Sinag Stories: My Thirteenth Birthday

Each year, I patiently wait for the clock to strike 12 so I can sing a birthday song to myself. Of course, there were times when I’d wish for people to surprise me at 12 midnight with songs, flowers, balloons, and a cake, but reality taught me to manage my expectations.

When I found out that I’ll be celebrating my birthday in an evacuation center this year, I was quite happy about it. For once, I’ll be spending it with the kids I’ve grown close to, along with the volunteers of Creating Sinag Within. People say thirty is just a number, but for me thirty means three decades of existence, loaded with challenges to help me become the person I’m destined to be. I was planning on cooking something for the team so we can have a mini celebration, but little did I know that they already had their own plans.

Got me some candy and I saw this. What are the odds? (c) Aliya Agbon | Canon 550D

A Few Hours Before Midnight

End-of-the-day meetings are part of our rhythm. The backward review gives us the space to run through the events that happened during the day, to note areas that need to be improved, and to acknowledge situations that are significant to us. I distinctly remember voicing out that we really need to sleep at 9 that night because we didn’t have enough sleep the night before. I was itching for the meeting to finish because I could no longer keep my eyes open. The moment we finished the meeting, I rushed to my bed to sleep. Before closing my eyes, I told Dayang ” I turn a day older tomorrow, isn’t that interesting?”

Lights off.

Yakosinilado Banaha

I was nearing the end of the bridge, the part where I can say I’ve finally fallen asleep, when I heard voices from afar. “Si, si, si, sidolada, yakosinilado banaha!” The voices were muffled at first, like they were from a hundred miles away. I figured, maybe the EP team is still rehearsing for the activities the next day but why? We already agreed that we need to sleep. The voices grew louder and it dawned on me that they were not rehearsing for any activity. I peeked through my malong and I noticed that candle lights danced with the darkness in the room, and that there were people standing near my bed.

I cried.

The Birthday Surprise

It took a while for me to get up because I couldn’t stop crying. When I finally decided to get up, I saw the Courageous Marawi 12 and the Creating Sinag Within volunteers armed with cakes, balloons, flowers, and a cake. They sang their birthday song and I walked around the room to thank each one for taking the time and effort to make my birthday special.

Love you, Courageous Marawi 12! (c) Louise Far, 2017

I received three black balloons, thirteen long stemmed roses, one birthday cake, and love from all of the volunteers that night.

Thirteen going on thirty! (c) Louise Far, 2017

I then learned about how they planned the whole thing, and the things that they had to do in order for the surprise to be successful. I was just staring at them while they were talking because at that moment, my heart just wanted to explode with all the love it received that night.

Now, you’re probably wondering why the title says “thirteenth birthday”. Well, here’s why:

Happy 13th to me! (c) Audi Ibrahim, 2017

This was all Imad’s idea. Haha. Anyway, my heartfelt thanks to all those who remembered my birthday. Special shoutout to the Courageous Marawi 12 for planning the surprise. I definitely felt loved. Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚

Sugar Pappi

To make my mom’s birthday extra special, I ordered cupcakes from Sugar Pappi – a pรขtissiere based in Cotabato City. My good friend Steph runs the business with her brother, Fore, and I’ve always been a fan of their pastries. I’ve known Steph since socks with laces and ribbons were in vogue. We used to spend weekends at their house and since she’s into baking and cooking, she’d ask us to sample her dishes – ย all of which we indulged, of course.


I ordered nine boxes of chocolate, choco vanilla, and strawberry cupcakes for my mom’s birthday. The presentation was really impressive. It’s noticeable that the siblings paid attention to the details which shows how passionate they are with the work that they do and that they value their clients.

Chocolate cupcake

People started getting their share of cupcakes once I finished working on the cupcake tower. Most of the guests liked the chocolate flavored cupcakes while the rest were torn between choco vanilla and strawberry.

Strawberry cupcake
Choco vanilla cupcake

The cupcakes were so pretty I didn’t want to eat them. I made sure that each cupcake was photographed before giving the guests permission to eat them. I’m glad that the cupcakes tasted just right; not too sweet and not too bland. The height of the icing was okay as well, it wasn’t messy to eat. I’m glad that the guests liked the cupcakes. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on my mom’s face when she saw the cupcake tower. My personal mission was to make my mom very happy on her birthday and Sugar Pappi helped me achieve my goal.

Dear reader, if you’re based in Cotabato City and you want to make someone feel special or if you just want to give in to your pastry cravings (which will be very hard to resist trust me), order from Sugar Pappi. To order, you can call/text 09427799509 or email You can also follow them on Instagram : @thesugarpappi.

Silver Plus One

Last October 24, I added another year to my age. I was excited to celebrate my birthday this year for two reasons: I get to spend time with my family and I get to surf. ย ๐Ÿ™‚

My heart has been overflowing with happiness since two weeks ago. God has showered me with blessings and each day, I woke up wanting to express how grateful I am, but never finding the words worthy enough to show what I really feel. It’s been some time since I felt this way that’s why I was thrilled to welcome my 26th birthday. Too excited, I have to admit. I had a hard time sleeping because I was so happy.

It was nice to wake up to my mother’s very tight hug. She woke me up at around 5:30 in the morning since we had to leave early for Dahican. We stopped by Cafe France for breakfast since she’s been wanting to eat there since the night before. We were lucky because the place wasn’t full and there were parking slots available. The restaurant staff were very accommodating and attentive to our needs; they even greeted me happy birthday. ๐Ÿ™‚

It was already 9 in the morning when we left for Dahican. Traffic not permitting, we arrived in Dahican at 2 in the afternoon. ย I was looking forward to having an afternoon surf session, but since the waves were too small, I decided to take pictures of the skim boarders. The way they run, skim, flip their boards and ride the waves is like beautiful poetry. How they do it effortlessly is a mystery to me.

And he's only 11.
And he’s only 11.
Bayogyog Aporbo, 2-time champion of the Penang International Skimboarding Competition
Bayogyog Aporbo, 2-time champion of the Penang International Skimboarding Competition

After taking pictures and teaching my brother the basics of surfing, we ate dinner. The number of people in the venue was starting to grow since the Sambuokan Festival competition participants and event guests were starting to arrive. We had the chance to talk to Alantoy who immediately gave us updates on what’s been happening the past few months. It was nice to see him and his brother, Bochok, again. They’re kind of my surf family here in Mindanao. After dinner, we went to bed since we planned on going dolphin watching and surfing the next day.

Because of the Sambuokan Festival in Mati, all of the hotels were fully booked. Good thing we were able to rent a tent from the Amihan Boys. They set up the tent near the shore which was a good thing. I liked falling asleep to ocean’s lullaby and waking up to the same song. When I opened our tent the next morning, I was speechless. See, this was waiting for us outside:

Early morning peelers.
Boys in the city jog for miles while Amihan boys skim for hours.
Boys in the city jog for miles while boys in Dahican skim for hours.



Langlang, sister of Bayogyog. She's only fifteen years old.
Langlang, sister of Bayogyog. She’s only fifteen years old.

I had my share of stoke that morning too! At 9 AM that morning, after looking for dolphins, our boat stopped at a spot that had glassy waist-high waves. Two of the Amihan Boys were there to assist and they were nice enough to give tips that helped me improve my ride. They also taught my brother how to surf. Both of us were stoked!

Birthday surf from a different angle.
Sibs. :)
Sibs. ๐Ÿ™‚
Long ride โค
My brother's first ride. ;)
My brother’s first ride. ๐Ÿ˜‰

My brother and I had our own share of cuts from that morning’s session but we were still stoked. The water was so clear, we could see the corals, fishes, ย and sea urchins (unfortunately) underneath. The waves were perfect and the best part was, we had it all to ourselves.

Birthday cut.
Birthday cut.

We stayed at the Amihan Boy’s cottage in the afternoon because our tent was hotter than a sauna. We met new people there, including the youngest of the Plaza siblings: Juan. Some of the younger Amihan boys were there too and they were all smiles as they told us their stories. Some of them came from really difficult situations and according to them, skim boarding helped them cope. It was really good to hear how surfing and skim boarding helped change their lives.

Later that afternoon, Langlang and Jovic taught me how to skim. They said it’s a lot more difficult that surfing but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. I really appreciate that they took some time off their skim session just to teach me. I was really moved. I didn’t really do well because I was scared of falling. The board hit me twice and I’m sporting two new bruises on my left leg, but it’s okay. I want to learn how to skim and seeing how it’s done, I know that I will have more scars and bruises.

(c) Bane Agbon
(c) Bane Agbon
With Langlang. (c) Bane Agbon
With Langlang. (c) Bane Agbon

I’m still stoked from my 26th birthday celebration. It was simple, but it was very meaningful. I got to spend it with my family while doing what I love the most. To those who remembered my birthday and took time to send their birthday greetings, thank you so much. My heart is overflowing with happiness and gratitude. โค


When you’re young, you plan your birthday months before. You hand out invitations to the people that you want to be present on your special day. One day before the party, you’re busy sorting out candies for the loot bags and spying on your parents to know what your present is. On the day of the party, you patiently wait as the cake and balloons are delivered. Once everything’s set, your guests start to appear, the party begins, and it ends with everyone singing the age old happy birthday song.

But things change as you get older.

Guests are narrowed down to people you believe are close to you, months become weeks of planning, and parties become dates. At least for me, that’s the case. It comes to a point when you become practical, and you want things to be more intimate. Of course you still want to feel special on your birthday, and the yearning to blow birthday candles still exist.

Here’s how I spent my birthday:

I waited til 12. I call this the birthday “salubong”. Special shoutout to Migz who waited with me. I woke up at 5 in the morning to prepare for my birthday breakfast with Karia and Jason. Around 5:30, my mom called to greet me. We both time travelled to 25 years ago, because it was around that time that I was born. “You didn’t even let me eat breakfast” she said. I cried because I wanted her to be around, but due to certain circumstances it wasn’t possible. I missed her so much. The conversation ended with her telling me that I should eat 25 pieces of Magnum to be happy (and bloated). Haha.

I arrived Makadoo (McDonald’s) ย Eastwood at around 6 and I was greeted by Karia and Jason. It was a nice way to start the day. After buying food, we sat down and talked about almost anything. Karia and Jason are like my second family so and it’s a blessing that I got to spend time with them. ๐Ÿ™‚

The “gift wrapper”

Karia, Jason, and a bottle of alcohol. ๐Ÿ™‚

After breakfast, I decided to pay my godchildren a visit. If I’m not mistaken, it’s been more than two months since the last time I saw the boys. I also made mental landmarks on the way so I can visit them anytime. When we arrived Team Banez immediately ran outside so I can take this picture:

“This is a dream come true!”-Karia

While waiting for the boys, Jason went upstairs to play games on the ipad while Karia and I stayed downstairs to bond. We both couldn’t believe how far we’ve come as friends. We’ve been witnesses to each other’s milestones and cheerleaders to each other’s battle with the curve balls life threw our way. Karia’s one of the few people I can’t imagine not having in my life. I’m really thankful I have her. ๐Ÿ™‚

Iyalicious and Kariaton.

A few minutes later, the boys arrived and showered us with hugs and kisses. ๐Ÿ™‚

Tato and Baydee! โค

Come night time, I had a skype session with my cousin who’s currently in New York.

J9 and Joe

And they sent me this as their birthday gift:

The obligatory Puss-in-boots pose

I was greeted via different forms of communication. Some called, some sent text messages, emails, private messages, and some posted on my wall. It felt good to be remembered. A lot will say there’s the Facebook notification to say thank you to but for me, it means so much that people took the time from their busy schedules to compose a message. These messages stood out yesterday. It was hard to read without crying:

“bawal jud mamamahaw bag-o manganak? hehehe.. this day,this hour, 25 years ago, Lolo and Lola’s house was in a frenzy. Suddenly, driving the car, boiling water, opening cabinet shelves finding pillows became rocket science ๐Ÿ™‚ wagas ang panic.. ๐Ÿ™‚ then lo and behold, we saw you. Nothing beats the feeling of hugging and kissing you at that moment. Since then, it became a wonderful journey for our family. We rock ei? Happy, happy birthday, anak.. love you so much…”-Mama

“Happy birthday, tapwan. I ‘m not good in giving messages but I’ll try. Medyo cliche, pero I mean it. ๐Ÿ˜› I wish you all the best in life and all your dreams come true. Sana iwan mo na lahat ng lungkot at sakit. Be happy. Smile. :)”- Migz

“Warm greetings from New York on your birthday! Enjoy the day and the rest of the year. And you can always count on me for help or guidance. Happy 25th year of living!”- Uncle Papang

“Iya! We hope you enjoyed your birthday time with us. I’m so proud of the graceful person you’ve become after all the crap you’ve been through. I’m thankful that I’m still able to witness your stint in this world by being your person, as you are mine. We love you! I love you! Thank you for being the blessing that you are. Happy 25th! You are special to us”

“You may not be the strongest, but you are stronger, than the person you were yesterday, that’s all that matters”

– Kariaton

“Lagi mong tandaan na ikaw ay isang blessing sa mga kabataan, sa iyong pamilya at sa aming mga kaibigan. Maganda ka inside and out kaya maswerte ang taong nagmamahal sayo.ย 

Wish ko sa iyo ay isang bonggang love life. I know you have so much love to share kaya sana ay mahanap mo ang lalakeng tunay na magmamahal sayo.” -Daniel Abunales

It was nice to receive birthday greetings from different parts of the world. The celebration officially ends on Sunday. Again, to those who sent me greetings thank you so much! ๐Ÿ™‚