San Jose City, NVE– Every single day starts way before the rooster even gets a chance to flap his wings and give the sun its cue. The rhythm of rubber against rocks and squeaking sockets of tricycles passing through the rough road and the sweet zest of the morning dew dripping aimlessly on edges of palay leaves are two of many things that woke me up in the morning.
A couple’s morning prayer shared by Daddy Joel and Mommy Inday echoes through the hallway and seeps through the door jamb’s cracks. I close my eyes and listen by the bedroom door. Although the tiny slit only allowed me to pick a few words out from their daily devotion- like “strength,” “life,” and “beauty,”- but that happened to be the pick-me-up my soul needed.
A quick bed fix, cold shower and a set of freshly pressed clothes, and I’m in the hallway next to the kitchen.
The aroma of pancakes and coffee, and an audible “Ali na, Miko,” waves a green flag for another day in this town and its warm people.
Today started in quite a peculiar manner. I usually log my time on the guard’s logbook 10 minutes before work since I share the 15-minute ride to work with Daddy Joel- who’s also the workplace manager. Tito starts work minutes earlier to check in with the engineers from last night’s shift as they hang their hard hats up, but today there are no folks to run into as we’re a minute late. I guess today is, and will be, different.
The ash pit under the power plant’s furnace had another clog this morning. There’s an unwritten rule that the interns get the learning experience of troubleshooting the system. To “troubleshoot,” meant manually shoveling truckloads of ash into hundreds of sacks for disposal.
My fellow interns and I have been battling through hills of burnt husk for the last hour and a half while our super plays Clash of Clans on his phone- like young Apaches at their rights of passage.
We were coal miners in monochrome- almost ashed throughout if it weren’t for the whites in our eyes. Our smiles added some light when our superior finally gave us a go for merienda.
We crossed the highway wearing our ashed ski masks like badges of industry. The only place for a bite is Aling Ruby’s little food stand by the street across the admin office. The workplace canteen had been empty even before the plant started its operation and the next merienda joint is at least a mile away. So I guess we could say Aling Ruby holds a monopoly on snacks for the entire workforce. Her trusty snack stall, humbly settled on an empty lot, is our only hope for a well-deserved quick bite before we return to our morning hustle.
Aling Ruby’s stand –a corroded 3-wheeler you can barely call a tricycle, an icebox on its rear, and sturdy table under a 6-foot cherry tree– offers cassava cakes, kutchinta, palitao, pancit bihon, spaghetti (all you had to eat straight from its plastic bag) and a selection of fruit drink and soda.
Today she’s serving sopas in a transparent disposable cup with a plastic spoon. Strange. It was forty degrees under the hot July sun and she only makes stew if it’s pouring or just a cold day. Maybe she got the wrong forecast.
I went with it anyway. I need all the energy I can get for the backbreaking hours ahead… and because my gut grumbled when I caught a whiff from the steam after someone opened the pot for a peek.
I took the 10-peso cup and a bottle of Minute Maid and sat on the sidewalk just under the cherry tree. This tiny spot was an acoustic focal point on the merienda stall.
The workers seem to have their own niches- divided usually into three groups: the local Ilocanos, the Tagalogs and the Bisayas; each speaking a different tongue. I found a spot under the cherry tree which seems to be an acoustic focal point that allows me to simultaneously listen to all tittle-tattles.
I couldn’t make any word out from the Ilocano chatter but I could tell they are talking about women. Sir Reagan’s tone was similar to a tambay‘s catcall. I chuckled a bit and turned my head to the gossips of the Bisayas. I close my eyes and breathe in a lung-full of air as the familiar accent fades slowly. God, I miss home.
9:35. Back to work.