After a lovely relaxing week in Sweden, full of delicious food and warm-nosed puppy cuddles, we arrived in Brussels. It sounds easy, but believe me, it wasn’t. Because of the terrorist attacks last week, Zaventem was still in a state of disrepair so we were once again diverted to Antwerp Airport. We saw on the Brussels Airlines website that there were shuttle buses from Antwerp to Brussels and vice versa, and we were told the same at the check in counter in Gothenburg but suffice to say they are probably figments of someone’s imagination.
We, passengers of flight SN1718, waited for more than an hour at Antwerp airport, waiting for a bus— any bus— to arrive, but to no avail. Thanks to collective encouragement, despair at being abandoned, and a friendly De Lijn driver, we eventually made it to Antwerpen-Berchem, and via train and taxi home.
We do understand that Brussels Airlines is doing its best post-attack, but this was a bizarre way of managing passenger transfers. There is supposedly a bus every quarter hour, with the exception of 15:15 and 21:15. This is quite odd as most flights arrive at half past the hour, or in our case, 20:15, right during the two hour ‘break’. We can only assume that the shuttle buses then either leave empty as Antwerp airport is so small that it only has two gates and twelve flights a day, or that for some reason they planned the shuttle with the intent of completely ignores incoming flights such as ours (notably no flights were scheduled to arrive during the other two hour break). In any case, we made it home.
It was while we were on the InterCity that I got the news: the Faculty Center was burning.
The Faculty Center at the University of the Philippines is where I spent a lot of my time as an undergraduate, and indeed most of my time as a junior professor. I used to take refuge from the heat in its cool galleries, and indeed when I had long breaks between classes I would nap in the hallways. One memorable time, Prof. Butch Dalisay had to step over me as I had rolled a bit into the hall— he was amused, and indeed ended up writing a recommendation letter for me for my Australian Awards Scholarship, so all’s well that ends well. It was as a junior faculty member though that I truly knew FC as home. Our room was FC1072, and when we first got it it was bare: we had a Monobloc chair each, and a tiny wooden desk each, and that was it. I had only met my roommate a few months before, during the faculty orientation. We soon became the closest of friends, and our room grew to be the home of the junior faculty. We got matching desks and had shelves made, she brought in a comfy couch and I a dehumidifier. Each day friends from our department and others would gather in our office and together we would make the trek to CASAA, or if we had no afternoon classes, for fancier fare at Chocolate Kiss or ROC. It was in FC1072 that we made lesson plans, checked papers, and opened the doors to students. It was more than an ‘office’, it was our home.
What many Europeans or Americans don’t understand is that the loss of the Faculty Center is immense. We, professors, worked hard for each and every item in there. We don’t have the option of just buying books from Amazon or having the library order them; no, with our basic salaries and the university’s lack of budget each book was a precious resource to us. We would ask relatives to scan copies, or buy them when we went out of the country for the rare holiday or international conference, or we would spend our own salaries to buy them when they arrived in the local bookstores. Things that are commonplace in classrooms here— projectors, computers, whiteboard markers— these we share as a department. Our department only had two projectors to share between more than sixty faculty members until one broke down in 2010. My roommate and I eventually bought our own, with our own money, just so we could offer our students a better classroom experience. A junior professor’s monthly salary of PHP 18,000 or around EUR 350 can only stretch so far, but we did our best. We all paid for our own photocopies, for our own readings, some of us even offered free copies to students who could not afford their own— notably Prof. Dalisay was one of those generous souls. It hurts to think of the sacrifices each person has made just go up in flames.
I haven’t even mentioned the important works lost that were housed in the Arcellana Reading Room and Botor Library. Or the personal mementos from students, thank you letters and little gifts of appreciation, the little things that keep us going strong despite the long hours and low pay. Gone.
I always held tight the idea of coming ‘home’— of returning to the University of the Philippines to teach, to once again engage with brilliant young minds, to once again go ‘lunching’ with friends who are now solidly moving away from the ‘junior’ in their name and getting their academic titles. It is difficult to put to words how the loss of FC shatters this dream. It’s a selfish thought, coming from someone who lost nothing but a dream, but as a friend who lost everything said, we are allowed to have them during times of mourning.
At the moment 250 faculty members are displaced, and it is midway through the second half of the academic year. They will make do, as they always do and classes are slated to resume next week. My heart goes out to friends who must rally to continue teaching with brave faces despite the great loss.