By Edik Dolotina
I WAS commissioned to design a box for a local chocolate company, and one of the specifics is it should appeal to the international and local AB market.
And, of course, there’s the product I should try. Yes, some companies do let you taste their products so you can have the feel, the inspiration to do whatever they wanted you to do for their packaging. For free! While munching on their chocolate, my mind wandered around, time traveling 34 years way back.
When I was younger, I used to spend my school breaks in a forested area way out of “civilization” in Batuan, Bohol. The place was called Tanod, literally, to watch, maybe because you go there to watch over your plants, ala plantation style. This was where my grandparents of my mother’s side lived — their old age no longer allowed them to go back and forth from their original house to watch their kaingin, so they made a house there.
The total population? Except for the macaques that were numerous at that time, there only four adults living in two houses. Four old adults.
At eight, I never felt out of place in Tanod. I became one with the cliffs, one of my sources of inspiration. I would go there to look for fossils. I used to hang from one of the sharp promontories that protruded from the steep cliffs. While hanging from the promontory, I would imagine Da Vinci or Wilbur Wright and their visions of flying, but I felt extremely afraid I would fall. I imagined death and dying there in Tanod.
The trees were also my friends. In fair weather or on rainy afternoons, I have a special nook in one of the biggest trees where I seek shelter by the lush foliage. No one could find me there. Amazingly, the trees were abundant in the area despite some patches of kaingin. The old folks were slashing and burning for rootcrops and corn, their main staple. Might also be the reason why the macaques, not native to the area, would do occasional raids for food. The old folks would fight back by putting up dangerous traps or shooting them macaques with slingshots. In retaliation, the wily macaques would go to their houses and made their abodes look as though a tornado just swept its interiors. A vicious cycle that’s almost always never ending.
This might be why the macaques would bully small children who came their way, running after them until they were in some safe place. Can you imagine? I was the only kid in that place.
During those times, having a piece of chocolate bar or a hot cup of chocolate meant you have an American friend or one of your relatives is in America. In short — you are rich, because you only have chocolates imported from “America.”
But not for me. Or us. My grandparents had a considerable number of cacao and coffee trees around Tanod. During harvests, my “taga-lungsod” (a derogatory term for the much more “civilized” people from the town center) eyes would pop out seeing the clash of reds, yellows, oranges and greens everywhere I turned.
Tatay Pastor, my lolo, would then ask me to suck and eat all the meaty parts of the cacao pods and coffee beans. This has a double purpose even if nowadays sucking cacao seeds is discouraged because it would cause bacteria to thrive, hence, affecting the quality and taste of chocolate. But it did not matter back then.
For one, the nutritious seed coating (called testa) is good for children to eat, a better alternative to candies.
Secondly, out of poverty, sucking on the seeds would give temporary relief from hunger pangs, and parents would not worry about the need to buy food.
But while the rich had their imported chocolate, ours came fresh and direct from source.
After roasting, the browned cocoa beans would then be crushed using a big shell called melo-melo (Indian Volute). During grinding, my lolo would put muscovado in some portions and feed them to me.
No kid at that time exactly knew how it felt to be intoxicated. But at eight, I already knew. I would glow after several doleouts, my head felt like swimming in an unbeknownst stupor. The sugar-infused fresh chocolate and the hot choco would knock me sweetly down and wake me up famished.
I haven’t been to Tanod anymore. I haven’t been to that place since 1981. All the four people who loved me there, gone. The place abandoned. I heard the place is now thick with trees and shrubs and already, the macaques taking hold like heirs of my grandparents.
I want to go back to see if the cacaos and coffee trees are still there, my hauntings are still there.
So while I am thinking of how should I make this chocolate box appetizing to the international market, my mind wandered off and I became sentimental. Nostalgic. I cried remembering the people and the place.
This is the only product packaging that had me crying. I should bill them more.