Philippine languages

[OPINION] “Amping”

Ian Rosales Casocot
[OPINION] “Amping”
'I say this now to people I love, constantly: Amping, amping, amping. It’s certainly a goodbye of wishful safe passage, but I also wield it as a talisman.'

That’s what we have been saying, more and more, to each other in our missives to people we know. As we close out a text message. Amping. As we end a chat over Facebook. Amping. As we close out an email with a salutation. Amping. As we turn off our cameras over Zoom or Facetime. Amping. As we say goodbye to another six-feet away, mask and shields between us. Amping.

It’s not that we have not used this version of goodbye before. We have. But in the ancient days, that time before February 2020, we have always just said, “Goodbye,” or even more hopefully, “See you!” as the closing notes to our varied interactions. And we tossed those around as if there was a future, and our freedom was infinite. Tossed around with such magnificent mindlessness we can only look back to all that with hopeless wonder, our hindsight tinged with nostalgia and regret.

“Amping” has a quiet admonition to the way it wears its farewell, also a note of concern. It tells the recipient: “Be careful, take care” – bidding him or her safe passage as they venture out to errand, or work, or home, out into a world that’s tacitly acknowledged as one bleeding with danger. It says there are monsters about out there, be careful. It says we are concerned for your safety, be careful. It says we care, be careful.

There’s another word in Binisaya that approximates “amping,” or “pag-amping.” There’s “ayo-ayo,” but it’s a goodbye that flies into the regions of hope, of a general sense of being safe. “Ayo” is literally “good,” as in “maayo.” And also is our word for the unthreatening announcement of our arrival. We go to someone’s house, and we knock, and we bid its dwellers, “Ayooooo!” to indicate our visit, to say we mean well, to bid them goodness in our coming and in our presence.

“Amping” is not “ayo-ayo,” but they mean exactly the same thing, the yin and yang of the Binisaya goodbye.

The Tagalogs have a word of exactly the same make-up: “ingat.” As a word for goodbye, it is claimed that people started saying “Ingat” to each other in the deepening dark of the Martial Law years, when friends and family say it to acknowledge the hovering evil of those years, when people could disappear, just like that, never to be seen again. “Ingat or careful out there,” the acclaimed novelist and activist Ninotchka Rosca once posted in Facebook, “became the word for goodbye, replacing the old sige during the Martial Law years. It was the last word uttered between and among those meeting to discuss what had to be done, in ways big and small, to end the Marcos dictatorship. It was said with all the love and respect one was capable of. Because chances were, one would meet again only in a prison cell, or a torture house [called a ‘safe house’ by the military], or at a wake.”

I’m sure we say “amping” now in a different context – but also, alas, somehow the same: we have a government whirling with such sly intentions to curtail our freedoms sans calling for actual military rule. And then also we are swimming in the long lockdown days of pandemic uncertainty, death and frailty at every turn. Both threats are palpable like that feeling of a tight fist in your stomach. 

There are monsters everywhere.

We know this for sure – even if mostly unseen, chronicled only in headlines that grow bloodier by the day. Another activist or journalist or lawyer or teacher killed. Another bunch in the hundreds dead from COVID-19, or thousands infected by it.

I know one such casualty of the latter kind, a friend.

His name was Em Mendez. He was a teacher and a prize-winning playwright. He was loved by many. He had a bright future ahead of him. He was only 38, celebrating that birthday milestone only days before COVID-19 took him.

I can’t remember what goodbye I’ve said to Em in the old days, before the scourge that took him had a name. I check my Facebook chat, and my last word to him was “Congrats!” – I think for a literary prize he had won then. It wasn’t even goodbye. We had no idea how the world would turn.

So I say this now to people I love, constantly: Amping, amping, amping. It’s certainly a goodbye of wishful safe passage, but I also wield it as a talisman. Amping to mean, “The Divine be with you.” Amping to mean, “I care.” Amping to mean, “No harm to you that I love.”

It’s just a word, yes – but words have power. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I love those beginnings from the Book of John. Our deeply felt utterances have meaning, and like prayer – which are really words spoken in incantation – they can move mountains.

Or at least, in our case now, just a simple beloved wish for safety. –

Ian Rosales Casocot teaches literature, creative writing, and film at Silliman University in Dumaguete City, where he was Founding Coordinator of the Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center. He is the author of several books, including the fiction collections Don’t Tell Anyone, Bamboo Girls, Heartbreak & Magic, and Beautiful Accidents.