Thinking ‘out of the box’ in Mindanao

Thinking out of the box should be easier in Mindanao.

Here, you will be forced to choose to be open-minded, to be culturally-sensitive, and to keep in mind a collective viewpoint rather than just a small village “I” or “mine” outlook.

Everyday will be an exposure to various learning experiences including in unlikely places.

I could even draw lessons from talking to vegetable vendors in Davao’s Bangkerohan market. I mean you could do that in Cogeo, Antipolo City, too.

But hey, public markets here could tell a lot more.

Public markets around Mindanao are schools and museums of learning, too. Everyday, Mindanao’s agricultural products, their producers and marketers converge at the market in cities and towns.

I chanced upon a transaction in Bangkerohan between a producer of sweet potatoes from Marahan and a vendor. Even in transactions like these, there are middlemen and I realized that they are crucial in the price determination of camote-Q in the streets of Davao.

The farmer told stories about sweet potato (camote) production in Marahan, the issues they face such as transportation costs, the use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers.

For him, there there are effective methods of planting and harvesting their crops. He went on a tell-all sharing of joys and pains in farming and selling his produce in the market.

Stories like this could go beyond Davao’s busy markets. There are other stories from
Mindanao’s taboans (flea markets) such as in Quezon, Bukidnon or in Alicia, Zamboanga del Sur. It is such an interesting facet of Mindanao.

By the way, every time I buy something from the market I make sure I know at least a new story. Every piece of tomato has a story, say, where it came from and where it is going.

This leads me to Mindanao’s wide and productive farmlands. The farms are even wider fields of study not only for those who are into agriculture and business. The farmers, especially those running small to medium size farms, have their own story to tell as Mindanao agriculture changes.

I used to play in our backyard in 1986 Don Carlos, Bukidnon with the backdraft of smaller but diverse farms. To our east, is a corn plantation. In the west, sugarcane. In the south is a fruit plantation. In the southwest is my grandfather’s rice, cassava and corn farm. Next to it is an Ilocano neighbor’s ‘singkamas’ plantation.

Today, surrounding the location of our old house is a vast pineapple and sugarcane plantation.
Mindanao’s farms are fast becoming mono-crop giants. One of the issues about farming now is whether it is still practical to operate larger instead of smaller farms.

According to an advocate of mono-crop production: The wonders of the “Bahay Kubo” as “a haven of diverse, self-sustaining products” have long been debunked. I took a hard look at the source of that information, especially when I made him reveal that his farm has been producing for exports to
Japan. I detest him hitting that song in the first place.

When I was in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte, I got serious lecturing from a Banana farm operator about their choice between export –orientation or farm losses. I was speechless.

I think it is important to know what is going on, what do farmers in
Mindanao produce for whom? Where do we get the food on our tables? It is a good thing that the organic farming movement in Mindanao is growing to balance, hopefully, the equation. This makes the farmlands, now a “battlefield” between plantation-synthetic economy and organic farming, an interesting fieldwork. Of course, we know whose winning it as of now.

Mindanao’s highways and narrow roads, too, reveal many things. Travel will be very worthwhile as the face of Mindanao is changing. There are good roads as there are bad roads. The condition of its roads somehow reflect the condition of Mindanao.

Nevertheless, travel around Mindanao is a virtual history tour. If you stop and ask around, you’ll find that history is unfolding in these places.

In transit, people shift from one reality to another. From work to home. From one community to another. From city to barrio. From known to unknown or vice versa. Sometimes it becomes a shift from one state to another, as people continue to die of bombings. Anyway, its more of the exemption in Mindanao than the rule.

With better roads and better buses, traveling on a 24-hour basis in some areas is possible. It is interesting to see the passengers come and go from a place to another.

Interactions also inside the bus will reveal some ounce of expectations. You’ll see that the passenger are in varying forms, sizes, odors and origins.

There was one occasion when a Christian missionary preacher, maybe unwittingly, made a provoking invitation in a departing bus in Iligan City. He invited the passengers, half of them wearing traditional Moro clothing, to watch a Christian program on TV showing later that night.

I knew it was a tense case. He should have considered that his audience were not all Christians. He could have exercised more sensitivity.

My Maranao seatmate, however, told me it was OK. He said he got used to that particular intricacy in living in Mindanao.Of course, he clarified later that, “OK” meant tolerable but not acceptable. Anyway, the preacher went down the bus alive.

Inside the bus, the scene looked relieved. If you look closer you’ll see you’re just into a study of diversity and it is such a stimulating microcosm ofMindanao.

Formal education in Mindanao would also be interesting. The growing disparity of students in private universities and state colleges would be a study in contrast. For basic education, the same contrast holds true as more and more students in the rural areas are left behind by their counterparts in more urbanized areas. The issues of lack of school buildings, teachers, books among others– widen the gaps.

But even in a school in relatively urbanized Toril, Davao City, science education is still lackluster.

As a teacher, too, I had serious contemplation on whether students in Mindanao possess a “Mindanawon consciousness”. In my advanced journalism class, I got an empty stare from the whole class when I mentioned the words “Bud Dajo”.

That prompted me to dedicate half of the time for the next session to share the story of that historic place in Sulu and drew from them some reactions.

I really shift gears and modes between my journalism students in Ateneo de Davao University and our basic documentation and reporting trainees in Upi, Shariff Kabungsuan; Caraga, Davao Oriental; and Tandag, Surigao del Sur.

I’m just glad that the academe, civil society, government, media and other sectors meet in some venues, like in cyber space alleys such as Mindanao 1081 to discuss some issues and along the way bridge some of these divides. Cyberspace has also become a growing venue for learning in
Mindanao.

But, in our Amul-amul Bukidnon e-group, there will be silence as soon as issues about the community bypass postings on soft topics as “Davao’s best coffee shops among other things”.

There are other venues to learn about Mindanao. Just look at its health centers, hospitals churches and even funeral houses, they will reveal many things that we cannot read in books and watch on Manila-centered TV programs.

The whole gamut of learning avenues is characteristic of Mindanao’s diversity and learning may come as fluid and in informal notions. I think there is a greater need for religious if not cultural sensitivity here than elsewhere in the Philippines. And people demonstrate it.

My work as a journalist helped me see things that went past the ordinary. It gave me wide-ranging opportunities to listen, to question, to interact and to connect. As I connect to the different shapes and forms of Mindanao and its peoples and their issues, I become both a recipient and a carrier of messages.

I also become a message myself. No, I didn’t want to be too presumptuous. I meant that, how I look, react and act on a thing relays so much on what I want to happen.

Anyway, the lessons are boundless and the results are priceless in Mindanao. But the demands are high, too, for a student of Mindanao.

Thinking “out of the box” meant to think differently so to achieve desired yet different outcomes. You have to think in a manner that catches up with the evolving realities.

Honestly, what I get from events and interactions in Mindanao contribute to my growth and maturity.

But much as I learn, the lessons should also be shared and relearned. A present-day Mindanawon should never cease thirsting for learning and should always be ready to share it to others as well.

About mindanaw

A Journalist from Mindanao

2 responses to “Thinking ‘out of the box’ in Mindanao”

  1. Nick Nichols says :

    Oh man … this piece is so rich, I’m left speechless. But I’ll be mining it for a long time to come.

  2. mindanaw says :

    hehe. Sir, its a long piece indeed. It took me one year to just note down these things and revise etc. I’m jst posting it for initial comments. The short of it is that it is a work in progress. hehe.
    Yeah its heavy. Thanks for the comment.

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