Sunday, September 30, 2012

Missing Caregiver, Irene Hassan, Ateneo High School and Zamboanga Malls

Wedding Pic in Mama's Room

Larry texted me Tuesday night to expect a new caregiver Wednesday morning who would be taking care of mama on the day shift. Well, she never showed up or called to give a reason. I even prepared a few basic interview questions which I never got to use. Neneng, the night shift caregiver hadn’t had a day off since she was hired a few weeks before but never complained about it. She pulled me aside briefly and told me that the helper – Andrea, hadn’t been paid for the month. Well, Larry and I didn’t know her salary and Madie mentioned an amount. We decided to ask Mama, who of course gave us the correct amount. The helper got paid from money found by Madie in Mama’s handbags and other hiding spots in the apartment a few days before (more were found later).
Also on Tuesday evening, I sent a text message to Kuya Vic Pabellon saying that Mama had gone home. Well, gone home was ambiguous so he texted me back to clarify what I meant. I said Mama was back at her apartment.
When Mama was having so much pain on Wednesday, she told us to call Irene Hassan. Who was Irene Hassan? Mama never mentioned her to me in our telephone conversations and Madie didn’t remember meeting her either. We searched the Zamboanga telephone directory and a few of Mama’s address books but couldn’t find Irene’s name. It was Madie who found Irene’s number in another address book later. I gave her a call and it turns out Mama wanted her because she knew what to do with pain since she took care of her own mother who also had cancer. They were able to keep her painless to the end. Irene came to visit Mama the next day and gave us guidance about how to handle the pain and some spiritual advice as well.
                When Larry found out that the new caregiver didn’t show up, he contacted more people in Zamboanga by phone and managed to find another one. He was able to do this despite having to work that day.  Thankfully, Joanna showed up the next day and got to work right away. Finally on Thursday - Sept. 6th, Mama had round the clock care in her apartment.
There were hardly any houses in this new housing subdivision

          I cut my upper lip shaving Thursday morning and when I went to see Mama, she asked me why my tooth was bleeding. I told her it was a shaving accident. That same morning I rode with Caloy while he drove his son David to Ateneo De Zamboanga High School. He also showed me the new housing subdivisions in the area. I was surprised at how sparse the housing was, because the way they advertised it on the internet gave you an impression that there were a lot of houses there already. Caloy said that people were wary about buying land and building houses there because they might be considered wealthy and thus a target of kidnappings. On the way back, I asked him to drop me off at Western Mindanao Medical Center so I could get some copies of Mama’s medical records. I put in the request and the clerk said the copies would be available the next day after 2 p.m. I took a long walking route back home via Governor Alvarez Avenue, Canelar Street, downtown, then back to Mama’s apartment. On the way, I stopped for lunch at Savory Restaurant. I had a bowl of lomi noodle soup which the cashier said was good for 3 people. Well, he didn’t know how much I was capable of eating and finished the whole bowl myself. I needed the fluids and calories after all the walking I did that morning. Their lomi was not as good as the one Larry and I had at the Aristocrat a few days before.
                I met Joanna, the new caregiver when I got back home (Neneng texted me that she showed up while I was at WMMC). She was a recent graduate of practical nursing school and was just waiting to get her license. Mama hadn’t complained of pain since the previous night and it appeared that the round the clock dosing of painkillers finally took effect. From that time on, she never complained of pain again. That made a return visit to the doctor unnecessary. We couldn’t say the same about how much nutrition she was getting because even though we encouraged her to have more intake, the next several days it was just mostly Prosure and medications.
                I continued my search for Tramadol and for a pill cutter. None of the pharmacies had a pill cutter. We also took a thumb mark of Mama for an authorization letter giving us permission to buy medications for her using her senior citizen card. Whenever the caregivers ran low on supplies, I did the shopping. That’s how I found my way to Southway, Gateway, and Mindpro malls.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Searching For Tramadol To Supplement Morphine

Mama went home Tuesday, September 4th
(*** This is a long post so please bear with me)
After consulting with Mama’s primary care physician and infection control specialist on Sunday and Monday, Larry and I decided to ask them to discharge Mama on Tuesday. For some reason, she was quite cranky on Sunday (Sept. 2) and even told some visitors to please be quiet or leave so she can rest. She said “Puwede ba umalis na kayo para makatulog ako?” Maybe because she was in pain earlier in the day and was finally started on Morphine tablets. Previously, she was only taking Tramadol (Ultram). When Larry arrived on Saturday night, she was still able to sit up on the chair and use the bedside commode. However by Sunday, she stopped doing so. I don’t know that was her way to finally giving in because we fulfilled her wish for us to be together, or not. When the Morphine finally caught up with her on Monday, she slept most of the day and said no to every treatment and food offered. Her doctor ordered a nasogastric tube for feeding but she refused, even after Larry had already bought the equipment.
Monday was a very busy day for Larry as he had to check on Mama’s burial plot, memorial plan, and mass services, among other things. I was so relieved that Larry was around because he knew his way around Zamboanga. I was pretty much useless and helpless in that regard so I just stayed in the hospital and let him do his thing unencumbered.
 By Monday night, upon learning of her possible discharge the next day, Mama started taking fluids orally again, and by Tuesday morning she bounced back, was in positive spirits, and started eating again. She actually asked for arroz caldo (a rice soup with chicken and ginger) for lunch and told me to get it from a restaurant across the street called A Taste of Asia (ATOA). Well, I’ll be darned. I was looking for the same thing a couple of days back because I felt I needed more fluids. We didn’t know where to find it and opted for a different kind of soup instead. Larry and I should have asked Mama first.
Tuesday was discharge day. Larry took care of the hospital bill and gave me an exit pass to show to the security guard on our way out. He then went back home to borrow the Tupaz’s car to transport Mama back home. With all the personal belongings that had accumulated in the hospital room, we were thankful for the presence of a few Mother Butler friends of Mama who helped us carry them to the car. An orderly came by the room with a wheelchair to move Mama to the parking lot. When we got to the elevator, a potential disaster came up. I had lost the exit pass! Thankfully, the orderly saw it on the elevator floor. I must have dropped it in the frenzy. We then headed to the rear parking lot of the hospital where Larry was waiting with the car. With remarkable strength and despite turning his ankle earlier that day, Larry transferred Mama from the wheelchair to the front passenger seat. We were on our way home and fulfilled another of Mama’s wishes. When we got home, Caloy got a wheelchair and Mama was wheeled into her apartment with Larry and I lifting the wheelchair from the front and behind, the two steps up and into the door. Earlier in the day, Larry and Madie had rearranged Mama’s room and moved the bed to the middle to accommodate an oxygen tank and so that the caregiver and helper could more easily assist her. Not too long after Mama had settled in bed, Larry had the unenviable task of telling her that he had to leave that evening for Manila, but reassured her that he would be back the following week. I was saddened to see him go later but I had to be resolute for Mama’s sake. After all, Larry was just a phone call or text message away if I needed his advice.
Early Tuesday evening, Mama’s appetite continued and asked for Chow King noodle soup. Well, the helper was new to the area and I didn’t know any better where to find the nearest Chow King. Thankfully, Neneng, the caregiver came to the rescue. She arrived for her shift and found a Chow King nearby. She fed Mama the noodles that evening. That may have been the last time that Mama ate a solid meal fairly well because on the days that followed she no longer had any cravings. She subsisted mainly on small portions of Prosure which Larry brought from Manila.
I don’t know if Mama ate too much solid food that day more than she can tolerate, because by mid-evening she was complaining of severe abdominal pain. The doctor hadn’t reordered the Tramadol and the Morphine wasn’t tamping down the pain. It was difficult to see her suffering and probably due to the extreme pain, even accused us of making fun of her.  We had to do something to help her. I asked Neneng what medications Mama had available and we found Rivotril (Clonazepam or Klonopin in the U.S.) which is an anti anxiety medication, but ordered by the doctor to help Mama sleep before her hospitalization. I asked the caregiver to give it to Mama in addition to her night dose of Morphine and we were relieved that it worked in taking the pain away for the rest of the night.

 I planned on seeing her doctor at the clinic the next day to reorder the Tramadol so Mama could have round the clock coverage for her pain medications. That was the least we could do for her. The doctor did reorder the Tramadol but I had a difficult time finding it in a couple of drugstores. The third one I went to only had a limited supply and it was days later when I found more at another drugstore.

 The doctor also said that if the Morphine doesn’t work initially and Mama was still in pain before the next dose of any pain medication, we could split a Morphine pill and give it to her as a rescue or emergency dose. Oh boy did we need that rescue dose later that day because Mama complained of extreme pain again mid-afternoon Wednesday. We were about to give her the half pill rescue dose but couldn’t find a pill splitter. The Morphine wasn’t even scored in the middle. Madie resorted to using a regular kitchen knife to cut the pill in two and Mama promptly received the half dose. We were hoping that the pain would finally go away but it didn’t. Mama was still in agony. So much so that she asked for more painkillers and said she would take responsibility for the consequences because she didn’t want to die in pain. According to her “ako na ang bahala”. None of us present at the time should be making decisions normally made by a physician or give a medication other than how the doctor prescribed it. But Mama was suffering too much, so with much reservation I asked the caregiver to give her the other half of the pill, hoping it would not O’D her. That was a very tough decision to make. I planned on seeing the doctor the next day again to ask for a faster acting Morphine, perhaps in liquid form which would also help because Mama was also starting to have difficulty swallowing. Thankfully the second half pill worked and Mama’s pain was relieved for the rest of the day.
A short anecdote before I continue. When I returned to Mama’s apartment after seeing the doctor, she told me her PLDT (telephone) bill arrived and I should pay it at Union Bank across the street. I saw the bill and noticed that there were several places that you can submit payment. Mama insisted that I just cross the street to pay the bill and even told me exactly how much it was. She was right, of course. She may have been under the influence of painkillers but her memory was still stunningly intact.
Still other things happened that Wednesday but this post is too long already so I shall continue some other time.
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Friday, September 28, 2012

Walkabouts in Zamboanga

The OBAMA AQUINO Store on Canelar St.
                     Ok, this is a brief respite from all the serious stuff I've been writing about so far.

I was not in the Australian outback but my compulsiveness to exercise allowed me to get reoriented and to rediscover the City of Zamboanga. I already mentioned walking to and from the hospital which was approximately 22 minutes each way. One morning I discovered that taking Governor Lim Avenue from Pilar Street took me right smack to the middle of downtown, the area I was familiar with decades ago. From there, it was easier for me to find my way around. That was the day I walked up Canelar Street all the way to Governor Alvarez Avenue. In the process, I looked for the house we used to live in after being displaced due to the rebel attack of Jolo in 1974. I found it and a couple of days later reconnected with a cousin who still lives there.
With cousin Jerry Despalo
On the same street I also searched for the restaurant where I bought siopao from 13 years prior and I liked it so much that I wanted to taste it again. Unfortunately the place didn’t open till later. I even thought it had closed down. My walkabouts also took me past Lantaka Hotel to Paseo Del Mar which didn’t exist the last time I was in Zamboanga.
I asked a man carrying a baby to take this pic at Paseo Del Mar so he wouldn't run away with my cell phone
From there Fort Pilar was just steps away. I said a prayer for Mama each time I passed the old fort which was almost every day.

 I also found the tennis club I used to hang out in – The Zamboanga City Lawn Tennis Club, which although they never had grass courts, retained the traditional name of tennis.

 You will see me in pictures holding a Dunkin Donuts cup of coffee as if I was doing product placement for the company. I just needed an extra jolt to wake me up that particular morning. Yes, there are Dunkin Donuts shops all over Zamboanga City. I’m surprised I didn’t see a single Starbucks.
Although these walks were fairly low intensity compared to the workouts I do in the U.S., I found that I lost weight during my stay in Zamboanga. Maybe because I did a lot of it. The main thing I had to adjust to was the pollution and the humidity and that’s probably the reason why my workouts were of lesser intensity.
95 % humidity!
Some people may have taken a tricycle to reach their destination, but I often walked the distance, because oftentimes, it was way less than 30 minutes away by foot. From the apartment to the funeral parlor, it was only about 12 minutes. To buy the siopao, about 8 minutes. Let me tell you more about that. When I found National Bakery, I saw that they sold siopao, but since it was early, they were not available yet. The cashier said they will be available at 7 a.m. So I went home to take a shower and walked back to the bakery at 7:30. Still no siopao. Then I was reminded that I was back on Filipino time and not a more prompt American time. I should have thought of that when the scheduled 10 a.m. mass didn’t start till 11 a.m. Time to readjust my time expectations to a more leisurely pace. Hmm, does that even make sense?
I also found my way to the newer malls in the area: Southway, Gateway, and Mindpro. Not that I did any shopping there. I found the prices just as expensive if not more compared to prices in the U.S. if converted in dollars.
In my meanderings, I noticed a lot of malnourished stray dogs in the streets, most of the females were either pregnant or looked like they were nursing. They tended to avoid people and were just searching for food.

 Another observation was how the garbagemen worked. Instead of wearing gloves, they used plastic bags to protect their hands.  Sidewalks in the city often doubled as parking spaces for tricycles, mini trucks, and cars and there appears to be no legal consequences for it.
Sidewalk as parking space
I wouldn’t even dare drive there either. A red light doesn’t seem to be a stop sign but rather a suggestion to stop if you feel it’s unsafe to proceed. And forget about the double yellow line dividing a street. You may cross that line if you find space between you and the other vehicles coming at you from the other side. Right of way? Whoever gets the angle first has the right of way.
What made my walks and daily life more bearable despite the stickiness of the humidity, was that all the clothes I brought were for running made of technical fabric. If there is going to be a next time, I would bring more tank tops instead of t-shirts.
I guess this is a fisherman looking for schools of fish

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sunday - A Fateful Decision Day

Sunday Morning with Mama

After all the visitors left on Saturday night, Larry and I stayed in the hospital until visiting hours were over at 10 p.m. We went back to the apartment and for the first time since 1973 when I was 15 and he was 10, we were roommates again. I was too tired to do anything else so while he tinkered with his newly bought 3G (I’m guessing) internet connection dongle, I went to sleep right away amid 3 chihuahuas yapping away outside. The nightly yapping was going to be the norm for the duration of our stay.
 I woke up at the usual 3 a.m. and just tossed and turned in bed while my brother snored away. Just like the previous day, I was out the door for my workout by 5:30 and this time I was determined to reach Western Mindanao Medical Center (WMMC) by foot. I started walking in the right direction that morning and pretty soon started jogging. The sidewalks are small in this city and sometimes you have to step off due to an electric post blocking the way, but at the same time dodge vehicles on the street in addition to ubiquitous stray dogs and their resultant poop. I made it all the way to the hospital, went upstairs to Mama’s room, saw that she was still asleep and motioned to caregiver Neneng that I would be back later. I powerwalked all the way back to the apartment. So how far was it each way? My best guess based on my walking pace was only about a mile and a quarter. Someone told me the previous night he thought it was about 3 kilometers, which is much less than the 1 1/4th mile I estimated.
Satti with Larry
When I got back to the apartment, Larry was already up and after I took a shower (actually, a pail and dipper type of shower), we decided to hit the satti place again for breakfast. We left for the hospital right after and when we got there, Mama reminded us that there was a mass in the hospital at 10 a.m. (it didn’t start till 11, more on Filipino time later). We got a call from the Pabellons  informing us of a meeting we should have with the Tupaz Family (Mama’s landlady) at 3 p.m. to make decisions about Mama’s care, since Larry and I were finally there. Those two families have been the go-to people whom Mama relied on in our absence. I reiterate that we cannot thank them enough for taking care of our Mother the past few years and especially the last few months when she started ailing badly.
The meeting was held at the Pabellon residence and it was to plan for the inevitable. What do you ask was the inevitable? Sensitive as the topic was, it was a necessary discussion. What were Mama’s wishes? Where would the wake and visitation be (La Merced) and for how many days (2)? She already had a burial plot, did she also have a memorial plan (yes)? Will she be buried side by side with Papa or on top of him leaving a vacant plot aside (on top)? Finally, are we going to keep her in the hospital and continue treatment for what may or may not be pneumonia with no assurance that powerful antibiotics might help?
The first of Mama’s wishes was already fulfilled the previous night and that was that she, Larry and I were together again. Her second wish was to get discharged from the hospital, and the third being that she not die in pain. Another wish she had was to have a decent casket worth at least close to 100,000 pesos and proper religious rituals and services that she can be proud of. She had already set aside money for that. As usual, Mama had planned way ahead of time. Assignments were given to who was to foresee the prayers, masses, refreshments and other food. Larry was going to check on Mama’s memorial plan coverage, the funeral parlor, and the burial site requirements as well as the funeral mass. I didn’t have anything to contribute because I wasn’t familiar with the ins and outs of Zamboanga City. The final decision to be made was what to do with Mama’s hospitalization. We decided to meet Mama’s wish to go back to her apartment while continuing her maintenance medications and her pain pills (Morphine and Ultram or Tramadol). Out of respect for some people and because of their extreme kindness, I shall not write about the proselytizing which happened afterwards. Although it may help some people, it was just not for me. So sorry about that. So with all the decisions made, Operation Pilar was set in motion.
Nurse checking Mama's vital signs
We returned to the hospital to see Mama and let her know that we were going to ask her doctor to discharge her but not before consulting with the doctor the next day. By the way, the doctor started Mama on Morphine on this day because she was complaining of pain and the Tramadol was not helping much any more.We stayed with Mama until the hospital was ready to kick us out at 10 p.m.

*A side note – I don’t remember if I met the Tupaz family for the first time on Saturday morning or Sunday morning.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Zamboanga – The First Day: A Day of Two Reunions

I had asked my brother to make reservations for 9 nights at Amil’s Pension House which was directly across the street from our mother’s apartment. I stayed there my first night in Zamboanga but since Mama’s landlady offered a vacant apartment for us to stay in, I moved in the next day. That saved us a few thousand pesos. A few days later, I asked Madie, the landlady if we could settle the accounts for the duration of our stay and she declined payment. Thanks Caloy and Madie, for your generosity and hospitality.
The night I stayed at Amil’s, I was awake by 3 a.m. and watched the U.S. Open and when that was over, I tried reading an ebook. Still, I was unable to go back to sleep and couldn’t wait until dawn came so I could go out for a walk or a run. Exiting the hotel in the morning, I turned right. In my disorientation the night before, I thought that led to Veterans Avenue, the street my mom’s hospital was in. After a short block I saw Plaza Pershing. Hmm, I should not be in that area if I wanted to go to the hospital. So I turned around and on the other end of the street, I hit Veterans Avenue. Well, I only made it halfway to the hospital because I was rapidly approaching the time I allotted myself for exercise that morning. So I walked back to the hotel, took a shower and stepped outside looking for Jimmy’s Satti House to satisfy what I was craving for in decades. Well, immediately to my left from the hotel entrance was Morning Sun Satti House so I went there instead. The man there showed me some liver cubes skewered on a stick but I opted for cubed chicken meat instead. I consumed 10 sticks of chicken and 3 tamus (rice cubes) in my first taste of satti since 1989. When I went to pay, it only the equivalent of less than 2 dollars for the meal.
Fifth grade classmate Solomon - owner of Morning Sun Satti
I went back to the hotel to get myself ready to go to the hospital and as I passed Morning Sun, the man I ordered the satti from earlier asked me in the Tausug dialect if I was Noel. Detecting my surprise, he introduced himself as Solomon, a former elementary school classmate in 5th grade. Of course I remembered who he was because there was only one Solomon who was ever my classmate. We exchanged pleasantries and stories. He also happened to know Mama lived across the street so he asked how she was doing. I told him I was just on my way to visit her at the hospital.

Just then, I received a text message from Famy, a high school batchmate that her husband (an esteemed Jolo judge, no less) was on his way to my location to deliver some durian. So I waited for him before going to the hospital and a few minutes later, he showed up in his SUV with a box on the roof. I was expecting durian in a plastic container that was ready to eat and not 7 whole unopened durian fruits in a huge box on top of a judge’s car! The durian was sent from Jolo by another batchmate, Delia, the previous day. Oh my, my classmates sure know how to welcome me back after having disappeared from them since 1973. The judge was on his way to play tennis so I took the durian and brought it to my mother’s apartment. The hotel did not want the fruit in their premises due to the smell. I took up Mama’s landlady’s offer and moved in to the vacant apartment after checking out from Amil’s Pension House. Then I took a tricycle ride to the hospital to see Mama.

Aside from the nurses, Mama was being cared for by a recently hired caregiver – Neneng, and a helper – Andrea. So they were there attending to her needs when I arrived at the hospital. Mama was not very talkative and was grabbing some shuteye here and there. I told her about meeting Solomon and the durian delivery and how her apartment now smelled of durian, so she won’t be surprised when she went back home. Neneng left shortly (she worked the night shift) and I was left with Andrea who was busy as usual texting with her boyfriend (Mama already informed me of this in our telephone conversations). Well, that’s better than having no helper at all so it was a compromise she was willing to make. Around noontime, I begged my leave from Mama to go to lunch and also told her I was meeting my classmates at Amil’s at 3 p.m. for a small reunion. I walked down Veterans Avenue heading towards where the apartment was, looking for a place to eat. When I reached Pilar Street, I was resigned to having another round of satti. That’s when I saw Fat Belly restaurants’ offering in pictures on their front window. It showed pyanggang, tiula itum, and kulma among the items,  and I felt as if I was in Tausug heaven. I immediately ordered one of my favorite Tausug foods – pyanggang with rice. I polished off the first cup of rice and ordered an extra one. Oh my, was that meal a gustatory delight! And get this, it was a low fat meal to boot. The cost? Less than two and half bucks. I vowed to go back to that restaurant to sample more of their offerings.
I went back to the apartment and tried to take a nap before meeting my classmates. I heard the doorbell ring and looked out the window. In comes Leonard whom I wasn’t expecting. Remember classmate Leonard who visited the U.S. two years ago and whom I toured around Shoreline Village? He just happened to check Facebook and saw that a bunch of classmates were meeting that afternoon and having known Mama’s apartment, took a chance and came to see if I was in. So we talked a little bit but he had to leave. He said he would be back for the reunion at Amil’s.

Just before 3 p.m., I headed to Amil’s and immediately saw a lone female sitting in the hotel’s eatery. It was no other than Mimi. We hugged each other then tried to catch up about goings on in life. The others slowly trickled in – Cecile, Lorna, Nayda, Salma, Dolly, Famy, and Leonard (did I miss anyone?). We left Amil’s and walked a short way downtown to look for a place to eat. Pretty soon we entered Love Life Snack House which specialized in pastil, empanada, and halo halo and that was exactly what we ordered. Incidentally, at least 3 of us in the group were unmarried, thus did not have a love life. I offered to pay for the snacks but my classmates kindly declined. The lot was already funny when communicating on Facebook and were even funnier in real life with their facial expressions. Since I couldn’t carry too much weight in my luggage, I passed around dollar coins to everyone as a souvenir. After the snack, they vowed to see me again before I left Zamboanga.

I went back to Mama’s hospital and saw that the Nono family was back keeping her company. Together we awaited my brother’s arrival from Manila. Well, the airline changed its schedule so Larry didn’t arrive till 8 p.m., about the time I texted him and he responded that he just landed.
Larry came inside Mama’s hospital room shortly and the three of us were finally reunited after thirteen long years. Mama mustered a weak smile when a photo of the three of us was being taken. What was left of Iking’s family was together again.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Momsie in Weemsie in Zamboanga City

I approached the Western Mindanao Medical Center (WMMC - locally, they call it weemsie) front entrance and the security guard checked me for weapons. He didn’t inspect my bag when I told him I just arrived from Manila and was there to see my mother on the third floor. I then rode the elevator then asked the nurses at the nursing station where room 324 was. After all those years being gone, I was about to see my mother again, though not under the best circumstances.
The last time I was in Zamboanga City was for the funeral of my father 13 years ago. Mama was still very much in charge and choreographed the visitation, wake, and funeral with ease. At the time Mama portrayed strength and determination to see things through during Papa’s final farewell, as I’ve never seen her done before.
I knocked lightly on the door of room 324 then entered. My first glimpse was of cousins Mary Cate and Claire, and Uncle Dante and Auntie Lita. As I approached, I saw dear Mama to the left in bed. I excused myself from my relatives and greeted Mama first. In the best American accent I could muster,  I said “Mom, I made it!”, then held her hand and kissed her on the forehead. A faint smile came across her face. I wasn’t sure if she was expecting me to be there with her so soon. In her weakened state, she wasn’t able to talk very much but our shared silence spoke enough volumes of the gratitude we had being together again after more than a decade of separation.
I turned my attention to our relatives who until about a couple of months ago didn’t know about Mama’s worsening condition. It was through Facebook that I found one of my cousins (the younger brother of Cate and Claire) whom I never met in real life, and asked him to inform his Dad and Mom – Uncle Dante and Auntie Lita, about Mama. They had been visiting Mama frequently since then. Uncle Dante is the last remaining sibling of Mama who is alive.
Half an hour after I saw Mama, the Pabellon Family arrived. Kuya Vic, Ate Chit, and Jing came from the airport where they went to pick me up. But because of the plane arriving 10 minutes early and my quick exit from the terminal, we missed each other. Pretty soon, photos with Mama were being taken, knowing that the opportunities of doing this were dwindling in the coming days. These photos will be cherished forever.

Mama asked me what I had in my luggage, knowing full well I had brought chocolates as she requested. I opened my bag and unloaded a dozen 6 pack bags of fun size chocolates of all kinds (boy, have they downsized those things!). Mama proceeded to verbally dole them out to those present. I didn’t keep track on who got what and how many. They were Mom’s goods to give out however she desired.
My brother Larry arrived the next evening and we were able to fulfill the first of Mama’s last wishes – the three of us being together. Thank you, Larry, for asking me to come home much earlier.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Manila to Zamboanga (MNL to ZAM)

Arriving in Manila, I was expecting a blast of hot air to hit me but having just come from summer in L.A. the impact of the Philippine heat was minimal. First things first. I entered the first bathroom (or in Philippine parlance: CR) I could find to relieve myself. I noticed a man in uniform standing by the door and I couldn’t figure out if he was a valet or a cleaning guy. Next up: customs. Clearance through customs was not a problem even though I declared that I brought a computer and a cell phone for personal use. Before exiting NAIA Terminal 1, I need to exchange some dollars to pesos. A money changer was conveniently located near the exit of customs. The exchange rate was 41.80 pesos to the dollar that day. Boy did I feel rich having a wad of high denomination peso bills in my waistpack. Then I went looking for the shuttle bus which took passengers around the four terminals of NAIA. With a 20 peso fare, I got dropped off at terminal 3 for my flight to Zamboanga later in the day.
First order of business in terminal 3 was to buy a SIM card and load some minutes into my cell phone. My brother recommended SMART so that’s what I bought. After doing a rebooking of my return flight at the Cebu Pacific ticket counter, I started scouting all the floors of this relatively new terminal. In doing so, I managed another half hour or so of a walking workout. Up and down hallways, and up and down 4 floors I went. I noticed that it was cooler in the first floor and as you went higher, so did the heat. After my walk, I tried to connect to the free wi-fi but could not get a strong enough signal to keep me logged on. My brother told me later the signal was stronger in the boarding area. I ended up trying my new SIM card and texting my brother, a friend and a cousin while trying to kill time.
When it was almost time to board, I went to the entrance of the waiting area and an employee of Airphil weighed my carryon baggage. It was 10 kilos, 3 more than allowed. He told me to find a plastic bag so I could divide the contents and make the carryon lighter. I wandered about thinking where I can get a plastic bag and when I was about to leave, the employee took pity on me and allowed me to enter the boarding area despite the excess weight. Going through another security check, I placed my baggage, wallet, cell phone, belt, and shoes on the x-ray rollers. When I got to the other side of the body scanner, my cell phone was missing after passing through x-ray. I asked the security people if they had seen it. The guy ahead of me could have picked it up by mistake or intentionally after all. After a few seconds, to my relief, one of the security guys saw that the phone had fallen through the rollers. Whew! A disaster averted.
In the waiting area, the cacophony of Chavacano and Tausug dialects permeated the air in addition to the humidity. My brother Larry called to find out how I was doing but I could barely hear him because of the noise. When it was time to board, one of the Tausug guys was asked by the ground personnel to take off his sunglasses so they could see his eyes. I told him on the way to the plane that he should have winked at them.
Oh my, I’d forgotten how cramped the seats are on domestic flights. I’m not heavy set and I still felt squeezed in the tiny seat. It didn’t help that I was on the window side. My back felt uncomfortable the whole hour and a half of the trip and I squirmed throughout. The only thing I got out of my seatmates is that when they arrived in Zamboanga City, they still had a bus ride to take to Zamboanga Sibugay. I didn’t envy them.
Having no checked in baggage, I breezed through the arrival area bypassing the baggage carousel. Heading out to the street, I was swarmed by tricycle and taxi drivers offering their rides. I was already forewarned that the ride from the airport to Western Mindanao Medical Center should only cost about 50 pesos. These drivers were asking for as much as 80. I compromised with one of them, a fellow Tausug, for a still overpriced 70 pesos. After flying and waiting in airports for more than 30 hours, I was in no shape to haggle and argue over 20 pesos. On the way, the darn driver even had to borrow 50 pesos to put some gas in the motorcycle tank. Well, at least he got me to my destination safely. Believe me, I was so disoriented with the streets that evening, I didn’t even know which way was up.
And then after 13 very long years, I finally saw Mama…

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Los Angeles to Incheon to Manila

Having been picked up by an airport shuttle company at about 6:30 p.m., I had plenty of time to kill at LAX before my Korean Airlines flight to Incheon leaving at 11:30. I spent the time trying to connect to the free wi-fi and it took a while to figure it out because there were two available but only one that was working, and that was only after I had to see an ad in a browser. I got hungry after awhile since my last meal was about 3 p.m. so I went around looking for some food. After entering the departure areas, there were fewer choices where you can find a decent and reasonably priced meals. I ended up eating a hotdog and diet soda (I kept the chips for later). I must say, that was the most expensive hotdog snack I’ve ever eaten.
While in line to board the plane, a Korean woman asked me to keep an eye on her carryon baggage because she forgot to pick something up from the duty free shop. Well, that’s just something the TSA tells you exactly not to do - watch somebody else's baggage because it could be a bomb. Who knows if that woman would come back? But come back she did much to my relief.
A couple of hours before leaving, I posted on Facebook that if someone acted out during the flight, at least the Koreans on board would know taekwondo and if my assistance was required, I’m trained for the Management of Assaultive Behavior, which is a requirement of my job. Oh wait, that's only if psych patients acted out in the hospital. I guess the Korean kickers would have to do without me.
When we boarded the plane, I was relieved to see two other skinny people sitting in my row. At least we would have adequate room between us. After a brief introduction, I found out that the girl in the window seat was Japanese, the guy in the middle was Chinese, both half my age, and myself a Flip. You couldn’t get any more Asian in that row. William works at Abercrombie and Fitch while Atsuko, whose brother lives in L.A.  was returning home from vacation. Throughout the flight, there was one thing I noticed about the Japanese girl. She slept most of the 12 hour flight and didn’t eat any of the meals. I found her later at Incheon waiting for her connecting flight and teased her that the sleeps like a cat and eats like a bird. I discovered something else about the girl – she used to be a flight attendant for Korean Airlines but gave it up to study tax accounting.
To entertain myself inflight, what else would I watch but a couple of running movies. First was Fast Girls about British sprinters trying to qualify for the Olympics and then the classic Chariots of fire. In between, I took naps while listening to classical music. Wait a minute! I don’t do classical music! Well whatever works to get some rest, I guess.
            After deplaning at Incheon, I went looking for my departure gate for Manila, then having found that, I still had about 3 hours to kill so I started a walking workout at about 2 a.m. while pulling my carryon luggage. The main hallway of the terminal took about 10 minutes to cover end to end and with a couple of other long hallways which I went up and back several times, I completed a 45 minute brisk walk.
            Then it was time to leave for Manila. Unfortunately, I don’t recall very much about that leg of the trip other than the flight attendant telling me that the flight wasn’t full and to feel free to move to another seat. I then asked her if that included first class.
Darn, she said no! Well, so be it, onward to the Philippines in coach class. One thing I can say about the uniform of the flight attendants: they have a pointy scarf that if you are not careful, it can poke an eye out.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pilar Nono De Las Peñas

Pilar Nono De Las Peñas 
14 October 1931 - 10 September 2012
Eulogy For Mama

Mama was the glue that held us together from our beginnings in Jolo, through Papa’s illness, and even when Larry and I moved away from home. I hope she never thought that we abandoned her in the last few years because even though we were not with her physically, she was always present in our hearts.
Mother Butler friends, family friends, and relatives, you have all been appreciated because she was able to maintain a social life especially after she started living alone. Yet she was never alone because of you. You had become part of her family.
Even though she had been ailing, she didn’t want to burden us. After all this time, she was still concerned of her children’s well being sometimes to the detriment of hers. A mother’s sacrifice for her children never ends.
My mother was a very astute bargainer. I used to not like going shopping with her because she would haggle with salespeople until she more or less got the price she wanted for an item. It’s a quality of hers that I admired a lot in later years and thereby fostered my thrift. God knows how thrifty she was. Most of you probably know that.
Mama was a very good cook when she was still able to do it. To this day, people still mention her pumpkin pie and chicken salad.
Mama used to dress Larry and I alike for church when we were kids. I’m sure all of you who have seen us in Jolo noticed that. I don’t remember when that stopped. Maybe when I got to high school? We are 5 years apart and dressed like twins. I never wondered why she did that or complained about it. It was something we just accepted. It makes for a good memory now.
It’s hard to imagine losing both parents. Even today, I still dream about Papa and I expect the same about Mama for the extended future. Only, I will dream of them when they were younger and in their prime.
There comes a point in our existence that if by the grace of God we are fortunate enough to get there with sound mind, we have to make end of life decisions for ourselves. My mother made hers. She made her peace with the Lord for awhile already. and now she is with HIM, with Papa and all the friends and family that went before us.
Finally, Larry's soulmate Ninette wanted  to contribute that what she admired most about Mama was her simplicity, strength of character, tenacity for survival, inner happiness, and contentment.
Thank you, everyone, for being present in Mama's life.