Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dahilayan Barrio: Eden At Your Reach?

After a protracted stay of over a quarter of century, it might come easy to decide that the US, especially sunny California, may be the yearned-for paradise away from any old hometown ensconced in a third-world country like the Philippines - hot, humid, underdeveloped, and, crowded with a lot of people I personally felt quite alienated from in terms of common interests and values.

After much thought and soul-searching I did come to the conclusion that my new adopted place was the place where I would like to spend the rest of my life, specifically the San Francisco Bay Area. Home to the fabled Golden Gate Bridge. Blessed with a most hospitable climate the whole year round, and equally blessed with the most interesting and amazingly cosmopolitan people one could find in the entire globe. Not to mention all the given comfortable accoutrements that go with living in a first-world country.

This resolute resolve had always shadowed me, even on the countless visits made back to the old homeland, the last one lasting for 3 months. At the back of my mind, I could always console myself with that comforting thought, especially when besieged by nagging difficulties during the visits. Such as the intolerable heat and humidity, the atrocious traffic, ubiquitous squatter areas or shantytowns, and more. I knew that I could always sidle back to my safe haven when the visit ended. Nothing that a quick return plane trip could instantly dissipate.

And I had always felt that nothing could drastically alter that steely resolve. But I missed to reckon that I have always been stubborn and obstinate. Label me as the guy who keeps repeating to do things until the desired results come out, unheeding conventional wisdom's admonition that those who keep repeating endlessly an action even though the desired result is not accomplished may be judged as crazy.

Thus, I had never given up the exercise for finding tenable reasons why the old homeland could be just as "good" as the acquired earthly Eden that one has usurped in moving to another country.

This had led me to the cold and calculating process of listing all the reasons why the adopted place had been considered as the perfect nest to spend one's twilight years. And matching them with acceptable alternatives in the old homeland. No stone was left unturned. Even imagined reasons got thrown into the mix.

The process has been both lingering and tedious to say the least. And after a long and hard look, some things appear to gel, determinable and recognizable but still quite hazy. But I subscribe that like most things in life, nothing is ever cut and dried, black or white. Hard fought decisions are usually arrived at based on imperfect methods, insufficient data, and yes, less than 100 percent clarity and surety. Thus, most decisions result from some combination of logic and rolls of the dice.

The same is definitely true with this comparison match-up between the old and the adopted homeland. The comparison itself has been done in a rather unorthodox manner, given that comparing very diverse locale is in itself quite subjective and values assigned rely largely on personal perception and bias. I suppose that if one looks hard enough for reasons, one will ultimately find some.

Of all the places that I have traveled in my youthful years and during more recent times, I have pinpointed one such locale that to me could comparatively match up with the one decided upon in the US. And that choice hinges on the following criteria of climate, its ability to sustain lifelong interests and avocations, accessibility, economic viability, and maybe such factors as familiarity with customs and culture. Biggest drawbacks are its distance from the rest of our immediate family, the deplorable economic and political situation in the country, and maybe the economic trade-offs inherent with living in a third-world country.

Anyway, all things considered, my choice has been the little, agricultural, remote, and rural barrio of Dahilayan, in the municipality of Manolo Fortich in the Province of Bukidnon forming part of the northern region of the island of Mindanao.

For the past 3 years or so, we have been slowly and quite imperceptibly acquiring contiguous farmlands in the above barrio which rises some 1300 meters above sea level and nestled in one the various foothills forming part of the majestic Kitanglad mountain range. The imposing shadow of Mt. Kitanglad looms large and inviting facing south from where we are located. The combination of soft rolling hills and sharp steep inclines in the terrain while at times providing daunting challenges in farming, makes for a landscape that can combat boredom and cookie-cutter looks in farm lots. No endless stretches of uniform looking plots or bland flat yards around structures.

And no fears of being isolated from the rest of civilization, since the place can be reached from the bustling northern Mindanao city of Cagayan de Oro in an hour or so, though the conditions of roads at times leave much to be desired. Especially during rainy seasons. But the eye-catching travel scenery makes up for this lack of comfort, traversing through verdant fields of pineapples, vegetable tracts, and simply virgin valleys and gullies enveloped in thick foliage. Intermittently broken up with sites of man-made structures such as greenhouses and even piggery housing. But the overall outlook of the area is still one of being untapped and unspoiled by too much intrusion of urban-like sprawl and structures.

We must also point out that the area is part of the now 25,000 has. being cultivated by Del Monte's Philippine Packing Corporation for its now varied operations. In earlier times, PPC's main product was canned pineapple. Thus an added bonus to those inclined is the famous Del Monte links some 20 minutes away from the barrio, where golf enthusiasts, both local and foreign, are wont to visit when in the area.

Agriculture in its many manifestations and variations has always been welcomed and blessed in most areas of Mindanao, which boasts of its nature-given gifts of good fertile soil and suitable climate. Thus, earning for it the dual distinction of being a rice granary and vegetable bowl of the country. All this of course, prior to the current ethnic and social unrest now endemic in most parts of southern Mindanao, where unfortunately agriculture is most suitable and once most thriving. Now pervasive poverty, widespread ignorance, and the many horrible ramifications of both are the daily realities in most provinces, where most relevant statistics are skewed higher compared to national figures.

But for this chosen barrio one of the biggest factor in its favor has been the climate, cool and temperate and almost at direct odds with the heat and humidity in the low-lying cities and towns that dot the coastal areas. And as I personally note, most like that of the San Francisco area, complete with the morning and late afternoon spectacle of white-mist fog. Nothing like the surreal ambiance brought on by nature's little cat feet (as Carl Sandburg intoned) to bring on grand and profound thoughts.

And quite integral to all the thicket of personal preferences, there is for me the added underlying purpose of the place to promote my thoughts and plans for helping this blighted land through essential agriculture pursuits, which after all has been from its existence its anointed soul and purpose.

To raise a small hand in the entire island's drive to gear up and go back to its roots which today remain stunted and neglected, that is now my focus.