’s different. We were in General Santos City and we were picked up by Titoy of Sarangani Paraglide that morning so we don’t have to worry about finding our way to the venue. After thirty minutes, we found ourselves in Maasim, Sarangani. I was still calm that time, but when Titoy showed me the mountain that we’ll be climbing for take off, the butterflies in my stomach turned into bats and I wanted to back out. I jokingly offered that I’ll take everyone’s picture instead, but then I figured, it’s going to be a sad story if I tell everyone that I went to Sarangani to back out. I admired Tita Mags and Tito Jojo who volunteered to go first. It was fun watching them and though I was still scared, seeing how easy it was for them gave me courage. I thought I was fine but as I was nearing Titoy, my tandem pilot, I was scared again! He assured me that everything will be fine and after just a few minutes of freaking out, I was ready to start. The first attempt was a failure because I ran towards the wrong direction. We had to function like planes and run fast towards the edge of the mountain and just let the glider do its thing. Titoy asked his assistant to help me because it was very hard for me to run against the direction of the wind. I was told to run without looking down and I did. Before I knew it, I was running on air! Once seated comfortably, I began to enjoy my first paragliding experience.

Paragliding4 It was nauseating at first and according to Titoy, it’s because it’s my first time. I screamed to release the fear that I was feeling while forgetting that everything was captured by the GoPro. We went high, we went low, and the view was breathtaking.

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Photo by Mags Maglana

Photo by Mags Maglana

 

The ride lasted for an epic ten minutes. I think for the remaining the nine minutes I forgot about my acrophobia. I was too busy looking for nice GoPro angles to make sure that everything is captured on video and having Titoy answer my questions about paragliding. I was a bit sad when I was told that we’ll be landing in a few minutes, but I did raise my fist in the air when I saw my mom, Tita Mags, and Tito Jojo.

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My not-so-smooth landing

My not-so-smooth landing

A different kind of stoke. :)

A different kind of stoke. :)

It felt great to face my fears and experience a different kind of stoke. I guess sometimes we focus way too much on exaggerating our fears when in reality, it’s just a matter of letting things flow. Though it’s tempting to chicken out once fear rises, it’s still best to be brave and conquer our fears. Except for snakes, that’s a different story. :)

There are two fly sites in the Philippines: Cavite and Sarangani. The flying season in Cavite is from November to April while in Sarangani, it’s the whole year round. It’s important to come early to make the most out of the experience. As surfers wait for the perfect wave conditions, paragliders wait for the perfect wind condition to make sure that the wing will fly properly. They are certified tandem pilots and they want to make sure that their passengers are safe while enjoying the experience.

Some tips for those who want to try paragliding:

1) Wake up early and make sure you just the right amount of food for breakfast. It is not recommended that you fly full because you might vomit.

2) Use sunblock.

3) Wear comfy clothes and rubber shoes.

4) Wear shades.

5) Listen to your pilot, they know best.

6) Make sure that the GoPro captures everything!

7) Let all fears go and have fun!

 

You can contact Sarangani Paragliders at 09228071961 or 09333736871. You can email them at saranganiparaglide@hotmail.com or visit their website at http://www.saranganiparaglide.com. For updates, like them on Facebook.

 

Marley Diaries Chapter 1

I’m used to having dogs around the house but I’ve never experienced looking after any one of them. Sure there’s the occasional tap on the head and food games but that’s it. When one of our dogs would give birth I’d claim one of the puppies as mine, and then forget about it after a few months or so. I guess this is the reason why I don’t really have an attachment with any of our dogs nor do I know how to raise or train one. These are just some of the realizations I had after five days of looking after a beagle named Marley.

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Taking care of a puppy is like taking care of a baby. I don’t know if I made a mistake by making that comparison but to me, that’s what it seems like. Since this furball came, I had to wake up at 5 AM for potty and play time. If I miss, I have to listen to him howl. When I’m lucky, he goes back to bed but when I’m not, he chooses to play for two hours so I’m a zombie tossing the ball, running, and praising him. 7 AM means breakfast and that means dealing with scratches on my legs while preparing his food. After breakfast, he goes back to bed and I’m the happiest person on earth because I get to enjoy five hours of silence. 12 means lunch and the scratches are back but that’s okay because I get my five hours of silence again after. 5 PM he eats dinner and sleeps until the end of The Legal Wife. My hell begins. He runs around and howls if I don’t give him what he wants while I pray that he gets tired soon. I treat times that I have to do errands as my “break” from having to chase him around and look after him, but when I go home I always look forward to seeing his wagging tail. This furball gives the best hugs and kisses and as I indulge in his tight fur embrace, I forget about the challenges of being his “human mom”.

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My life and web browser tabs have changed since this furball came. I’m now programmed to do handicrafts while taking care of him and doing research on designs, marketing, accounting, and beagle training on the side.

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It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions with this furball. He’s made me cry for countless times but it’s hard to hate when he rests his head on your lap as the tears flow. It’s his way of saying sorry, I guess. I’m trying my best to be a good playmate and though I struggle at times, I can say I’m learning.

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It sounds like I’m complaining but I’m not. Well, I do hate the wrong timing of my pneumonia because it makes breathing harder and it makes me hate having to deal with the whining at 11 PM when my lungs need to rest but once I see him sleep all I can do is heave a sigh of relief, smile and thank the heavens for giving me such an adorable beagle.

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We have a long way to go, Marley and I. Exhaustion and lung pains aside, I’m having  a great time. :)

Choose or Be Chosen

I’m starting this entry with a big lump in my throat. I’m holding back tears because it’s weird (and difficult) to type and cry at the same time.  I’m browsing through my journal and the very few photos I managed to take during the Nonviolent Interfaith Leadership Program in Melbourne, Australia and I’m feeling a roller coaster of emotions. It’s a good thing I paid attention to Efrat’s sessions where we were taught to observe emotions and greet it as it enters our “guest house”.

I’ve been meaning to write about my NILP experience but I always ended up staring at the big white space on the computer screen. It’s a tough entry to start because how do you compress five day’s worth of learnings, and epic moments with people from different parts of the globe? It’s challenging but since I feel like it’s a story that needs to be shared to whoever’s patient enough to visit my page and read my entry, here goes:

At a room  with brick walls, high ceilings, carpeted floors and big windows in Edmund Rice Retreat House is where I met people who will forever be a part of me.  These are strangers turned friends who managed to break down the walls I built and see a deep part of my soul. These are people from different parts of the world who treated me like family even if it was their first time to meet me. These are people who experienced what I experienced during the Nonviolent Interfaith Leadership Program 2014 organized by Pace e Bene Australia.

A threshold of stories, self discoveries, and God-given gifts. This room was our shared space for five days.

A threshold of stories, self discoveries, and God-given gifts. This room was our shared space for five days.

On the first day, we were welcomed through a ceremony where we touched soil that ancestors from thousands of years ago walked on. The soil was warm underneath my ice cold palm. We then faced the Yarra River with palms facing the clouds and breathed in the cold Melbourne air. We didn’t talk much and I liked it. At that moment, I realized how blessed all of us are that our ancestors from thousands of years ago took good care of the land. I hope we do the same for the future generation.

After the simple but meaningful ceremony, we made our way back to the room and sat on the chairs that were formed in a circle. To break the ice, Ann invited us to pass around a ball of yarn while saying each other’s name and country. We held the yarn until the last person introduced himself and by then, we had already formed a web. We placed the yarn on the floor and it stayed there until someone decided to untangle it again and form a ball.

To know more about each other, we were then asked to share with two or three others the origin of our name, people who inspire us, places that inspire us, and our experiences. I was surprised at how much one can share just by talking about the name! It was a very powerful exercise.

Interconnection.

Interconnection.

We lit each candle after each sharing to invite the spirits of our ancestors, inspirators, places, and experiences. I like how it also made us feel that there were more than thirty of us in the room, but not in a creepy way. It kind of gave me the assurance that I may be physically alone, but I have a battalion with me ready to back me up no matter what.

Sessions on nonviolence and self discovery started the next day. There were invitations to do the Labyrinth at 6:30 in the morning but I decided to sleep in since I haven’t had enough sleep yet. Add to that the fact that Australia is two hours ahead so 6:30 AM to them is 4:30 AM to us in the Philippines. We started the session with shared silence and this made me realize how scared I am of it. I hate not hearing anything because my very visual mind wanders off to scenes from horror movies that freak me out even in broad daylight. I also noticed how noisy the mind can be despite the lack of noise around us. After twenty minutes of silence, and a couple more minutes for “check in” we went on with our session. I won’t share the discussions so I won’t spoil anything, just in case you decide to join the program.

We were given plenty of quiet time in between sessions. These were minutes (sometimes hours) that I valued because it gave me the chance to process the discussions. I like listening, but I also like writing the things that I heard to help me process and digest them. There were also times when we’d find ourselves working on the rice mandala, talking to whoever was also there while adding designs. We had plenty of tea time, too. There was morning tea, afternoon tea, and evening tea. I’m not a tea drinker, but I became one. Yay.

Silence.

Silence.

A little bit of everything. These grains of rice hold stories shared by some of us.

A little bit of everything. These grains of rice hold stories shared by some of us.

On the third day, Baqir, Vila, and I went down to the Yarra River to take pictures. Yes, at 6 in the morning. In Australia. In case you’re wondering, it was VERY cold. It was also drizzling. We were hoping for some fog and sun, but all we had was rain. We still went down the river, stopped after a few steps to take pictures, laughed at each other for being silly enough to walk under the rain, and shared stories in between shutter clicks.

Good morning.

Good morning.

The Yarra River.

The Yarra River.

Impermanence.

Impermanence.

We had different night activities. The first night was spent listening to the stories of Efrat and Bagir who both experienced violence but reacted nonviolently. It’s amazing how people who went through a lot are always the ones with the biggest smiles that radiate positive energy. The second night was spent watching short films. The third night, for me was the most intimate and meaningful. It’s a night that I will never forget for as long as I live. The fourth night was just as meaningful because we shared a piece of ourselves to the group. Some wrote poems, some shared jokes, and some shared films that they made. I shared with them “Aliya” – a song I wrote back in 2006. It was the first time that I shared the song with a group of people and it was nerve wrecking.

On the last day, we learned about open space and how it can make a difference in one’s way of thinking. It allows you to open yourself up to the possibilities, and accept them as they come. At around noon, it was obvious how people were avoiding the fact that the program was nearing its end. At around three in the afternoon, we gathered in the circle again to close the program.

Closing.

Closing.

Going to Melbourne to attend NILP 2014 was a big step for me. I’m not exactly open to the idea of travelling to another country alone because that means stepping outside my comfort zone. The thought of having to talk to people who don’t speak my language freaks me out and I’m not even worried about my capacity to speak English. I’m worried about being discriminated, of having difficulty in understanding what they’re saying because of the language barrier, of getting lost, of losing my luggage (this happened, but that’s another story), of missing my plane, and of being alone. God must have wanted me to go because despite all my excuses and reasons not to go, I found myself leaving for Melbourne early last month.

Choose or be chosen. I’m glad I chose to apply, and I’m even more glad that I was chosen. NILP taught me to be brave, to accept experiences (even the bad ones) as chapters of my life’s story, and to be open to possibilities. I learned so much from my batchmates, and up until now I still hold the conversations I had with each and everyone of them in a very deep place in my heart. I’m still grateful that they created a very safe space, that made deep and soulful stories emerge. Listening without judgement. Acceptance. Love. Care. Companionship. Interconnection. Impermanence.

To be nonviolent in a world filled with violence. To love despite hate. To take courage despite fear. To take chances. To step outside the comfort zone. To understand that the world is bigger than the four walls of your room. To take a leap of faith. To be open to possibilities. To accept change. These are just some of the many things I learned during NILP.

Now, allow me to raise my hands, wave them and say, Pace Bene!

 

Surfing in La Union

In a parallel universe, I’m on a surfboard riding the best wave of my life. For now, I’ll have to satisfy my craving for long rides, wipeouts, saltwater, and sand by watching surf videos and looking at surf photos. Yes, I am surf deprived and boy oh boy I’d give anything to surf again… but it’s almost flat season so…. but there are still waves somewhere so… but I need to work on our products… but the waves are calling… but… but… ah, let me tell you about my surf experience in La Union instead.

I rode a van from Baguio to San Juan. In case you’re wondering why I came from Baguio, you can read it here. I was told to get off once I see Sebay and walk towards Fatwave Surf Resort since that’s where we’re booked. Because it was my first time there, I decided not to sleep so I won’t miss my stop. Looking back, it wasn’t hard to look for my stop at all since it was a long stretch of Surf resorts. Add to that the fact that there’s a huge sign in green and white that says “Surfing Area San Juan Beach”.

I was supposed to meet my cousin and two of our friends there but since they went to Tangadan Falls, I decided to go to our room, change clothes, rest for a while, and wait for them. They arrived a little over thirty minutes after and since they were hungry, we made our way to the dining area to grab a bite. I was very thankful that there were baby waves, contrary to what the forecast was saying. My surfer friends would always tell me that it’s always a plus or a minus that’s why I still take risks and pray to the heavens that they’ll be kind enough to give us “surfable” waves. Sometimes the prayer works and sometimes it doesn’t.  At around five in the afternoon, we grabbed our surfboards and paddled out.

Sunset surf <3

Sunset surf <3

"I'm so happpyyyyyyyyy!!!"

“I’m so happpyyyyyyyyy!!!”

With my instructor, Benito

With my instructor, Benito

Yes please :)

Yes please :)

We surfed until it was dark and it was the best feeling in the world. If there’s one thing I enjoy doing, it’s sunset surfing. You paddle out, see the sun on the horizon, wait for a wave, surf, and then paddle out again. I find peace in watching the sun paint the sky with different shades of red, blue, pink, and purple – a perfect harmony of colors before it bids the world goodbye at least for twelve hours.

The group went to Flotsam and Jetsam for dinner and we feasted on sumptuous food while lounging in cozy bean bags and listening to hits from the 90s since, coincidentally, it was Lorraine Lapus’ engagement party that night. Flotsam and Jetsam really gives you value for your money. The ambience is great, the food is excellent, and you get to meet a lot of people. Too bad I didn’t take pictures because I was too hungry. If you want to know more about them, visit this page.

With Fin, J9, and Xie.

With Fin, J9, and Xie.

We woke up early the next day for more surfing. We were singing, cheering each other on, playing with the GoPro, and enjoying rides both short and long. When it was almost 12, we went back to Fatwave to shower, change clothes, and pack our stuff. We dropped by Surfstar to claim our free shirt. Yay! That made the trip even more fun! For lunch, we went to Marv’s house. They cooked sinigang which is one of my favorite dishes. The group hung out for a while and by 4 PM, it was time to go back to Manila.

The Frolic Girls: Koko, Xie, J9, Aliya, and Fin.

The Frolic Girls: Koko, Xie, J9, Aliya, and Fin.

Surfing in La Union was a very memorable experience for me. It was great to be back on the ocean, ride the board, and paddle until my arms feel like noodles. I also met two new surfers :Marv and Benito who are funny, accommodating, and very patient. Should you wish to learn how to surf when you’re in La Union, I highly recommend that you look for them.

If you want to surf in La Union, you can contact Marven Abat to learn about their surf lifestyle packages. For now, I’ll leave you with this video. Enjoy! :)

Toast to Happiness

I love nutella. I like dipping the spoon in and enjoying that lovely jar of happiness while watching a movie, reading a book, editing photos, and the list goes on. It’s the ultimate comfort food and it adds a sweet kick to almost anything! You can spread it on top of a cookie, waffles, toast… Speaking of toast, have you been to Cafe Shibuya?

A very good friend of mine and I met up for lunch yesterday. We passed by Cafe Shibuya, looked at the menu, drooled because of the photos of the food that looked really yummy, and went to a different restaurant after mustering up the courage to walk away because I was craving for soup. After lunch, we were in the mood for dessert and my friend suggested that we go to Cafe Shibuya.

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It is a quaint cafe with a very laidback atmosphere. You can go there and hang out with your friends or if you’re more into spending time alone, you can just sit in one of the chairs and enjoy reading a book. The place is very cozy and the wooden tables and chairs remind you of home, it’s tempting to just stay there the whole day and chill.

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Indeed, there is!

Mason jar lamps. How creative!

Mason jar lamps. How creative!

Cafe Shibuya specializes in savory buttered toasts that are topped with probably a few of your favorite things. They also have Ghirardelli chocolate frappe which is both sinful and delicious. The Nutella toast was a no brainer for me. My eyes stopped scanning the page the moment I saw it on the menu. My friend, on the other  hand, ordered Mango Caramel and it was just as good. The toasts are served with vanilla ice cream which makes it all the more sinful, but who cares about gaining a few pounds (which you can shed anyway) when every bite takes you to heaven? My friend and I found ourselves smiling while munching on our toasts. The toasts are a little crunchy on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside.

Nutella Toast

Nutella Toast

Mango Caramel Toast

Mango Caramel Toast

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Nutella toast = instant good vibes. :)

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You’ll find Cafe Shibuya at the ground floor of the UP Town Center, Katipunan Avenue. They’re open from 10 AM to 10 PM from Sunday to Thursday,  and 10 AM to 12 MN on Fridays and Saturdays. The meals and desserts are affordable, but if you’re on a budget you can always share the meal with a friend. To know more about Cafe Shibuya, like their Facebook page here.

***

Photos by Marikit Mateo and Aliya Agbon

All Is Swell

 

Scarf, Saizen | 'All Is Swell' Shirt, Coast Thru Life | Lace skirt, Jatujak | Leggings, Watsons | Sneakers, Converse

Glasses, SM Department Store | Scarf, Saizen | ‘All Is Swell’ Shirt, Coast Thru Life | Lace skirt, Jatujak | Leggings, Watsons | Sneakers, Converse

We rise up when we fall and when we do, we become better versions of ourselves. I believe that at some point in our lives, we hit rock bottom and when that happens, the temptation to just stay there and dwell in the negativity of the situation is hard to resist. To hate the world and blame everyone for living lives better than ours is always our go to option as humans compared to acknowledging the situation and eventually accepting it as a part of our life’s story. I used to take the easy route and just allow my emotions to get the best of  me. The younger version of me enjoyed having people care for me and look after me. It felt good for some time until I realized how weak and dependent I’ve become. I failed to live up to the meaning of my second name, ‘Aliya’.

 

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Ballers, Billabong San Juan Surf School (White) and Roxy (Pink) | Bracelets, Amihan sa Dahican | Bag, Thailand | Anklets, Amihan sa Dahican (red, green, yellow) and Jenny Tañedo

To acknowledge that you’ve hit rock bottom is one thing, and to make the decision to make your way out of the hell hole you’re in and rise up is another. I can’t remember how many times I hit a slump in my life, but I do remember receiving the biggest blow and making the decision to deal with the situation head on. People usually think that facing challenges is a piece of cake but I tell you, it’s hard work. The monster that whispers words that feed negative thoughts which eventually spiral into some twisted form of reality when you wake up at say, 3 in the morning does not help either. Most of the time, you find yourself playing a tennis match in your head where one side says all systems go, and the other makes you doubt every step you take towards picking yourself up and moving forward. It’s a feat, it’s exhausting, but trust me when I say that though the battle may be long, you’ll definitely come out strong.

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Every challenge comes with lessons that need to be learned. Yes they’re difficult, and we all have our fair share of trials that we wouldn’t wish on anyone but in retrospect, I believe these trials are life’s way of molding us into the people that we’re destined to be. You can’t go to chapter three without reading chapter one. Sure you can skip, but then the story won’t be complete. I’m not trying to sound like some hyper optimistic know-it-all. What I’m trying to say is maybe, just maybe, with a slight change of perspective it’ll be easier for us to prepare and deal with the roadblocks ahead.

***

Photography by: Wu Vila

Location: Botanic Garden, Melbourne, Australia

“All Is Swell” shirts

were designed by Carla Sebastian

as part of Coast Thru Life’s efforts to raise funds for

the survivors Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). 

Women’s Saturdate

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What happens when you gather women entrepreneurs for an exhibit, zumba session, open forum, and tutorial on makeup and hijab? Women’s Saturdate. This was held last March 15, 2014 at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex as part of the celebration for Women’s Month. Women’s Saturdate is a joint initiative of  Muslim Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Kutawato City Inc. and Regional Commission on Bangsamoro Women. Women entrepreneurs were invited to showcase their items in booths around the area. Some of the participants and exhibitors started the day with two hours Zumba lead by Irene Tan, a licensed Zumba instructor from General Santos City.

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Our dreamcatcher display during the event.

After the zumba session, there was an open forum where the rights of women and children were discussed.  Shari’ah Counsellor Maceda Lidasan Abo, Police Senior Inspector Jaybee Bayani, Shari’ah COunsellor Narumbai Dilangalen-Datukon, Shari’ah COunsellor Edz Pandi, Shari’ah Counsellor Indira Sinsuat, Atty. AlphaCarole Pontanal, And Ustadza Anisa Taha were there to empower the women present during the event. The discussions revolved around what women should do in different situations and who to ask help from. It was good that these things were discussed during the event because most times, women who are put in very difficult situations choose silence over standing up and asserting their rights because they feel like no one will hear their voice and no one will be there to help them. It was good to see women feeling empowered when the forum ended.

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Makeup tutorial by HERs Ikhwaat

Hijab tutorial by HERs Ikhwaat

Hijab tutorial by HERs Ikhwaat

The open forum was followed by tutorials on makeup and hijab by HERs Ikhwaat. These tutorials sparked my interest because I’ve always wanted to learn how to do makeup, and I’ve always been curious about the hijab. I see women wearing the hijab in our city but I’ve always been clueless about the different styles of wearing it. The tutorial helped me appreciate women who wear the hijab more.

Women’s Saturdate was a good venue to empower women and to encourage them to become entrepreneurs. It was also a good venue to let the younger generation appreciate the hijab. I’m really thankful that Eco Choices was invited to participate in this event :)