Sunday, February 15, 2009

A day in the life of La Esa

Sustaining all life forms is 'my responsibility to my neighbors,' a tough TARF mantra that NIRDC cracked for the uplift of the empoverished's lot


CANLAON City, Negros Oriental –AT THE AGE OF 62, Elsa Apostol-Vergara, a widow of 11 years and a grandmother of 13 kids, should be taking her life easy. But she has to work hard everyday on her PD 27-awarded two-and-three-fourths-hectare land devoted to organic rice and vegetables. She has to attend to her estate all by herself, to support a household composed of three grandchildren left orphaned by her son Domingo. She lost him in 2002 to a lingering cirrhosis of the liver, diagnosed later as cancer, which metastasized and complicated his kidneys and colon after two years of fighting the disease.

A few months soon after Domingo died, his slothful wife ran away with another man, abandoning their children, Emily, now aged 12 years old; Jemima, eight; and Clarence, four; hungry, angry and parentless.
"La Esa" (pronounced: laysa) – short for Lola Elsa – still has to get up at the crack of dawn, carry a basketful of vegetables that swung suspended from her bony shoulders, walk down a little more than a kilometer through rice paddies, narrow foot bridge and rough roads before she could catch a habal-habal (a motorcycle for hire) ride to the Uptown Public Market to sell her vegetables.
She likes doing veggie vending better than growing rice and vegetables; but as soon as the sun is up, she has no choice but spend the light of day away attending to her farms. At sun down, she goes straight home to keep her poultry and herd her livestock safe for the night, lighted by a pile of firewood burning from her dirty kitchen. Every four months, she would pick nuts from 31 coconut trees, using a long bamboo culm with a scythe attached to one end, and process them into copra for a week.

La Esa is fondly called thus, because "I am one of the first among the Negros Institute for Rural Development, Inc (NIRD)'s LEISA, or Low External Input in Sustainable Agriculture practitioners here in Sitio Tigbahi, or perhaps, others follow how small children lisp my name," Mrs Vergara who begot four children explained. She had Diosdado, Domingo's twin brother who died of measles when he was a toddler. She is survived by eldest daughter, Myrna, and youngest son, Juan.
She had yet to fully recover from the loss of Domingo, when her 17-year old adopted daughter, Rowena, quit school and eloped with her 16-year old boyfriend exactly a year ago today. La Esa recalled her daughter's bf, quite bitterly: "… He had large thick ears looking more like bookends than hearing organs, that compressed his small ugly face, as though you can only find all ears in his head."
"Ah.. I used to wreathe in pain" La Esa stammered as she continued, "as if a pinch of powdered pepper and salt were sprinkled into my gaping wound here," pointing to her heart as she tearfully spoke softly. After a long sigh, with sorrowful eyes slightly open, chin securely rested on her palms, both elbows planted firmly on her knees, she recounted the sad story about Rowena.
"She was bundled up in dirty, faded and tattered navy blue T-shirt, weighed a little heavier than an empty one-liter Coke bottle, when my late husband Rufino and I first set our eyes on her."

"I vividly remember how Rowena faintly cried in her mother's arms." La Esa paused and stood up to scratch her back against the rough edge of her wooden cupboard, finished up her cup of black native coffee and sat back down.
"When I opened the door," La Esa carried on, "I was shocked to see Rowena in distress, emaciated… ah… mere skin and bones." La Esa crossed her forefingers to reaffirm that she was telling the truth. Then the doting momma recounted, "She had swollen face, hands and feet and discolored blotches appeared on her tiny skinny body. Rowena was three years old then, the doctors said she had … kwa… kwas… o yeah, 'kwashiorkor'... Sus!..." La Esa paused momentarily, instantaneously made a sign of the cross, and then went on:

"When her mother handed her to us, we outrightly refused to take her in for fear that she might die any moment in our care. Rowena's mother begged us to spare her daughter's life as she could no longer afford to give her another day to live. Indeed, love outpowered our fears the moment I held her close to my heart. Right then, I knew we did it for love."


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