Sunday, October 25, 2009

Notes on a trip to Cotabato City

1. The flight is 12:10 pm. I packed clothes for three days and remembered to bring two red shirts for two nights to ward away evil spirits. Ces prepared the toiletries and they were good to go. The hardest part is choosing which books to bring. Since the last out of town trip, I have accumulated reading backlog of more than six months. Eventually I decided to bring NVM Gonzalez's Grammar of Dreams, Jimmy Abad's In Ordinary Time, Ricky de Ungria's Levitations, a couple of New Yorkers and Neil Gaiman's 1602. I decided to let go of Borges's Selected Non-Fiction because it was too thick. I've had these books for months, but my weekly routine keeps me away from them. Now, three days in the south will give me time to be with these kindred spirits.

I have been appointed as a member of the Bids and Awards Committee of a Presidential Task Force. The Committee will procure consulting services to solve the Mindanao flooding. The interesting fact is, the Task Force is based in Cotabato City. I have never been to that city and never imagined that I would go there once in my life. After getting ready with my baggage, I decided to update my Facebook status: "Preparing for a trip to Cotabato City. Hope to debunk the myth that it is no man's land."

2.When I got to the Centennial Terminal, I decided to have coffee and found a new airport concessionaire, Ya Kun Kaya Toast. The place claims that it has been serving coffee since 1944 in Singapore.

The menu looks unique, a bundle of coffee, French toast and two boiled eggs for Php 165, expensive but may be worth a try. Upon ordering, I was appalled that the counter girl asked whether I wanted condensed milk on my coffee. Que horror! The counter girl said it is the Singaporean coffee tradition. I told her I take coffee only black or with fresh milk. I looked around and found out that the choices were condensed milk, evaporated milk or black. I said I will settle for black.

After paying, I got an open table just outside the kiosk and then the coffee came with French toast and hard boiled eggs.

The food reminded of my childhood days, travelling from Mindoro to Manila. Boiled eggs were staple in those trips, because they were filling and easy to eat. I wondered though if this idea would work side by side with Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. But the sight of the Starbuck types eating hard boiled eggs seems incredulous.

3. What types take the plane to Cotabato City? I looked around me on the queue to board the flight and everyone looks regular. A couple of Muslim ladies in their traditional headdress, family types with their little boys, a Caucasian with a sarong wrapped around his head wearing a black shirt which said something like I told myself, if this guy feels safe going to Catabato city on that shirt, it must be safe for everyone too.

The plane is cramped. I figured, if I had grown one more inch from my 5'6" frame, my knees would be crushed in between these seats. Time was when these Airbus 320's were spacious and comfortable. But the business types simply have the last word on airline comfort for passengers.

The plane moved to the runway before the 12:10 pm call time. But it had to stop there as there were three other planes about to take off, said the pilot. Weather is fine in Cotabato. We would be flying to an altitude of 29,000 feet, over San Jose Occidental Mindoro, Iloilo and then to Cotabato.

When the plane took off, I began reading Neil Gaiman's 1602. I felt a little spooked about the fact that the comic book started with the burning on the stake by a heretic. I asked myself is it a coincidence that I am reading this book on my way to Cotabato City where Christian and Muslim tensions have been well documented? It must be my mind creating thoughts, thoughts turning into words, the words turning to reality, and then back again. I remembered Manny O. who used to teach a subject in the Ateneo about religious conflict in the world. Manny reminds me of an old John Lennon song. Lennon could be right, you know? If you can imagine a society with no religion, there would be peace. Well, dogs have no religion.

Just when we were descending, the Mindanao western coastline showed itself to me in all its glorious splendor. The greenery is magnificent. I could see long stretches of forest lands coupled with a few patches of houses here and there. The land mass is way too large compared with the Visayan islands. It's hard to believe that this place that looks so peaceful from above has a violent reputation.

"Ayan dumating na tayo!" a delighted voice from behind me cheered. We've landed in Cotabato City.

(To be continued)

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