What Went Down on Flight 920


Sep 23, 2015

That moment when your whole life flashes before your eyes? It happens.

Nothing could have prepared me for it.

It was a balmy September evening, and like all September evenings in the tropics, the air smelled of a brewing thunderstorm. There were clouds, but I could see the moon. A drizzle smudged the purplish-orange horizon, blending it into the black sky, creating an eerie hue. I decided to keep the window shades up throughout the flight so my eyes could rest on nature’s masterpiece. I strange feeling of nostalgia washed over me as the moon slowly disappeared into a foam of dark-gray clouds. I felt at peace as the Boeing 777 cruised at 37,000 feet toward Hong Kong over the West Philippine Sea without a single turbulence.

Battle Scars


Mar 19, 2014

As the sun peeps through the mountains, piercing the early-morning fog, the entire village of Buscalan wakes up. I force my beaten body to rise and greet the day like any villager would---a cup of freshly brewed coffee and a quick chat with the folks and children who came to see the “visitors.” The aroma rouses me from my half-slumber.

I see her approaching, carefully adjusting her head scarf, her baggy jeans and shirt complementing the colorful heirlooms around her neck and wrists. She walks as if the wind is carrying her, a youthful lightness in her steps. She has a timid smile, almost mysterious with a hint of cheekiness. She says something in her dialect and everybody laughs. Everyone around her seems infected by her enthusiasm!

The Long Road to Old Fang-od


Jan 14, 2014

I adjusted my position in between the steel tubes, enough to give Pinky and nine other men room to wiggle on top of the overloaded jeepney bound for Tinglayan. At 8 o’clock, Kalinga was already ablaze with sunlight, sterilizing our skin, preparing the canvass for old Fang-od. Even with sunscreen, the sun stabbed sharply into my epidermis, as if prepping it for what was about to come.

In a (un)fortunate turn of events, the Victory Liner bus we took from Manila the night before stalled for three hours on the road, stretching our travel time to 14 hours instead of 11. We missed the last commute to Tinglayan by half an hour, but we got to indulge our sleep-deprived bodies in a long hot shower and a soft bed at Davidson Hotel. At six thirty the next day, we were on our way to the Dangwa Bus Station to catch the 7-A.M. trip, still groggy, hungry, puffy. I hate early-morning starts. But this was our last chance to meet the 93-year-old famed traditional tattooist, Fang-od (Whang-Od), before peak season. It was now or never.

Hair There and Everywhere


Aug 16, 2013

Like I thought it would be, I overpaid for my haircut again.

Life is not easy for a wandering damsel with fast-growing hair. The locks grow so unglamorously long before you finish saying “hair salon.” Worse, not every salon would even want to cut your hair---even if you offer them a million kisses.

Once in South Sudan, I spent an hour with a poor Dinka driver looking for a salon willing to snip my locks. Most of them shooed me off in disgust: “What’s wrong with you? You have very nice hair and you want to cut it off? You are mad!” (Now if you call waist-length frizzy hair growing blond at the tips because of split ends “nice,” then so be it, but I don’t have Rapunzel illusions.) One woman at an empty parlor actually glared creepily at me and quietly said, “I won’t commit a crime. See if one of those barbers next door will.” I got an ‘80s shaggy cut from one of the Kenyan barbers after I bribed him I’d give his brother a new set of crutches if he gives in to my whim.

In Thailand I found my perfect hairdresser. But it came with risks.

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