Hunched in a sturdy kalapaw (crude makeshift shelter ) at Cada, barangay Balili in Mangkayan, Benguet, last Tuesday morning after having waited out typhoon Karding to slip off Cordillera, five farmers, silently sipped barako coffee poured from a blackened, battered teakettle placed over a lighted hearth to keep the precious black liquid warm for any chance visitor dropping by the kalapaw.
Farmers, the five are, by calling; but they are college-educated, having graduated at Benguet State University (BSU).
Clear and calm was last Tuesday on which there blew Karding’s mighty tempest the past days.
Shades of the night have fled away; the morning light broke upon every surrounding Mangkayan objects in effulgence, almost divine. The bright luminary of Tuesday poring forth its genial rays upon the beauties of Mangkayan nature’s soft repose, save now and then some gentle zephyr or odoriferous breeze.
Some feathered songsters, the five farmers and Daily Laborer heard, turning their early shrill notes, in melody sweet, through the breeze-shaken boughs of the distant, spicy, green Benguet pine trees that stood sentinels for unseen Cordilleran deities.
Sweet flowers, growing in beautiful colors along barangay Balili’s land, and sparkling in the dew of the morning, were seen with leaves expanded, on the summit of yon imminence, or, in a station more humble, upon the green surface of the fertile meads of Cada, Mangkayan.
A sound of a sweet murmuring brook fell in harmonious strains upon the intent, listening ear, while a butterfly was seen flitting from plant to plant, greeting with a kind kiss each sweetened beauty which was displayed in wisdom Divine, in every object.
Aah! Everything appeared beautiful and harmonious. All nature seemed to rejoice in rapture.
In a word, the Mangkayan Cada plateau reverberated the sounds of praise, while whatever remaining trees in the woods far back clapped their hands and echoed back the sounding joy that Cordillera highlands, generally, was spared of Karding’s relentless hammer.
Grunting, one of the farm hands signaled Daily Laborer, nearest the hearth, to pass over the teakettle. He did. The farmer refilled his cup, nodded his thanks, grunted in satisfaction – a grunt only Cordillerans can identify with – sat back on his haunches and began to blow on his hot barako in a battered tin cup.
The farm hand’s name is Gavino Pasedek not exactly from Cada but turned resident in Balili by virtue of having married a Mangkayan lass. Pasedek, who carries Benguet and Ifugao blood, hails from Nueva Viscaya, so Daily Laborer was told.
In fact, he’s no farm hand at all, manages a planting area somewhere at Guerilla Saddle, in barangay Caliking, Benguet. Whenever he’s done with his planting, he usually hires out as farm hand in places in Benguet while waiting for his crops to bloom, be gathered and sold at La Trinidad’s Vegetable Trading Posts or at Baguio’s Vegetable Section.
In other words, awan iti bokabyularyu na ti sarita a sadot nu anya man papana na. Basta trabaho kenyana, ayos. Daily Laborer estimated the age of Pasedek leaned on the early forties.
Like all farmers in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Region 01 and Region 02, they simply labor from sun rise to sundown while hope springs eternal from their bosoms that their crops will not fail and hordes of Filipinos will have their share of green food on the table.
Their dream is a shade of the hope of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., incumbent Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary who wants the country self-sufficient when it comes to food.
Pasedek sipped his steaming barako, grunted again, this time in sweet satisfaction. A casual look at Pasedek is deceiving. Always clad in mud-caked “botas” (rubber boots) and torn clothing the seams screaming to be rent apart, one would think he’s a pauper.
Even his socks are shot full of holes he wouldn’t, for the love our Lord, part with them.
There’s a story going among farmers that his wife bemoaned how he loves his tattered socks more than the Missus. And often, the farmers story went, his Missus often lamented, “Anya met, lakay, mangi-babaen ka. Nagadu met ginatang ko nga medyas mo. Ag-kakapintas pay ti brand na. Apay saan mo kayat nga usaren. Anya ngay serbi dagita nga baro nga medyas nga naka-baul? Ngem nu agdawat dagiti kakadwam kenyam ti inumen da, ayna, uray la ag-layos ken agsisinukat ken ag-ngi-ngina a brand ti botilya. Ngem ti medyas mo a bot-bot, saan masukatan ken awan pay brand na.”
As the story went on, Pasedek often cooed to his Missus, saying, “Ay saan ka ag-danag, baket, ta nu kasanu kaadu ti abot ti medyas ko kasta met ti kaadu ti panagmulak ti patatas ken wombok. Ken saan ka unay kadi nga ag-ung-unget ta saan ka nga dagus agkuribetbet.”
Whether the story is true is a matter of debate for those familiar with it who’d rather smile cunningly and blurt to unbelievers of the tale to, “Take it with a grain of salt.” But they swore his patatas and wombok grew bigger than theirs.
When farmer-friends asked Pasedek for his secret, Pasedek would smile sheepishly; pull his feet from his botas and point to his tattered socks. And friends would howl in laughter.
Believe Daily Laborer, readers, for the looks of Pasedek are truly ambiguous. It has been said countless times by Cordillerans and lowlanders, “never judge a book merely by its cover.” Pasedek seemingly looks penniless. Just by his looks, one would think he couldn’t even afford a shave.
Far from the truth. Pasedek has built a three story building somewhere at the outskirts of La Trinidad, owns a sturdy Elf truck, a white Toyota Hi-Lux 4-wheel drive, sent his children to college while his Missus manages a brisk grocery store.
His “apos” (grandchildren) prefer to stay with their grandparents, destroying all their grandma’s fixtures and breaking her flower pots to her consternation, but to the delight of their grandpa, Pasedek.
Daily Laborer, having finished his cup of barako, squinted at Pasedek that Teusday morning and asked, “Padli, you seem to be truly a contented man.”
Pasedek looked aslant at Daily Laborer, threw the dregs of his barako on the kalapaw’s earthen floor and said, “Bony, my fine friend who loves gallivanting around Cordillera in search of unseeingly tales of ordinary, working people, please show me a thoroughly contented person, and I’ll show you a useless one – like me.”
Pasedek continued, “Ay, talk about contentment. When humans are thoroughly, I repeat, thoroughly, contented, they are either too lazy to want anything. Contentment is like a thoughtless jade. She often cheats us, but she has no malice intended. ”
Pasedek paused, a cheek-by- jowl satirical smile of mischievousness swished his face and said, “I am in favor of the petty ambitions, vanities, all the backbiting and jealousy in our world, not because I think them good, on the contrary, but I think they stir up the men and women, get them to work their mouth muscles, cultivating their venom and proving what brilliant curse, we, humans are, proving at the same time what a miserable curse humans are. That’s contentment where humans aren’t contented.”
The four farmers roared in laughter at the words of Pasedek.
One of them, Sam Labino, interjected, saying, “So, I’d rather have with me socks full of holes but clean – for socks are meant for holes, anyway – rather than having a brain full of holes and being not contented. What say you, Bony, eh?”
Daily Laborer rubbed his palm across his bewhiskered mouth momentarily, then replied, “Brains are sort of animal pulp supposed to be the medium of thought and supposed to be located in the head. But my investigation satisfies me they are planted all over the body.”
“Kasanu? (How so?)” Pasedek inquired. Daily Laborer continued: “Some people’s brains are placed in their hands and fingers which explain their great genius for taking things which they can reach; I have seen cases where brains seem to congregate in the tongue and once in a while they congregate in the ears, reason why we have good listeners, but seldom the cases.”
“I found that tsis-mis brains are found in their tongues, a mandurokot’s brain, for example, is found in his fingers, some brains are not where in particular but all over the body. You need to keep an eye on brains and not let them fool away their time, nor yours, neither and. . . .” but Pasedek, laughing, cut off Daily Laborer with a wave of his hand.
Pasedek stood up, hung his tin cup on a nail pierced against the kalapaw wall and blurted, “Let’s all get the hell out of this kalapaw before our brains become scatterbrained contentment of holed socks. Let us go greet Cada, Mangkayan’s beauty, unravaged by Karding and be thankful!”