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[OPINION] Power outage: Reflections of a Mindanaoan

A single candle illuminated the room as I sorted out all the self-learning modules, grade sheets, and various school forms my public teaching job demanded. The remaining battery time in my old laptop reminded me that I should carry on with my job, but the atmosphere told me otherwise. There is always something about power outages that makes me stop and think. Or, should I say, overthink.  

Living in Mindanao all my life, constant power outages are a normal thing. Long before the issue of insufficient power supply in this part of the country became a national drama during the presidential debates, Mindanaoans have lived forever with this awful fact. Most households (if not all) always have their palong-palong (a type of improvised lamp fueled by gasoline) or candles ready just in case a power outage comes in the dark of night.

Growing up in a close-knit family of four, I had somehow learned to love power outages when they occurred at night. This might not make sense to a kid in this generation with their smartphones, Xboxes, and tablets, but to me, some of the best moments at home happened when we just gathered together around a single candle.

My father's stories would echo against the four corners of our living room as we waited for the candle to melt, signaling that we needed to go to bed. The old man's horror stories would scare me to death, while his stories of how he courted my mother under the meticulous eyes of my uncles really tickled me. It was during these dark nights in northern Bukidnon that I learned true love exists. 

On one of those nights, my mom stopped pedaling on her sewing machine, grabbed her guitar, and sang her favorite Carpenters and Dixie Chicks songs. My sister and I would sing along with her. We may have caused too much noise for our neighbors, but we were really happy back then. Although I can’t play that old instrument as well as her, it is my mother whom I remember every time I pick up that guitar. 

When I approached my teenage years, it was during those dark nights when my friends and I would have the longest chats. We'd end up laughing out loud, stargazing, and singing our hearts out to our favorite songs.

It was also on one of those dark nights, when I was 13, that I puffed on my very first joint. It was one hell of a trip, and I promised myself not to smoke weed again. That experience taught me a great lesson about choosing friends and fitting in. 

I still carry the lessons those nights have taught me. After all, constant power outages are still here. Whenever a power outage occurs now, I would remember how my sister and I would play with our shadows. We were experts in forming rabbits, birds, snakes, and dogs, among many others. Who would have ever thought that this would become an essential skill when my sister would have kids of her own? I was the only uncle to two rowdy girls, and I could make them behave with this shadow play. In their eyes was the same awe I had when my father told us his stories.

Unfortunately, my sister and the rest of her family had left the country for good, seeking for better opportunities. I am sure that power outages are very rare where my nieces are right now, but perhaps they still miss those nights, when we lived simpler, less complicated lives. 

These nights always make me reflect on how underdeveloped this country is. They remind me of how the needs of Mindanao are often neglected. I can't blame my sister for opting to leave for a foreign country, and perhaps I will fully understand it all when I raise my own kids as well. 

In addition, I have always convinced myself that my job is worth staying in; that despite being underpaid and overworked, teaching is still the noblest job of all. Like the candle that illuminated my house last night, I know that it is my duty as a teacher to light the way for others – even if it means that I metaphorically consume myself just to brighten my students' paths.

Indeed, it is during darkness that we sometimes find life's most enlightening moments. It is when we lack light that we clearly see what is most essential.

Today, whenever a power outage blindsides my busy nights, I just go outside, think of the good times, and gaze at the heavens. Though the ones I love are now living in different time zones and won't be sharing the same candle with me, I know we still share the same sky and the same stars. – Rappler.com

Rey Francis L. Dayaan is a public school teacher at Manolo Fortich National High School in Bukidnon.