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Take a bow with grace

Women in India“It feels painful right now, but I can take a bow with grace.”

At the height of a political tension, I got a very emotional email from a young woman MP. I admire her because she chose to lose and be consistent with what she stands for instead of turning herself into an opportunist who jumps off to where she can find shield and greener pasture. A woman who explicitly speaks about contentious topics easily becomes vulnerable particularly in a male dominated society.

Someone told me I am married to my work and that I talk about it anywhere even on Facebook. He expressed his annoyance on some of my posts where I rant about how conventional media is shaping women’s mindset, making them feel that being inferior and martyr is the way to show their love for a man is true.

Is it okay to say I understand his irritation because he is a man? I am not sure if saying so doesn’t make me stereotypical. What I know for sure is that the depth at which men view women as subordinates is too deep I don’t think I will ever witness the end of women’s fight for basic human rights ending in my lifetime. Awareness alone is not enough to change a man –or a woman’s—long held beliefs of gender roles and cultural norms which are the main culprit of gender violence. It requires a man’s recognition that something is wrong in our society and make the effort to confront his cemented mindset of gender roles; I understand this is not easy. It also stems from a woman’s recognition of her value and rights, and learn to stand up for what she deserves; I understand this is not easy too.

It feels odd why I have to explain to him why I post so much about feminism –I could have just said that men like you who prefer to keep a blind eye is the reason why I do what I do — but I did explain.

A colleague once asked me, “How do we really end violence against women?” I can imagine thousands of answers sprouting in my head like mushrooms that suddenly transformed into a web where one is interlinked to the other. I chose a simple answer, “It must start in the family.”

Children conceive the pillars of their consciousness at home. Unfortunately the case is often where young boys see how their father dominates in the family and young girls see how their mother accepts their inferior role. Then they go to school and read textbooks filled with gender biases and immerse themselves in a society that reaffirms this set up.

Gender violence and inequality have several facets and faces and I understand the importance of tailoring our subject on what people can relate. I have diverse friends on Facebook of which many of them are empowered women. Still, I post if only to keep the idea floating. Who knows it can provoke someone into evaluating his/her preconceived notions around these issues?

I know a lot of women who lost their confidence after a breakup. They start to question their value thinking it is not enough for a man to continue loving her. They carry this feeling of inadequacy without realizing it manifests in how they view themselves, how they relate to others, how they work and in general how they live. Some women are so weak the only way they restore their self-affirmation is to get the man back by pleasing him. Submissiveness is never a genuine act of love because if we cannot see our own worth, we can never learn how to truly value other’s worth.

How women handle a relationship is carried over marriage and what she imparts to her children. I cannot be so idealistic as to think I can change the world. But I am hoping to extend my message in whatever ways I can that our value lies within us, not on how we are treated by a man. We should not allow men’s intimidation –be it in a relationship, in school, at work– to hinder us from reaching our fullest potential. As long as we allow a man to affect us and paralyze our morale, our gender will always be looked upon as weak and incapacitated.

Women India

I believe in the ripple effect and I understand that the principal individuals we can influence are those around us. I cannot inculcate any insights to women –or men– I could not reach out. I don’t know if my writings make any difference although my mom once told me someone who is not even my Facebook friend but who gets to read some of my public posts said it inspired her. After all, this is what matters most right? Making a difference on how one person feels about herself/himself is more than enough.

I may be married to my work but this is only because what I do is not just a means to earn a living, it has become my calling, my vocation. A colleague told me that I have this personality appeal that makes people to want to talk to me, which perhaps she noticed when a lot of our colleagues would comfortably email me. Somehow I managed to bestow myself with the license to be a certified confidante for longer than I can remember. In fact our school principal before has warned me that if I continue to be like this – a sponge – I will face the problem of not being able to deal with my own emotional turmoil. She was right.

Despite my own emotional struggles and burnout, I rise each day and keep going. I always remind myself that my adversities are nothing more than the suffering faced by other women; those women whose tongue were cut and electrified in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s time; women who experienced genital mutilation in Africa; women who were raped, trafficked; the cases of violence are enormous. I rise because it takes one woman to inspire another. And like what the woman parliamentarian had said, we must take each bow with grace.

Illuminate

I love the meaning of your name, illuminate. When you told me what your name means, I imagined a candle illuminating its light in a dark room; a ray of sunlight illuminating a gloomy dawn. Thank you for being just that in my life.

Sunrise in Kathmandu, Nepal

I still remember the first time we met. It was my first trip to your country and I was anxious because it was also my first trip alone abroad. I saw you holding a paper with my name on it, surveying the crowd to look for that stranger you were tasked to pick up. When our eyes crossed, there was an instinctive recognition. We both smiled.

Introvert as I am, I find it hard to talk to people I just met. But with you, I felt that connection instantly. You were so kind enough to make me feel at home. You never hesitated to provide me assistance and even toured me around Thamel despite your tiresome day.

Even if we are far apart and seldom see each other, I see you as a good friend. I travel a lot and meet people from diverse walks of life. But you are among those who made a mark in me. It is because I can see in you depth and maturity, characters that stand out from the superficiality of the many people I have encountered.

I want to let you know how I admire you for choosing a career that you love and enjoy doing. I know people who only wish to be a doctor, engineer or lawyer for the social status it gives them –which I see as delusional status– yet they are neither happy doing it nor find meaning in it. I also know people who chose a simple yet more fulfilling life. I even have a friend who let go of a Fulbright scholarship and chose to stay in the Philippines to help the farmers.

If I can divide myself into two, I will let my other half do what you are doing right now and work in the hospitality industry. Not everyone is lucky enough to find out what it is that makes them feel alive at a young age. Yet you had easily discovered your passion and have started to trek that path. I know sooner that I’d thought, you will make your dreams a reality.

The last time we were together, I took this photo. I hope like sunrise, you will continue to be a light to other people; let your heart illuminate and brighten the lives of those you will serve.


Best moments of 2013

At the end of the year in the last 2 years I have written ‘people of my year’ articles to honor a few individuals who have inspired me. I learned this practice from one of the women I admire, Bianca Gonzalez.

This year I decided to write about my most memorable moments instead. A lot of people have made a difference in my life this year. Some of them sailed with me through turbulent seas; some matched my insanity and laughed with me like there is no tomorrow. But this year has been more about me confronting the different versions of myself. I have encountered my benevolent self, my rebellious self, my fragile self, my stubborn self, my feminist self, my empowered self. And imagine them fighting with each other making my head much like an alive volcano.

So I want to remember the moments which reconnected me to the depth of my soul; moments which made me appreciate the priceless joy of living amidst the chaos in my head.

Squatting at the top of Sarangkot hill in Pokhara, Nepal
It was the best start of my year. Pokhara is a city that exudes an air of rustic pleasure that penetrates a restless heart, easing the turmoil inside. Wherever I look was a splendor to behold. Below us was Phewa Lake while the fog covered Himalayas sat behind us. It was a very serene moment away from the hustles and bustles of Bangkok metropolis. And as I sat there I savored not only the beauty of nature but more of the joy sitting with someone you feel connected with brings. It is very seldom that we find people we can sit quietly with and still end up feeling we just had the best conversation. That rare moment brought me back to the essence of connection and companionship.

Sarangkot Nepal

Himalayas Nepal

Skygazing and wandering in Ubud, Bali
I went to Ubud for the sole reason of meeting Ketut Liyer in person. And nope, I did not go for palm reading but for the sheer thrill of meeting a character in one of my favorite books. But every part of the trip ended up as special. I met a coffeemaker who let me taste all his tea and coffee flavors and told me his inspiring life story in his garden. I’ve also seen an Asian palm civet for the first time. I enjoyed spending the night in Ketut’s garden, listening to the rustling of the water from the fountain and gazing at the sky. I wandered around Ubud and was always in awe of its richness in history and artworks. Ubud is indeed an enchanting place and heaven for artists; a place I can fall in love over again. There, I felt how it is like to be happy being just with myself. I appreciated being independent and in control of my life even more. I am reminded how priceless traveling is and the experiences of meeting different people and embracing their culture.

beach bali

ubud bali

Exploring the Secret Garden of Chang Deok Gung Palace in Seoul, Korea
There is this Korean song that I listen everyday. No, I’m not exaggerating, as in every single day. Some songs relive old feelings. Early in 2011, my cousins suggested I watch this Korean drama. I was hesitant at the beginning as I feel Korean dramas are for teenagers. But when you live alone 1,405 miles away from home, you will succumb to just about anything that saves you from eating yourself alive. Since it is a feel-good soap, I felt amused watching it. The song reminds of that feeling when I’m able to shut my mind out from the rest of the world and just enjoy a silly drama. I listened to the song over and over again while I walk around the Secret Garden. The thought of finally listening to it in Korea made my heart smile. It also brings that chill down my spine –in the most delightful way—reminding me that sometimes it’s better if we stop thinking about the complications of love and life but instead savor the feeling while it lasts.

secret garden korea

Reading a good book
I am so proud of myself for having read 8 books in 2 months. Like, seriously I have abandoned reading books for longer than I can remember. Having read that much is already a huge achievement for me (insert doing the cartwheel here… but only in my head haha). I mostly like reading on the train, a 30-minute ride to and from work. Reading doesn’t just make me feel extremely happy. It also brings me to the attention that there is so much I don’t know about the world. It puts me grounded that my knowledge doesn’t even amount to a pinch compared to how much there is to learn and discover in life.

Standing in Thailand and looking at Laos across the river
Day turned to dusk and the sky displayed a magnificent hue. It was cold and serene. I felt deep sense of connection across humanity. I am reassured that we are all but one. Geographical boundaries are just but lines that can easily be erased with just one stroke of love.

mary antonette abello

Photo by John Hyde

Receiving unconditional love

There is a saying that goes, “Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves”. True, forgiving frees us from the agony of grudge which silently wrecks havoc in every aspect of our life. But obtaining forgiveness is equally freeing. More than that, it teaches one to be more forgiving and compassionate; feel more valued and loved. I have never seen love in its purest, selfless countenance until I did wrong and that love held the broken parts of me through forgiveness. That forgiveness was materialized by a blue cross necklace. He said, “This necklace is from the most peaceful place in the world for me in Assisi. I hope when you are feeling down, this necklace will bring you the peacefulness of that place.” I have no words, just tears of profound gratitude.

Making peace with myself
For once I will let my ‘people (person) of my year’ to be my own self. This year had been the most emotionally bumpy one. I let my vulnerability be naked. I gave in to childishness. I rebel against my own good judgment. But amidst those delinquencies, I did not lose sight of my own goodness and value. Crying is not a sign of weakness; it is giving ourselves a chance to release negativities before we stand back up again. Giving in to childishness made me see what I didn’t want myself to be; it made me appreciate the mature me even more. Letting my guard down and my vulnerability seen is like opening a dam and letting the water with a very strong current pour upon, destroying whatever is on its way. But the process made me realize how strong I can be in going against the current, turning things around and making them better.

mary antonette abello

Thank you 2013. Let’s do it 2014!