CAGAYAN DE ORO—As a kid growing up in the Philippines in the 1980s, I was vaguely conscious of government exhortations on belt tightening due to an ongoing economic crisis. Then I learned about inflation and constantly worried over the cost of goods rising in perpetuity. Would my generation be able to afford anything in the future? How in hell would that work out for everyone?
Now that things are coming full circle regarding our history, I’m glad that between then and now I have stumbled upon the answer. For sure, a collective activism is imperative for systemic change to take place. Which is why we need to show up and be counted on things that matter, on issues that are important. But also, on a personal note, as Michael Jackson and Mahatma Gandhi kept telling us, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
So out of necessity and an absolute certainty that I have cracked the code that will get at the root of my childhood anxiety from growing up under Philippine-style martial law, with its austere measures for the people on one hand and raiding-of-the-coffers-by-the-powers-that-be on the other, I have made it my personal lifestyle choice to live sustainably, to tread lightly upon a ravaged Earth, to DIY my way around things—and, if possible, to remove this unstable economic factor called money from my equation of eating well, of living a happy life, of an enjoyment of the world, and as a creative, towards the simple practice of an aesthetic of the everyday.
I’ve learned to be an anti-consumerist, eco-friendly practitioner of sustainable living in a quiet, nonperformative way: through urban kitchen gardening, cooking from scratch, and other life hacks that will help keep us afloat till the world sorts itself out. We also need to help with that, by the way.
Creating a micro climate zone
Moving back to Cagayan de Oro after eight years in Baguio was a big adjustment for me and my children. But it felt like the right time to reconnect with this particular family tree, especially during my mother’s sickness and eventual demise (may the Buddha bless her reincarnated soul).
The most obvious physical adjustment was the change in climate. Our first order of business was, therefore, creating a micro climate zone.
Before he died in 2004, my brother converted a bodega into his pad. It was going to be my space. It was a good space, but it had small windows and relied heavily on air-conditioning. As a single parent with two dependents and no other means of support but my regular income, I would not be able to afford the power bill. So I asked my siblings that the space be opened up with wider windows before I moved in in February 2020 (yes, a month before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic).
In the early days in our new space, we quickly discovered where the sun hit hardest in the hottest part of the day. We needed more than potted plants to solve this particular problem.
Building a clay wall
During our 8-year stay in Baguio, I got reacquainted with my old college friend, beer buddy, and swim partner: Joni Balao. She was married to a Croatian-German, Zelimir Strugar. Together they built a clay house in the mountains of Benguet. From them I learned the principles of clay house building, which I used to create my micro-climate zone for heat insulation.
As it turns out, the soil around the house is composed of clay that appeared to have little organic matter mixed into it—the perfect material. The next step was to find the proper clay-sand ratio by mixing separate batches and applying these to the wall with the corresponding ratios indicated. It takes a few days as you wait and check for the batch that creates less cracks.
NEXT: The kitchen garden