Ahmad Sampang ibnu Hajiri, MD

A Personal blog by a Tausug medical student (now a doctor!) from Sulu and the stories that inspired him.
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By Ahmad Musahari

Following my post on “The hidden beauty of Sulu”, a number of friends have appreciated the great scenes Sulu has. (That was my goal, from the beginning!) And I am happy for that. I became happier when some ‘new’ friends had emailed me asking information on how to reach the island and some had thought of the intention of paying my little homeland a visit. They want to witness those fascinating scenes with their own eyes! And then comes their inevitable curiosity about the “safety” of going to Sulu. ‘IS IT STILL SAFE TO VISIT YOUR PLACE?’, ‘SHOULD I WEAR TANDUNG/TURUNGS?’, ‘DO TAUSUGS UNDERSTAND ENGLISH?’, and an endless list of questions. So I end up doing this list of helpful and friendly TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME TOURISTS to SULU ISLANDS. I hope this would help the people out there and let a ‘new light’ penetrate their minds. Indeed Sulu is more peaceful that what the NEWS say.
See you in SULU!
  • The Basics, of course! Your clothes, some belongings, some money and ATM cards, ID’s (don’t forget this one) and your electronics. Other people can’t live (and leave) without it, so you should, too.
  • A handy Camera. You don’t want to miss seeing some wonderful scenes without saving some photos as keep as souvenirs. From fascinating landscapes to people’s daily lives and culture, you just can’t help discovering new things here! (The camera would include its batteries, and extra batteries; films or SD Cards; and chargers, too).
  • A notebook or journal to write something about every time you experience new things. (It can also work as a ‘scribbling’ page for you while waiting for a long line at the bank). :-) Seriously.

  • Sulu Archipelago is a group of small islands and known for its white sand beaches. As first-time visitors, visiting the beaches and swimming (of course) is an inevitable temptation. So be ready with your swimming wears (please read the “WHAT to wear” section first). Swimming-for-dummies book/manuals and some sun-blocks would also be helpful.
  • Learn the local dialect of the people to understand more about their culture. You can buy a Tausug-English dictionary (if you are lucky to find one in town) or simply search the net for common “Tausug Words” and print a copy. Please do this step before going to Sulu, more preferred if you are still in Zamboanga City or other “Cities”.
  • You might want to decide whether to bring your laptop for the following reasons:
o There are no ‘strong’ internet connections in most areas in Sulu. (I could even say there is no internet connection, even broadbands!) So be ready to say bye-bye to your facebook friends and be sure to finish all your IMPORTANT ‘web-transactions’ before going to Sulu. Cellphone networks are good in the central town of Jolo, but not much in other districts. So ask the locals which ‘servers’ (either Smart or Globe/TM) are available in a certain place you want to go to, before deciding so.
o In more rural areas, electricity is still a scarcity. Some islands have ‘time-rations’ of opening their electricity and some do not have any. Jolo town and nearby areas and even islands (nowadays) are having good electricity recently, so it’s not much of a worry, actually.
o Snatching? I am proud to say, we do not have such thing. You just have to take care of your belongings of course, for safety measures. (I believe Laptops are good ways to elevate the ‘boredom’ at ties you got nothing to do.J)

NOW WHERE TO GO? (The most exciting one)

Of course, the reason behind going on a tour to Sulu is to TOUR IT—what else? So here are some helpful tips you might want to put in your checklist and some of the breath-taking landmarks you can find only here in this small island of Sulu. So after finding a good place to stay and after deciding how many days you’ll spend in Sulu, the next step is ‘Where to go’. And here we go!
  • Ask the authorities first. If you don’t know where to start, try visiting the Provincial Capitol first. There are a lot of things they know that is not in this list. So that is my first tip. (By the way, a visit to the Provincial Park would be a good start for your adventure. It is already a pride of Sulu.
But if you already found the ‘someone’ I am referring earlier (the tourist guide, and someone you REALLY know), there no need troubling yourself. Start the journey ahead!
  • Be sure it is safe! Of course your safety is still your priority. You won’t enjoy the memories of visiting Sulu if you already lost your arms. (Again, I am just kidding. I’m just making this Sulu-is-a-morbid-place more of a joke). Be sure to have someone accompany you everywhere you go. If you are capable enough, you can hire some security guards, but that would remove the ‘enjoyment’ I think.
You can explore the central town of Jolo first (which is the safest and nearest), then the nearby areas (the safer ones) and lastly the farther islands (the safe ones). There is no less-dangerous or most-dangerous here.
  • If going to farther areas (such as islands and islets), be sure you know the following:
o Where to stay;
o What are the schedules of trips (usually it’s by ships or smaller boats, and it’s not always every day…);
o Is there electricity in the area;
o Are there cell-phone networks;
o Any establishments present? (Police quarters, hospitals, and such. Which is rare in smaller islands by the way)
o Know the area.
o The people of Sulu (and the islands) are hospitable, you can always ask them J

Isang araw, palakad-lakad siya sa daan at lingid sa lahat ang kanyang pinagdadaanan. Palakad-lakad lang siya at hindi inaalintana ang mga nagraragasang mga dyip at ang mga nag-uunahang mga tao na tila nagkakarera. Abalang-abala ang lahat sa kani-kanilang mga patutunguhan, ayaw mahuli sa trabaho; ayaw mahuli sa pasukan sa eskwela; at ni isa sa kanila hindi nakapansin sa kanya. Ngunit siya ay palakad-lakad lang,din, hindi alam kung saan patutungo. Huminto siya at nagmasid sa kanyang kapaligiran.

"Ano ba to?" naisip niya, "Bat ba ang bilis-bilis ng mga tao dito?"

Maya-maya pa ay narinig na niya ang tunog ng kanyang lalamunan. Gutom na pala siya. Isinuksok niya ang kanyang kamay sa kanyang bulsa, umaasang may mahanap na mga barya pambili ng makain. Suksok sa kanang bulsa. Walang laman. Suksok sa kaliwang bulsa. Wala rin. Suksok sa dalawang bulsa ng pantalon sa likuran. Wala talaga. 

"Paano ba yan," sabi niya sa hangin na tila kinakausap ito, " wala na rin palang natira sa bulsa ko,.." At patuloy na siyang lumakad pa.

Napahinto siya sa isang kanto ng mga tindahan ng pagkain; mga turo-turo, mga tinapay at meron pang nagbebenta ng buy-one-take-one na burgers. Lumapit siya sa may tindahan ng burger. 

"Magkano po yan?" tanong niya, 

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just saying. -Dr. Ahmad