11 July 2012

Timi Alcala-Stoop: the Dreamer, the Writer

Timi Alcala-Stoop. Wife, mother, teacher, writer, multimedia designer, artist. Add to that the fact that she has added Dutch to the languages that she speaks apart from the Tagalog and English that it is more or less taken for granted most Filipinos are comfortable with. If somebody tried hard enough, she can also probably be coaxed to speak Visayan.

I have known Timi all the way back to her high school days, of course; when she used to sit in my History class. She was among those in her class blessed with good looks; pretty in a voluptuous way with almond-shaped eyes that smiled at everyone. More than just a face, Timi was among her class’ most eloquent. She spoke fluently and beautifully in both English and Tagalog; and she could also write from the soul.

I knew Timi even before she became my student because her brother Joel used to play football for me. Fatima: that was what the class list said. Somebody in the team used to jokingly call her Fatinga; and sometimes I would let the moniker spill into my class. As an endearment, of course; and always in a humorous way…

Timi and Joel are the only two children of Bayani and Cirila ‘Ying’ Alcala. Dad Bayani passed away in 2004; but Mom Ying – Timi says – looks no more than 55 although she is, in fact, 72 years old.

Timi graduated from high school in 1989. Being the writer and artist that she was, what she originally wanted was a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts. At DLSU-Manila, however, scholarships were at the time only available for double-degree programs. She opted for the combination of the Humanities and Education.

The choice was one made initially with a heavy heart, and Timi now admits that she cried when she could not get into the Communication Arts program of the university.

“I had the silly notion,” she says, “that becoming a teacher wasn’t good enough. Good thing I got my hands on the book ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ by Paulo Freire. It made me see the power and beauty of education. All the analytical and strategic skills I possess now wouldn’t have been harnessed if I didn’t become a teacher.”

It also helped her adjustment that high school classmate and Valedictorian Carlos Maralit was again her college classmate. “I’m quite proud of our batch. We were all Dean’s Listers, garnered top awards in the university, won Student Council positions and became Editors-in-Chief of the publications in La Salle.”

Timi was, in fact, Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Malate,’ a university literary journal; and the ‘Student Council Bulletin.’ Because of all her achievements at the university, she was among the Outstanding Coed Awardees during the university’s commencement exercises in 1993.

Timi’s teaching background was immediately put to good use when she was hired by the University of the Philippines-Manila to teach both Humanities and Filipino. She was also a junior faculty member of DLSU-Manila’s Political Science Department and taught a variety of subjects such as Governance, Art Appreciation, Politics and Arts and Politics and Gender. She also taught at the College of St. Benilde just across Taft Avenue from DLSU.

Although she was teaching in three schools, Timi still found time to head Talastasan, a rural communications training program for farmers. She would be away for days on end visiting rural communities all over the country to teach farmers Community Radio Broadcasting and Community Newsletter Production. To this day, Timi considers this job the best and most rewarding that she has ever had.

With Brother Joel, she also ran a small communications bureau. She also did design and layout on the side, including Burma for Beginners, a national broadsheet which was smuggled into Burma in the late nineties to be checked by no less than Aung San Suu Kyi herself.

Timi met the love of her life, Dutchman Martin Stoop, in May 2000. It was the sort of love affair that movies are made about.

“We met in an online role playing game,” she says. “We were both elves and wizard/sorceress in the Two Towers MUD (multi-user dungeon), which is basically a text-based game. We both loved to write. Things happened very quickly and before we knew it, we were in love even though we never met each other in real life. Martin finally came to the Philippines in March 2001. By October of 2001, I migrated to the Netherlands.”

Moving to a European country had both its rewards and challenges. “The first 2-3 years was like being on this one long holiday,” Timi says. “Everything’s different: the language, the landscape (no mountains!), the weather, the people and the food.”

She goes on, “Learning the Dutch language and culture was most challenging. The language has nothing in common with Filipino. It’s a totally different way of viewing the world. Coming from a writing and communications profession, it was very frustrating to not be able to articulate myself the way I can in English and Filipino.”

Of course, just being away from the Philippines was a challenge in itself. “I miss Pinoy food every single day. Mangoes, sinigang sa bayabas, dinuguan, pahô, buko pie, lanzonesHaayyyy… And the cakes! We have amazing cakes. And our restos big and small. Nothing beats those. And being able to eat in the cinema. I miss that so much!”

Then, there was the brutal Lowlands winter to contend with, not particularly easy when one comes from the tropics. “Once, I was in an anti-globalisation rally in Brussels and the police came to disperse the protesters. It was minus-2 degrees. I wasn’t scared of the police; I was scared of the water cannon. I kept thinking, I can’t go down like a popsicle! No way would this Pinoy hobbit survive getting wet in freezing weather!”

Despite the challenges, Timi always found solace in her work. “It’s all very professional. So far, I’ve been lucky with the companies I’ve worked for. No corrupt officers seeking kickbacks for a project. Having strong employee rights and being able to work with global brands.”

Among other things, while in Holland Timi worked as researcher for the Institute of Network Cultures and information architect for BBeyond. Having graduated cum laude from Hogeschool van Amsterdam with a BA degree in Multimedia design, Timi was also perfectly placed to land a job as content analyst/writer/business analyst for Media Catalyst, an interactive media bureau based in Amsterdam.

Presently, Timi is sole proprietor of Social Sense Consultancy, for which she does business analysis and online as well as content strategy. Her clients include baby food start-ups, tech companies, interactive media agencies, design companies and companies like LinkedIn.

Of course, there is also the other love of her life to keep her occupied: two-year old Morgael Bayani. “Morgael is a combination of the Sindarin words ‘Mor’ (darkness), and ‘Gael’ (glimmer of light),” Timi explains.

The toddler is already multilingual, Timi says. “Martin speaks to him in Dutch; I speak to him in Filipino and English. When the three of us are together, we speak mostly English.”

The family tries to go home to the Philippines every Christmas although they could not do so last year. “Martin loves the Philippines,” Timi says. “He doesn’t even complain about the heat. He loves San Miguel and Red Horse.”

Writing, as it was back when she was in high school, has always been a passion for Timi; and it is her achievements in this art form that she treasures the most. She glows at recalling that the writer Jess Santiago once told her that she wrote beautiful Filipino. She also treasures having been short-listed for the semis of a Hollywood scriptwriting workshop.

Asked what other things she wishes to do in the future, she replies, “I hope to be able to write down the sci-fi-fantasy novels in my head. And have that filmed. It’ll be a love story deliciously wrapped in sci-fi and fantasy. But a love story, nonetheless. I’ve always been a hopeless romantic, anyway. Just to write again. Write stories and poems again.”

[Timi’s blogs: Social Business Strategy and The Diabetic Hobbit.]








----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
RELATED STORIES:
Tropical Depression’s Papadom: An Incredible Journey
The Champagne Football of Deney ‘Pato’ Reyes