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! 🙂

Counting Tuesdays

I’m writing this because unlike most of my friends, I believe that 2016 deserves an essay from me. I experienced the lowest of lows that year and I have no idea how I managed to survive all of that. To say 2016 is full of crap wouldn’t be fair to all of the good things that happened last year. With lows are highs, with highs are lows, and the space in between is big enough to make room for learning and realization.

Nope, this isn’t a resolution post because I know at some point this year I’ll be breaking my own rules. I’m just writing this to resurrect my blog and to pay tribute to all the events that happened last year. It’s also a post I intend to go back to, should I doubt myself once again in the future.

So, here we go. In 2016, I learned…

That Every Minute Is Literally A Chance to Turn It All Around

Words of wisdom c/o A. (c) 2016 | Canon 550D

There are so many things that I don’t post on social media mainly because I feel like they shouldn’t be there. I’ve actually been struggling with the whole sharing my life vs keeping things private shiz that’s why I’ve been on and off with my blogging. On one hand yes it’s fun to have an audience and thousands of followers, but on the other hand, it’s not fun to have an audience and thousands of followers. Anyway, back to the story. I found myself in a hellhole that started around April. It was tough and at some point I wanted to give up. Good thing I had my family, and close friends with me that time because they pulled me back up with I hit rock bottom. The problem would have lingered a lot longer if I didn’t decide to put an end to it by looking for ways to solve it.

That the Sun Shines Equally On Everybody

Sun catchers | (c) 2016, Canon 550D

Some days I agree with it, some days I don’t. I mean really, how can the sun shine on the murderers, the rapists, the robbers, the naysayers, or people who don’t have at least 1% of kindness in their hearts? How can the sun shine on those who gave me a hard time? How can the sun shine on all the douchebags who broke my heart?

But the more humbling question is, who am I to decide?

I first heard about it in August and I’m still not able to digest it. On the days that my higher self is more dominant, the statement makes perfect sense. When you set your judgement aside, you’ll be able to see that indeed, the sun shines equally on all of us. However, when the higher self decides to go on a vacation, that’s when all the questions begin to appear. This is something that I’ll have to keep going back to during reflection and meditation.

That I Have to be Kinder to Myself

I | (c) 2016, Canon 550D

I went on an art therapy session once and the funny thing is, my art revealed the things I tried so hard to conceal. Of course the things discussed during the session won’t be revealed here, but if there’s one realization that struck me, it’s that I have to be kinder to myself. It’s easy to be kind to other people but it’s hard when the same amount of kindness has to be given to ourselves.

That Grieving is Personal

My babies | (c) 2016, Asus Zenfone

When Marley and Roxy died, people were quick to tell me that it’s okay, they’re just dogs and that I should move on. I tried my best to filter out the words of nosy naysayers because really, what do they know? I took my own sweet time to process, recover, and accept their deaths. Some say I’m taking an awfully long time to move on, but for me, the speed is just right. I also don’t believe in moving on because that means having to cancel out their existence and forgetting about them. I’d rather move forward. I wear my scars with pride, and I carry their memory everywhere I go. This is also why this entry is entitled Counting Tuesdays because both dogs died on a Tuesday, both dogs died last year, and it feels like the perfect title for a tribute post to the year that was.

That Family is Everything

Ohana with my ohana | (c) 2016, Canon 550D

I was helping my grandfather stand up from the hospital bed when I realized that I was holding the hands of a man who used to hit me with a belt/slipper/wood/whatever. The very hands that would spill rock salt on the wooden floor and ask me to kneel on them. I was looking at the eyes of the man who once grabbed me and threw me on the wall. I was assisting the man who once called me stupid just because I had a red mark on my report card.

But know what? None of that mattered. Set all the disciplinary stuff aside, I know that my grandfather meant well when he did all of those. I wouldn’t be able to write all these entries if it weren’t for him. When the world told me that I’m an accident, my grandfather agreed with my mom when she said I’m a blessing. He’s still one of the few men I look up to and I can only pray that he’ll be with me on my wedding day. That man means the world to me.

That the World Needs More Love and Light

Paper Cranes | (c) 2016, Canon 550D

Oh man, where do I begin? For the most part of last year, I’ve been trying to tune out the negative juju. People are so quick to bash other people these days, those who scheming minds are now in positions of power, and don’t get me started on the cruelty that we’ve been showing to Mother Earth. I’m just hoping that things will turn around this 2017.

2016 was insane, and I’m sure all of you will agree with me. I’m not sure what 2017 has up its sleeve but what I do know is this: I’m ready to face the challenges that it’ll throw my way.

Bring. It. On.


As I type this, I’m literally feeling a huge lump in my throat and a void in my chest. It sounds so dramatic and I planned on NOT writing about this here for fear of being judged but ugh, who cares? This is how I process things so I really need to write.

I just returned Breta to her owner and I’m not supposed to feel anything since she’s not my dog in the first place but here I am, writing a blog about a 3 y/o beagle who spent the past seven days with us.

Seven beautiful days. It feels like a dream.

Perhaps going back to day one will help me understand where this weird feeling of emptiness is coming from. People say we need to forget the past in order to move on but for me, I believe that we need to understand the past so we are better prepared for whatever it is that’s on our way. I’d rather acknowledge and understand than forget.

It all started two weeks ago when I received a text from Marina. She was asking if they can bring their beagle, Breta to our house. They learned about Marley’s good genes and they were wondering if the two beagles can mate. I thought of it as an answered prayer since I’ve been wanting to find a partner for Marley so I said yes. A couple of days later, Marley and I finally met Marina and Breta. After a short conversation with Marina, I was left with two beagles: a shy Breta on my left and a giddy Marley on my right.

I remember feeling a bit annoyed at first because I had so many things to do. There were articles that had to be written, crafts that needed to be finished, plus some more errands but despite my annoyance, I found myself checking on Breta every now and then. Marley immediately attempted to do what he was supposed to do but Breta just wanted to sit down and familiarize herself with the new environment.

Seeing double | Canon 550D

Knowing that I easily get attached to people, animals, events, whatever, I kept a safe distance from Breta. I’d feed her when needed, clean her wounds and play with her for a bit but I remained distant. As days passed however, Breta showed some similarities with Roxy. That’s when that familiar area in my chest started to hurt again.

Their barks sound the same. Plus, Breta also does the little things that Roxy used to do. She’d put both front paws on my knee whenever I approach her, or she’d put both her paws on Marley’s back as he walks around the house, and she’d stick her head inside the hole on our door to see if we’re cooking food. It was bittersweet. Think of it as… still trying to be friends with the dingbat who broke your heart. No matter how much you want to break the person’s neck, you need to take the high road, stay classy, and be civil. That sounded a bit morbid but yeah, having Breta around was like that. I didn’t want to break her neck though. I just didn’t want to be overwhelmed by all of the similarities I was seeing, but I had a job to do.


I finally decided to take down my walls of defense. I began to appreciate Breta’s presence because having her around reminded me of how things were when Roxy was still with us. I went back to feeding and playing with two beagles. Mornings once again meant receiving greetings from two happy beagles, both wagging their tales. For a brief moment, it felt like Roxy was with us once again. Everything felt right once again.


It was fun, but then this day came. I already knew the fantasy would end at some point, and as much as I want to keep it going, I’ll have to give in and press ‘STOP’. I kept checking on Breta last night, and she was extra cuddly. Her feet were sore from stalking me all morning and I felt bad. I guess that’s how dogs are when they know they’ll be leaving soon : they stalk you, and they stare at you for a long time, as if trying to memorize every single detail.

I was bawling my eyes out hours before Marina and the owner came by for Breta. Part of me didn’t want to let go but part of me also knew that it had to be done. I managed to squeeze in a few minutes with Breta before finally bringing her downstairs. I thanked her for being with us and for allowing us to relive what life was like when there were two beagles in our house, and for doing antics that made us laugh.

Roxy, if that was your doing, tuso ka talaga. I know you would have wanted to say goodbye properly but God had other plans. If that was your way of saying goodbye, of helping me deal with the pain of losing you, of telling me that you are in good hands and that you are no longer in pain, thank you. I felt your presence, and it was a joy having you around once again. In four days you would have been a whole year older and I will blog once again on that day. For now, I’ll have to deal with missing you every single day, reliving all of our happy memories, and looking forward to that time when I’ll get to hug you once again.

To Breta’s owners, thank you. My heart is filled to the brim. Until we meet again.

Eco Choices Craft Workshop: Water Hyacinth Frames

Always share your story. Keep it short, simple, and make sure that it’s attached in all of your products. Don’t forget to include your contact information, of course.

I kept hearing that reminder in almost every workshop I attended. I wrote and revised the story of Eco Choices in the hopes that with a few words, people will understand what the battle cry of our social enterprise is. We’re a small business based in Cotabato City, we have a soft spot for social work, and the only reason why we started with this business is because we wanted to help provide solutions for the increasing water hyacinth problem in our part of the country.  The beginnings may be simple, but our dreams are big that’s why we’re always excited to tell people about our business and share what we know about water hyacinth crafts.

It was one of those dry and humid nights last April when I received a text message from Ian Magallona, a student from the Mindanao State University in General Santos City. He asked about Eco Choices and invited us to share what we know about making water hyacinth frames. I cringed at the thought of facing college students and teaching (introvert alert!) but I decided to give it a go since it’s an opportunity to let more people know about our business and it would be nice to teach a craft workshop again. After a few more exchange of emails, I found myself in a bus on the way to General Santos City.

I met with Ian and his group mates the night before the workshop to give them a crash course on water hyacinth frame making. Some steps were tricky, but they managed to pull it off and finish the frames just a few hours before midnight. They also gave me an orientation on what to expect during the workshop, plus a short list of topics that I should discuss during the session.

Showing the students how to measure the chipboard.

The next day, we went to Grab-A Crab for the workshop. There were approximately 60 students in the function room, all ready to learn how to make water hyacinth frames. I began the session by telling them about my story, and why I’m into handmade products. I then told them about the humble beginnings of Eco Choices and then showed them the different products that we have. After a few more minutes, it was time to teach them how to make the water hyacinth frames.


I walked around the room to assist those who struggled with the materials. I kept telling them that it’s okay if the output isn’t perfect since that’s not what the goal is. They were there to learn how to make water hyacinth frames and everyone did exactly that. As a facilitator, I stopped myself from imposing what the output should be, since each person’s creative process and interpretation is different. By the end of the session, I was surprised to see that some of them made 3d art on their water hyacinth frames. I also noticed that some of the students decided to save the paper because according to them, the texture is nice and they want to use it for something else.

It was a joy to watch the students go home with their water hyacinth frames. Some didn’t finish on time, but they still brought the materials home because they’re determined to finish and use the water hyacinth frames. It was a joy teaching them and learning from them.

IMG_1605To the 2nd year Business Management students of MSU-GSC, thank you so much for having me. Until next time! 🙂

42 is Just a Number


For the past few days, I’ve been thinking of ways to start this entry. This is a lot more special than the daily Project 366 I’ve been posting (last post was January 18 and I owe you 44, goodness!) because this post is about making a statement, pushing the limits, and proving something to myself. At this moment, I’m still reeling in from the events that transpired last week and the only thing I can think of despite the thousands of thoughts in my head right now is this: “I made it”.

I freakin’ made it.

For months I’ve been itching to post this on social media but I decided not to. When you put something on the world wide web it becomes public domain and you allow people to say something about whatever it is that you posted. With that, I decided to post when it’s done because then I won’t have to deal with opinions and expectations from people.

Now we begin.

I think that people who run marathons have a hugot story. Here’s mine:

I ran for love. *cringe* Nope. Haha! I ran because I wanted to prove something to myself. I was born with skin asthma which later on developed into bronchial asthma. My first asthma-related memory involves a long list of food that I should avoid, and another list of medicines that I need to take. I was four and at that early age, I was always singled out whenever my peers played games that involved running, jumping, screaming, and intense dust exposure. In school, there were times when I had to be sent to the clinic because I couldn’t breathe. In college I tried to fight my asthma, only to end up in the hospital with a dextrose and plenty of antibiotics because I prioritized my thesis and forgot to take care of my lungs.


I kind of found my turf when I started to surf. Breathing was not an issue- the ocean breeze was my best friend. I didn’t have to worry about being singled out because hey, we’re all “single” when we’re out in the sea anyway. We chase our own waves and well, ask others to push us when our arms are too tired to paddle.However, the weekly surf trips began to affect my savings so I had to lay low for a while. I then found myself enjoying flag football but I could only run a couple of rounds (when I’m lucky I’d score a touchdown). Anything more than that and I’d be gasping for air already. A lot of people called me a wimp because my lungs weren’t as normal or as strong as theirs and for a long time, I allowed their perspective to limit me.

Last August 2015, the applications for The Bull Runner Dream Marathon 2016 opened and for some reason, I decided to send my application. I fidgeted as I filled in the form. I was crying because I didn’t know if I could do it- the only thing certain at that time was that I want to run. In my heart I knew that I wanted to run and when I found out that I got accepted, I told my mom and my uncle who is a TBR alumnus. Both expressed their concerns but said they will support my decision.

When I told some of my friends about it, most of them laughed and even joked that I might as well crawl all the way to the finish line. Only a few told me that they believe in me and that I can do it. I think when these things happen, you have two options: listen to people who say you can’t, or listen to people who say you can. However, whether it’s a can or a can’t, you have your OWN voice to listen to at the end of the day and whatever that voice says is your reality.

A few days before the marathon, I had to deal with the death of my beagle, Roxy. I was crushed and I wondered if I can still run. I was tempted to drop out but then I also knew that dropping out meant adding another item on my long list of what ifs. So, instead of sulking, I decided to still prepare for the run and dedicate the distance of 42k to Roxy as a way of celebrating her life.

Roxy | (c) Aliya Agbon

The day before the marathon I couldn’t sleep or eat. I was too anxious. I suffered from a migraine, I thought I was about to get sick, and I think I checked my running gear more than ten times to make sure I won’t be forgetting anything. Since the gun start for the marathon was at 2 in the morning at Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna, my uncle and I left Manila at 12 midnight. I tried to sleep on the way but I couldn’t so I tried to condition myself instead. When I saw the venue, I became even more nervous because oh my goodness what am I doing to myself. What the hell did I get myself into? I was overwhelmed with emotions, everything was a blur, and I just wanted to get it overwith. I then saw my best friend, Chickee, who was with her boyfriend Ty. I asked Chickee to pace me since it was my first time to run a marathon. She assured me that everything will be okay, that I can do it, and that I will cross the finish line. I was jumping up and down during the countdown and I screamed when I heard the gun start.

(c) Marriz Agbon

And so the journey to 42k began.

Chickee and I walked during the first minute not to conserve energy, but to find our space in the sea of marathoners, pacers, and dream chasers. We jogged during the second minute to signal the start of our 1:1 run-walk pace to complete the distance of 42.195 kilometers. I tried to let my mind drift back to the days when I was still training so I can easily ignore 1) the fact that it’ll take a while for me to finish the marathon, 2) words from the naysayers that were ringing in my ears and 3) to have fun. Before we knew it, we were already jogging uphill and we were on our way to hit 5k. Time check, 50 minutes. We were making good time.

The cold Nuvali air made it fun and easy to run. Going uphill was quite exhausting but the grand view of the city lights made the climb worthwhile. After a few more stories and high fives from the dream chasers, we hit the 15k mark. Unfortunately for me, I began to feel pain on both feet so I asked Chickee to help me stretch for a bit. I kept checking my watch because I didn’t want to be disqualified. After some minutes of stretching, Chickee and I decided to power walk all the way to 21k. I was stopped twice because the dream chasers noticed that I was already limping. They massaged my feet and sprayed liniment for relief. Some tried to make me laugh, while some told me that there’s a possibility that I won’t make the cut (when we heard this, Chickee and I screamed: NEVER!).

When we finally reached 21k, Chickee had to rest. She wasn’t allowed to do the whole 42k since she’ll be doing a triathlon the week after. I was finally on my own. The sun was up, I could see that some of my batch mates were almost finished with their second loop and all I could do at that point was pray that I finish the remaining 21k, aching feet and all.

You’d think that at some point I’d complain about my weak lungs but nope, that didn’t happen. My lungs were surprisingly fine! No asthma!

On the way to 21K with Lance, Chickee, and Sir Adel | (c) Active Pinas

When I reached 22k, I sent a text to my mom, my uncle, Chickee, and Aar to let them know that I made it past the dreaded 21k mark. At this point I was already weighing the pros and cons. Will I make the cut? What if I don’t? I was also trying to make mental computations of how fast I should go (yeah right) and at what time I should hit the 30k mark so I can cross the finish line before 11 AM. I was crying because I felt so alone. Bikers and cars would drive past me and say “you can do it!” and the only thing I could give them was a faint smile. I kept thinking about my goal, I kept walking despite the pain, and when I chanced upon Ga, a fellow marathoner, I walked faster so I can ask how he is and talk to him for a bit. Both of us were power walking and both of us were wondering if making the cut is still possible. After a few minutes I decided to go ahead because I wanted to press forward and see how far I can go. At 26k I saw Brian, another marathoner. He asked about my feet because he saw me limping. He gave me some tips, all of which were acknowledged, and then we continued walking. When I reached 30k, I saw my uncle and when I approached him, he asked if I still wanted to continue. I paused for a bit. 30k. I made it this far. I can just give up, right? Right? NO. I told him I’ll finish the marathon.

Station 3 Dream Chasers | (c) Jn Tbr

With that, we stopped by station 3. Some of the dream chasers gave me a massage (thank you, all of you!), and then, I finally allowed myself to break down ( I don’t know if it’s because of exhaustion or pain). At 30k, everything becomes mental. The physical pain is secondary. I zeroed in and focused on my goal. I fought through the pain. I wanted to triumph over the pain. I had no plans of quitting. Nope, not gonna happen.

My uncle walked with me for the last 12k. We talked about a lot of things which was helpful because I managed to take my mind off my aching feet. I’d pause and hold my knees from time to time, to relieve some of the pain. I tried to jog, but since that was too painful, I decided to stick to power walking. At this point, I opened myself to one of the principles of open space technology: whatever happens is the only thing that could.

My uncle gave me pickle juice to fight off the cramps. From time to time, he sprayed cold water on my face. I had twenty minutes to negotiate 2k but at that time, my pace went from 10:1 to 15:1. So near yet so far.

Last few meters to 42K | (c) Active Pinas

The dream chasers cheered when I passed the last station. One of them even screamed “you are my idol!” and that helped a lot. When you’re limping your way to the finish line and when all hope seems lost, cheers and words of encouragement from people you don’t even know will give you that extra push that you need. My uncle, Chickee, Tyron, and some of the dream chasers walked with me as I limped my way to the finish line.

Unofficial time: 9 hours and 17 minutes. Total distance: 42.195 kilometers.

I didn’t make the cut, I don’t have a medal, but I feel like I won first place.

With Jaymie Pizarro! | (c) Marriz Agbon

I just stood there in disbelief. I made it. I made it? I made it. Oh wow I made it! Good thing the photo booth was still there so I had the chance to have my photo taken with the words “I AM A MARATHONER”. We also saw The Bull Runner herself, Jaymie Pizarro, who congratulated me because despite the pain, I still fought and finished the marathon. At this point, I already had to sit down because my feet could no longer carry my weight. After claiming my swag bag and finisher’s shirt, I bid Chickee and Tyron goodbye. It was time to go home.

When in doubt, dimples out! | (c) Active Pinas

A lot of people thought I did it to seek vengeance but that’s not the case. When I signed up for The Dream Marathon 2016, it was clear that I wanted to show myself that I’m not weak. I wanted to prove to myself that I am strong and that I can run a marathon. When people ask me how I did it, all I can say is that I chose to believe in myself and ignore the negative opinions of others. People will always have something to say and that’s fine. At the end of the day, you decide which of those opinions deserve your attention, and which ones should be tossed in the I-don’t-give-a-f*ck-bucket. Besides, I think that people who say you can’t are threatened because you are more courageous than they are.

The first step to accomplishing anything in life is believing in yourself. The whole 42k, I kept telling myself “you can do it” and I believe, that those four words gave me the fuel that I needed to finish.

I just want to give a shout out to my mom and my brother for supporting me all the way and for understanding that I just wanted to prove something to myself, my uncle who paced me and helped me recover, Chickee for believing in me and for pacing me during the first 21k, Tyron for supporting Chickee (and me! Haha!), Aar for supporting me and for monitoring me during the run (I made it! Team strong!), Sir Adel, Lance, Shep Kat, Ate Marie, Ate Kit, Ga, Brian, Dream Chasers, TBR for making all of this possible, and of course, Roxy. 42.195k was no easy feat but you gave me strength. I hope you’re happy in dog heaven. We miss you.

They don’t call me “Aliya” for nothing 😉 | (c) Active Pinas

My name, Aliya, is a Hebrew word which means “to rise up” and that’s exactly what I did last February 21, 2016- the day I became a marathoner.

If you have asthma or if you’ve been told you can’t do things because you have weak lungs, I hope this entry inspires you. For the past 28 years of my life I’ve been told not to move too much because I have asthma and I allowed myself to be limited by the opinions of other people. It has to change at some point.

We have the power to rise and claim our space in this world. Weak lungs and all. 😉


Crafts to Crumbs : Toasted Pastillas


Now You See Me | Canon 550D

When one runs out of Toasted Pastillas, one must do research and learn how to make the tasty treat! I’m not patient when it comes to cooking or baking but today I had to level up my EQ to keep me sane. After googling and watching tutorial videos on Youtube (really thank God for these two), I finally worked in the kitchen and made Toasted Pastillas. I thought it was easy. Well, technically it is but I have to admit that some parts were tricky for me. I mean, who would’ve thought it’d be that hard to mix two parts milk powder and one part condensed milk?

The Milky Way | Canon 550D

I mixed for almost thirty minutes. For the next step I had to form tiny Pastillas cubes. At this point my EQ levels were about to drop down to zero. I managed to finish it anyway.

Toasted Pastillas | Canon 550D

It took me almost four hours to finish my first batch of Toasted Pastillas. The texture’s a bit dry but the taste, for me, is divine. I shall practice more and hopefully achieve the texture that I want.

Now, back to working with water hyacinth paper!

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!

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.


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.


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.


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.


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




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.


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”.


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.


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.


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.


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