In Many Ways I Arrived 

The past few months of this year have been an excruciating feat as I wrestled with countless emotions and racing questions about my life and relationships.  Having been in a constant state of departure for most of my life, the conscious decision to linger and feel things fully without having to take the exit door when things become uncomfortable has made me vulnerable and insecure in many ways.

But it is in vulnerability and opening myself to others at the risk of being exposed where the true gift is found.

Second Christmas Day Snowfall, Vancouver WA

Where joy thrives.

And where real connection is built.

I have had countless of missteps along the way.

Enchanted forest along the Lewis River

And in most days, I find myself in a perpetual state of ambivalence.

But still, and despite of it all,

I jump in, knowing that through living

I will have my answers.

Raging River in North Fork.

Embracing the fact that I have not figured it out yet.

And being okay with it.

Knowing, that whatever happens,

I lived and felt it all

without holding back.

without any regrets.

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Educated

On my way to work one day, I came across the podcast interview of Oprah with Tara Westover, the author of Educated, which was one of the books that made a tremendous impression on me this year.  Her experiences being brought up in a Mormon survivalist family is distressing, to say the least. I remember how the book struck a chord with me, and weighed heavily on my shoulders that I needed to debrief after finishing it. I had to dig up and revisit my old notes, which I felt were very personal and sensitive at that time of writing.  But I guess now, I have summoned enough courage to share some snippets of the raw thoughts I had after reading the book:

Just finished listening to the audiobook of Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated.  The book is so compelling that I felt the pain and uneasiness of her existence just by flipping through the pages of her life. Her immense love for her family and her desire to get a tight grip of that ideal were evident throughout the book, but one could also recognize the excruciating battle of existing in two worlds that are pushing and pulling and are so contradicting from one another.  Having to choose between love and loyalty to family or her growth, freedom, and safety is the overarching dilemma of her memoir.

Her experiences of having a father who has mental illness (which only came to light later on) were vaguely familiar as they reminded me of how it is to love someone who has paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions of grandeur.  Believe me, it is not an easy place to be in and the  fears of another could easily get into your psyche if you don’t touch base with your own reality. When I was in that situation, there was this bell-- my internal guiding system-- incessantly ringing, urging me to save myself and take the exit road, because even a mentally stable person can lose it with prolonged exposure.  It reminded me of how mind boggling it was to listen to someone who had all these thoughts and unfounded fears-- blurring my own sense of judgment of the truth and influencing me to believe conjured-up realities, all in the name of love. I trusted that person with all my heart and I wanted to believe in him so bad I felt like a supporting actress in this made-up narrative in another person’s head.  I saw in Tara’s story a vision of a future-gone-wrong for me.  Her mom is a reflection of who I could have been had I continued being with someone who has a severe mental illness and who is not willing to get help for it.  It scared me to my core to envision the kind of family and children we would have produced-- how unintentionally, we would have added more pain and trauma to this world.  The recurring nightmares I had when I was in this situation were very telling signs of my body and subconscious, asking me to run, as fast as I can, as far as I can.

But unlike Tara’s mom, I am lucky enough to be educated.  I have always taken pride in my happy childhood that has formed the foundation of my value system.  But I guess in matters of the heart, one’s education figures the least, if at all in your decision-making process. If you are ruled solely by your emotions, it is hard to use logic when you are in a dire situation. To be fair, illness is never anyone’s choice.  But getting help is.  And that is one lesson that took the longest for me to understand.  Looking back, the hardest challenge for me at that time was to reconcile the idea that the person I loved so deeply, who had showered me with much love and devotion before the illness, has turned to a different person-- whose depths I cannot reach or connect to no matter how hard I tried.  I found myself having a ping pong and internal battle of what has been vs. what is.  And there’s the huge guilt looming over me for leaving when he needed me most.  Walking away from such a situation is the hardest thing I have done in my life.  At times when I felt enough was enough, I folded when courage called for it.  So I am quite sympathetic to Tara’s mom.  I am sure there was resistance in the beginning, but the more she immersed in her husband’s world, the more she got swallowed by it.  Perhaps she just woke up one day with her world already turned upside down. But I also do not absolve her from being an accomplice in Tara’s pains.

Another downright disturbing part of the memoir is the abuse Tara experienced from her own brother Shawn.  As a reader, you instantaneously recognize that she should stay away from him.  But as is often the case, it took a long time for Tara to understand that she is a recipient of not only physical, but also of emotional abuse by someone dear to her.  She kept on getting hurt, but still forgiving because he is family.  It was a cycle that kept on repeating like a broken record.  Shawn is a product of a mentally ill father and an accomplice mother.  I can bet with all the baggage their entire family is carrying that he is mentally unstable as well.  

Staying because he is her brother is what people in abusive relationships do- they know it is wrong and they should run away but they always make up excuses to forgive, to justify,  to save the other person.  It is hard to break a cycle of codependency.  From an outsider’s point of view the answer is to leave and cut contact.  But it is not that easy.  It is family.  Or a person you love.  And there is always guilt in having to walk away. I may not have experienced it myself but I could imagine how hard it must have been for her.

Tara is a remarkable woman, seeing all the things she went through to get to where she is now.  She is a true powerhouse, but I am sure she is carrying a burdensome load on her shoulder until now.  I hope though that she is able to unpack the trauma that beset her to still lead a normal life.

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Self-talk

I recently came across an old photograph

of myself, 

in my rock bottom

with those telling eyes

carrying a million sorrow

staring back at me.

Still, with all the odds

of that time,

I managed a smile.

And now sitting 

on my bedroom floor

I wondered–  

grateful,

that I managed to be where I am now

Perhaps it is in the daily persistence

of having to drag myself every morning

Or the kindness of people around me

The ardent prayers of my parents

Of meaningful encounters

That became my saving grace

“You have come a long way,”

I whispered 

You deserve a pat on your shoulder

But make no mistake,

quickly reminding myself

Healing is a long and winding road

Some days you just have to go 

Cha cha dancing with your emotions

In these moments,

Take heart

and be patient with yourself

Embrace the process

of unlearning, 

and then remembering 

your essence– 

How it felt as you laid

in your mother’s womb

stripped off from the various

labels of the world

submerged in the power of the life force 

which you were born from

It is no easy feat to be human

But you strive 

Survive

And on most days, thrive

So give yourself credit

for the battles won

no matter how minuscule

Understanding this

live in recognition

that everyone who is walking this earth

has been scarred in one way or another

So be gentle,

Be kind

for each has a burden to carry

and some shadows 

trailing from behind

No matter where you are in your journey

Know in confidence 

That light sifts through

the broken cracks,

That dawn always breaks

after a dark night

Rest in knowing

that everything will fall 

into place

That there is grace

to hold on to

That those who are meant to be

in your life

will find their way

While others,

will fall away

So you do not need to know now

Where the road will lead you 

Or drown yourself with thoughts

Of the not-happened-yet

Just take one courageous step

Each day

Guided by your inner voice

Your compass

And True North

Someday, 

it will all make sense

you’ll look back

and   be able 

to connect the dots

But for now, 

be patient

Life is not just  made of

the big moments

the punctuations

In your sentences

On most days it is silence

the uneventful,

and the mundane

So trust in the process

Trust in your gut feel

And take one single step at a time

in full recognition, 

that you are meant to be 

where you are

at this very moment

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A Tale of Two Countries

Last Sunday, 26 September was a monumental day for me for two reasons:

It was my first time to cast my vote in the National Elections of Germany and raise my voice in the affairs of a country which has been embracing and cradling me for the last nine years.

Deutschland has been so good to me on so many levels.  Admittedly, my entry to the country was with comparable ease *except for the part that I had to compete worldwide to get the scholarship*. Having been admitted to the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst program on Public Policy and Good Governance, the road before us handpicked “students” was already set.  The German government processed my papers, gave me a plane ticket, paid for my flat, enrolled me in a six-month language course, gave me a stipend and a Masters education. My  yearly ticket back home was also secured, with a generous amount of research grant. I couldn’t ask for more.  I was a beneficiary of Germany’s goodwill to developing countries whose purpose was to educate potential changemakers to learn from the government’s best practices.  There was no obligation attached to this endowment (apart from studying, of course). I was neither forced to stay here nor go back to my home country.  Either way, the government sees both scenarios as a win-win situation.  If I leave, it will be considered a development contribution to the Philippines.  If I stay, then I will be useful to their economy.

Staying this long in a foreign country was initially not on the table for me.  I just wanted to finish my Masters and then go back to the Philippines.  In fact, it took me two years from the time I received the letter informing me that I was already eligible to apply for naturalization to thoroughly consider that option.  

Don’t get me wrong, Germany is a beautiful and amazing country but I didn’t expect I could endure this long to be away from my family and friends, and everything I’ve known as home.  But by a sudden twist of fate and many consequential decisions thereafter, here I am, a fully fledged citizen of Bundesrepublik Deutschland.  

So on the Bundestagswahl, I took an enormous assignment to make a conscientious decision of my vote.  It is my duty and responsibility to choose well, to give back to the country that shaped me. For weeks after I received the electoral mail, I spent so many hours researching, comparing platforms, making a matrix, answering surveys and vote swipers, and weighing each party’s stance on national issues.  The biggest consideration for me was checking which platform aligns most with my advocacies and value system.  It wasn’t an easy feat.  After weeks of exhaustive reading, I felt more confused than when I first started. I had to admit to myself that I could not get to the depths of it as much as I would like to in a short period of time.  I could not bring myself to make swift, informed commentaries about the state of German politics compared to if I were speaking about the politics back home. Since I was not raised here, I felt I am still lacking context and years of experience to truly understand the plight of many Germans.  I could only decide as far as my understanding could reach.  But I sure did my best.

One day, I sat across from Frau Reetz in frustration, saying I don’t really know which party to vote for and I am afraid to make the wrong decision.  She smiled at me and said, “I am sure you’ll make an intelligent decision based on what feels right for you.  And that is good enough.”

And so with resignation, I kept everything I knew at the back of my head and casted my vote on that fateful day.  I only spent two minutes inside the precinct.  After submitting my ballot, I walked out and felt relieved.  I was grateful to have been given the voice.  And I believe I did my part to have an informed, conscientious choice.

After accomplishing my responsibility as a German citizen, I went home, changed my identity hat, and slipped into my Filipiniana.

I was asked two nights before to co-host the TalkAlley and 1Sambayan Germany’s online concert that aims to encourage my countrymen, especially overseas Filipinos, to register in the upcoming May 2022 elections.  It was a last minute assignment which I am totally unprepared for, but I took the responsibility as it is the least that I can do for the Philippines and for the ideals I fight for and espouse.

Online Concert of TalkAlley and 1Sambayan Germany

1Sambayan is a coalition which aims to forge a united opposition for the upcoming elections.  I was invited by Tita Maite, the cousin of Senator Risa Hontiveros, to join the Germany chapter, and we have been busy coordinating events and initiatives since.  I felt energized and inspired to do something that resonates with my political advocacies and calling.  

Truth be told, when I finally received the notification of my naturalization in Germany, I felt a rollercoaster of emotion.  I was anxious and excited, joyful and sad.  But most of all, I felt guilt.  I didn’t expect it to be that fast. It only took two months from the time I submitted all the necessary requirements, and viola, I got my confirmation! I guess I haven’t really prepared myself emotionally for it.  There was a lot of internal resistance and a long thought process before I came into the decision.

The pain felt like  shedding away skin (at least on the surface level), of an identity I’ve always known and lived by.  Although I know deep down that nobody can take my blood and heritage away from me; still, a part of me felt that looming placard above my head declaring that I betrayed my country and my people.  I spent two weeks in bed, bawling my eyes out until I was ready to face the world.  I tell you, I didn’t take that change in status lightly.

Perhaps not many people here can relate to my plight.  After all, nationalism is considered a bad omen and a divisive force in Europe.  It is, however, seen in a different light in the Philippines.  Having been colonized by different countries for hundreds of years, it was inculcated in our young minds to defend our land, our people, and our nation with all our might.  That is why we Filipinos are always so sensitive when it comes to talking about our country, because we were raised to be patriots and love our land above all.

But as days went by and the more I sat with the initial grief, the more I was able to reconcile with my decision and my choices.  A voice inside me points to many many ways and avenues I can help the Philippines.  I couldn’t put it into words then, but the change felt like chrysalis: shedding a layer of my stagnant state— of budding— as I grew deeper into my being. For years, I have always been trapped by definitions– I didn’t want to disappoint any side– so I wasn’t able to move forward. 

However, I realized love is never a one-way-street, as many have led us to believe.  Having a space for Germany in my heart does not mean I love the Philippines any less.  Finally, I recognized the heart’s ability to expand and make space, rather than seeing it as a limited vessel to hold just one. 

Knowing that, I am more ready (and active) to face the challenges of tomorrow with my head held high, knowing in my heart that I will do the best in my capacity to fight for the things I love and believe without being limited by definitions or a piece of paper.

I may not have the chance to vote on the next Philippine elections, but I will use all my energy and might to be a catalyst of change and be a proponent of the nation we envision.

Here’s to the realization that there are many, many, many ways to serve. We just have to find out which one fits our capacity and our circumstance.

I vow to be a good German in the same way that I will never forget my roots as a Filipino.

And by that, I came into the resolve to make my heart as the defining point of all my actions and choices, and my inner voice as my compass.

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Trousers at Joe’s

I got off the 7th train to my daily stop. The Grand Central Terminal is at 42nd street in Midtown Manhattan and I needed to walk 7 more blocks to reach my office.

Daily commute to the Grand Central Station

Being short in stature was an advantage in rush mornings where I had to swim in a sea of black suits and tie in order to get to my destination.

I tried to find my way through gaps and openings– sporting my unmatched ensemble of rubber shoes and business casual, as I try my best not to bump into these smart-looking-Starbucks-coffee-holding-morning-rushing-New-Yorkers.

Everyday was a morning exercise

Someone advised, “That’s how you roll.  Pack your work shoes with you and run the race in rubber shoes.  That’s how you’ll manage to get to work in time.”

Almost about to finish the ham and cheese sandwich and hot chocolate I bought from one of the food trucks I passed.  

From a distance, I can already see the UN Secretariat, signaling I’m almost near the finish line,

The United Nations Secretariat

when suddenly, someone called:    

“Hey!” he said.  Motioning me to come.

“Me?” pointing to myself.  

He nodded.

He was a tall African-American in dreadlocks with a colorful hat sitting on a bench.

I came forward.

The people walking by noticed and worried looks start to paint their faces.  They kept on looking but not stopping their stride.

Noticing the prejudiced stares, the guy on the bench shouted at them “What are you looking at?” Letting out his closed fist.  

I stepped back a bit, unsure what I had gotten myself into.

The spectators continued to walk, but this time, in a brisk manner pretending not to care.

I stood there like a bump on a log.

Then he turned to me and smiled.  “Hi, I like your pants.  Where’d you get them?”

I smiled back and proudly said “I got them from Joe’s for a really cheap price!  They are on sale, just for 10 $.”

Then he said, “You know what, I like you.  What’s your name?  I want to remember it.  

“April,” I murmured.

“You are one of us.”

My smile broadened and I was grinning from cheek to cheek.   

I walked the rest of the way with a full heart.

He said I am one of them.

It feels good to belong.

To be seen as an ally.

That moment is etched in my heart forever.

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Sacred Practice

They say, the little habits you do every day are the ones that make the biggest impact in your life. I could never claim I am disciplined enough to rigorously follow my set routines every time, but when I do, I feel that I am my best self and I celebrate every small win as I tick every box on the list.

Of course, there are times when I lament on the big breaks that make me sluggish and give me a hard time to get back on track.  But I try, as hard as I can, to drag and convince myself that once I set the wheel turning, it will get easier from there.

Holistic Well-Being

It started in my late 20s when I decided to center my routines on achieving holistic health which encompasses my physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being.  Conscious and intentional living allowed me to open my heart space to people, places, and experiences that let me to grow into my being, but it also helped me create boundaries; thereby making me very particular and discriminatory of what I welcome in my body and in my space.

Food as Nourishment

One of the most fundamental things I am very particular about is food.  They say, what you eat is who you are.  For years, I made a conscious effort to be mindful of what I take in to nourish every single cell of my body.  I do not just eat to fill my hunger or satisfy my cravings.  Eating is a sacred practice and a way of honoring not only my body but also the source, the culture, and the process that provided me this nourishment.  If I ingest unhealthy food, I feel bad afterwards. However, when I feel a deep connection to the food I take in, the people who grow my food, and the land that sustains me, I feel more alive and vibrant.  It also affects my energy and how I carry myself.

Home Office breakfast.

In general, 90% of what I eat comes from whole organic food that encompasses the colors of the rainbow.  I do not subscribe to a special diet (I am neither a vegan nor vegetarian)– I eat meat, but I make sure it is minimal, mostly lean, and if possible, free-range livestock.  I noticed that when I invest in quality ingredients, I don’t need much when cooking as the natural flavor reveals itself with minimal alteration.  

My weekly grocery shopping usually looks like this. I wish they could minimize the plastic packaging though.

My attitude towards food can be traced from being raised in a  health-conscious household that has inculcated in my young mind that health is wealth.  My parents painstakingly invested in products that promise good health.  I even remember them raving about certain cookware that require no or minimal oil like it was one of the best purchases in their lifetime.  So I grew up literally eating oil-less food.  I have to admit though food tastes different outside compared to the ones served in my household.  But it trained me to be drawn to healthier food options.

What fried eggs look like in my household. Very smooth.

My only guilty indulgence is dairy.  I love chocolates– I could swim in that rich creamy goodness.  And cheeses– they come from the Divine, like sniffing Angels’ feet. But I am also working on disciplining myself in that aspect and looking into alternatives for dairy.

My favorite ice cream in the world: Nordmanns.

Living on my own works perfectly for me, because I get to have control on my diet.  However, since eating is a social practice, I often need to be more disciplined when eating outside.  Therefore, as much as possible, I try to prepare and cook my own food, so I know what goes into it.  But once in a while I also like indulging in meals other than my own.  

I found that one of the most important keys to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is surrounding myself with people who have the same eating habits as me.  I am grateful that I have some key people around me that have the same philosophy on food as mine, so I do not have to adjust very much.

My own version of Bruschetta.

Creature of Habit 

Apart from food, creating rituals that I hold sacred dictate my energy and how I present myself to the world. Without question, my most important routines happen in the morning as they set my intentions for the day. They get the ball rolling, and they command my frequency. 

So what does my ideal day look like? 

On weekdays, I usually wake up at 6 am, say a prayer, read my daily devotion, meditate and try to remember last night’s dream.  Then I pick-up my journal and write my thoughts. Writing helps me organize and concretize abstract ideas which in turn gives shape to my day.  

Surprise and heartfelt gift from the Syfu-Larrazabal family.

Then I get out of bed at 6:45 am, step on the weighing scale to monitor my body composition.  Then I begin my breathing exercise followed by a 15-minute workout.  It isn’t really that exhaustive, but I just do it to keep me moving in the morning.

Then I drink a glass of warm water with lemon.  Alternatively, I drink a glass of juice concoction if I had the time to prepare it the night before.  

Juice booster for a healthier body.

Then I pack my lunch and snacks for the day.  I usually prepare my meals as I would like to avoid buying in restaurants and letting other people cook my food.

Then I step into the cold shower.  I usually turn my shower handle to the coldest exposure.  I acquired this habit after watching a documentary about the Iceman, Wim Hof.  As uncomfortable as it may sound, cold rinse has a lot of health benefits and it jump starts my day.  I also feel that my hair and skin is better when I shower cold. I have to admit though, even if I have been doing this for so long, it still takes a lot of guts from me to actually run that shower every morning.

One of the activities I booked on my cancelled trip to Iceland is swimming in an ice cold lake.

On my way to and from work, I listen to an audiobook or podcast.  I make it a point that I get to finish as many books as I can monthly.  This source of knowledge serves as one of the pillars of my guiding system. They give me a broad and deeper perspective about the world. And the more I read and immerse myself in them, the more I realize I know so little– just a speck of dust in the vast universe.

One of the best Audiobooks I heard in the past months. This was actually an Ode to Trevor’s mom.

Then I work for eight hours.  It feels good to work on something that you feel excited about and challenges you on so many levels.  A good working environment is also paramount as you spend most of your time and energy at work.

After that, I either walk a long distance from my work to home or ride my bike into the forest.  I have a daily goal of 10,000 steps a day, so I try my best to achieve it.

My daily goal is 10,000 a day. During Home Office, I walked more.

Sometimes I meet friends after work, but on most days, I just spend my down time at home, catching up with people or preparing my meals for the next day.  

If I feel like it, I watch a film or a documentary before I go to bed.

One of the documentaries that made a real impact on me.

I sleep around 22:00 or 23:00 every night.  Before I doze off, I say a prayer of gratitude. Ending my day with a grateful heart gives me peace of mind and allows me to surrender what was and prepares me for what will be.

My weekend is spent on teaching, talking to my family, praying with them, meeting loved ones, catching up with friends, cycling, hiking, and going to church.

I am happiest when I bike.

I know this may seem like a rigid schedule but it works well for me and it gives my life structure.  Contrary to how it looks, it still gives me ample space and flexibility to do the things I want.  I guess when you filter your life to only the things you willingly allow in your space, it creates more room for you to discover the things you truly love and enjoy. 

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Ode to Friendship

You rarely see her on my feed

Quite private and has no social media footprint 

But if you were to ask who are the people at the top of my friends list

You sure will find Serap at the peak

She’s one of my earliest and closest friends in Düsseldorf

Met in 2015

and we never parted since then

She said our friendship is like wine

It gets better with time

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While sailing Santorini’s caldera

Twice a week we meet throughout the years

We share a laugh, a coffee, and how each of our day transpired

Under  normal circumstances, she’s the person I see  most 

And even during the strict lockdown,

when we were only allowed to meet up with one

We’d call each other and agree

to walk along the Rhine

On my birthday in 2020, she invited me for a walk and surprised me with this thoughtful gesture

We spent the New Year

on her couch, sipping wine

Watched Septembers of Shiraz

Contemplated about the world

and the strange times we live in

How do you think 2021 will unfold?

Let’s just take one day at a time!

And treat moments like these as gold

But it it wasn’t always sunshine

Oh dear no

In the most difficult moment of my life

She held me while I was trembling in tears

I promise you, this time next year

It will be different

Despite it all,

You just got to show up

Show up for life

Show up for you

Until a flicker of light passes through 

One of the sunsets we shared in Fira

She told me it won’t be easy

The road will be long

Excruciating

Take my story, she muttered

I know you don’t see it now 

But from ashes, you’ll rise

And someday you’ll recognize

The strength inside you all along

This powerhouse of a woman

An executive in her own right

Who birthed her success out of hard work and dedication

Had paused her busy schedule

To be there for me when I needed her most

No questions asked

She was just there,

present

pensive and on stand-by

In case I collapse with the crumbling of my world 

before my eyes

Her loving presence saw me through

You don’t have to know all the answers,

she said

Sometimes we find our peace

and the gift

in not knowing

She is one of the people 

who kept me afloat when I was drifting

Whose presence was still welcome 

even during the times when I wanted to shut the world behind 

I’ll be here without judgment,

take as long as you need,

I’ve been there once

And I know the journey can sometimes mean

One step forward, and two steps back

But take heart and be brave

And don’t forget to be kind to yourself 

Don’t forget to be kind to yourself

For the longest time

I lamented on

losing a mentor at age 19 

And the years that followed  

When I longed for that kind of figure in my life

But now I realized it is Serap all along

I teach her as she teaches me

So many life lessons to be had

In a friendship like ours

Amongst the clouds

My family knows her

Despite not having met her in person

In major life decisions my mom would ask

“What does Serap say?”

Regarding her opinions in such high esteem

Chilling with her cappuccino

Now we go on trips here and there

And people who don’t know us

Wouldn’t know of the battles we had to endure

To get there

That behind those smiles

Are scars

that make us who we are

Our first dinner in our resort at Kamari Village

Once we drove to Switzerland 

to see the Alps

What a majestic sight!

Let’s keep this memory alive

So when the light goes dim

There will be something that flickers

In the dark

After our failed attempt to paraglide in Lauterbrunnen

Then to Santorini we went

It was a rush decision

But the best one we’ve made

To ride the tides

And admire the sunset

With cocktail on hand

And a backdrop of Cycladic whitewashed houses

on a cliff

Admiring the Cycladic architecture of Greece

We declared,

Here’s to living our lives without asking 

for a permission slip from anyone,

To living our lives the best we can,

To feel.

To receive fully.

But most importantly,

to be.

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Beautiful, Stencil Masterpieces

I dragged my new bike to a spot where I could learn without distraction.  It was a flat patch amongst the rolling hills of Rhineland-Palatinate.  I strategically chose an empty path parallel to the highway so I  could easily get help in case I get into an accident.

You see, I have not attempted to ride a bike ever since I had those two consecutive accidents last year which caused me to fall flat on my face and has sent me to several trips to the emergency room.  

To say I was traumatized is an understatement.  The impact was quite severe that it formed a cyst on my upper lip while the skin was healing.  The doctor suggested to have it removed through an operation.  And so I did.  Once.  But after it reappeared the second time, I just decided to let it be as long as it doesn’t pose any repercussion to my health.  Miraculously my cells regenerated within a week after each accident that you wouldn’t even have a clue what I looked like some days prior.  

Of course, I didn’t have the audacity to try my luck the third time. So I kept my bike in my cellar, hoping I could muster the courage to ride it again someday. 

Analyzing what went wrong, I realize that my problem is not balance— I know I how to do it.  However, I did not consider my bike as an extension of my body.  I treated it as something external to me, a vehicle that was hard to maneuver.  In those moments, I didn’t trust that it would stop if I wanted to; so I jumped off the moving bike the minute I panicked. 

I know many people find it eccentric that I do not know how to bike especially for Europeans because cycling is next to their nature.  But I grew up in a place where bike lanes are a rare sight and where cycling on the road is generally considered dangerous.  Plus, my parents were extremely overprotective of us growing up.  So they practically raised us to this age unscathed.  Well, until I lived abroad and decided to get a bike out of curiosity and peer pressure.

In the deep recesses of my heart though, I know that I want to learn and prove to myself that it is never too late to unlock a new skill and discover uncharted grounds.  

For a brief second while cruising with my bike before the fall, I realized I am a much braver  and daring person in comparison to who I was a few years back.  I guess when you’ve been through so much in life, the things that used to scare you become minuscule and insignificant.  Pain, I thought, is a great antidote for fear and it helps you dare greatly in life.  If I managed to rise from the ashes of a really bad experience, no physical wound (at least the ones I’ve acquired from my accident) can shake me to my core.  

Now this mountain bike is a gift from Michael which is smaller than my bike in Düsseldorf and something I could use while exploring the beauty of the country side. 

I dragged it one afternoon to that spot where I ought to practice and I started going uphill and downhill that same straight (slightly elevated) path for ten rounds.  The wind was howling hard, and I fell once from the practice, but I picked myself up and tried all over again.  There was no one with me at that time so I was only accountable to myself and I made it my mission to learn.  “No going home until you achieve your goal,” I reminded myself. After ten rounds, I dared to go further to that small opening leading to the forest.

I gasped.  It was magical.  The trees were swaying as if dancing to the rhythm of the wind.  The rays of sunlight peeked through the leaves into the forest walls showing beautiful stencil masterpieces executed by nature itself.  I felt free, happy, and alive.  

In this rare occasion it stirred something in me— my inner child rejoiced with glee.  It unlocked something my younger self has been yearning to do but wasn’t courageous enough to try.  I went past listening to my fear and just did it.  It doesn’t mean I am no longer afraid, it is just that I choose not to let fear rule me.

And so when I came back home, I  asked for Heri to be taken out of the cellar.  I practiced 25 rounds in the garage the other day. 

Baby steps, baby steps.  Someday, I’ll be able to go out there. 

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32 Things I Learned at 32

When I was younger, I always thought of 32 as being the milestone age for being old.  In my mind, this age merits the “tanders” tag in my vocabulary. The culture I am from is not helpful either as it further perpetuates my warped notion of this age.  At 32, they say, “wala ka na sa kalendaryo,” referring to it as being off the calendar; emphasizing the ticking of time, especially that of a woman’s biological clock.

As a person, I’ve always enjoyed cruising with the waves and basking in the gloriousness of my youth.  I never let societal pressure get into me.  For a long time, I had successfully managed avoiding getting myself entangled prematurely to anything that would put my peripatetic feet tied to the ground.

I thought to myself, as long as I am not yet 32, I still have time.  That was my cut-off age.  Even when people around me started getting married and building a family, it never really bothered me.  I knew for a fact that I want all these things too, but my mother married my father at 32— so as my role model, this gave me an ample leeway to take my time.  Oh and sure I did!

I guess the reason why I never troubled myself with it is because few years back, I thought I had it all figured out.  I had a stable relationship which was built brick by brick until I saw everything crumble right before my very eyes. I mourned for the loss of that person, as well as for that prospect of a future I tried to cling on so tightly.  I panicked, knowing well that this means starting from null.  

So yes, admittedly, the societal pressure loomed over me and I rode the panic train at 30.  I guess a part of me is afraid that by the time I am ready to let someone in again, it would be too late for me to have that life I’ve always dreamed of.  

Thankfully, I woke up one day and decided to take grip on the anxiety crippling over me by educating myself.   I went to my doctor as she walked me through the options at hand.  With a sigh of relief, I was assured that it is not too late and that I still have time.

As I got hold of the actual situation, the dust began to settle and I started to come back to my senses.  And surprisingly, when the clock struck midnight on the day of the 32nd birthday, I never felt more at peace and grateful for the gift of life that I have. Instead of worrying about the unknown future, I decided to truly embody my age; to bow down in reverence to the years I have toiled; for my experiences, the joys, and the pains I reaped that made me the person I am now. 

So in the morning of my birthday, I hurriedly took my journal and scribbled 32 things I learned at 32.  These are dominant themes reflective of where I am at the stage of my life right now:

  1. There is nothing absolute in this material world.  We grow and change with the passing of time.  Even the opinions we hold dearly and our stance on things.   So always keep yourself in check; put your thoughts and beliefs under scrutiny and be critical of your own judgment and biases.  Be open in listening to the ones who you do not see eye to eye.  You might learn a thing or two and it will prevent you from living in your own bubble.
  2. Recognize each person in his/her humanity rather than what you differ/have in common.  In that way, you never get entangled to the “us” vs. “them” narrative.
  3. Nurture your relationships.  The ones that really matter.  Water them everyday with your love, time, and attention.
  4. Protect your energy.  Detach yourself peacefully from people who robs you of your peace.  Quiet the outside noise and be selective of the people you let in your circle. 
  5. Create healthy boundaries. Say no to things you don’t want and agree with, guilt-free.
  6. Learn as much as you can, formally and informally.  Read books.  Listen to audiobooks.  Always subject yourself to intellectual rigor.  Never stop learning.
  7. Respect your body.  It is your sacred temple.  What you do with it, and how you nourish it, says so much about how you value yourself.
  8. Follow your inspiration.  Pay attention to what feeds your energy, and move into that direction.  Surround yourself with people you look up to, and expose yourself to ideas that light the fire in you.
  9. Allow yourself to rest and be still. You shouldn’t always be in a constant state of hustle and chase.
  10. Routines matter.  What you do in the morning when you start your day will define the rest of it.
  11. Discipline is a precursor to success.
  12. Write your thoughts.  When you put them into words, you gain clarity.
  13. Exercise.  Movement makes you happy and healthy.
  14. Time is one of the most valuable intangible things in life.  Be mindful of how you spend it.
  15. Let love be your compass in everything you do. Define yourself by what you love, rather than what you hate.
  16. Make mistakes, that is how you learn.
  17. Be a steward of God’s creation.  The earth is our home.  We need to do as much as we can to protect it.
  18. Spend valuable time in nature.  Forest is my place of stillness.   It is where I am more attuned to my feelings and thoughts and where my senses are heightened. 
  19. Acknowledge your privileges. Reach out and extend your hand whenever an opportunity presents itself. 
  20. Family is the building block of a person’s value system.
  21. Childhood defines a huge chunk of a person’s make up.  It could make or break a person.
  22. Be pro-active and be willing to go through the messy part of healing.  We all have our baggages but it is our own responsibility to unload them.
  23. Go out of your comfort zone.  One learns so much about the world and other people by doing so.
  24. Pictures matter but memories matter more.  Be in the moment.
  25. Be stubborn in your fight for a better world.  
  26. Never stop being creative.
  27. Respect is one of the highest and most fundamental of values that should be given to all, regardless of rank or status in life.
  28. Courage is not the absence of fear.  It is being fearful, but doing it anyway.  Being courageous means to be brave and vulnerable at the same time.
  29. Own your story and honor the process of growing and unfolding.  Age gracefully by never losing your inner child.
  30. Practice an attitude of gratitude.  It is where true joy springs.  
  31. Find a partner who meets you in the spiritual level.  Love yourself fully instead of looking for someone to complete you.  The right person will be drawn to you when you are ready to receive and once you’ve done your inner work.
  32. Deepen your faith and align your purpose with the will of the Divine.  Seek for guidance and discernment in the ways of your life.  Despite the adversities, trust that God will show the path.  You just have to believe.
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Where is Home?

This has been a running inside joke between me and my friends Khiara and Gail which began during a vacation in Toronto in 2018. As I aged, I noticed that my body cannot keep up with the changing time zones, so whenever I travel to that part of the globe, I spend days—even a week— nursing a jet lag. It’s like I’m present but not fully there; operating on a zombie mode while my friends are all pumped-up, ready to unload all the stories they packed for the trip.  They were quite forgiving of me though, even if it meant missing some of the good conversations and having to hold me side by side while we walk on the street.  

One night, when Gail was recounting a travel mishap, the story suddenly took a turn and the girls found themselves pondering on the idea of home.  Now the concept of home is something I am very passionate about that I could have an endless discourse deconstructing this topic with much delight. So even in my half-awake-half-asleep state, when I heard they were talking about it, I rose from the sofa and muttered something like: “Home is xxx (pertaining to who I love).  It is where my heart is, it is a tapestry of people, places, and encounters that made an impact on my life.  It is more of what I carry inside me, rather than just a physical space or a piece of soil”— and then I dozed off.  My friends laughed boisterously and wouldn’t let go of that memory, that they still tease me about it up to this date.

Over the years, my concept of home has changed, but if I were to concretize in chunks what I said on that dazed night, I would say:

Home is the Philippines.  It is the land of my birth, of my origin and ancestry, of my mother-tongue, and upbringing.  A repository of my childhood memories and youthful dreams.  It is the foundation of my value-system and the building block of my character.  It is where my family and closest friends are, who know me to the core.  A country I love and bleed for.

Batanes, 2014

Home is Germany.  It is the land where I choose to be.  The stamp of my nationality.  A country which embraced me, saw me grow, mature, and stand on my own two feet.  A place that challenges me with its language and ways, but welcomes me with a smile, as long as I try.  People who seem hard to crack at the beginning, but are loving and warm once they welcome you in.  

Hohenschwangau, 2014

Home is the roof above my head.  The physical spaces I dwell in.  The concrete blocks that contains my joys, pains, sorrows, and triumphs.  The house I grew up in Pampanga and my flat here in Düsseldorf.  Spaces that reflect my character and identity.

Wintergarten/Art room in Düsseldorf

Home are the places which resonated my vibe and spirit. They are also the ones which moved me. Places that make me come alive and aware of my positioning to the world.

The Grand Central Terminal, 2013
Südtirol, 2015

Home are the institutions that shaped me.  The houses of knowledge that molded my perspectives on things.  The testing ground for my opinions, where I formed my stance on several issues.

Willy Brandt School of Public Policy
United Nations Headquarters, 2013
International Committee of the Red Cross Geneva, 2016

Home is people I love.  They are my refuge. The ones who hold space for me, and I for them.  People who nurture me with love and challenge me to grow into my being.  The relationships I bring with me wherever I may go, and the people I come home to.

My family

Home is my body.  It is my temple and my altar.  The one I carry with me and a reflection of my self-worth.  I have come to love and embrace it with all its flaws, but am fully aware of my responsibility to keep it healthy. It took me a while to understand that the energies I allow to come in, and how I nourish it speak volume about how much I respect this vessel.

Embracing my body.

Home is the Divine.  My spirituality.  The anchor that keeps my soul afloat.

Experiencing the Divine through the sublime.
Sagrada Familia, 2013

Home is a collective experience that makes me.  Every encounter that settles in my heart or every experience that causes a change.

Home is in myself.  It is the April of the past, the present, and who I will be.  

New York sunset

I have no one definition of home as it evolves with me as I traverse through time and space.  But it is waking up to that certainty knowing that I am the one who shape home gives me peace and clarity about my future and where I ought to be.  

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