Self-esteem and Community Organizing: In the Shadow of Mt. Mayon

I come from a place where people love red hot pepper. There’s a joke that goes around as a term of endearment from non-Bicolano friends:

You, Bicolanos, are more worried about your chili plants than your houses during a typhoon…True or False? Laughter ensues and we Bicolanos nod in laughter.

There’s a legend about the Bicolanos’ eating fiery hot pepper. A giant named Bonggan used to live near the volcano. Bonggan’s food was nothing but pepper. Sacks and sacks of pepper. This was the reason the people living in the environs of the volcano planted chili year-round. But there came a time when the people could not grow pepper because of a drought. Hungry Bonggan got furious and his fury made the volcano spew rocks and lahar.

Now, bonggan with a small letter “b” is a recipe that is popular to older Bicolanos in the first district of Albay, particularly in the city of Tabaco. The food preparation is made of dried dilis (anchovy) lots of red hot, very very hot pepper, garlic or ginger and a little salt. The dried anchovy is roasted until crispy and ground and the red hot pepper along with the ground anchovy, garlic or ginger are mixed so there is a good spread of the pepper and the rest of the ingredients. It’s a great recipe for people who love hot food. Bonggan is supposed to be just a side dish but elderly Tabaqueños love it as a special dish. It’s not popular among the young anymore. But if you’re a Tabaqueño organizing a reunion of 80-year olds, you’ll be very much loved for the recipe.

Now Mt. Mayon is active and the government has not just released its early warning for preparedness but has already evacuated people to safer areas. Preparedness in time of natural disasters is a way to help people nurture their self-esteem. The community organizing process comes in handy during preparedness activities in the danger areas.

Mt. Mayon is a contradiction of beauty and destruction; fertility and death. People living in the shadow of this perfect cone of a volcano cannot but be edified by the power and beauty of this natural wonder. For self-esteem building in community organizing, Mt. Mayon is a symbol that teaches the concept of unity of opposites and struggle of opposites in one fell swoop.