Tabada: Raising ampalaya

Mayette Q. Tabada
·2 min read

I noticed the bamboo trellis under fallen leaves that I was sweeping away. It lay discarded on a mound of trash and rusting pieces of roofing material on the sidewalk.

A year ago — specifically, during the first enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed in Luzon from March 17, 2020 to May 20, 2020 --- neighbor D. crisscrossed slats of bamboo into a lattice that soon supported the creeping vines of ampalaya. The rest of us in the village street planted on the sidewalk’s strip of soil fruit and vegetable seeds saved from our tables and kitchens.

In the ECQ summer of 2020, we reaped what we sowed: ampalaya, tomato, squash, pepper. I learned not to bag a fruit if, after inspecting its surface, I spot the telltale hole that means an insect first claimed it as “mine” and laid its eggs inside. I listened to the inner gardener in folks I previously saw only behind fences and inside cars before the ECQ forced us to look more closely at each other.

Yet, as the restrictions relaxed in mid-2020, we retreated behind our fences. Returning after all checkpoints were removed between Metro Manila and Cavite, a non-residing neighbor uprooted the weeds in their lot, including the vegetables on their side of the sidewalk. Our most experienced gardener, D. went back to landscaping ornamental gardens.

Placed under the ECQ again on March 29, 2021, which was extended to April 11, 2021, our street has not revived communal gardening. During the second Holy Week under lockdown, I learned to cook ampalaya with egg by consulting YouTube. The two specimens of ampalaya I sliced came all the way from “neighboring” Batangas.

Nurturing vegetables and spices from seed to table is child’s play; more complicated is collectively raising a garden for everyone and no one in particular. Beyond relishing the scanty and infrequent fruits from days of toil and more days of waiting is initiating the equally unfamiliar and fraught commitment to converse with the people we share spaces with.

A garden in one’s backyard answers a yearning for self-sufficiency; raising a garden with other families banks on our inter-dependency.

Local governments, in pushing for backyard gardening as “pantawid-gutom,” promote this as a remedial measure for families in need of crossing over from hunger to survival.

Perhaps a communal garden should be elevated to being the most subversive “pantawid (bridging)” proof of life in a pandemic. Just as the ECQ is the “most stringent” level not entirely due to restrictions; it unmasks the false solidarity of neighborhoods, communities, even families.

Rich or poor, we need each other to surpass this greatest challenge to civilization.