A #ReadMarikit Party at Chang Thai Tea San Juan

When Kynesha Robles—who wrote Marikit‘s first newspaper feature on The Philippine Starasked me if I’d like to have a book club event for my book, I knew it had to be a yes! What joy it would be to meet kids (and kids-at-heart—we know some of us never really grow old), and have fun and games and stories, and of course, food! We talked about it on a couple of sit-downs and many, many lovely emails.

It’ll be held at Chang Thai Tea San Juan, Kynesha’s very own milk tea shop. It’s set beside a busy part of a crossing, a very accessible location to the Malolos community, a lovely little space filled with books and heart. We had a date: November 12, around three or four in the afternoon, and some plans, including a game of sungka, which was in the book! Kynesha’s friend, Mik, helped us with these suggestions. They’ve done book events in this very same place before, and I knew our Read Marikit Party would be just as special as the ones they had before.

the read marikit party

I arrived at 2pm, ready with my paraphernalia, and also early enough to hide the clues for our Scavenger Hunt, for of course—Marikit’s adventure was all about finding things. Specifically, the X.

My incredibly useful Rootote, which can carry an entire house, probably
An outstanding poster at Chang Thai Tea, courtesy of Kynesha's brother, who drew all the art there.

Kynesha had the entire place set up, including, what we most look forward to, the food! Mik brought with her the lovely cupcakes (which took the delivery person several rounds of knocking on different houses just to find hers!)

It was also a lovely chance to meet so many people who supported Kynesha’s wild, ambitious avenues. There’s Kynesha’s mom, Gay, who arrived on a motorcycle with Tita Earlie, both of them missing out on a birthday party raffle just to get here and help out. Tita Earlie manned the bar, also occassionally peeped out to join the fun, especially during the Sungka tourney where Heaven, Kynesha’s brother, and a bright-faced girl named Truvie faced each other for a couple of matches.

and the rest of the kids

Kaidee, Kynesha’s youngest sister, was slumped in a corner reading The Final Gambit, and then there’s Mik, in her red coat, walking around and making sure she doesn’t hear any of Kaidee’s gasps so she wouldn’t be spoiled. And we know how it feels to be spoiled! Ivan, Kynesha’s friend, was the local photographer, and came back with the siblings Akuo and Aki, the latter with her adorable blue Instax slung in a clear bag on her shoulder. There’s AJ, who was from my home church, accompanying Truvie, and my cousin Coby, whose lolo and lola made sure he’d arrive on time. Later on, Nicole and her brother Xavier arrived, rounding off our little crowd.

The actual sungka master in her red coat teaching everyone how to do it!
It was a serious battle, but in the end, Truvie was the big winner!

and then starts the session

With the crowd sat on their best spots eating the puto and cupcake feast, it’s time to get the ball rolling. I had an activity ready: old Tagalog words written in strips of paper so we can all cozy up in a small group game. I had the crowd pick one each, read it aloud, and try to guess them. Who would have thought salipawpaw was a word for an airplane? And that we have Tagalog words for branches of math and science? It was so cool for us to discover them all, with Tita Earlie, at times, guessing things right! The faces on the kids when they knew that marisol meant “sunflower”!  Xavier—X for short—was actively making commentaries, and we love kids who never ran out of stories!

We segued into the stories of the old, how our region used to have our own pantheon, and mentioned some of them which were mentioned in Marikit. I also had a chance to do a reading of my book, a special chapter that featured Tikbalangs and farms and eating rice-cakes, which was so perfect for the occasion. Thank goodness my brother was there to take photos for me, too!

Some lessons learned: avoid writing long chapters so you won’t get tired of reading them. also, don’t laugh too much.
The young crowd was so forgiving, most especially by the time we got to the “Retaso” moment. Retaso is what we call the part of the fabric which was useless after the parts of the clothing were cut off. I wanted to tell them that sometimes, this life will make us feel as if we’re like retasos, too—useless and meant for nothing. But Marikit’s mom found magical ways to use those retasos, and without those, Marikit won’t have a dress that would lead her to her X.

and then came the scavenger hunt

Kynesha has warned me that these kids were competitive, and I had to up my ante to make sure that they have fun. We had a tiny map made out of retaso, and they need to find every part to find the clue to the hidden treasure: the X. The kids tore through the shop! They turned the books over, huddled beside the glass, and at one point couldn’t find the clue so we had to give them more hints. They had a hard time finding the X, but the best part was when Xavier, with a tiny grumble, proudly showed off the letter. I thought he was the one who found it!

But no. It was Truvie. The night’s runaway winner!

We awarded Truvie a hardbound copy of Marikit and the Ocean of Stars. Then came the signing. I’m so happy I brought the bookmarks and bookplates with me so I can write each one a note. They’re just so, so special! Akuo is deaf and an amazing artist. His sister, Aki, made sure I’d get a copy of our photo taken by her Instax. She looked after her older brother so well! Nyx, his older sister, was equally brilliant. I was so glad to meet AJ, who was my own Sunday School student way before, and Truvie, was a trooper.

I’m trying to recognize their light in the short hours I met them. Kaidee is brave and bold and unapologetic. Mik is ready for this world, and she’s wrapped with new ideas and an old soul to guide her through. Ivan is quiet but diligent. Heaven is an artist. He even made me a bracelet! I hope gentle people will never lose those soft parts in their spirit.

I’m glad there were pictures of Coby, whom you’d see peeking through my brother’s videos as I ramble in the middle of the session. My good friend Miko dropped by, too, along with Kynesha’s teacher, Ma’am Angel, whom I am certain is very proud of her. The program ended with pictures. Lots and lots of them, with Ate Gay, Kynesha’s ever-supportive mom, directing every pose. It was so fun that everyone stayed longer when it was over!

How did the #ReadMarikit Party end, at least for me? With lots of good laughs, long goodbyes, and a peppermint mocha treat! What an honor to be in the presence of these amazing people, these bright hearts, ones who are bound to change the world, one small dream at a time. x

Credits: Photos + videos by Jett Cruz