The Cebu leg of the Power of You campaign organized by DepEd, commenced last week. I just got back to Manila Thursday afternoon, and I’m honestly a bit pooped. But it was all worth it. The fulfillment I got supporting the advocacy was just amazing.
Amazing, amazing, amazing.
Actually, I almost didn’t make it to Cebu. Work wouldn’t allow me to take a leave for it. But I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass. Honestly, I was willing to go AWOL if I needed to. I thought the cause would merit it. Luckily, a compromise was struck, and I was off to Cebu as planned Monday morning, and in exchange, I’d fly back earlier than expected and report to work before the week ended. Better than nothing, right?
So as early as 7:00 am Monday, E and I had met at the airport, my first time at the NAIA Centennial Terminal 2. I sat with E through breakfast at the canteen, after which we met up with the DepEd guys and gals to check-in together, so they could use our available check-in luggage weight for the other equipment and supplies for the seminar. After a couple of hours of feigning elitism surfing on our laptops, it was boarding time.
We were taking the 9:35 am Philippine Airlines flight to Cebu. I was a bit bummed to be seated at the aisle, and worse, next to strangers. But hey, who am I to be choosy? The three DepEd ladies were seated in the row in front of me, while E and the two DepEd guys were in the row behind. E had warned that he was a nervous wreck when it came to heights and flying, so I couldn’t help but turn to see his reaction during takeoff and landing, as well as every time we hit some turbulence on the flight. It was refreshing to see someone with a worse fear of heights than I do. Hehe.
But of course, we got to Cebu safe and sound. It was the first time in Cebu for both E and I. The trip from the airport to the hotel left us both realizing that Cebu was a lot like Metro Manila. There were rotondas like the one in Tomas Morato, rows of shops like those in Manila, streetscapes like those in Marikina, overpasses like those in San Juan, and of course traffic that is characteristically Metro Manila. Cebu was very much like Metro Manila, but a tad cleaner.
The hotel was a quaint little building along the country’s oldest street in downtown Cebu, which would serve as both lodging and conference venue for us and the participants. We checked in, and this early, a day before the conference itself started, E made it clear that the stay in Cebu would be unlike that in Subic. Subic was more of my style, where we retired to our room early and spent a great part of our spare time in the hotel. Cebu was to be more of his style, late nights out and all... but that’s a whole other story. More about that another time.
The next day, Tuesday, was the official start of the conference. And the afternoon was ours, for the sensitization exercise and our testimonials in front of the assembly. Kuya DepEd was super apologetic upon reading my Subic entry about how his introduction pre-empted our disclosure. Hehehe. But of course, we were really okay with how it went in Subic. But this time, in Cebu, he did heed my request to keep the suspense of our HIV statuses until the appropriate chapters of our stories.
Although I told my story the same way and used the same visual cues to accompany it, my spiel honestly went smoother two weeks ago in Subic. In Cebu, I was panicking, sweating bullets, and stuttering like it was no one’s business. That’s my normal, actually. The confidence I had in Subic was the fluke. But nevertheless, I got through it.
After, I passed the microphone on to E for his story, after which we sat up front with the doctor for the open forum. I found the questions in Cebu to be actually quite tame compared to those in Subic. More of them actually were addressed to the doctor. But the one thing I noticed was that I could not dodge the bullet of being asked how my family took the news of my being HIV positive. It’s inevitable to be one of the first things one would wonder about. So again, I explained how it’s still a sensitive issue for me, and how Cebu is finding out my HIV status even before my family.
The DepEd people have been getting the flak from the Catholic Church for discussing contraception, so E and I censored ourselves a bit in that field. We barely mentioned “condoms”, and just grazed through with “protection” and “safe sex” instead, focusing more on abstinence for prevention. Very unlike in Subic, where I proudly proclaimed that I always have condoms in tow just in case. So sue me, I was just being honest.
Fortunately, there weren’t any Nazis in the crowd this time. The worst reactions probably included suggestions to do devotions to Father Pio and Father Suarez, getting asked whether we knew if we were going to heaven if we died right that moment, and being told how HIV made my achievements seem like such a waste. Hmm. Granted, they were all said in a nice way and in good faith I believe, but there was no proper way to answer comments like that. So we just ended up smiling and thanking them for the prayovers.
The kids meanwhile were extremely open-minded and receptive. Just after our testimonials, we had already gotten hugs from a couple of the girls before the session wrapped up. We also spent time with them during the socials one evening, where I dared dance Nobody as a consequence to their game. Argh. And more than a handful of them even visited us in our room Wednesday night to chat with us and Kuya DepEd, where it was once again apparent that E had charmed his way into the hearts of some of the kids. Two words: puppy love. Hehe. Three more words: menor de edad. Hehehe.
Really, Cebu was a great experience and a great opportunity. I mean the teams from DepEd and UNICEF could’ve well gone with the usual pusits from the usual NGOs, but our Kuya in DepEd took a chance on E and I just based on what they knew about us from our blogs. Granted, ours were not the usual pusit stories and dispositions, but that didn’t mean we would not try to get our intended message across.
I know the effort seems like such a small drop in the ocean, but knowing that these are kids – the future – and that they will be sharing their experiences with their peers, we do believe the advocacy will make bigger and farther waves and ripples. If I die now, no matter where I end up, I can confidently say I’ve done some good for future generations. Just allow me to be proud of that.
Right now, the trainings are over, but after just two weeks spent with them, everyone from DepEd has become like a family to us... Oi, you won’t believe how protective they’ve been of us. Miss Thelma, Miss Mel, Miss Salie, Miss Flora, Sir Junel, Sir Joseph, Sir Noli, and of course, Sir Edward, who was the man behind our being a part of the Power of You training. Again, we thank you for the huge opportunity, and whether you like it or not, we’ll see you again soon. Hehehe.
- Yes, I'm gay. I probably was since the day I was born. On my 21st birthday, I sort of had my debut. I came out to my parents. A little drama from mom, and some indifference from dad. An above-average coming out. Almost perfect.
Nine years later, two weeks before my 30th birthday, I found out... I'M HIV POSITIVE.
And so my story begins... I'm BACK IN THE CLOSET.
Sunday, December 20, 2009