Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Coveted Life of Sister Veronica (Part 1)

When I was teaching in La Salle, I have the privilege of meeting Sister Ver. She is an ex-nun who devoted her life to teaching, if not tormenting college students, on the subject of Rizal’s life and work. She was 57 when I met her. At Wester 24 (the faculty room of philosophy and economics teachers), she stands out prominently as the old spinster among the fresh looking faces. Back then, we were wearing uniform at work. by that, I mean the same color and fabric but of different cut and style. Sister Ver’s style is nothing flamboyant. In fact, she has the same cut for all her uniforms – sports collared blouse with matching pants. When you look at her, you will see that she is nothing exceptional from the rest of the people around her until you get to know her better.

You see, Sister Ver has money, not family wealth but hard-kept savings from her years of teaching. She is an ex-nun so you can expect her not to have the burden of worry of an average mother or breadwinner in the family. While the rest of the people in the faculty room worry about how to make both ends meet with their fixed salary, she worries on how she could cut some corners to be able to spend less of it. And frankly, you can learn valuable lessons from her austerity measures:

1. There is still such a thing as free lunch when you know how to find it. Sister Ver has the habit of moving around campus and checking on the activities people are into, like birthday celebrations and special occasions. And when she comes across one of these, she makes it a point to linger a while to avail of free food and drinks.

2. The Noontime Combo. This is a variation of number 1. In one of her campus tours, she found out that the building and grounds (B&G) cooperative (composed of the maintenance staff) are cooking lunch for its staff. And with this valuable information, she no longer ate lunch with us at Wester 24; she joined her comrades as the B&G canteen for lunch. The catch is, they share their viand with her for free.

3. Reuse, reheat and recycle – the art of prolonging the life of your food. Because Sister Ver lives alone, she is constantly confronted with the problem of preparing food for herself. And so she improvised as in the case of meat, raw meat to fried meat to adobo to sinabawan na adobong karne with some gulay. I don’t really know how it tasted butit surely satisfied her taste. As for those times when somebody shares some viand for lunch, she would save whatever baon she brought and bring it hope for dinner. Whatever is left is fed to the stray cat that comes at her kitchen every now and then. See, no waste!

4. Pay for your lunch but make sure you get the most out of it. It is almost impossible to collect from Sister Ver whenever we decide to chip-in some money for a salu-salo. When we are successful, someone would volunteer to pay for her and make her feel uncomfortable about having to owe someone some money. Other times, she would tell us she is not coming and then she would show up on the day of the celebration and eat for free.

There is this one time when we decided to have a pot-luck lunch and ask everyone to bring something to share with the group. We were wary in asking her to bring some viand knowing her interesting dishes and so we decided to ask her to take care of the rice for the occasion. She was specifically told to cook at least one kilo of rice for the group; that would just cost her no more than P30.00 as compared to what each of us were willing to spend for drinks and elaborate dishes. When the day came, we all gathered in the spirit of agape and shared the food that we brought only to end up disappointed because Sister Ver made it a point buy cheapest rice in the market. And she did not stop at that, she even mixed her previous night’s left over rice with the new one and made it all worse. We all just have to look at each other through the entire meal but we never complained.

5. Light conquers darkness. Sister Ver lives in one of the low-cost housing set up by La Salle for its employees. In La Salleville. Your neighbor is just two arms’ length away from your side window. Since Sister Ver lives alone, you will expect that the she is just paying a minimal amount for water and electricity. This fact, however, does not meet her satisfaction. She still believes that she can further can bring down her bill by ingenuous ways. For electricity, she no longer turns her light on at night for several reasons: she does not have much activity at night and so she does not need electricity. Two, she sleeps early. And three, this I like best, her neighbor is having all their lights on and it spills out to her side of the window, anyway.

In the case of water, number 3 also applies. During rainy season, she would save rain water and use it for all her washing needs. The dirty water will then be used for cleaning the house and watering the plants. As for water from the faucet, the same is applied.
6. The boat is sinking, your head is spinning. There is this one time when she visited her folks in Iloilo for vacation. Her father gave her and her niece money for their ride home. The money was substantial enough for them to take the SuperCat, the catamaran type of vessel that provides comfortable one-hour ride to Bacolod. But when they reached the pier, she found out that there were other ferry boats traversing the Iloilo-Bacolod route at a far lower price. Being the person that she is, she coaxed her niece that they take the cheaper boat ride so they could save some of the money given to them. And so they did.

The boat ride however was a rough one which led her to feeling seasick. When they got off the boat, she had to be rushed to the hospital because of the whole incident. Talk about saving some pesos for a thousand’s worth of hospitalization. Moral of the story: if you will not pay for it, you might as well enjoy it.

There are several others but this is all I can think of right now. I do hope you learn from them. The next time around, I will share you some other lessons we can learn from the life of Sister Ver. Then it will make you realize that there are actually many things that life at 60 has to offer.

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