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Bottled air

I spent the first 13 years of life in a small island in Mindanao. One childhood memory I am always fond of is of that time in grade school when a helicopter, out of the blue, flew over our school. My classmates and I raced outside to see hundreds of our other schoolmates already gathered around the plaza, all with their heads up and eyes fixed on this alien object navigating the sky—and almost within reach!

It was amazing. Nobody really knew who was up there, but we all waved our hands like the happiest people on earth as we loudly cheered in unison, “Gloria! Gloria! Gloria!” referring to then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. We thought, surely, only the president was crazy-rich enough to ride a flying machine.

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When he was still alive, my Papa would always recount a similar story—how everyone would run to the streets to see the one and only car in their town pass by. As for my mother, never once in her younger years did she imagine that later in her life, the world would actually come up with the ridiculous concept of bottled water, much less sell it for profit. To her, why would you sell something that’s literally just everywhere? Imagine people selling bottled air years from now. That’s how weird the concept of bottled water is for her.

I always like it when I’m home and I get to listen to my mother fondly recall her days growing up. Her story sounds like a different kind of life and world altogether. And when I am away in Manila, every once in a while I would get a text message from my mother: “Gawas, ’nak. Tsada ang buwan karon (Go outside. The moon looks beautiful tonight.)”

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Aside from keeping track of the tides on a daily basis, people in my hometown, especially the old ones, also keep track of the phases of the moon. They particularly look forward to the night when it’s finally full. For what? For practical reasons? Partly. But I always knew from the stories of my mother that, more than anything else, it is because the moon brings with it memories of growing up in the early 1970s. On nights when the moon was full and at its loveliest, everyone went outside to see it, and the streets were alive. These were the good times when people shared the common and simple experience of looking up at the skies.

My parents grew up at a time when, aside from the moon on lucky occasions, only gas lamps lit the night, and people tended to huddle around the lamplight exchanging stories. Fast forward to now, with cars causing traffic jams, bottled water is a thing, and, from time to time, I likewise find myself taking a ride in one of those “flying objects” to and from Manila. Just like Gloria.

I imagine myself sitting beside a little kid 30 years from now, and I wonder how bedtime stories would go by then. It’s a mix of feelings to think how fast we could change from this point on, and what kind of world we’d wind up with years from now (maybe a new home on Mars?). But in any case, maybe by then, what we have and who we are at present will also make for a good story. Maybe.

Mellinda Aimee B. Jajalla, 24, grew up in the island of Camiguin. She is a graduate student and instructor at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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TAGS: Bottled Air, Bottled Water, environment, opinion
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