Monday, July 22, 2013

Ten Childhood Anecdotes: Sunrise on the Farm

Dr Abe V Rotor

1.  Manong Bansiong, the kite maker 
     Kites always fascinate me, thanks to Bansiong, nephew of Basang my auntie-yaya. He made the most beautiful, often the biggest kite in town. His name is an institution of sort to us kids. But remote as San Vicente was, we had the best kites and the town was also famous for its furniture and wooden saints.

Kite Flying Season mural by Dr Abe V Rotor

Manong Bansiong made different kites: sinang-gola, sinang-cayyang, sinang-golondrina (in the likes of a bull, a bird with outstretched wings and legs, and a maiden in colorful, flowing dress, respectively). His kites were known for their strength, stability, beauty, and their height in the sky. In competitions he would always bring home the trophy, so to speak.

Because of Manong Bansiong I became also a kite maker of less caliber, but being an endangered art there is not much variety of kites flying around. The kites I make are not common, and they probably exude the same feeling to kids today as during our time.

I made kites for my children when they were small. Kites fascinated my late first-born son, Pao. It was therapy to his sickly condition. We would sit down together on the grass for hours holding on to the kite, the setting sun and breeze washing our faces. 
When my youngest, Leo Carlo, took part in a kite competition at UST, I helped him with the sinang-cayyang. It did not win. But in the following year and the year after Leo Carlo became the consistent kite champion of UST, and so he carries on the legend of Manong Bansiong. 

2. I can “cure” a person who is naan-annungan.

An-annung is the Ilocano of nasapi-an. Spirits cast spell on a person, the old folks say.
The victim may suffer of stomachache or headache accompanied by cold sweat, body
weakness or feeling of exhaustion.

Well, take this case. It was dusk when a tenant of ours insisted of climbing a betel, Areca catechu to gather its nuts (nga-nga). My dad objected to it, but somehow the young man prevailed.

The stubborn young man was profusely sweating and was obviously in pain, pressing his stomach against the tree trunk. Dad called for me. I examined my “patient” and assured him he will be all right. And like a passing ill wind, the spell was cast away. Dad and the people around believed I had supernatural power.

There had been a number of cases I “succeeded” in healing the naan-annungan But I could also induce – unknowingly - the same effect on some one else. That too, my dad and old folks believed. They would sought for my “power” to cast the spell away from - this time – no other than my “victim”. What a paradox!

When I grew older and finished by studies, I began to understand that having an out-of-this-world power is a myth. I read something about Alexander the Great consulting the Oracle at Siwa to find out if indeed he is a god-sent son. “The Pharoah will bow to you, ” the priestess told him. And it did happen - the pharaoh kissed Alexander’s feet. The great warrior died before he was 33.
3. I shot an arrow into the air and it pierced a newspaper
I must have been 4 or 5 years old. Dad was reading Manila Bulletin on a rocking chair.
I was playing Robin Hood. Since our sala is very spacious (it has no divisions), anything on the ceiling and walls was a potential target. But something wrong happened. In physics a crooked arrow would not follow a straight line, so it found an unintended mark – the center of a widespread newspaper.

The arrow pierced through it and landed on my dad’s forehead, almost between his eyes. He gave me a severe beating with my plaything as he wiped his forehead, blood dripping. I did not cry, I just took the punishment obligingly.  Dad must have seen innocence in my eyes.  He stopped and gave me a hug. 

4. I shot my finger with an airgun.I bought an airgun from Ben Florentino, a classmate of mine in high school at the Colegio de la Immaculada Concepcion (CIC Vigan) for fifty pesos, a good amount then, circa 1955. I was loading the pellet, when I dropped the rifle, and on hitting the ground, went off. The bullet pierced through the fleshy tip of my left forefinger. I tried to remove it but to no avail, so I went to the municipal doctor. There was no anesthesia available, and when I could no longer bear the pain, he simply dressed the wound and sent me home.

My wound soon healed, and the lead pellet was to stay with me for the next five years or so, when I finally decided to go for an operation. Had it not been for my playing the violin, I would not have bothered to do so. And it was providential.

Dr. Vicente Versoza, our family doctor in Vigan, performed the operation.   A mass of tissues snugly wrapped around the pellet, isolating its poison. He told me I am lucky. There are cases of lead poisoning among war veterans who bore bullets in their bodies. I remember the late President Ferdinand Marcos.  Was his ailment precipitated by lead poisoning?   
5. The Case of the Empty Chicken Eggs
Soon as I was big enough to climb the baqui (brooding nest) hanging under the house and trees.  I found out that if I leave as decoy one or two eggs in the basket, the more eggs you gather in the afternoon. Then a new idea came. With a needle, I punctured the egg and sucked the content dry. It tasted good and I made some to substitute the natural eggs for decoy.

Dad, a balikbayan after finishing BS in Commercial Science at De Paul University in Chicago, called us on the table one evening. "First thing tomorrow morning we will find that hen that lays empty eggs.”

It was a family tradition that every Sunday we had tinola - chicken cooked with papaya and pepper (sili) leaves. Dad would point at a cull (the unproductive and least promising member of the flock) and I would set the trap, a baqui with a trap door and some corn for bait. My brother Eugene would slash the neck of the helpless fowl while my sister Veny and I would be holding it. The blood is mixed with glutinous rice (diket), which is cooked ahead of the vegetables.

That evening I could not sleep. What if dad’s choice is one of our pet chicken?  We even call our chickens by name. The empty eggs were the  cause of it all, so I thought.

In the morning after the mass I told dad my secret. He laughed and laughed. I didn't know why. I laughed, too. I was relieved with a tinge of victorious feeling. Thus the case of the empty eggs was laid to rest. It was my first “successful” experiment.

In the years to come I realized you just can’t fool anybody. And by the way, there are times we ask ourselves, “Who is fooling who?”

6. Eugene and I nearly drowned in a river.
There was a friendly man who would come around and dad allowed him to play with us.  People were talking he was a strange fellow. We simply did not mind. He was a young man perhaps in his twenties when Eugene and I were kids in the early grades in San Vicente.  

One day this guy (I forgot his name) took us to Busiing river, a kilometer walk or so from the poblacion. The water was inviting, what would kids like best to do?  We swam and frolicked and fished, but then the water was steadily rising so we had to hold on the bamboo poles staked in the water to avoid being swept down by the current. I held on tightly, and I saw Eugene doing the same on a nearby bamboo pole. The guy just continued fishing with his bare hands, and apparently had forgotten us. 

Just then dad came running and saved us.  We heard him castigate the fellow who, we  found out that he mentally retarded that he didn’t even realized the extreme danger he put us in.

7. Paper wasps on the run! Or was it the other way around?
This happened to me, rather what I did, when I was five or six - perhaps younger, because I don’t know why I attack a colony of putakti or alimpipinig (Ilk). It was raw courage called bravado when you put on courage on something without weighing the consequences. It was hatred dominating reason, motivated by revenge. 

I was sweeping the yard near a chico tree when I suddenly felt pain above my eye. No one had ever warned me of paper wasps, and I hadn’t been stung before. I retreated, instinctively got a bikal bamboo and attacked their papery nest, but every time I got close to it I got stung.  I don’t know how many times I attacked the enemy, each time with more fury, and more stings, until dad saw me.  I struggled under his strong arms sobbing.  I was lucky, kids my size can’t take many stings. There are cases bee poison can cause the heart to stop. 

8. Trapping frogs
It was fun to trap frogs when I was a kid. I would dig holes in the field, around one and one-half feet deep, at harvest time. Here the frogs seek shelter in these holes because frogs need water and a cool place. Insects that fall in to the hole also attract them. Early in the morning I would do my rounds, harvesting the trapped frogs.  Frogs are a favorite dish among Ilocanos especially before the age of pesticides. The frog is skinned, its entrails removed, and cooked with tomato, onion and achuete (Bixa orellana) to make the menu deliciously bright yellow orange.

9. Getting drunk at an early age.
I was already a farmhand before I was of school age, but dad always warned me not to be an aliwegweg (curious at doing things), the experimenter that I was. One morning as dad went on his routine, first to hear mass in our parish church just across our residence farm, I went down to the cellar with a sumpit (small bamboo tube) to take a sip of the sweet day-old fermenting sugarcane juice.

I didn't know that with a sip too many one gets drunk. And that was precisely what made me feel sick, but 1 did not tell dad. He called a doctor to find out what was the matter with me. When the doctor arrived he found me normal. What with the distance from Vigan to San Vicente - on a caleza (horse-drawn carriage)? But the doctor was whispering something to dad.

Then it happened. Dad had left for the church, so I thought. I went to the cellar and as soon as I probed the sumpit into a newly fermenting jar and took a sip, someone tapped my shoulder in the dark. It was dad!

Imagine the expression of his face (and mine, too) in the dark. I sobbed with embarrassment while he took a deep sigh of relief.  Since then the doctor never came again. And I promised never to taste my “beverage" again.

10. The caleza I was riding ran over a boy.
Basang, my auntie yaya and I were going home from Vigan on a caleza, a horse carriage. I was around five or six years old, the age children love to tag along wherever there is to go. It was midday and the cochero chose to take the shorter gravelly road to San Vicente by way of the second dike road that passes Bantay town. Since there was no traffic our cochero nonchalantly took the smoother left lane fronting a cluster of houses near Bantay. Suddenly our caleza tilted on one side as if it had gone over a boulder. 

To my astonishment I saw a boy around my age curled up under the wheel. The caleza came to a stop and the boy just remained still and quiet, dust covered his body.  I thought he was dead.
 Caleza, Vigan, Ilocos Sur
Residents started coming out. I heard shouts, some men angrily confronting the cochero. Bantay is noted for notoriety of certain residents. Instinct must have prodded Basang to take me in her arms and quickly walked away from the maddening crowd.  No one ever noticed us I supposed.     

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Beware of the Higad! (Tussock Moth Caterpillar)

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday []

Tussock moth - a master of camouflage. It can adjust to the color and pattern of its environment. Adult of the tussock caterpillar is a gray moth with markings that serve as camouflage. It undergoes four stages.  The pupal stage is short, about a week. The caterpillar undergoes four or five moltings.
First aid: Train melted candle over embedded bristles, then carefully peel off. Apply vinegar on the affected area to dissolve remaining bristles. Do not rub.

Higad - caterpillar of Tussock Moth (Budo-budo Ilk).Tussock moth caterpillars in three stages (instars), pupa (left, scantily covered with cocoon thread), molted skin (lower left), and frass or waste. Snowy tussock moth mimic the color and pattern of its host tree, and growing lichens.

We call it samrid in Ilocano, higad in Tagalog and Pilipino. It is perhaps the most avoided insect next to the putakti or paper wasp. Unlike the latter, the injury one gets by contact with this spiny caterpillars is far reaching - it can spread to other parts of the body. Thus the rule is: Never rub - not even touch, the affected area. If feasible, light a candle, train the drops on the embedded spines, allow to solidify, then lift off. In this way the spines are pulled out without much damage. Apply vinegar to neutralize the alkaline chemical substance. Taking a bath without vinegar treatment will only spread the minute Neptune spear. There are people who are extremely allergic to higad that they need immediate medical treatment with antihistamine drug.
This species of Tussock Moth caterpillar belongs to Family Lymantiidae, Order Lepidoptera.  It is a commonly found on Fire Tree (Delonix regia) which blooms in summer. The colorful caterpillar, about an inch long in its last instar, dangles from the tree with spinneret and sways in the slightest breeze. It often lands on a passerby and causes extreme discomfort that needs immediate medical attention.  The rule is to remove the caterpillar immediately without rubbing the affected area. One who is  particularly sensitive to higad must get immediate help.
Tussock moth caterpillars are passive and tend to group together. Before they enter pupal stage they descend from their host tree, hide in crevices, and other suitable places where they will later emerge as moths.

NOTE: Skin castings of higad can inflict considerable injury. Eliminate castings by burning or burying, just as caterpillars are disposed off. Higad may inflict the same injury on pets. Regular smudging (smoke emitted by burning dead leaves) can effectively reduced higad population. Household insecticide spray can help. Community control using chemicals needs expert's assistance. ~

Leo Carlo is the most sensitive in the family to allergy. At one time I rushed him to the nearest hospital for immediate shot of antihistamine. He stepped on the casting of higad, the caterpillar of the tussock moth. In his attempt to soap away the embedded bristles, he unknowingly caused it to spread all over his body. He stayed in the hospital until the swelling subsided.

Some years earlier Leo had a similar experience. The allergy came from the eggs of talakitok fish he ate. The swelling was so severe his eyes were virtually closed. Timely anti-allergy injection saved him.

Allergy runs in the family. Marlo, my oldest son is allergic to all kinds of crustaceans, from crabs to shrimps. I am allergic to tulingan fish.

But it is insect allergy that we are always on the guard. Insects are perhaps the most common causes of allergy in the world. Let me cite some findings and experiences.

• The popular image of insect allergies is its association with the bites and stings of venomous species like bees, ants, and wasps (injectant allergens). Over one-hundred deaths per year in the U.S. are attributed to fatal reactions to arthropod venoms. We don’t have any record in the Philippines on casualties from this cause.

• More common allergic reactions attributable to insects include those caused by contacting body parts or waste products (contactant allergens) or inhaling microscopic dust particles composed of pulverized carcasses, cast skins and excreta (inhalant allergens). Symptoms range from eczema and dermatitis, to rhinitis, congestion and bronchial asthma.

• Mites which are relatives of insects that infest cheese, bran, dried fruits, jams and sugars are known to cause transient dermatitis among workers when body fluids are re leased upon crushing. Similarly dust mites that inhabit our dwellings cause cold symptoms often diagnosed as such, or as asthma.

. There are people sensitive to mosquito bite. Usually it is accompanied by swelling of the affected area and itchiness, becoming dark afterward. It takes a week or more for the skin to return to its normal color. This symptom may be similarly manifested by the bite of flea (Siphonoptera).

• Nine orders of insects, and mites and spiders (Arachnids) were found to be the sources of the inhalant allergens. In the US a survey found out that allergy symptoms are due to direct or airborne exposure to Lepidopteran (moth and butterfly) scales - despite the use of exhaust hoods and protective masks and clothing. Case histories of asthma among Lepidoptera workers are numerous.

• Personally I discourage the use of butterflies released in wedding receptions, and other occasions for that matter. Scales of the butterfly (and moth and skippers as well) are made up of a very tough kind of protein known as chitin which can cause blindness other than allergy. Children are most vulnerable to this.

• Reactions to Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, cock roaches, etc.) are also common in the form of rhinitis, itching skin, bronchitis and ultimately asthma in general sequence. A researcher suffered dyspnea (labored breathing) during a prolonged session of grinding crickets into meal to supplement chicken feed. There are also cases of anaphylactic shock involving orthopterans.

. Have you experienced waking up with swollen eyelid? One explanation is that, you must have been bitten by cockroach (Periplaneta or Blatta) while you were sleeping. Cockroaches eat on almost anything, including dried tears.

• Workers in grain warehouses exposed to the insect pest like weevils (Coleoptera) suffer from skin itching, hives, rhinitis, dyspnea, and bronchial asthma.

• Flies and midges (Diptera) as well as mayflies (Ephemeroptera) and caddis flies (Trichoptera) have likewise been implicated as allergy.

• Fortunately processing – from milling to cooking - largely diminish the potential threat of food allergies as compared with their reactivity in raw form. But this is no guarantee of eliminating the allergen. One may be allergic to the bean weevil that attacks mungbean, and when the bean is cooked the insect allergen is diminished. But the allergy to the bean itself is not. One school of thought suggests that insect allergens in food are deactivated by cooking, or deactivated in the highly acidic environment of the stomach.

. Red ants bite and sting, injecting formic acid in the process, which explains the extreme pain sensation. Because they attack by group, the amount of formic acid may reach a level that leads to anaphylaxis to sensitive people, and may cause death. Children are most vulnerable.

. The most dangerous sting comes from the wild African honeybee that hybridized with the domesticated honeybee since its entry to the US several years ago. Beekeepers have learn to deal with the crossbred because it produces more honey than the domesticated type. Except for hornets, they are perhaps the most dangerous bees in the world.

. We have a local counterpart of hornets - the paper wasp or putakti. They are however less dangerous because they attack only intruders or when they are disturbed.

. The tree ant, locally known as hantik, can cause extreme pain and discomfort to orchard growers and fruit pickers, intruders notwithstanding. There are people who are highly allergic to their poison.

. Relatives of insects that are harmful for their poison are
  • Black Widow spider (Most dangerous arachnid)
  • Scorpion
  • Centipede
  • Millipede (it exudes cyano gas when threatened)

• There is evidence for cross-reactivity among distantly related members of the Arthropoda suggesting the existence of common allergens within the phylum. So, if you are allergic to shellfish, you are likely to be allergic to say, camaro (fried mole cricket) a delicacy not only locally but in other parts of the world.

Beware of insects, especially those that cause allergy.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Filipino Classical Music: Sa Libis ng Nayon

Dr Abe V Rotor 
A Naturalist's World

Sa Libis ng Nayon is one of the most popular countryside songs in the Philippines.  It is sang with guitar or piano accompaniment, or by an orchestra on stage.  Every Filipino knows the melody and can hum it too. I am posting the original lyrics written by Santiago S Suarez, and a painting by Fernando Amorsolo that perfectly matches the song.                       

Kahit na gabing madilim sa libis ng nayon
Taginting nitong kudyapi ay isang himatong
Maligaya ang panahon sa lahat ng naroroon
Bawa't puso'y tumutugon sa nilalayon
Puno ng kawayan ay naglangitngitan
Lalo na kung hipan ng hanging amihan
Ang katahimikan nitong kaparangan
Pinukaw na tunay nitong kasayahan.
Kung ang hanap mo ay ligaya sa buhay
Sa libis ng nayon doon manirahan
Taga-bukid man may gintong kalooban
Kayamanan at dangal ng kabukiran
Ang liwanag ng buwan at kislap ng bituin
Ay nag-aalay ng aliw.
kung ang puso'y ang hanap ay paglalambing
Awit ng parang ay dinggin.
Ang pagibig man din dito nagsupling
At kapag nasiphayo'y luksang libing.
Kaya't ang payo ko ay inyong susundin
Bukid ay dapat mahalin.~