Where it all begins

When I was in elementary and in college, I remember selling little snacks in the classroom to help earn a little summer allowance. I did not want for money, as my parents provided more than enough for my needs, but looking back, my early entrepreneurial training has helped give me a healthy respect for work and for money.

In elementary, I sold little bags of baked peanuts, prepared by my mom. I would bring a few dozen packets in my little metal bag, and by the end of the day, I would come home with a little more cash in my pocket.

In college, I remember baking a few graham bars (I have forgotten the recipe) to add some money for travel and my thesis work. I could’ve asked my parents for extra, but there was joy in earning the extra cash, no matter how small.

When we met this second entrepreneuring schoolkid in Mantigue Island in Camiguin, I felt so proud of him.

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Ryan peddling milkbars

Ryan, about ten years old, hitched a ride with out tourist pumpboat with his tub of iced sweet treats in tow. Later on in the island, he approached us again and we heard of his story.

We got two iced candies (pandan for mom and durian for me) and I gave him a little extra cash for his tip.

Somehow, I always feel a connection with children who work to help their parents, because I truly believe that as long as these kids are still given their childhood, they will grow up to have a healthy understanding and respect for work and for money.

My dad himself used to be an ice candy vendor when he was a child. It is wonderful to look back and remember where success all began.

God bless you, Ryan. You will be successful if you think it. I hope that when you grow up, you will remember to bless another child.

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Amen.

Little Photographer

We met a little entrepreneuring girl in Camiguin during our recent mother’s day escapade. At fifth grade, she was selling candles in the old church ruins in the summer, but also, she was promoting herself as a photographer for tourists. She wanted to be one when she grew up.

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Our photographer

While mom and I were taking photos, she would study our angles and our poses intently, especially my framing. Then she would sometimes offer to take the photo for us. Finally we agreed to let her take our photos.

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This shot was her idea.

She was a natural. She knew how to angle the camera just so. She knew which areas reflected light and which direction to avoid. She knew what to say and how to say it.

We allowed her to take more photos of us.

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Framing by our little photographer. She took this candid shot by "mistake".

In the end, I gave her 100 pesos, her entire day’s worth of candles, for her photography services. I told her she should save her tourist-money earnings to buy herself a real camera later so she could learn.

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Angelica, our little photographer

Her name is Angelica. I hope she becomes a real photographer.

Can people with alopecia work normal jobs?

One of the members of our Alopecia Philippines support group on Facebook recently posted this question. She is graduating soon, and like most graduates will be embarking on the job application process, which of course involves an interview.

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Undergrad Thesis Exhibit in UP in 2000. I still had long, curly hair!

I certainly understand her concern. Alopecia is rarely, if at all, a debilitating disease. There are no life-threatening symptoms, and the only noticeable thing about it, is of course, hair loss. In fact, alopecia, if not a symptom of another disease, is quite harmless for the body.

For the ego, however, it can be quite a blow. Hair, after all, is any man or woman’s crowning glory. It’s the first thing you see when you approach a person, and alopecia, in patches or as an overall thinning of hair, can make anyone think that an individual is unhealthy or unfit to work. So how can a person deal with the series of job interviews and land a good job if he or she has alopecia?

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MA Graduation 2014

I won’t speak for everyone, since there are many cases and causes of alopecia. In my case, my alopecia became quite prominent in my late twenties to early thirties. Up until that time, the amount of my hairloss did not warrant any concern for interview or job interference. In fact, it didn’t really bother even my social life, as my close friends and family, though concerned, treated me normally.

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UP Corps of Sponsors 2000

While I knew that my hair had visibly thinned off the top of my head, I still felt confident enough to do my job, which, in my early twenties, entailed a lot of meetings, company representation, and marketing for events. No, I wasn’t oblivious to the thinning hair. As suggested by my derma, I sported short hairstyles to reduce the thinning look as so as not to pull down the roots with weight of extra hair length. I’m sure people in my professional circles noticed, but because I was always focused on the job and I delivered results, not one of my bosses minded. What mattered was that I was professional. I could get things done.

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My TESOL Graduation in 2006, shortly before I applied for a university teaching position.

The only time I was ever asked about my thinning hair in an interview was when I was applying for a job in a certain university. The panel interview had officially ended, and I was already being quite chatty with my potential boss. With more concern than curiosity, she cautiously asked the question pertaining to my hair. In all honesty, I answered her:

“It’s a genetic disorder (most alopecia is, unless it’s triggered by stress and other illnesses.) and if it won’t bother you, it won’t bother me or my productivity and capability as a teacher.”

My interviewer, who has since become of my most-respected bosses, smiled. Case closed.

After that interview, I taught five years in that university. My first few years, I left my head bare, thinning hair and all. I consistently received high faculty assessment results. My students never mentioned my thinning hair in my evaluations (they did notice my accessories and my outfits, though.) and they rated me with high marks as well.

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One of my favorite classes with my English Majors and a colleague

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Karaoke time with co-faculty

After a couple of years, my hair began to thin out more prominently and I began sporting scarves and bandannas to help accentuate my feautures (I love accessorizing!) as well as to cover the patches of hair that remained on my head. These bandannas, I wore to every class and every function. My university, of course, was a bit lax with the dress code, and I was grateful for this. In 2010, though, after three years in that university, I decided to shave all of my hair off and invest in a real human hair wig. Ever since, my real hair hairpieces has been with me to all presentations, interviews, meetings—-every sort of professional engagement one can think of, including my thesis defense for my master’s degree.

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Conducting a feature-writing workshop for another university

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MA classes, what fun!

Since I began wearing my (wig) hair as a natural part of me, my employers have never asked me any personal questions. My colleagues and clients have never focused on it either. I continue to be professional in my performance and in my dealings and workplace wardrobe (although I wear boots to my classes, hahaha!). As long as I am healthy and able to deliver results, I see no need for my alopecia to be a detriment to my career, at all.

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Strong enough to finish another 21k, strong enough to accomplish goals!

If you or anyone you know has alopecia, take heart. You can find a job and build a career even without hair. If you feel that your confidence is being sapped by your thinning hair or the often unsightly patches growing from your scalp, there are options: 1) get appropriate haircuts from understanding, non-gossipy stylists, 2) accessorize and own your professional style, and 3) invest in a good hairpiece that will not fall offyour head even in windy weather or sports activities, and one that feels like it’s your real hair.

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Happy in any kind of hair. =)

Above all, be confident that you have something to offer: your skill, your creativity, your confidence, and your dedication to getting the job done. As long as you are fit to work and you will not be harming anyone or yourself by working, alopecia should never get in the way of your dreams.

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Having my book signed by Krip Yuson at an English Language conference in 2010.

Disclaimer: The author is in no way claiming any medical suggestions to cope with alopecia. It is suggested that people who think they are dealing with alopecia should seek professional diagnosis and help as some alopecia cases can also be symptoms of other diseases which may be potentially harmful and debilitating.

Life with Alopecia

Many of you have already read about my alopecia story. In fact, that was one of my most-read, most-liked posts; though I was a bit surprised at how much it resonated with people, reading about someone who deals with alopecia on a daily basis.

But how does someone with alopecia really deal with daily life? How does one wake up each day and see her face in the mirror, hairless and bald as the day she was born? How does she go to bed at night, go to social events, bask in beaches, shower, party, live?

To answer briefly, I live my life with a little bit of comedy. I have long since embraced the fact that my hair has stopped growing in certain areas of my scalp (darned that I still have to wax the hair off my legs, and pluck my brows, though!). However, I don’t want to be defined by my alopecia. I don’t want to be the girl with alopecia, or the girl with no hair. Like most everyone, I want to be defined by the entirety of who I am, alopecia included, but not highlighted.

So I live my life with a little dose of comedy.

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Amen.

For example, sometimes, when I’m walking around at home, hairless and I suddenly see my reflection in the mirror, there are times when I surprise myself. I mean, GAAH WHO IS THAT BALD PERSON IN THE MIRROR?! In a split-second, though, I remember: it’s me. Lol. Apparently even I tend to forget that I now have no hair. Heehee.

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Who's that girl?!

Or sometimes, when I think of Holloween or theme-party costumes, I think of going as one of the baldies: Vendetta, a Buddhist monk, Professor X. I can even choose to be decked in gold body paint and dress as Xerxes from the movie 300. That would be something. After all, I’ve already dressed myself as one of the Omaticaya in full-body blue paint. :D

Oftentimes, I feel most-amused when one of the members of my family quizzes me on lost things: Have you seen my ponytail? Do you have a clip? Can I borrow a brush? Yes, I do have a brush, but I should be the last one to even touch someone else’s ponytail and the last one to ask. And yet they ask me; I find that funny.

I go to bed with a nightcap. After all, it gets real cold at night and the easiest way for someone’s body temperature to be controlled is to have hair on your head. Or in my case, a beanie. On regular days at home, I have to either wear a beanie when it’s cold, or remove it when the weather is warm. There are days though when I cannot decide! On those days you will find that I’m half and half, with a beanie just draped (not worn) over my scalp, for minimal protection. Ah, the dilemma of not having hair! ;)

Sometimes I do miss my hair, too. Like when I see girls in ponytails. I cannot even remember the last time I enjoyed having my hair in a ponytail. Little things like that become simple pleasures when you no longer have hair. Simple pleasures like that and getting a thorough scalp massage. Nobody feels a scalp massage more intensely than we baldies do!

Then, there are days when I don’t give a crap about even wearing my hairpiece to social events or errands. In the same way you guys have bad or lazy hair days, sometimes, I really prefer being bald, but usually underneath a nice beanie. It’s easier to put them on than to have to spend minutes styling one’s hair. I call it effortless chic. Now you know.

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Lazy days.

Also, there are days when wearing or switching my hairpieces can really crack me up. Case in point: A store clerk I hadn’t seen in months excitedly greets me: “Maam, you had a new haircut! It looks good on you!” I had just decided to wear my shorter hair (wig) because of the summer heat. I found no need to explain. A short and polite “thank you” sufficed. Another time, one of my colleague-friends was quite surprised that after two years of knowing me, she discovered that I actually was bald. She told me then that she thought all my baldie photos on facebook were just photoshopped and that I was just kidding around every time I posted those. Lol, I wish I were, too, Ms. Maan, hehehe.

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New "haircut" heeheehee.

On the other hand, I sometimes stress about showing my bald head in public, not because I am ashamed of my alopecia, but because I loathe having to explain to people. So I have this dilemma: do I or do I not remove my hair? Hahaha. Imagine having these thoughts on and off, on a normal basis. On special occasions, I even have this decision-making process to go through: which hair will best compliment my outfit? Most people don’t get to have this choice outside of the salon!

Finally, I get excited about the prospect of a new hairstyle, too, and rightly so! While everyone else’s hair grows at a regular rate, and most people can go to salons as often as they want (not that I ever did that when I had hair anyway; I never liked going to hair salons), I can only have a change of hairstyle when I get a new wig. I don’t like calling it a wig, though. The word wig sounds so crass with it’s short consonant and vovel sounds. It also reminds me of old men’s toupees that fall off and get blown away by the wind in slapstick comedies and cartoons.

I prefer to call my hair my hair whether or not it comes from my scalp roots, as it is indeed the only hair I will ever have. Unless of course, nature trips up again and I find myself seeing growth spurts. If so, then hallelujah!

In the meantime, tadaaaah: the new me. *swish* *swish*

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Haba ng hair! (A Filipino colloquial expression that literally translates to Long hair! Idiomatically, it means looking and feeling beautiful, since Filipinos usually associate beauty with long shiny hair. Based this expression, the longer the hair, the more beautiful the woman. I beg to disagree. Although, my hair looks nice, doesn't it?)

Three Tropical Teasers

I made three kinds of drinks today, yay!

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The avocado smoothie never made it to the photo shoot. It was THAT GOOD!

One thing I’m really thankful for is the fact that the hot season in the Philippines also ushers in so many different kinds of fruits. In my family, fruits mean juices and smoothies! Today, I’m sharing three of my favorite recipes, all of which my family and I enjoyed today, on a hot and humid Black Satuday, while playing games and recovering from Dad’s birthday feasts.

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Learning a new game: Munchkin Legends

Mango-Banana-Date Smoothie

Meat from 1 large ripe mango
2 ripe bananas
15 pieces dates, seeds removed
250 ml milk
2-3 cups ice

High Protein Avocado Smoothie

Meat from 1 and 1/2 avocado
250 ml. Silken tofu
15 dates, seeds removed
250 ml. Milk
2-3 cups ice

Watermelon-Basil Cooler

Meat from 1 whole watermelon, seeded (Remove rind)
20 basil leaves, washed (remove from stem)

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Whew! My treat, garnished with some basil.

Instructions:

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to mason jars and seal. Place in fridge to cool. My family just reaches for their own mason jar each time there’s fresh juices or smoothies in the ref. Enjoyment all around!

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as my family and I did. If you feel that the basil and tofu and dates are dubious ingredients, trust me, they blend right in and are seriously healthier alternatives to creamer (tofu) and sugar (dates). And the basil? It complements the sweetness of the watermelon and smells lovely, too!

Simple as a Jelly Bean

I first heard about Jesus as a child, learning about this seemingly magical man who could heal the sick and cause the blind to see. This man –depicted in my old storybooks as a a bearded, smiling, open-armed Caucasian with a high-bridged nose– was also welcoming to children.

Years later, with a better grasp of where these stories really came from, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, in my second grade classroom. There were no bells and whistles. I wasn’t afraid that I would get struck by lightning. Nobody forced me. It was a decision all my own. I made that decision because I understood a very simple thing: that this man who lived and died and rose again two thousand years ago, cared about me and loved me and wanted me to be his own, his family, his child. I wanted to be part of that family of Jesus.

More than twenty years later, I still do not claim to know much more than I did that day when I accepted that I needed a Savior and I wanted to believe in him. Yes, I have read more. I have been critical about the Bible. I have attended retreats, conferences, study groups. To be sure, there are more questions now than there ever was about the identity of Jesus and the teachings he preached about. Doctrines across denominations and religious backgrounds can be confusing. Even churches of the same denomination can be nit-picky and argue against one another. And yet, the questions do not diminish my faith.

To me, it is no question why the heart of a child finds it so much easier to accept the simplicity of the gospel, the good news of Jesus. The child believes this: I am human and I have done bad things. Please forgive me, Jesus. I need You to teach me what to do to become a better person. I believe in what You teach. I believe in the Bible and sin and goodness and love. I believe in You, Jesus.

As a testament to this simplicity, I recall this simple poem imprinted on a jelly bean canister that was given to me when I was around twelve years old. The poem may sound dangerously simplistic, but again, as is the point of my missive, it can often be easier to have faith in the Savior if you have the heart of a child.

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Thank you, Ate Mary and Kuya Irv for this gift that I treasured so much.

May you all have a wonderful, enlightening Holy Week.

Dating 101 (by Sam)

I love conversing with children as having a vivid imagination is something innate to them. Their words and worlds are often entertainingly funny, but it is an amazing thing, discovering how they think and reason out.

Since I (yet) have no kids of  my own, I enjoy these conversations with the children of my close friends. This is a conversation I had with our little girl, Samantha, late one evening.

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Sam: Ate Shing, asan yung kuya na maraming games? (Translation: Ate Shing, where is the big brother with lots of games?)
Me: (Momentarily perplexed, but realizing she had decribed my brother.) Wala pa. Nasa labas. (T: He’s not here yet; he’s out.)
Sam: May date? (T: Out on a date?)
Me: (She has a concept of what a date is!) Ano ang date? (T: What’s a date?)
Sam: Yung crush. Yung boy and girl. (T: A crush; a boy and a girl.)

After a pause, she adds: Pwede rin girl at girl. Nag-date kami ni Nanay. Pwede ring nanay at kuya. (T: It can also be a girl and a girl. My mother and I went on a date. It can also be a mother and son.)

And that, my friends, is what the word date means to our beloved little five-year-old Sam. ♥

A Cup of Coffee

Today, I shall make you a cup of coffee.

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Circa 1981, on a break from MBA classes at AIM.

To thank you for the times I sat on your lap, wide-eyed and young,
For the times you wisely held your tongue to hear me speak,
And for waiting with me ’til the clock struck 9am, on my first few weeks of work.

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Jan 1, 2014 New Year Planning at Bag of Beans, Tagaytay

As the only man who kisses the top of my clean-shaven head,
No one could’ve been prouder than you when I scaled my little mountain,
Papers, train rides, tuition, and all.

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Tagaytay, 2011

You were not there when I finished my half-marathons, yet I knew I was strong
Because you were always proud of me, even when all I do is stand tall.
You have made me a woman who thinks, who acts, who loves.
For letting me go where my heart decides, I thank you.

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Sunday Lunch, after church, 2012

Today, I shall make you a cup of coffee

To celebrate the man that you are: The first man I ever loved.

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Receiving my Masters Degree on Graduation Day at UP Diliman, April 2014

Never Again

(This is a guest post featuring a fellow Filipino, a man who has taught me to always be proud of who I am as a woman, as a Filipino, as a citizen of the world. I thought this was an important post to share as there is just too much negativity about my country, the Philippines. I am not naive. I see the wrong that is going on in my country. I see the social and political ills that continue to drag us down decades after we have declared independence from oppressive rules of both foreign and local governments. I see the mental shackles that keep us from moving forward as a nation, a people. Still, I am proud of my country and my heritage. I am proud of my people. I am proud of my father for feeling the same.)

Why is it critical to have positive thoughts about our country? I reflected on this post by a young Pinoy.

In the context of the coming Holy Week, I also asked: Why do we Pinoys indulge in self-flagellation?

In 1978, I was chosen to be one of the JICA Scholars for Electrical Steel Engineering, in Nagoya, Japan. But before National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) could approve the grant, all JICA scholars had to undergo a deep immersion seminar at the University of the Philippines. NEDA insisted on this because Pinoys, based on their experience, feel small and unimportant when associating with their counterparts abroad.

I recall it was the late Prof. Jocano, foremost anthropologist, who stirred my feelings of pride and glory about my country, the Philippines. “The mummies of Mountain Province are evidence of the advanced state of knowledge in organic/inorganic chemistry, concepts of the soul and afterlife, community organization, etc. How come only the Egyptian mummies are mentioned in history? We have such an advanced civilization, like Egypt!”

Years later, National Geographic featured the mummies that Prof Jocano lectured about.There were others we learned: our own alphabet, our seafaring ancestors and maritime skills, etc.

Back to Japan in 1978. Did I feel small and intimidated when grouped with trainees from Turkey, Iran, and Thailand among others? We have our own ADVANCED CIVILIZATION, was what I reminded myself. I stood TALL, in spite of my height. I spoke the best English and I showed my command of carbon-iron metallurgical theory.

When our Japanese lecturer mentioned Turkdogan, the Turkish delegate bragged to us that Turkdogan was a Turkish icon. What did the Philippines contribute to steelmaking? I HAD NO ANSWER, but I did not feel small. We have an advanced civilization, remember?

Never again would I look down on my country, on our country! Never again!

(Daniel T. Saracin was a National State Scholar of the Philippine government for the degree of Chemical Engineering. He finished his MBA at the Asian Institute of Management.)

Period.

Someone very dear to me often tells me, “Your period’s an amazing part of you.”

And in spite of the pain, and the horror, and the physical and mental changes that wreak havoc on my body during the first two days of my period, I believe him.

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Oh, for the monthly periods alone, I know all women are invincible.

After all, when the initial two days are over, when my body has finished its process of release and renewal, when my blood has exited my body and my womb has emptied itself again, the world is just as beautiful as when it all began. My body is once again strong. There is no longer any pain. No numbness. No emotional fluxes. The world is once again just as it should be.

This cycle happens every single month. Without fail. And every month, I survive it.

My period, my bleeding, my menstruation is an integral part of who I am. It is a natural process of healing and renewal, a natural biological process vital to all humankind. Someday, I hope that my womb, this natural part of me, will be able to create wonderful little people, just the way God designed. When this happens, my period will temporarily stop. And when my womb has finished this process of creation and birth, my period shall come again.

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Including periods.

It is no wonder that these words from a Sikh poet resonated so strongly with me:

i bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. my womb is home to the divine. a source of life for our species. whether i choose to create or not. but very few times it is seen that way. in older civilizations this blood was considered holy. in some it still is. but a majority of people. societies. and communities shun this natural process. some are more comfortable with the pornification of women. the sexualization of women. the violence and degradation of women than this. they cannot be bothered to express their disgust about all that. but will be angered and bothered by this. we menstruate and they see it as dirty. attention seeking. sick. a burden. as if this process is less natural than breathing. as if it is not a bridge between this universe and the last. as if this process is not love. labour. life. selfless and strikingly beautiful.

The accompanying photos, tinged with some media silencing controversy, resonate just as loudly.

The gallery and the entire story here:

period. (a photo series shot by sisters rupi and prabh kaur.  art direction by rupi kaur.)