Getting back to the basics 2

Getting Back to the Basics

May 28th, 2020 / by Dr. Elvie Victonette B. Razon-Gonzalez

          In three hours, I am about to meet a stranger to trade my aloe vera on a Groot pot for a signed copy of F. Sionil Jose’s “Poon.” 

          Last week, I traded Lang Leav and Michael Faudet for a copy of Mary Oliver’s elusive “A Thousand Mornings.” Two days before that, I exchanged my son’s extra copies of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books for alcohol and other protective essentials.

          This ancient barter system was recently revived by Ilonggos through the Iloilo Barter Community (IbaCo) page in Facebook. With this platform, one can trade anything for another without having to spend: a cashless, noncryptocurrent transaction. One uploads a picture of the item he wishes to barter, with a detailed description of it and the list of things he wants to swap the item for. In the comments section, people then offer their items and the person who uploaded will then choose from the various offers. Once a deal has been sealed, the barteristas will then proceed to sending each other private messages and to meet in person. 

          One doctor I know traded her old Bulgari sunglasses for houseplants. Another friend, a nurse in profession, traded earrings that she handmade for empty bottles and discarded pancit canton cups she will use for planting vegetables. A chef known in Iloilo city for her dishes made up of organic ingredients bartered exotic wines bought from her travels for several kilos of garlic, onions and vegetables. In one post, I saw a beautiful macramé being traded for a bottle of honey. In this part of the world, no item is too irrelevant for the taking and in this case, for the trading. 

          Barter system is certainly nothing new to us. Our history books taught us that our forefathers traded their fresh fish for succulent swine. In the modern era, it is like Marie Kondo-ing your life but getting something in return: something perishable like food, something you can tend and grow like a plant, or something you can use to cook or garden. Thus, hand mixers (I presume for the ubiquitous Dalgona coffee), Spam, Delimondo corned beef, Monsterra deliciosa, mangoes from Guimaras, carabao grass became hot commodities.

          At first, I was shocked that Ilonggos were willing to trade their expensive items like an LV Neverfull bag for groceries, a vintage car for sacks of rice and antique furniture for lechon. It was more shocking for me when people would refuse gold jewelry, rock-studded stilettoed, designer dresses and choose baby diapers, cans of powdered milk and compost instead. 

          I realize it is not the acquisition price of the item that counts but the premium placed on it that matters. Each has his own value system and an individual gauge by which he considers a thing’s worth. A simple succulent could be worth an electric kettle. “One person’s trash is another’s treasure,” they say.

          Cocooned in our homes for more than two months, the pandemic makes us rethink what the essentials in life truly are: food that nourishes our body, books that feed our soul, plants that heal our spirits and faith that sustains us through grace or adversity. 

          This pandemic teaches us that we have accumulated so many things we really do not need.  The spirit of consumerism has consumed our spirits in place of simple living. Mountains of branded clothes, fleet of expensive gadgets, drawers of jewelry and Imeldific shoes that all amount to nothing. 

          The community quarantine binds us to our homes and brings us simple sources of joy that need not require a lot of cash: reading poetry, planting vegetables in our backyards, baking banana bread. Their restorative and transformative power in our lives is beyond measure.  Suddenly, the world is ruled by bakers, gardeners and readers from all walks of life.

          This pandemic reminds us of the impermanence of things. Everything can be taken away from us all at once and situations can change in the blink of an eye or in our case, the virulence of a virus.

“In Blackwater Woods,” Mary Oliver writes:

“To live in this world

you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

Getting back to the basics

          I mentally sift through all the treasures I keep: books, plants, jewelry passed on to me, vintage things. It is unbearable to part with them, with their individual beauty and history.  I ask my husband if I am making the right choice for trading my plant for a book.

           I tell the stranger I will see him in a few minutes in our designated meeting place. The time has come.