Ega and Jam Alcaraz: Mountaineer mom and son
MANILA, Philippines - You will rarely see Ega Alcaraz and her sons at home on a weekend. Pick a random mountain or beach in the Philippines and you’ll have a better chance of finding them.
Ega has been bringing her eldest son Jam to outdoor paradises ever since he was a little boy. Before he could walk, Ega would bring him to the remote town of Sagada in the Cordilleras.
“He was my backpack,” Ega jokes as I sit with her in a restaurant in Quezon City.
Beside her is Jam, now 19, a little bit sullen and very quiet but obviously listening, interjecting a comment every now and then.
Jam was diagnosed with seizure disorder as a young child which caused a delay in the development of his cognitive skills. His current mental age is the equivalent of a 14-year-old’s.
Ega has been an intrepid soul even before motherhood. At the age of 16 or 17, she frequently ran away from home to hike up mountains in the Cordilleras in Benguet or in the jungles of Mindanao.
Sagada in those days was an unknown paradise rarely visited by Filipinos from other regions.
“I was the alien there. More Europeans visited Sagada compared to Filipinos!” she tells me in Filipino.
A member of the Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, Inc., the 51-year-old mother has already climbed the highest mountains in the Philippines including Mt. Apo (she has climbed it 3 times) and Mt. Pulag (she climbs it 3 times a year). She has conquered the majestic summit of Mt. Kota Kinabalu in Borneo, one of the highest mountains in Asia.
When asked how many mountains she has climbed, she says she doesn’t remember.
I hazard a guess, “Can you say 50?”
“More than!” she replies.
Jam’s condition doesn’t stop him from conquering peaks beside his mom. Ega even says that mountaineering has helped him deal with his limitations and to live as normal a life as possible.
His favorite part of climbing is its social aspect. He and his mom often climb with groups. The companionship and camaraderie he experiences has a healing effect on him.
Although he is silent for the most part of the interview, Ega says, “Would you believe that when he is with fellow climbers, he is the noisy one? He is the one sharing stories?”
Ega thinks that this is because climbing grants Jam his fervent wish: to belong and to be treated just like everyone else.
“He doesn’t like to just watch from the sidelines. He wants to participate.”
For instance, Jam insists on taking an active part in helping the Cordillera community he and his mom regularly visit.
Situated near Mt. Polis in Kibungan, the remote village has been a part of Jam’s life for such a long time that he jokes with him mom, “Mama, dito na ako lumaki (Mom, I grew up here).”
Ega, Jam, and some friends bring the village school supplies — even solar panels at one point — by carrying them on their backs as they trek through jungle.
When a village chief expressed his wish for a guitar, Jam decided to buy the instrument using his own allowance. On their next trip to the village, Jam carried the guitar himself and gave it to the chief.
But raising a special child is no walk in the park. Ega shares how she spends hours teaching Jam his school lessons yet he still struggles to understand them.
Jam studies in a Christian school with SPED (special education) intervention, but despite heightened awareness on SPED, she says, “There are people who don’t understand his condition. They look at him differently. Classmates call him insane or baliw.”
There was even a time when a student hit him in the face. Neighbors taunted him.
“That’s why I’m not surprised why many mothers would choose to hide their special children instead of bring them outside. They don’t want them to get hurt,” says Ega.
But she has chosen to expose him to the “real world.”
“Because he is also a person. If I hide him, what will he learn? He must interact with other people because I won’t be here forever. He has to fight his own battles.”
Not that Ega doesn’t give him a hand every now and then.
“When he was very young, I made so many enemies. When he gets into a fight, I stand up for him. I want my son to know that whatever happens, I’m on his side. I don’t want people to think they can just pick on him. So whenever something happens to him, our whole barangay gets disturbed.”
Life’s a climb
Mountaineering has taught Jam to overcome his own obstacles using his own strengths. He may not be the strongest climber in the group, says Ega, but he still finishes the climb.
“He complains a lot on the trail but he doesn’t stop unlike people who are just quiet but suddenly give up,” she muses.
Aside from teaching her kids about caring for the environment, mountaineering is a great way to bond with them.
“There are so many gadgets now, there’s a lot of focus on technology. There’s nothing wrong with that but now, it’s harder to talk to your kids.
"But when my son is on a mountain and he sees a bird fly by, he really goes ‘Wow!’ It’s really different up there. My kids become so happy.”
For Ega, mountaineering is more than a passion. It’s a metaphor for motherhood with its ups and downs, difficult trails, and glorious, heart-filling summits. - Rappler.com
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