Dear Victor,

Your letter greeted the 1st day of my 2017. My 2016 was rough. You knew that. It threw me really hard punches. I learned to roll with some of it. I think I’ll still be rolling with some punches it threw me till 2017 or maybe beyond. Your post forced me to think about my 2016. But I can only remember moments.

I can only remember how both worried and excited I was when Dakila decided to do Active Vista last year – with out funding. I can still feel that instinctive certainty that it must be done come what may. And from that moment on, how magic happened. Yeah, that was pure magic. Up till now, I’m still bewildered on how we have managed to pull it off. That was the first lesson of last year. Build it and it will come. You just have to take the plunge.

And taking that plunge brought me to Zambales, to Davao, to Cebu, and to Iloilo  where I found the same kindred souls who took that plunge with me. More than just comrades, they have become friends and family. I have become witness to their stories. Many claim that I have touched their lives but they never truly know how much they have really touched mine.

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Like how the “dakikays” of Davao have proven that diversity and dynamism are essential to fuel growth and that activism is fashioned not only by strong beliefs but also by sense and style.

There is Bless — a fiery new grad from UP who said she is trying to find her “relevance” (which made me really laugh); Kara Kara Kara — a statuesque beauty queen who is one of the coolest girl I’ve ever met; Alex — who I  knew when she was still a goth wearing fine arts student and has now evolved beautifully into motherhood; Anj – – oh, this really interesting girl, exotically beautiful with a really good heart who just needed to be confident of her own beauty and goodness; Julia — this really smart woman with a smarter sense of fairness and kindness; Brylle — the good boyfriend who I like better than the girlfriend Bless (Okay, I love them both); Kyra — who is set to do great things I am excited about; and Jess — the queen bitch, the madame of all madames, whose leadership has wielded this collective.

Like how the “mudras” of Cebu have renewed my faith on the importance of nurturing relationships and the formidable force of passion as a fuel to spark change.

There is Dandan — the mother hen, strong yet gentle, firm but flexible. She finds herself lost but she really knows her direction. I hope she musters enough courage to strike her balance. Then there is Ara — a talented filmmaker with a strong ground and grasp of reality; Sam — whom I can’t wait to fly with her camera; Mona — who has blossomed from a curious child into an independent woman; sweet Danica — a law student whose heart carries such pure concern for her community; gorgeous Rachel — graceful and edgy with always a rebellious twinkle in her eye; lovely Nina — whose beauty does not only match her brains but also her passion for the arts. Oh, you would find Jed and Martin interesting! These boys.. Jed is both irritating and charming. But you would not stand his humor. Martin is calm and steady, an exact opposite to Jed’s anxiety disorder. Then there is Jean, whose leadership is making a mark to Cebu’s educators; Dante — who I’m glad has resurrected and has, as always, proved himself a quiet and steady force. And there is Chai — oh Chai, radiantly beautiful, raw and wild. You would love Chai – not only because she is a superb actress but also because she takes no bullshit and will take anything head on.

Like how the art community of Iloilo has always inspired me that collective action is an important ingredient to make change happen. I have witnessed how dedication, hard work, and commitment to the cause can actually, as the cliche goes, help change the world. The VIVA Excon Iloilo is a testament to that. The booming art scene in Iloilo is the fruit of their labor of love.

There’s Keneth — his idealism is contagious and scary at the same time but I think he reminds us all, in a way, of our own idealism; Christian — always dependable, always reliable, always generous with his time and talent; Allyn — who has finally fallen head over heels in love and who I wish would learn to soar in love with her feet anchored on ground; Mia – whose quiet rage I know will someday explode to create good art; AJ — whose stubbornness equals his perseverance and who I know will make his mark in the world (I have vested interest, I have his early art works); and Hermz — he really is far from Joseph Gordon Levitt as who he claims to project but he will probably end up as equally important to environment conservation. I am always in awe of Daniella – – she must have been a goddess who came to this Earth to shed light on anyone needing it most. And then there is Jo Andrew — my southern comfort, and my eternal hope — who represents all that is right in the work that I do and whose comic relief is a welcome breather for everyone.

All across my travels, they were more than just companions. They were fellow travellers on the same road. Sometimes, we took different paths but we always end up crossing paths. Perhaps, our destination is really the same. Who knows?

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Farther down the road, I walked 2016, tirelessly and most of the times, aimlessly, Just passing through, breezing through storms. I found myself in your home in Fort Lauderdale, admiring art murals in Miami, living in a college dormitory for 3 weeks in St. Anne de Bellevue in Montreal, trying to walk despite my torn muscle in picturesque Quebec, taking a train to Nyack, walking the streets of New York, and finally, losing my self in Chicago. Those were amazing 6 weeks!

I went to Petaling Jaya for the Freedom Film Festival and took a side trip to Kota Kinabalu. Most of the trips were for work. But it was a welcome break to be alone.

Yes, it was the places (although not much time was really spent seeing those tourist spots). You once told me to let the place introduce itself to me. So, i did that when I ran from your place to the beach only to finish with a hearty breakfast in that diner around the corner. But my most vivid memory of Fort Lauderdale was this.

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That purple pony left on the street. This felt like me, in awe of the world – alone but not really lost.

And yes, it was the art, the books,  the quaint shops and cafes, the sumptuous meals, and that little cottage on top of the hill in Nyack. I have fond memories of that.

But the moments that really stuck were these. They were the conversations, the feelings, the people.

Of how three weeks of living here made me feel like a real student in a university.

Of how I met human rights advocates like me — activists yes, but also real people – with their own intricacies, hopes and dreams — our dear facilitator Zhanna who has exemplified what it really takes to be a human rights activist – driven, disciplined, excellent, fair, strong-willed, sensitive and compassionate. 

They were an assortment of personalities which made my stay truly  colorful – the courageous Nwe, sweet Komal, motherly Teresa,  the always elegant Irene, the ever caring Raziya, the coolest girl Salma, the always cheerful Weena, the very fashionable Joseph, humorous Philip, gentle Dominic, Zahir the wise, pretty Camila, insightful Ahmed, easy-going Gama, rebellious Nje-ri, responsible Omega, quirky Yesim, graceful Grecia, passionate Omaid, amiable Nivine, gorgeous Naela, thoughtful Njeri, sensitive Steve, endearing and eclectic Katherine, the vibrant Maizl, the ever confident Tam, generous Andrew, the compassionate Juniper, the fun and kind-hearted Jet, my seat mate and best buddy Kuhn, and my soul sister Melissa from Malaysia. 

Of how a stranger can turn into a friend in three weeks. And it was about Nica too — human rights lawyer from one of the best law schools in the Philippines, graduate of the premiere state university in the country but really just a simple girl who is trying to make sense of this world while finding her happiness. I can’t wait for her to blossom, radiating in full bloom. 

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Of how great conversations stem out of honesty, diversity, genuine interests and strong beliefs. That was New York for me – sipping wine at Ninotchka’s living room (and largely N and I hiding at the kitchen to smoke) and sitting in Pedro and Peter’s gorgeous home in Nyack. 

Of how I loved most were the quiet moments hanging out in a bar or restaurant or our rented apartment or hotel – where you and Floyd just let me be – whether I step outside sitting in Dunkin Donuts, exploring or shopping.

But, this is really what I wanted to tell you. 2016 was the worst year ever. While it took me to travel to wonderful places all over the country and the world, most of my weeks were divided between an out of town work trip and the hospital.

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And because I have lost my brightest star, the light behind the stellar. And its pain won’t probably go away for many years ahead.

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But if there are things that 2016 has taught me well then these are to never lose faith on people, to trust with all of your heart and to believe in your own magic.

Because Odessa and Bambam reminded me that distance and time do not really matter to friends who know each other’s core.

Because I am lucky to have true friends that will always make you feel like you’re home whether you are in a distant land or you are lost in finding your own path.

Because I found true sisterhood again — the shared principles, values and common experiences that shaped the woman I have become.

Because  welcoming new people in my life taught me not to be afraid of people. While there shall be no guarantees that they will not hurt you, always embrace them with open arms and nourish relationships with them so that they may grow into beautiful friendships.

Because it has always been worth taking that risk. In the process, I have  found a family — friends, colleagues and comrades who have held my hand in all the storms I weathered.

Because I have Andrei and Rap — both my anchor and wings; Tasha — whose spirit always inspires me to wander the world with wonder; Alex — always steady, always calm, always efficient, always nice; Wowie — the pleasant girl who has been learning to sharpen her edges; Nini — innocently saccharine sweet looking but a true warrior of life; Mark — who I’m seeing grow up as a man, as a writer and a storyteller; Jonas — who bravely battles to be who he wants to be; Floyd — who has embraced his eccentricity; Ayeen — who is slowly learning to break her walls; Kints — who fights for what she deserves; Hector — whose kind heart will create inspirations of struggles;  Ish — whose timid strength is a force waiting to be unleashed; Darlene — the quiet wisdom that always emerges when needed;  Ymi — whose innocence and purity is refreshing;  Monique — whose courage I hope wills her to soar;  Emil — ambitious and warm-hearted like a true lion;  Nitya and Miko — whose love has challenged norms and shall withstand stereotypes and judgments; Kate — who has finally empowered herself;  Steph — who I hope will not be afraid to bleed for love;  Cha — whose fire consumes and purifies but always endures; Kelsey — who I hope does not grow up too fast; Rash — my courage and my hope; and Mich — whose awesomeness I have seen 15 years ago and has witnessed explode into greater heights. It has been an honor to share this journey with them.

Because I realized how many they are — Badette who has always been unselfish and who I always hope would love herself more; Miss Marichu — always generous, always caring; Criselle — who has taken me like her own sister; the ever passionate Ditsi — whose genuine concern warms my heart; AG and Maye — amazing couple, even more amazing kind-hearted souls;  Tina and Mia — wonderful women traversing life with so much passion; Menea – so much talent, so much pain and who I hope shall battle life with out losing her spirit; Xiao — who gives generously and who I hope will never tire from giving; Mara — whose sensitivity makes her the gorgeous being that she is; Kara — always funny and witty; amiable Moira – – who is set to change the landscape of Philippine cinema; and there’s Sherad — whose hands have always been warm enough to welcome me into his life.

Because I am grateful for my constant, those who have never left my side and I know will always be there — Lei and the girls, Taja, Diosa, Indie and Tila — they are Tado’s greatest treasures who I have witnessed shine on their own; Ethel and Judy — comrades and friends who have built my very essence as a feminist, as a revolutionary, as human; Swannie, Anette, Abbey, Che and Sunshine — who will always travel with me to lalalala land but also kick me back to reality; and Ives — my rock, my core.

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Indeed, 2016 was the worst year ever. It broke me. But I have always revered brokenness. It allowed me to go back to basics — to celebrate my own humanity.

That i am perfect;y capable to do my own laundry.

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That I can sit back and relax because I got people who will have my back no matter what.

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That I have people who will love me to bits and send me flowers across the globe.

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That I can travel alone a thousand miles despite all my baggages in tow and still enjoy the ride in this journey.

That I don’t need to chase squirrels as they will sit quietly beside me, minding their own business, never interfering but always there.

That I don’t need to protect my heart as it is stronger when it bleeds.

I am an orphan now as you have pointed out. We both are. But we do have each other. And much more – strangers who have become family, acquaintances who have become friends, fellow travellers who continue to hold our hands in this journey.

So, there is still much to be grateful about 2016 but much more to look forward in 2017.

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You asked me about my travel plans for 2017. I am excited about Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Budapest and Vienna. I would love to visit you again at the end of the year. Yes, I promised not to overpack. My husband is making sure of that.

But, I am more excited to all the adventures waiting for me – may it be the long train rides with Ives, the challenge of building this human rights education center, helping the new generation of #lahingdakila steer the organization into its 12th year, human rights in the time of a Duterte presidency, the mundane musings of an OFW wife, probable artistic pursuits, or home decorating.

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All I need to know and remember is that this journey would be dull with out its struggles.And  I am never boring. I am stellar.

Love,

Leni

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“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”

-Sigmund Freud