The word “ginhawa” has different definitions in the Philippines. For Tagalogs, this means relief or a state of comfort; for Cebuanos and Ilonggos, this means “breathing.” Featured through the works of this month’s contributors are what this word personally mean and does not mean in local context.
Most Filipinos, if not all, are far from feeling a sense of relief in a country where injustices are everywhere. To just breathe without a tinge of anxiety—in the middle of ongoing war, disputes, and social problems like poverty and corruption—is nearly impossible. Even children are not exempted from present terrors. In John Gied Calpotura’s short story “Shoebox,” a baby boy was left behind by his mother and was found later on by rebels in a park. These gunned men claimed that “good soldiers won’t kill a baby,” hence they used the boy as a shield upon close contact with the army. The baby’s plight in this flash fiction piece shows that in war, the line that separates right from wrong gets blurred.
In Genory Vanz Alfasain’s short story “Number 69 Jersey Shorts,” a Kulaman-bound passenger in Isulan experienced a close encounter with death while waiting for his friend in a place where habal-habal drivers encourage people to ride in their motorcycles all at once. A driver who he only remembered by the white jersey shorts with the number “69” he was wearing got shot a few moments after their short conversation. This caused shock and distress on the main character, of course, but the underlying layer of normalcy of events like rampant killings is clear in Alfasain’s effective writing style.
Moreover, Nikko Ladera’s witty and bittersweet poem “Paltos” shows how anything that makes one blissful, even something as innocently fun as dancing, can lead to pain once done excessively. It’s the current happiness that blinds the persona to the consequences even the right feeling can bring, only to be seen after catching one’s own breath.
Embracing one’s identity as a product of both hopes and fears not just of parents who are the main people usually behind growth, but also of all the previous generations, is not always a comfortable thing to achieve. In a child’s perspective, Hazel Aspera’s nonfiction piece “Of Trees and Paper” looks at both sides of protection: as a hindrance to development and as a key to prolong one’s life story. Her sarisa tree and paper doll-related experiences and her desire to go beyond mere survival in life—to “breathe better” and actually live—are vividly recounted in her essay.
Discomfort may be one of the usual feelings writers face because of pain, but it is through weaving words that they can shed light on matters for clarity. If comfort is not attainable as of the moment, a writer may only wish that “naming” and calling out any set of wounds caused by painful circumstances are worthy of effort no matter how demanding; it is also through defining that one can set its limits.
Andrea D. Lim
General Santos City