The non-tourist in Tawi-Tawi.

DSCF0799.JPGSunset in Tawi-Tawi on board a Navy vessel while escorting a General on his rounds. We visited places where he used to be assigned and I was thrilled at the prospect of being invited to come along for the ride.

“Could I really, Sir?” I must have asked him five times until I actually bought my tickets. On the day we met, he sent his aide to give me my marching orders with matching text message saying, “Make sure you’re ready by 5am or else…”

We set out at dawn, made it to Bongao at 7am, and had lechon for breakfast. By 9am we were on the pier about to board a vessel that would take us to the neighbouring island of Sitangkai. The day was action-packed. We must have ate five full meals in between breakfast and dinner. I took copious notes of what we ate and what we saw but it was our conversation on deck, the one we had on the way back that floored me.

For some reason, this friend of mine always gave me the sense that he wouldn’t bullshit his way out of a difficult question. His life was littered already with moments more dreadful than having to be asked by a frail young gal about corruption. So, I decided to risk it.

“Were you aware of certain allegations made against you by so-and-so and is it true that you were party to this hooplah?” The details, obviously, I will keep to myself.

As soon as the words crept out of my mouth, a certain dread came upon me. My vision almost went black and I quickly thought of what I might have to do in case I got thrown off the ship and had to swim to shore.

His face went from relaxed to stern in half-a-second. He didn’t look away but i sensed that part of him was hurt by my having to ask at all. But he knows me. I don’t take bullshit either. Suffice it to say that I got my answer. It was fair and true and it gave me such a deep admiration for people in uniform who have to juggle roles as they take part in these morality plays.

Seeing this image today on an overcast Saturday afternoon and I wonder now what retirement must taste like for my friend? I’m thinking too of the beautiful Sulu Sea and of how much I long to see it again.

In time, in time.

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