By Kristia Daymiel | September 22, 2023
This is the word that Emilia Ablir hears echoed throughout her regular workday—one filled with looks of lasting ties.
But it all starts when she wakes up before the sun, in the midst of a 4 a.m. breeze. She then gets ready, takes her ride, and hops into another day at the Silliman University Cafeteria, which she calls her second home.
Perhaps unfamiliar to new Sillimanians, Emilia is the Nining of the SU Cafeteria counter whose cheeky smile and warm approach charms every customer’s heart. With an appeal that allures even when entering upon the threshold, she is adored by the students of Silliman University.
“Usually when you see school lunch ladies kay they’re always mean. But with Nining, she’s never mean. She’s always smiley and… mag-accommodate gyud siya, and I love her so much,” remarked a student.
Many are captivated by Nining’s light charisma that truly makes people feel comfortable and well attended. But for her managers, Nining’s qualities don’t just end with her personality. The competence she has with work is also one of its kind. More than being our Nining, she is their diligent “Ate Bobong.”
Nining at work
“Bisan mag report mi og (6:45 a.m.) sauna, naa naman pud ko. [Pero] siya, as early as 5 [a.m.], naa na siya. Pag abot nimo han-ay na nang counter, limpyo na na tanang nang counter, naa nay nanga display. Pero ug lain, ug 6 [a.m. ang call time], 6 pud na maabot,” recalled Katherine Hongayo of the SU Food Services office.
(When we were to report at 6:45 a.m., she arrives as early as 5 a.m. When you get there, the counter is already orderly, clean, and has food for display. But with others, if [the call time] is 6 [a.m.], they’ll also arrive at 6 a.m.)
Having been noticed for her exceptional work in manning the whole kitchen, as well as someone who goes beyond what a cashier exclusively does, the Silliman University Food Services office staff jokingly call her the “Assistant Manager.”
“Siya [ate Bobong] na amo gitawag og Assistant Manager kay maayo gyud siya mutrabaho…kanang dedicated ba sa trabaho,” expounded Dolores Bejarasco, her co-worker.
(We jokingly call ate Bobong “Assistant Manager” because she is really good with work, she is dedicated.)
Far from her friendly facade, Nining also gets into her character of being the “Assistant Manager,” making servers feel their bundle of nerves.
“Mangisog gyud na siya ug mga servers pud nga pabaya pud ba…kanang mga servers hadlok kaayo na niya,” Hongayo added.
(She gets furious at irresponsible servers. Servers are scared of her.)
A Nining to remember
Before becoming the Nining she’s known as today, Emilia was once a fresh applicant in 1991 who started as a dorm server, comfort room janitress, and a counter assistant, successively in that order. Within her 32 years of service, she has seen people come and go—students becoming professionals and kids she once served becoming parents. She giddily shared how other alumni visit and look for her, checking if she’s still around.
“Naay niari nipalit og cheese bread; ‘Sus ko Ning abi nako ni retire na ka, nituyo jud ko og hapit diri, Ning, kay abi nako ug wala na ka.’ Ah mao na, gi tagaan pud ko og para Losartan (a medication used to treat high blood pressure),” Nining said.
(Someone came over to buy cheese bread saying ‘Ning, I thought you retired already, I just dropped by to see if you’re still around.’ That’s it, she then gave me [money] to buy Losartan.)
Having been remembered by many, Nining is overwhelmed whenever someone seeks to see her. As for her, people never forget how you are to them; that even after some time, they would still remember her.
“Kana ba’ng naay mangita, mura og di ka kasabot sa imong gibati kay bisa’g in ani ra ko, daghan gyud mangita,” she stated.
(When someone looks for me, I can’t understand what I feel because even if I’m just like this, many look for me.)
Despite the exhausting call of her job, Nining remains in love with what she does. “Love man gud nako akong work, maong naabot ko aning tuiga (32 years), aning kadugayon,” she said.
(I really love my work, that’s why I stayed until this year, for this long.)
And while this love of hers will never die, she looks forward to her well-deserved retirement. As early as now, she makes sure to remind the rest of the cafeteria staff to always welcome the customers finely—a legacy she’d like to leave.
As for the 62 year-old Nining, she is only waiting three years ‘til her retirement.
“Three years from now mu retire nako puhon, kung makaya pa sa akong tuhod.” Nining said as she giggled.
(Three years from now, I hope to retire, if my knees can still handle it.)
Nining being the Nining that she is
Nining’s persona is a manifestation of how kindness truly pays off, and that what you do is just a fraction of how you’ll hold a place in someone’s heart.
Who you are regardless of what you do plays the biggest part.
Nining is the kind of person you can never forget even after one glance—the Nining that lives rent-free in your mind; the Nining that suddenly becomes embedded in your heart for a lifetime.
Her tender service to people invites us to question why, in these times, we always fret about chasing remark after remark. As we run after the best job, the higher position, and the bigger paycheck, we often turn to grand things that we believe will make us remarkable and worth remembering.
Perhaps, one kind of success that imprints forever is one that is not of any , but one that is of the heart.
NOTE: Silliman cheese bread is nining approved! “Lami gyud ang cheese bread,” she exclaimed.