Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Sign

I stare at the photograph displayed at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila.

It is a picture of the interior of the 18th Century Church of La Purisima Concepcion in Guian, Eastern Samar that hangs in the Gallery of the Via Crucis of an unknown Bohol Master.

The photo on display at the Gallery of the Via Crucis
of an unknown Bohol Master inside the
National Museum of Fine Arts.
It is Jimboy, my brother-in-law, who points it out.
In the center aisle, walking towards the altar, is a likeness of my mother, Evelyn R. Luab, who we buried just recently.

“Now that’s a sign,” my sister Ludette murmurs. We both know she is talking about the “signs” that our eldest sister Tessa claims come from Mommy. We’d made fun of her “signs” which range from songs on the radio to car license plates.

But we look at the figure leaning on her umbrella before the altar, and it is easy to see Mommy leaning on her cane in church. I take a picture and send it to my other sisters with the words: “I do choose to think that she wants us to know that she is with God even if it doesn’t make sense to me to ‘read’ it in a picture.”

Mommy inside the Basilica in
Batangas City in 2015.
I am not a believer of “paramdam” from our beloved dead, even from Mommy who I love dearly. But I do believe in God and I know He comforts those who come to Him with their sorrows.

This sorrow cuts deep. Mommy is gone. I will never see her or hear her voice again. I know I should be happy that she IS better off, that the unhappy bed-ridden state that had become her life the last months before she passed away has ended.

But my heart aches. I wake up tired. And I leak all over the place. I can’t seem to keep it together. There are so many things I wish I’d done differently or sooner or more frequently. 

Mommy was an amazing woman. As my sister Tina so aptly put it, we’d always known that she was loved, but nothing prepared us for the magnitude of that love.

She would have been embarrassed by all the attention at the wake, but she would have been deeply touched by her former students, who came in batches. She would have been amused by the lighthearted squabbling over who was her favorite. She would have comforted those who teared up because they had lost the person “who made me who I am today.” She would have been happy to see long-lost friends even if she’d wished that those who came in wheelchairs or struggled to walk had not bothered. She never did like to inconvenience or be a burden to anyone.

Her former students came in batches
and the flower stands overflowed
into the hallway outside the chapel.
But since she wasn’t around, all five of us daughters did what we could. We listened and smiled and did our best to attend to all of them. And many moments in between, we cried. My eyes have not been this clean in decades. Or saddled with so many bags.

Now that we’ve buried her body and gone back to a semblance of normalcy in our lives, I remember why I miss her so badly.

Sure, my last memories of her were in her weakened state, when she could only manage a few minutes on the phone before she got tired or humor my chatter before she turned on her side to rest. 

But now, I remember the strong-willed and loving mother – the one who left herself out when dividing the family treat on weekends so that we would each get bigger slices. The one who made us do chores and brought us to Carbon market then Pasil not only to help bring the goods home, but to train us how to buy vegetables and fish.

This is the mother who made us study every day even if we had no quizzes the next day because she wanted to SEE us studying. She required us to put in hours on the family business on weekends and made us take turns accompanying her to that eternally-long church service outside of Sunday mass every week.

She made us help her check the objective-type tests she gave her students.  She even managed to get two of us to teach her students dances for the play she was putting on for the school.

We obeyed her because she was Mommy and she said so, and we were none the worse for it. 

Thanks to her, we learned to read at a very young age. It wasn’t just the Mills and Boon or Barbara Cartland books that she left lying around the house, but also English literature which she brought home from the school library. We discovered “Nancy Drew” and “Hardy Boys” only after we realized that our school library didn’t only carry “The best of classic American short stories” or “Roots” or “Fountainhead”. 

Now that I am a parent, I marvel at how much leeway she gave me even when I was still in high school, more so in college. I went on overnight trips and leadership trainings outside the city and even beyond Cebu. I rode the jeepney and walked everywhere by myself. Part-time work in a local paper during college meant coming home very late at night or early in the morning, which must have given her some sleepless nights. 

Mommy and her girls.
She gave all of us daughters our wings and the courage to test them. She rarely reined us in, except when she saw us heading in the wrong direction. And even then, she struggled to understand. Many things changed through the years but her love kept us coming back and together. That love endured through all that five, strong-willed and independent-minded daughters could throw at it.  And we loved her back. Oh, how much we love her.

Mommy died on February 28, 2018 but we lost her before that. She’d stopped laughing at my jokes long before she drew her last breath. It was not because my jokes were not funny. Even those drew a polite laugh which turned genuine when I'd tell her she was faking it.

Now, she is silent and I am afraid that if I cry any more, my heart will finally break into a thousand pieces that I can never recover. How then can I hold her if not in my heart?

I look at the picture and I know that the Lord will hold her for me until I am whole again and can remember with less pain. Maybe I am desperate but I am taking this picture as a “sign” that our mother is now in God’s house and facing His altar. 

We differ on Tessa’s songs and Mariles’ white butterfly, but all five of us seem to agree on this “sign”. We know that the Lord comforts us. And yes, Mommy might just be pestering Him as well. 😁

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Applying for a Schengen Visa at the German Embassy

My family and I recently applied for a Schengen Visa to visit relatives in Germany and take in some tourist attractions. The Philippines is listed among the countries that must fulfill this requirement to enter and stay in any of 26 European countries that comprise the Schengen area.

I am sharing our experience to provide information that might be helpful to families applying for a Schengen Visa. Even if a visa application is individual, family members will apply for a visa at the same time and show up for a visa interview together, which gives rise to some questions.

Where to apply for a Schengen Visa

A Schengen visa application must be lodged at the consulate of the Schengen state where you intend to stay the most number of days. Although our itinerary covered areas of attraction in Germany and Austria, we filed our visa application with the German Embassy because we intended to spend nine of the 16 days of our trip in Germany.

Important:  Every Schengen-member country has its own requirements regarding the documents needed to obtain a certain type of visa. So check the website of the consulate or embassy of the country where you intend to file your visa application for information on the visa application process and the corresponding documentary requirements. For information on the visa process and requirements of the German Embassy, click here.

The German Embassy encourages visa applicants to start the process at least three months before the planned date of departure.

Steps in Applying for a Schengen Visa at the German Embassy in Manila
  • Book an appointment online. 
  • Fill out an application form.
  • Attach a recent passport picture/s to your application form.
  • Make sure your required documents are complete and in order.
  • Submit the application documents during your visa appointment/interview.
  • Have enough cash (Philippine pesos only) to pay the visa fee. 

Book a visa appointment with the German Embassy here.

Important: Each member of the family must make an online appointment even if everyone chooses the same day and time slot. 

I almost made the mistake of assuming that an appointment made under my husband’s name would suffice for the family. Fortunately, I thought better of it and checked with the Embassy. What’s nice about the German Embassy is that they are very quick to reply to queries, which is why I was immediately able to access the online appointment system and set the same interview schedule for my daughter and myself.

Important:  Each applicant gets a confirmation email, which he or she must print out and bring to the Embassy during his or her scheduled appointment.

Fill out the application form

The link to the online application form is found in the application requirements suitable for the purpose of your trip. We found two separate documents on the Embassy website that addressed our purpose in visiting Germany: 1. to visit family and 2. for tourism. A look at the requirements under both purposes showed that they were quite similar so we decided to comply with the application requirements for a visa for the purpose of visiting family and/or friends in Germany.

When filling out the online form, make sure you are ready with your passport and itinerary as well as the full name, address, contact details and passport details of your contact or relative in Germany (if applicable). 

Note: You will not be able to print the visa application form unless you have filled up all relevant sections.  Print and sign a copy of the application form as well as the Declaration according to Section 54 AufenthaltsG.  Parents of minors must be the ones to sign their kid/s visa application form/s and declaration/s, indicating their full name and relation below their respective signatures. 

Attach a recent passport picture to your signed visa application form. 

GLUE a passport picture on the picture box provided in your application form. Since we were asked to provide two passport pictures each, I used a paper clip to attach the second passport picture to the visa application form.

Make sure your required documents are complete and in order. 

The German Embassy requests that documents be taken out of brown/clear plastic envelopes or clear books upon submission. To keep all papers neat and in order, I used a metallic binder clip which the interviewer easily removed to access all documents.

Important:  Each applicant must have a set of required documents even if these documents are duplicated in the visa applications of all family members (e.g. bank certification, investments, land titles, etc.).

I had wanted to use recycled paper for the photocopies but the Embassy advised that it was best to use new, clean sheets of A4-sized bondpaper. I printed on both sides. 😊

Other helpful information:
  • Blogger Yoshke Dimen of The Poor Traveler offers very smart advice (which I took) for applicants to write a cover letter explaining the purpose of their trip and showing their detailed itinerary. Check out his blog for a sample letter and itinerary.
  • Arrange the required documents in the order stated in the check list provided in the applicable “application requirements for a visa” which can be accessed on the Embassy website. 
  • There is no need for a flight reservation. The Germany Embassy is clear about this. What we did was print out a flight itinerary from an airline that was aligned with our planned dates of travel to and from Germany.
  • Bring the original documents if you can. We had provided photocopies but were ready when the interviewer asked for the original bank deposit certificate, approved leave from the company, certificate of employment, and certification on investment plans.
  • Even if the Embassy does not specify it on their website, think of what you can submit that will clearly show that you can support yourself and fund your trip, and that you have every intention of returning to the Philippines.

Submit the application documents and attend the interview in person.

The German Embassy is located on the 25th floor of Tower 2 of RCBC Plaza along Ayala Avenue in Makati City.

Show up early for your appointment and register first with the German Embassy reception desk located at the ground floor lobby of Tower 2. One member may register for the family.

At the 25th floor, we were directed to a window where I was asked to show the emails confirming our visa appointment schedule and our passports. We were each given numbers then directed to proceed to the other side of the elevators, where a lady guard asked us to deposit our cell phones in a cubbyhole before allowing us to enter the interview area.

If your visa appointment is scheduled at 11:30 a.m., all it means is that you have to be at the interview area before or exactly 11:30 a.m. to be entertained. Applicant number 20 was being interviewed when we entered the interview area. By the time my daughter (applicant 32) was called, it was past 12 noon.

Each member of the family was interviewed by the same Embassy personnel. When my daughter’s number was called, I accompanied her to the window to explain that there were three members of the family applying for a visa. After establishing that both parents were on site, and that we had signed her papers, the interviewer waved us off and talked to my 14-year-old daughter alone. 

Important: Coach your kid/s on the itinerary and travel details as well as past travels outside the country, but encourage them to be honest and admit if they do not know the answers to the questions.

Have enough cash (Philippine pesos only) to pay the visa fee.

The German Embassy does not accept credit cards or Euros as payment for the visa fee of 60 Euros per applicant 12 years and older. Trust me, it is a hassle to run down to the lobby and withdraw cash from any of the ATMs there because of the security checks that you have to go through again. Plus, this oversight meets with disapproving frowns and irritated looks, which you can really do without.

But all's well that ends well. We suspected our visa application had been approved because the interviewer took our passports and made us fill out 2GO delivery forms.  This was confirmed six days later when our Schengen visas were delivered at a fee of P170 each. The multiple-entry visa was valid only for a month, but it was more than enough to cover our trip.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Warning: long read

We lost our dog, Bailey, yesterday.

She was of mixed breed (Shi Tzu and Chihuahua), bought from a stall in the old market in Batangas City at a price haggled from PhP4,000 to PhP2,500 with two kilos of dog food and inoculation thrown into the bargain.

It became a joke that my husband would repeat about Bailey. That and the fact that once exasperated at how she would pick at her food, I told her “huwag kang aarte-arte dyan at pinulot ka lang sa mercado (don’t you put on airs with me; it’s not like we didn’t get you at the wet market).”

I did not want her or any dog, but conceded to my husband and my daughter’s wish for one on the condition that the dog we would get would be small and manageable and that they would take care of the pet.

These two outvoted me on getting a dog.
So my daughter ignored the squiggly and noisy brown and white pup sharing the cage and picked up the more docile black and white one whom she named Bailey.

Dog in the house

We had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into, which became very apparent once we reached the house. We had to look for an old plastic container to serve as her dog dish and fashion an old carton with a rug for her sleeping quarters. I frowned because I knew I’d have to get the dish and maybe a dog bed since my husband was working the next day.

I frowned even more as the days went by. Bailey had learned to get out of the box and urinated everywhere.  It took some training and a lot of wiping up with the house smelling of urine and cleanser before the puppy learned to go to the front door to be taken out.

I also didn't want her in the bedrooms, which were located on the upper level of the split-level house that we occupied in Batangas City. It took a while but she eventually learned to stop short at the step leading to the rooms.

Another baby

I got cranky when it became apparent to me that weekly visits to the vet were a must during her puppy years. The man who sold her to us in May 2015 told us she was around three months old at the time so we just assumed she’d been born February 2015. When the vet handed me a booklet which suspiciously looked like the one that I had to carry every time I visited my daughter’s pediatrician years back, I knew we’d gotten ourselves another baby.

She loved to snuggle in their shoes.
All I’d feared had come true. All the training, feeding, washing, cleaning up and going to the vet was left to me and the help.

My husband and daughter? They enjoyed Bailey. They cuddled the cute little beast who would snuggle in their shoes. 

Bailey would go into
her lap every time she sat on
the stair landing to put on her socks.

My daughter would sit on the stair landing and the pest would automatically go into her lap, a ritual they continued even when we moved back to Manila.

Bailey wanted in on the noontime nap.

As for hubby, he’d come home for lunch and after eating, would prop his head with throw pillows and take a nap on the three-seater in our living room with her on his chest while she was a pup and later, beside him when she got bigger.

She learned to lie quietly on the sofa beside my daughter when she was studying, sometimes climbing on to my daughter’s lap which made me wonder if any studying was getting done.

If Bailey had a list of “people I love,” I’d come in last after the help. After all, I was the one who yelled at her and slapped the floor with a slipper, sending her scurrying for cover whenever she did something wrong. I was the one who took her to the vet which she soon associated with pain. I was the one who adopted the stern warning tone when she refused to eat her food.

But she loved me nonetheless. No matter how angry I’d get, she’d greet me with so much joy when I’d come out of the bedroom in the morning. She’d follow me around the house and settle at my feet when I’d work on the computer. She’d lick me every chance she got which was not often.

And I loved her back even if I grumbled at the amount of time, money and effort I was spending on her. I bought the leash and tried to train her because I was afraid she would get run over if left to run by herself. I bought her toys, even treats – saying that my daughter wanted them for Bailey. I looked for the soap that would heal her itchy skin and bought her a soft rug so she could lie on it under my daughter’s bed. And though I hated it, I brought her to the vet as often as I needed to. I was gruff about it but I loved her. I love her still.

The vet says it was an infection that got her. It had crept up on us and by the time we noticed it and sought help, it was too late. We, well I especially, mistook her loss of appetite for her being a picky eater.

She was being fed intravenously when I left her at the vet yesterday morning. I was supposed to call back at 2:30 p.m. for her blood test results. The phone rang before 2 p.m. The vet said it happened so fast. Bailey was only about three years old.

Hubby got home as soon as he could. I was out when he arrived so I did not see him break down upon seeing Bailey.

A daily thing no more.
My daughter cried all the way home from school and whimpered when she saw the blanket-covered body of her dog. I shielded her from the sight and walked with her till she collapsed by the stairs sobbing. It hit me. There was to be no more snuggling on the stair landing. Bailey was gone and my heart twisted in a way I never thought possible. I didn’t know who I was crying for – the dog we loved and lost or my daughter who was dealing with so much pain.

I will never know the contents of the letter that my daughter wrote and which we buried with Bailey in our yard. I would like to believe that in writing her goodbye to Bailey, she was able to process her feelings.

All I know was that when we woke up this morning, I didn’t want to open the door. I knew there would be no Bailey wagging her tail, beside herself with joy at seeing me.

He usually caved in under her
hypnotic stare and gave her food.
The house feels empty. There's no small dog following us around. I go up and down the stairs half expecting to hear the patter of Bailey's feet as she sought to keep up. We sit down for meals and I can’t help but look down by my husband’s chair where she would sit up ramrod straight, willing hubby to look at her and give her food, which he always did.

Around this time yesterday, I had kept my hand on Bailey’s neck while she was being examined by the vet. I had no idea it would be the last time she would feel my touch. Had I known, I would have willed all our love into that touch so that she would feel it. I pray to God that she knew just how much she was loved. Because she was. She is.