The gnarled sayote vines gradually spiral up the rough wooden stakes and spread themselves over the lattice of aluminum wires. Like tentacled monsters, they crawl over from different parts of the framework, their brown and green lengths shooting out fresh vines and leaves and fruits until at last their collective greenery swathes the mountainside clearing. From afar, they no longer look like green monsters but fresh Bermuda grass carpets, casting to the viewer a moving coolness.
The seemingly harmless plant used to be a symbol of notoriety to me as a Citizens Army Training (CAT) cadet who was forced with the rest of my fellow “dumbguards” – considered among the “lowest type of animals in the high school campus by our growling trainers – to bite off and swallow chunks of spiked, unpeeled sayote. I had nothing but resentment against both our brutal masters and the subservient fruit as I felt the itch crawl down my throat.
But that was years ago. Now, I have nothing but fondness for the great sayote for it has taught me life itself. Consider:
The sayote is a symbol of survival. This is true to those who perpetually scrimp on their daily budgets not because of an excessive desire to hoard wealth, but because of real want. It is true to ordinary students and other common folks, who when they run out of money or supplies, automatically seek the generosity of the vine that has graciously crept by the side of the house to prepare itself for such emergencies.
Needless to say, the helpful plant is casually neglected – even torn down – when funds are high, or when eating the usual tinola can be avoided. Is it not fascinating though how these vines scramble back to reclaim fences after they have been slashed off? How they rise to life after being mowed down by a vicious storm, and continue to grow fruits and shoots even when seemingly no longer needed at all?
Such resilience, such will to survive, is personified in those who break their backs hauling jute sacks stuffed with sayote fruits from a valley to the roadside hundreds of meters up. It is found in those who have to painstakingly clear a mountainside and fix stakes and frameworks of bamboos, saplings and wires for the wire to crawl up or across; who manage to put up the latticework after a storm blows the structures away; who could muster the courage to plant anew after a blight transforms the green cover into a mass of shriveled vines, miniature fruits and crisp, brown leaves.
These hardy women and men know that the sayote thrives when it is watered, weeded, and watched over; they know that it can give more as people take from it. For cultivation is survival’s mate, and usefulness is productivity’s pal.
The sayote is also a symbol of prosperity. For the poor worker in the sayote field, the area may simply be a place of hardship the fruits of which are only appreciated by the middleman who buys the fruits cheap and sells them expensive. To others who started scratching out dirt and ended up reaping successful harvests of cars, houses, and estates from the area, the plantation is a veritable (green) gold mine and the sayote fruits are green gold nuggets in jute sacks – perhaps a little comparable to the marijuana plantations covering some mountains in the provinces of Kalinga and Benguet out of which many a folk has struck quite a fortune.
Obviously, the prosperity the sayote brings does not stem much from luck, but from sheer hard work; not accident, but by purposeful risk-taking.
Finally, the sayote is a symbol of our pretenses. Below the alluring green patches of leaves lies a soil bereft of green growth. Much like people masking their lonely hearts with a happy face. Or covering a barren life with fruitful charitable works. Or concealing a religion’s weak foundation and corruption with the colorful paints of elaborate rituals, towering structures, fine sermons, humanitarian works, and emotionalism. It looks well to the vine, but it looks funny to us who spend much time fitting and refitting our masks which are constantly blown away by the storms we ourselves create.
Now, the sayote looks quite different, doesn’t it?