Some of my earliest memories are the tears in my mother's eyes when we would go to bed hungry. I know from personal experience the ugly face of poverty.
By the time I was 10 years old, to help feed my family, I was diving alone in the sea to hunt for fish using a spear gun made by my father from an old umbrella. For money, I would dive for seaweed to sell in the market in the nearby town of Loboc.
When we would go into town to sell our seaweed, the old women would tease me. I still hear them saying, no one would ever marry such an ugly little girl. Diving in the sea under the hot sun made me so dark. And bathing in the salt water would leave white patches on my skin and frizzle my hair. I was pitiful looking.
Out of respect for my elders, I never fought with the old women of the market stalls. Instead, I learned to make them smile by singing and talking and joking with them. Over the years, I gained their respect and by the time I was a young teenager, I was even called upon to speak on their behalf.
The town children were like children everywhere. They can be so cruel to those who are different from themselves. And we were different. We were village people. Even though they were poor, we were the poorest of the poor. As the eldest, it soon became my job to protect my younger sisters. There was no singing. I learned to fight. And the town boys soon learned, I was deadly with a rock at 20 meters. And, believe it or not, by the time I was a young woman, some of those town boys proclaimed their love for me.