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The Brother Lolo’s Sister Madre Friends

My introduction to the city of Davao was a little less than what I had hoped it would be. This was in the late nineties; we were attending a Catholic educators’ convention; and, needless to say, I was really excited about traveling to the city for the first time in my life.

We were a party of six – led by the Brother Lolo – and booked on a ten o’clock flight out of Manila. That meant leaving Lipa at seven and – traffic permitting – being at the airport within the time allotted for check-in. We stopped at a gas station in Malvar along the way; some of us got off the vehicle and bought some biscuits and mineral water.

We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare; got ourselves processed; and settled down inside the lounge to wait. We boarded the aircraft – an Airbus A330 – at the scheduled time. The plane was fully-booked. There were priests, sister madres and many other school people all headed for the convention.

Although everyone was seated and the doors were locked, we were soon being told by the captain that the plane was being held on the tarmac because the runway was being used for an Air Force maneuver – or something. The crew started to distribute newspapers, and a good thing, too! The delay took all of one hour.

By eleven, the plane was finally allowed to take off. The flight to Davao itself took no longer than an hour and a half – shorter, in fact, than the waiting time from check-in to the actual take-off. We touched down at half past twelve.

It was a short drive from the Davao City Airport to the Apo View Hotel, where we were billeted. The plan was to check-in at the hotel and then go search for lunch somewhere. It seemed like a really well-laid plan. Even the best laid plans, they do say, tend to go awry.

When we arrived, we were told to wait because many of the guests who were supposed to vacate their rooms to make way for the new arrivals still had to check out. To make things worse, many from our flight were all trying to check-in at the same hotel. Reception was filled with ill-tempered people complaining about the delay.

We were left with little choice but to wait at the foyer. It was almost one and we were nowhere near checking in. Putlâ na, nakasimangot sa gutom, we suddenly realized that the biscuits and manî that the plane crew distributed – and which we laughed at because they were a poor excuse for an on-board meal – were suddenly handy pampalipas-gutom.

The Brother Lolo was, needless to say, quite unfazed. There were so many sister madres and priests to talk to, everyone eager to see him and catch up on the latest gossip. He was quite the minor celebrity, as a matter of fact.

Ako, my intestines were so tightly wound up around each other I was getting cramps from sheer gutom. I could, in fact, literally feel the acids eating through the walls of my intestines. The manî, that really counted for little. Although we all realized that our last meal was before seven in the morning, we dared not leave our places for fear of our rooms being given to the other people milling around the reception area.

By 2:30, we finally got our room keys. None of us even bothered to freshen up. Instinct simply dictated we go in search of food. Times like this, the Brother Lolo’s network really came in handy. When we all got back to the lobby, we were told by the Brother Lolo that the sister madre that he was earlier talking to had invited all of us to their school because one of the other sister madres in the congregation was celebrating her birthday.

It was three when we finally got to the school, where we were ushered straight to the community house. The sister madres were in a celebratory mood. There was pancit, puto, cake, ice cream and what-have-you on the table. Salamat, Panginoon!!! Food!!!

I cannot even recall if I joined in the singing of the obligatory Happy Birthday Song. If at all, I am sure, labas sa ilong! I cannot recall any other occasion in my life when I looked at pancit as though it was something that I would kill for! No kidding…

When we were asked to help ourselves to what was laid out on the table, did we…!!! I mean, really!!!

Half an hour later, our humor – and sanity – restored, we finally found ourselves able to properly socialize with the sister madres. It was only then that we were able to tell our host – Brother Lolo’s sister madre friend – that we had not eaten since early in the morning.

“Ayun pala naman,” she told us laughingly. She admitted that she initially though the Brother Lolo’s companions were a tad suplado and suplada. Gutom lang pala…

She must have liked us after we were fed, because we were given a quick tour of the campus and then taken to the aerie of the Philippine Eagle, a forty-minute drive from the campus. The place was magnificent, and one could only admire the Brother Lolo for maneuvering the sister madre into becoming an instant tour guide. I honestly thought we would be stuck in a hotel for the duration of the convention. Instead, there we suddenly were up in the mountains, face-to-face with the legendary bird.

Despite our rather rude introduction to the city, I was starting to really enjoy myself.

Before leaving the aerie, one of our companions thought he would help himself to some durian. Inang… My first encounter with the dreaded fruit was when my Dad was assigned to an Air Force Base in Zamboanga City in the late sixties. The durian is something of an acquired taste; and I never did quite acquire it. When this companion offered me a bite, I declined with alacrity.

We all warned him to throw the fruit away before we entered the van; but he insisted on smuggling a couple of slices. When we were all seated, the door closed and the air-conditioner turned on – ayun… It was as though somebody lost muscle control in the rear end. He had to quickly open the window next to him and throw away the offending durian!

That was not the last we saw of the sister madres. The following night, the Brother Lolo thought he would return the favor and treat the nuns – and ourselves – to dinner at the Jack’s Ridge Resort and Restaurant. To those who have not been to Davao, this is a restaurant atop a hill with a magnificent view of the city. At night, with the city lights on, you dine as though surrounded by fireflies.

It’s amazing how many sister madre friends the Brother Lolo had; and there will be other stories to tell of the hospitality we received from each of them. This one time in Davao, however, remains truly special. The hospitality showed to us by the nuns turned around a disastrous arrival into one of the best experiences of my life.