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Shred Of Hope
The war is over as they say, but we still have to think as though war is still upon us with nothing to be found to eat around this area. It seems everyone has converged on this side of the river, and the place is completely clean. Except now and again we find something that’s merely a snack. We’re in a desperate condition to survive--have to find a better place. I hope the next place we reach, we’ll be able to find enough food to share. We don’t know at this point. > We’ve moved further south into the first village we find. It’s known as Ilocos Norte and touches its twin village of Ilocos Sur. The two were evidently named after the large far west coastal provinces of the same names. Here I’m happy to find some more friends I knew back in Santa Cruz. They are Tuto and his wife, Carmelita. Lila too, a woman I once knew. They know some people who own a farm a short distance away that
might let us pound some rice in exchange for a little bit for ourselves. So now we’re on our way to the house where Tuto said to go. We meet the people, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Lopez. Fortunately, they didn’t have to stay away from home too long. They were warned of the Japanese coming through. Once the enemy went on to Cabatuen, this family was able to return to their village. I understand they didn’t have as much difficulty as we did. We ask them if they’re hiring anyone to work for them, and the lady says she could use someone to pound some rice. If we’re willing, she’ll pay us one cup of rice for every five cups we pound. We tell them we’ll do it since we don’t have any other way to get supplies at this point. So we start work right away and pound rice all day. When we’re done, we’re pleased to see we earned a whole gallon of grain for ourselves. It’s enough to supply us for a while. Mrs. Lopez even gives us some eggplants along with anpolla, which they also grow. We’re glad to have that to cook with our rice. 127 They tell us we can pick beans for them also, and after we’re finished with that job, we can help them pick the ears of corn out in the
field. The corn is ready to be harvested and piled in the shed for storage. It looks as if we’ll have a few things to do around here. We just thank God for our friends from Santa Cruz that know these people. Apparently Mr. Lopez generously allowed Tuto and Carmelita to plant crops for themselves here on a portion of his land. They have corn and beans growing, among other things. Since the owner lets them borrow his carabao to plow the field, they in turn receive one of every four gallons of rice they harvest. At least they get something to feed their family. These people are very nice. They tell us they understand exactly what we’re going through. They lost some family, too, during the wartime. They don’t mention how, but they did lose some loved ones. At least they’re sympathetic and willing to keep us here on their place. They lead us to a small, empty chicken house that’s no longer in use. They say they need to build another with more room, so we can use this one to stay in. We’re grateful to them and clean it all up for the three of us to live in. After we scrub it down and all, there isn’t a smell or trace of old, dried chicken manure. The place has long been vacant, so we’re able to
occupy it for living quarters. I’m so thankful to God for supplying this chicken coop through the kindness of these people. Now we can relax a little more than we‘ve been able to since we crossed the Magat River. We were in a tense situation there--not knowing where our next meal would come from. Thank God for his goodness to us. He never fails us at all. He’s always there to guide what direction we’re to take and whatever place we’re to stop. He always had something waiting for us one way or another. I just hope a lot of people will see God’s hand on them more than they do. 1 know that without His hand on us all the way, we’d probably be dead from starvation way back there. So it’s wonderful to always come to each place and find something waiting for us there. Whether it’s food, a place to put our head on, or whatever He might supply. Mrs. Lopez has shown kindness again by giving Mrs. Santos some dresses she can’t wear anymore. That too, is from God because who knows how else it could come. There’s no place to find clothing at this time. I think it’s good that we can spread ourselves out more—by doing a little of this and that around here in anticipation of the future. This 128
little chicken house is okay, but I think that if we collect more household stuff later, we’ll need a bigger place to put them in. Thank God we still have our cooking pots, too. We’ve been carrying them all the way from home, and for that matter could have broken them and ended up with nothing to use. Sometimes the pots aren’t durable enough, hut for some reason, the couple we have kept holding on even as we do. It’s just so great--can’t thank God enough for that. > The lady has given us some eggs. She says she won’t give us any of her chickens though because they need those to lay eggs. At least we have these to eat if nothing else, and then we’ll go on to the cornfield to help pick corn. We have it made, thank God. We can relax for a while until we decide whether to stay here until we can get back to our village or to go on to Santiago. We won’t know until we see what condition Mrs. Santos is in. She’s still been throwing up blood. I hope it’s nothing like what her husband had because we just can’t imagine what would make her throw up blood like that. Maybe she’s been worrying a lot and never told us.
We’ve managed by ourselves without her husband, but I thank God we’re all here now where food is available. We’ll just try to relax and think of what to do in the future. It’s hard to get back to a normal routine since we’ve been so trained to sleep out in the open and to live day by day. It’s just not usual for us to imagine we have a future--a shred of hope. I only hope things will be better from now on--that the war is really over because it’s been a hard year in our situation. We endured until they said the war is over, and thank God, we’re still alive. We could have been among the people who were killed back there at Santa Maria. It makes me think of my mom and all the things we could be doing together today. Of course she’s not with me now. I just never imagined I’d be without her in my life, but everyone's been so nice to assist me. They’ve encouraged me to keep on going, so I hope some day God will reward those people who thought kindness toward me. I hope I can repay some of them one day. Now I know of some families—five, that are still alive from our village. One of the remaining three is dead, but perhaps the other two families are still alive up in the mountains. I do hope so. Everyone 129 promised they’d go back to our village when the time comes--when the
village is clear enough of decomposing flesh to return to. We still don’t know how we’ll manage once we get there with all our animals gone. There’s nothing there. Nevertheless we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, we’ll just try to be content where we are. > Time has passed so fast. People can travel back and forth to Manila now. I guess war is truly over because people are allowed to travel from this end of the island to the other--anyone that wants to go. There are trucks and busses that now travel the distance from here to Manila. Actually they’re big, old army trucks converted to busses to transport people. Passengers can sit on a bench built around the inside or on one right in the middle. There’s a handrail along the sides of the benches to hold onto, to avoid falling all over each other when they hit a bump or the driver goes too fast around a curve. After so many months, we can really do that now--we can really travel. I hear there’s a woman, named Milagrosa Tupas, who’s from Santiago and who often caught the bus there to travel back and forth to Manila. During peacetime she became acquainted with Mom on the
bus. Supposedly they often rode to the city together along with Mom’s other friends. The women got to talking on one trip about who has children and family. This woman heard my mom speaking about taking me to Manila when things settle down, but that was their last attempt to go there after the war broke out. It ended the traveling--they couldn’t go back anymore after that. Milagrosa once mentioned to someone that she’d like to take me to Manila herself to show me the city. This is what I hear. > Now Carmen and I are looking for young coconut leaves that haven’t developed to the point of opening into a branch. We’re trying to find some for Mrs. Santos. Before they open she plans to cut the leaves into strips about an inch wide. Then she’ll dry them. She says she’ll hang them inside our home under the roof. That way if it rains, they won’t mold. Once they’re dry, she’ll roll them up until she collects enough to weave a rug big enough to cover our floor space. 130 We don’t want to be sleeping on the bare chicken house floor. Lately Mrs. Santos, because she’s still not feeling well, is not very
active. So Carmen and I are trying to store enough supplies so she won’t have to worry about pounding rice and doing other work for rations. .We’ll even pick more corn from the field to pound small. We can mix it with our rice as an extender. Even so, we’re doing much better now after arriving on this side of the river. We thank God for that whenever we go to bed. I’ve been thinking about my mom more so than before, which helps me realize I have to make a decision. I can’t stay with Carmen and Mrs. Santos indefinitely. I sense one of these days we’ll be going our separate ways. I have to think of my future. I don’t know where God will lead me, but I wonder what destination He will take me to—if I might have a way to go to the city. Thank God He sustains me. Soon I want to find some kind of work to earn something to buy some clothes. Mine are getting shabby. I’ve been mending my holes, so I’ll need new dresses shortly. Let’s see--what to do. Maybe Mrs. Lopez knows of any place where I could find a job to earn the money I need for clothes. It definitely will have to be soon, or else I’ll be running around bare naked > It looks as if Mrs. Santos could be dying on us. She coughs
frequently and is getting very thin. Some villagers are saying she might have what they call tuberculosis. I don’t know, but Carmen only goes out with me now and then. She's trying to take care of her mom, and I can tell she feels lost now. Most of the time she just sits there, staring. I hope she can begin to look forward somehow to what she can do to survive. I’m still trying to help them. I know they’re like a family to me, so I'll stick by Carmen as long as I can. She needs someone. She's thinking of finding her relatives so she can go to stay with them. I’ll stay by her, but meanwhile I focus my thinking on what I could do for myself besides helping with their circumstances. God is going to provide a way for me to survive somehow. I tell Carmen now that I know God is looking after me. It is obvious in the way He has provided for me from the time I was born until now. I know He’s the one who has taken care of me. So I try to pass this on to her. Maybe it will help her to understand that we don’t have to be 131 left desolate in our circumstances--that God is somewhere looking after us.
I hope she’ll be able to put her mind to that. It’s hard for some people to think that way, but deep inside of me, something is telling me there’s a way. This is the way. I just have to keep moving--hoping the direction I’ve taken or will take is the direction God is leading me. > I’ve come to speak to Mrs. Lopez about what I’d like to do. I tell her I need to get a job somewhere to earn money for clothes because mine are wearing thin. She says there’s a lady who used to come here maybe once a month to sell her merchandise. Yard goods. She sold the material to various villagers since she had a small business in Santiago. The woman apparently would travel back and forth to Manila to buy yard goods before bringing them here to the province to sell to people around about. Some she sold in the open market in Santiago--every time it was open for business. Mrs. Lopez says that the woman is Milagrosa Tupas--the woman I heard was one of Mom’s traveling companions during peacetime. She believes Milagrosa could still be doing business even though she hasn’t been up this way in some time—Mrs. Lopez hopes she’s still alive. It’s definitely something she’ll look into for me. Maybe that way I can go to Manila. I don’t know.
> I really need to find a job soon, but when I speak with Lila, she says she can’t travel to Manila for a long time since she has no money. She doesn’t know how she’d be able to go anywhere right now. Her condition is one of bare survival. Her family hasn’t been able to earn any money just like us but can only get something to eat when someone hires them to work. The farming villagers, who arrived here long before us, are as yet only able to produce enough for themselves to eat. I’m still pounding rice for Mrs. Lopez, and she says she’ll have me help get more corn ready to be pounded, too. We’ll be removing the kernels from the cob to soak in water overnight. Then tomorrow we’ll pound them to remove the skin. Afterwards we’ll pour them into her grinding mill. 132 She’ll have me turn the wheel so the corn grinds fine against the grindstone. Then we’ll mix it all in with some rice for cooking. The rice and corn combination will stretch our supplies further. Mrs. Lopez assures me that if Milagrosa comes to sell her material, she’ll find out what the lady can find for me to do. In the meantime I’ll keep doing the little odd jobs here to get our
supplies. We’ll have to sit tight here for a while just to be able to eat. Carmen’s mom still needs looking after, too. Her condition has gone down hill to the point where she can’t even get up to go to the bathroom. It’s good that someone sent word to her sister in Pangasinan, so we hope to hear soon what the woman will decide to do for her sister. Mrs. Santos hopes she can go to stay with her in Pangasinan for a while. Right now I believe she knows her death is drawing closer because she doesn’t hope to recover. She doesn’t even speak about getting well anymore--only talks about her time getting closer to the end and that Carmen will have a place to go to. I guess it’s just a matter of time for her. For now we must keep on going as long as God lets us live on this earth. I’ll just keep helping Carmen and her mom and keep searching for something for me to do. > I think I’ll ask Carmen to go down to the river to see what we can do for fun. If I can get her to go, we can climb trees or something to bring
her out of her mood She’s gloomy these days, so I’ll see if she’ll go with me. We could even wash our clothes while we‘re down there. If I can just get her out to explore, to see what we can find there must be something we can do down there to entertain ourselves. Whether it’s just skipping rocks across the water or whatever. We used to do that way back when we were still hiding in the mountains. Right now we’re just not doing too well at planning how we’ll live in the future. We think about Mrs. Santos more and more instead. What are we going to do with her now? She needs some care, and as little as we know as teenagers--I guess we’ll just do what we can. All we know is what we’ve seen others do to survive. Maybe we can see if she’ll be all right alone for a while so we can go down to the river for the day. I hope we can do something else 133 besides pounding rice for these people and sitting around here in our chicken coop. We can only clean this place so much before we’re left with nothing to do again. Carmen just doesn’t have the incentive to do anything. She looks as if she made up her mind that she’s at the end of the road with no place to turn and nowhere to go.
I hope I’ll be able to cheer her up a little. > This morning I persuaded Carmen to go with me to the river, and now we’re back home again. We had such a good time with so many things happening there by the river bank that time slipped by fast. As we walked along the water, we found a rope that someone must have left behind. So we used it to play games with. I tied one end of the rope to her waist and the other end around mine. “We’ll swim this way,” I told her. “This way, if one of us gets beyond safe limits, she’ll pull her end of the rope to draw herself toward the other. That way neither of us gets hurt.” I figured it would help in case one of us went a little deeper than we’re supposed to go. We even played on the opposite side where it’s rocky shallows, and we decided to do a little fishing. We turned rocks over easily and caught lots of shrimp. It’s a good thing we brought our little baskets to carry back our catch. We also found clams, and thought, we can wash these well to cook with our vegetables for flavor. After a while, we returned to this side of the river to play. We tightened the lids on our baskets and lowered the shrimp into the water so they wouldn’t spoil. Then we tied them to a vine attached to a little tree and placed a marker at that spot.
Soon after, we found a baby alligator. It was only about eight inches long, and we took it to play with on the sandy bank. Once we grew tired of that, we turned it loose. Then we went further along the sands until we reached a place of high grass. We were just going around that spot when we saw two little chicks running around and thought we’d find where they came from. Once we found their nest, we decided to leave them alone--to let them go back to it. We knew their Mamma chicken would be back soon from wherever she was, so we continued walking up the river a way. After we spotted some oboe vines, we dug up the potatoes. We found really big ones to take home with our shrimp and clams. Then I suggested that we start back home, but Carmen wanted to catch those little chicks. She wanted to take them with us to try to raise them. 134 She fixed the idea so strongly in her head that I said. “Well. I don’t know whether we can raise them or not, but we can try.” Then I asked, “How will we carry them home?” She said that if I could make a little basket cage, it would be good enough to carry them back to our house. I agreed and put a little one together with a lid so they couldn’t get
out on the way home. When we returned to where the little chicks were running around, the mother chicken had come back. We caught the two chicks anyway and put them in our basket. Now that we’ve brought them back to our chicken house, we show Mrs. Santos all our stuff. We found shrimps, clams, potatoes, and two chicks. It looks as if we cheered her up sufficiently that she tells us what to do to keep the poor little things alive. We listen to what she says and then immediately go to see Mrs. Lopez. We ask her if we could have something to feed our little chicks we found by the riverbank. The lady’s so nice that she gives us some rice that’s been ground finer than regular grain. They’re the small left over bits from where we beat the regular rice too hard. She saves this stuff to feed her chickens, so she gives us a couple of cupsful to feed the little ones with. We thank Mrs. Lopez and come home again to make another basket. We don’t want the chicks to get away, so we make a bigger one to give them space to run around in. After we finish the crate, we put them inside with some rice and a little water in the corner.
> We watch our little chicks every day, and sometimes we take them out to play with. They’re cute. They’re even beginning to be a bit tamer because they’re not as afraid as when we first got them. So much for playing with the little chicks. I must go see if Mrs. Lopez has more work for me so I can get more supplies. Carmen says she’ll stay and do the cooking this evening to be near her mom. There’s some work for me, and when I return home, poor Carmen is crying her eyes out. She burnt the rice she was boiling. Even the vegetables are cooked to a crisp. She obviously let them cook dry until they stuck right to the bottom of the pot because she’s ruined everything she started out to do. 135 We have to see what we can do to clean up those pots. Then we’ll try to fix another batch of rice and vegetables since hers are completely mined. She’s so upset about that, but I tell her not to worry. We’ll make more after we see about cleaning the pots. I don’t know for sure how we’ll scrape all the burnt food off the bottom of the pots. That’s our story for the day. We’ll just try.
> Today we harvest more corn from the field. We’ll pull them off the stalk and stack them in piles. Then afterwards, we’ll haul them by cart to storage. At least it hasn’t rained, so they’re okay. Mr. Lopez just told us we’ll load the cart with all the corn tomorrow, and pound more rice afterwards. That’s our schedule for tomorrow. Our job now is to finish harvesting this field. The owners have other people coming to help pick the corn, too, so it shouldn’t take us long to finish. I hope Milagrosa will come here to the village pretty soon. I really want to see about getting a job to earn money for new clothes. I’m thinking more along that line even though it’s the most comfortable we’ve been since we crossed the Magat River. I know we need to think more about other things--like finding work to earn money to buy a few clothes and stuff Another thing I think about is what could develop if I get to the city. Will I be able to get a job to carry me through, or is this just wishful thinking at the moment? I know God won’t lead me to a place where I can’t become situated Somehow I’ll be where I can take care of myself I guess I feel sorry for myself today. I’m thinking of Mom again and what it would be like if
she were here. I suppose it might be easier, but I know I shouldn’t dwell on it. I need to think about something else besides feeling sorry for myself if I stay here I can only keep doing what I have been--only surviving. But if I try to find my way to somewhere else--again, I don’t know what it would be like. It will be a new experience all the way since I’ve never been to the city, and I’ve never worked anywhere but on the farm. I wouldn’t know where to start--wouldn’t know what to do except what I’ve been doing. 1 just had a crazy thought. I wonder if they have a farm in Manila where I could go and work in the cornfield Ha! Well, that’s just a wild thought going through my mind today. Other than that I’d probably be able to scrub floors for people to earn my living. That’s all another matter, so I’ll cross that road when I get there. 136
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