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Tatay’s farm

I come from a long line of farmers. My mother’s father was a farmer. Her father’s father and his father before him were farmers, too. My own Tatay, once a machine operator in Saudi Arabia, is now a full-time farmer.

I had never been to my father’s first farm except once when I was eight years old. He took my younger brother and me along with him on a school day. It was a small piece of farmland in a nearby town in southern Mindanao, a 15-minute jeepney ride from where we lived. When you pass a Catholic church named after San Isidro de Labrador, the patron saint of farmers, and just when the road slightly turns to the right, that’s the signal that you have to get off. (It is interesting to note here that my father’s name is “Isidro,” his grandfather was named “Isidoro,” and my brother’s second name is “Isidore”—a fancier derivative from the same root). Upon getting off, you embark on a long walk to the left of the national highway, with dogs, goats, carabaos, clumps of bamboo, nipa huts, and my father’s farmer-friends greeting you along the way.

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We hitched a ride with family friends who were also coming along. Our father made us sit at the back of the red Ford Fiera. I held for dear life on one of the railings, scared that I would get thrown out when the vehicle swerved to the left or the right. But I thoroughly enjoyed the gentle slaps of the wind and the nourishing warmth of the early morning sun.

At that time our father had recently planted mango saplings. He told us that it would take another six years before the saplings became fully grown trees and were finally ready to bear fruit. “You will have graduated from grade school then,” my father told me in Ilonggo, his accent a little less sonorous now, tempered perhaps by the mountains of Mindanao.

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Then it became really warm; the sun seemed to be right above us, and I was sweaty and sticky. I was tired and we had school in a couple of hours, so it was time to go home.

But the vehicle broke down, and we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. While the grownups were trying to figure out what had gone wrong, my brother and I entertained ourselves by playing with sticks, writing on the soil beneath our feet as if it were one huge slate.

After a couple of years my father sold his farm to another family. He used the proceeds of the sale to buy another farm, this one a much smaller piece of property located near my parents’ house. My father said he would grow rice.

In college, whenever I called home and spoke with my parents, I would occasionally hear news about the farm. Harvest this year is a little bit low. The price of rice in the market has gone up. The crops are doing all right. The land is dry. It is raining very hard.

My education was partly paid for by my father’s farm.

One time, when members of my extended family were all gathered in my aunt’s farm in another town, the conversation turned to what life was like then for my mother and her siblings. They talked about life in the farm. Somewhere along the conversation, my aunt asked if I had considered living in the farm.

“He’s studying for eight years, working hard to get a law degree, so he doesn’t have to live in a farm,” my father said.

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Everyone laughed.

It’s not that I don’t want to live in a farm. There’s something about looking at a vast field of yellow and green that relaxes the soul. You inhale fresh, provincial air, hold it in your lungs for a little bit, close your eyes, and then exhale the air out of your system. For those few seconds, everything seems to be right in the world.

But life in the farm is difficult. It involves crazy hours. My father is up even before the sun appears. He checks out his farm, and is back with pan de sal for breakfast before we are even out of bed. Sometimes he is gone for an entire day.

Farming involves being able to determine the best time to plant which seeds, to figure out the ratio of water supply to the number of hectares to be planted. It also involves a lot of guts, instinct, and intuition. A good farmer responds quickly to circumstances and knows that a day or an hour too late can mean losses when harvest time comes. Farming is also dependent on circumstances that one cannot control—for example, the weather.

My father always works hard, but he has learned to leave everything to God. This is something that I’ve learned from him.

I was home for a couple of days to attend to a family matter. Because my brothers and I now live in the city, only my father and mother are left in the house. I was up early, checking my mail on my computer. I had planned to catch up on sleep, and enjoy a quiet and relaxing day without thinking about work and everything I had left behind in Manila. And then my father asked me if I wanted to go to the farm with him.

It was my first time to visit this farm. My father showed me his crops. He pointed out to me the boundaries of his property. He introduced me to his friends. He explained to me that farming also involves making friends and trusting other people. You can’t always look out for your farm every single hour. You need good friends who will have your back no matter what. That’s one thing I learned from him, too—the value of good friends.

I wandered on my own under the early morning sun. I faced a vast field of yellow and green. I inhaled as much air as I could, and then I kept all of it in, closed my eyes, and thought about life, family, and friends. After a few seconds, I emptied my lungs. For that brief moment, everything seemed to be right in the world.

Ralph Catedral, 29, graduated from the University of the Philippines Diliman with degrees in English and law. He works for a nonprofit organization where he represents victims of sexual abuse in court.

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