The Magic Scarf

No, this is not a fairy tale or prelude to a film review, it is a love story that goes back 34 years and means the world to me. I originally wanted to share this story on Christmas, but then realised that it made more sense for the new year.

The Magic Scarf

I was given this scarf as a post-graduation gift back in 1991, right after university. My soul sister LS had just returned from Hong Kong and handed me this vibrant satin scarf, something she knew I had a weakness for. Little did she know the adventures this scarf would have and the role it played in the following decades

LS, SG and I met the first week of university, June 1987, all wide-eyed and a little overwhelmed by the campus life, eager to make new friends but remaining skeptical and critical about just about everyone. I had just finished a gap year, coming out of a traumatic experience that shattered my dreams of studying journalism in the USA, and was desperate to return to the academe and resume my thwarted plans. The three of us quickly recognised that despite our very different backgrounds and upbringings, we were a perfect fit for one another. The friendship was cemented instantly and our trio became known as the ChopSueys, with each one identifying with a particular vegetable. Suffice it to say I was the mushroom and as the group grew, so did the vegetable variety! But the three of us remained the core ChopSueys to this day.

Sharing my life with these incredible women taught me that the meaning of sisterhood was not confined to bloodlines. We saw each other through the worst of times, shared laughter and tears through the best of years, and were reluctant to part ways after graduation. True to our interdisciplinary form, we took divergent career paths, but made it a point to meet up as often as possible for a meal. Yes, with these girls food, humour, and conversation are the glue that keep body and soul together!

When LS gave me the scarf, I saw it as a transition, a sign that it was time to leave jeans and t-shirts behind and adopt a more professional look as I entered the workforce. I loved the multifaceted nature of the scarf and all the possibilities it presented, thus taking it with me everywhere I went, especially on field work. Even if I was geographically away from my soul sisters, one look at the scarf reminded me of the four years that had become fundamental to both my character and psyche.

Life has a way of playing cruel tricks on us sometimes, putting love and friendship to the test for whatever reason. We experience a seven-year gap without communication, exacerbated by the fact that I moved to India and got caught up in the convoluted jungle of married life and motherhood. During this time it always felt I though had lost and integral part of me, and I grieved when we could not attend each other’s weddings and other important milestones. Yet, I always carried the scarf with me, and even when I roamed the streets of Paris admiring the silk scarfs there, I always returned to my ChopSuey treasure, clinging to hope and memories.

As the triumvirate experienced its dark period, I was led to two other wonderful women while living in India: SBK and BW who taught me more about scarves: SBK, with her French flair, taught me the intricate and understated elegance of the scarf as a powerful fashion statement. Knots, I discovered, are not always problematic but transformative. You can philosophise on that ad nauseam but it certainly taught me a valuable lesson. BW and I bonded over first-borns and pregnancy, but we shared the fascination of dupattas and scarfs alike, learning that sometimes the right scarf completely eliminates the need for jewellery (well perhaps with the exception of earrings). And still I carried my ChopSuey scarf everywhere, including the rural villages of Bangladesh, the tea plantations of Sri Lanka, and other memorable travels.

The ChopSueys finally reunited in 2000, with our former Jesuit spiritual mentor instrumental in restoring the burned bridges. Fr. B confined us to the seminary for an extended weekend in silent retreat, and we prayed together, safe in the knowledge that this was a new beginning. Although I was no longer permanently Manila-based, we became inseparable once again, with the internet and mobile phones coming to our rescue.

Whenever I open my scarf drawer, my eyes are instantly drawn to my favourite item, which is probably the oldest one of the lot as well, but oh what a life that scarf has lived thus far! It is a testament to loyalty, steadfast friendship, solidarity, resilience, forgiveness, and the magic of unconditional love that transcends any and all family ties. This year, 2022, we celebrate 35 years of this sisterhood, and my treasured scarf still has several decades more to travel. I may not be on the road as often anymore, but I wear the scarf at least once a week. It links my past to the present and gives me hope for the future.

The older I get, the more I downsize my material possessions, only hanging on to things that can easily fit into a suitcase should the day arrive that I have pack up and move again. This is also the reason I don’t have rows and rows of bookshelves after the divorce. I carry my entire library around in digital form, and that has been one of the wisest moves. My grandmother once told me that I should always carry or wear my most valuable possessions when travelling – so that usually means my scarf, phone, and pearls!

Happy Healthy New Year!

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