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Here Comes Abura

Text by Freniel Austria
Photos by Allen Esteban & Polaris Sagabaen

When digital creative Johanna Jaskowska rounded up millions of impressions in her subversive filter art on Instagram, the social media normies are swift to promote the artistic trend. Many are obsessed with the illusion of virtual reality, where faces are overcasted with glossy, metallic tinge in 3D simulations, and objects are framed in phosphorescent streaks of neon colors. Abeer Acero, the Instagram maven behind Looking for Abura, is unmoved. Her page is voided of the saccharine gloss and psychedelics. Hers has a modest charm of an old soul, almost like a cultural antithesis. 

In varying shades of coffee, amber, beige, whiskey, and everything in between, her Instagram feed celebrates the warmth and composure of earth tones. These colors complement the love and passion for books of her more than 50,000 followers. Scrolling through her feed is like flipping through pages of a book that has turned gold by time, classic yet riveting, laid-back but never boring.

Her prominence is not a nine days’ wonder. She is certainly inspired by literature. Her first post more than five years ago was a review of Mitch Albom’s Have a Little Faith, a book based on the conversations of the author with a New Jersey rabbi and a Protestant minister in Michigan. Her page’s name was influenced by John Green’s book Looking for Alaska. It is the first book of Green, published in 2005, about the existential and metaphorical search of high school students for meaning of life. A part of her formative years as a teenager, it is one of the books she recommends that every teen should read before reaching 20.

“You should at least read one John Green or David Levithan book. Those are the coming-of-age stories that most of us can relate to,” she shares. But Abeer is far from being a person who needs to find herself. With daily active users of 500 million in Instagram, she has built her audience through the pedestal of being genuine. “Be authentic,” she always reminds her followers and fellow bookstagrammers. The theme of her posts always resonates a statia of the things she mostly loves: book, coffee, and food.

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"Be authentic."

The neutral color palette of her page is not just a statement or an aesthetic choice, it creates a feeling or mood. In the stories she shared on her trip to Armenia, she stirs a sense of nostalgia, poignant at times but hopeful. The autumn foliage over the mountain steppes engulfs a feeling of contemplation, a safe haven to escape the stresses of everyday life.

“What better way to enjoy a hot cuppa in autumn than overlooking the Amberd Fortress while it’s -1°C,” she recounts in her photo of an elegant teacup adorned with Acanthus leaves and gold ornaments. Amberd Fortress, which means “a fortress in the clouds,” has an elevation of 2.3km above sea level, soaring over the confluence of the Arkashen and Amberd rivers in Armenia. “I swear I finished within 10 seconds then I had a shot of vodka.” The warm colors of Abeer’s photos have ironic qualities, unusually inviting to embrace the nithered air with a glass of iced Black Russian and our favorite book.

The arresting sepia tone of her photos is as warm and rich as her personality. She is one of the 450,000 Filipinos who live in Dubai, a cultural melting pot represented by diversity and acceptance. In 2018, almost 90% of Dubai’s population are outlanders from India, Pakistan, Philippines, China, UK, and other parts of the world. Being immersed in cultural diversity is one of the most significant things Abeer learned. “Meeting different people and learning to respect their culture and values, I’ve become more aware and sensitive.” 

Before moving to Dubai in 2014, she married Jaymar Stephen. As their relationship grows stronger, they continue to support each other in realizing their dreams and hopes in life. Jaymar is a fitness coach, which may be the perfect combination for a person who loves food like Abeer. On their wedding day, the beautiful words from Marie Hines’ “My Love Will Never Fail You” crystallized their lifelong commitment, “See I don’t believe in chance, I think it’s the choice we make, and I choose you for the rest of my days…” And until today, Abeer echoes it through the line from Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “and in this moment, I swear we were infinite.”

Abeer’s rustic style with citrus hues, wooden interiors, and botanical flourishes is deeply rooted. Raised in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, a province in the Northern Philippines, she is always connected to nature.

“We go to the Capitol and just play around. We love eating isaw, one-day old, and balut after our boating session. Good old days!” she recalls the fun memories growing up. Bayombong is a humble town, its name emanated from the Gaddang word “Bayongyong,” a convergence of two or more rivers. It is where the Nueva Vizcaya Capitol Complex was built, an eight-hectare park with a boating lagoon.

She just came home in midsummer this year, and stayed during the first few weeks of May. Our team invited her for a photoshoot in their house in Bonfal West, a barangay in Bayombong that is a few kilometers away from the town proper. However, circumstances have been ill-fated, her mother Betty sustained second degree burns on her legs and Abeer needed to tend to her in the hospital. The scheduled pictorial couldn’t be moved to a later date due to tight engagements. But Abeer was rather accommodating, she told us that she would free up her afternoon for us. At their family room on the second floor of their house, walls painted between the shade of flamingo pink and hazy salmon, the low ceiling in milky white color, she shared some of her experiences in Dubai. She was wearing a white shirt with an emblazoned statement in bold letters “Raise boys and girls the same way.” May is one of the hottest months in the country with high humidity levels, the two fans in the room could only keep up a little with the heat. “It is hotter in Dubai,” she shares. Cali, her niece who has also been like her own daughter, and Betty won’t be coming back to Dubai with her because of the hot desert climate. She changed for two more occasions, dressed in an off white polka flowy silhouette we photographed at her bedroom, and a teal suit for an outdoor shoot.

Our meeting was rounded off with siomai at Leonard’s and pancit cabagan at Kuya Sidney’s, both a staple of the local gastronomic scene. 

She went back to Dubai as a human resource administration officer for a shipping agency after her vacation. Her passion, however, has led her to the other fork of the road. In July, just weeks after she arrived, she decided to quit her job and pursue her career as a full-time social media marketing strategist. Over the years, she has been an ambassador for different brands. She has worked with electronic giants Sony and Huawei. She also partnered with various fashion labels to help build up their marketing image, such as Birkenstock, Charles & Keith, Call It Spring, and Aeropostale. One of her favorite collaborations was her Singapore tour with Musafir, her first international travel as a blogger where she visited Sentosa Island, Gardens by the Bay, and other iconic places in the Lion City. But one of the projects that is very close to her cause was launching the Book Fairies movement, where she was chosen to represent Dubai in the global campaign started by Emma Watson. “The project is to drop books within the city for people to find and enjoy,” she explains. “After reading it, the person should leave the book again for another person to find. It’s really a great way to keep the reading spirit alive!” 

She has always believed in the virtue of reading. “Always read. It doesn’t matter what genre you enjoy, it doesn’t matter if it’s a short or long story.” An avid reader, she hopes to read one book per week. “Bring a book with you always—paperback, hardbound, e-book, audiobook—anything. Never let the magic disappear.” Continuously evolving as an enabler in the online community of book lovers, maybe we don’t need to look for Abeer. She has always been here, well literally everywhere online.

While being a bibliophile, Abeer doesn’t belong to a library defiled with “Silence Please” signages. Her bookstagram community is fueled by open discussions, whether in a Hogwarts-style duel or through the Hunger Games. She shares her bubble of thoughts about her leisure pursuits, the best and worst adapted books, and books that you should have actually read by now.

Could you share your projects on plate? My most recent collaboration was with Huawei Middle East.

Who or what brand do you want to collaborate with in the future? Dior? Hahahaha! That's far-fetched. But hey, a girl can dream... lol! 

What was the weirdest or funniest offer you had as an influencer? Ha! Not weird but totally funny… I got an offer before telling me to promote a brand. The product costs $15 and in exchange, they will "feature" me on their IG page (they have like 5,000 followers), they won't even pay me. I mean I get that you are a start-up brand, and I don't really care if your products aren't expensive but at least give me a decent compensation. Some brands think that "taking photos" and promoting is easy... Well, it's really not. You have to be creative and still remain genuine.

What’s your style in choosing/reading a book? Do you check the reviews first, read the synopsis, or skim through the content? Sometimes I judge the book by its cover! (Gasp!!! Hahaha sorry, it's bad I know) But most of the time, when I see it all over bookstagram, I grab a copy for myself. I do have my cup of tea, though. I'm more into psychological thrillers and historical fiction or young adult (YA). So when I see a new release under those categories, I look for it!

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Who’s your favorite Filipino author? Which of his or her books do you particularly like? Sadly, I'm not too familiar with Filipino authors. But I've read Bob Ong books and enjoyed them. Though my favorite is Eros Atalia. He's brutally honest and I love it!

What is the most disappointing movie/TV adaptation? Divergent Series!!! Enough said.

How about the best? The Hunger Games and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
 

What book describes you as a person right now? This is the best question ever!!! Right now, I'm in between The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck when I feel fierce, and The Book of Hygge when I'm in the mood to chill. Hahahaha.

And what book do you wish you have read way back? Not a book per se, but I wish I had read more books with POC characters. We grew up reading books where the characters were described as white and blonde and tall and well, white... Now I'm reading books where characters look like me and I'm really enjoying it. I suggest The Vegetarian for Murakami fans type of book or Astonishing Colors of After for YA lovers.

How about a book you didn’t expect to like but you did? Again, not really a book but I really enjoy reading adult contemporary romance these days! Hahaha! I used to think "ang corny" but as I grew older, a little kilig can make the stress go away!

If you could say a sentence from a book that the whole world would be able to hear, what would it be? "Don't let the muggles get you down." I tell this to myself when I'm feeling down and incapable of doing great things. And now I'm telling this to everyone: You have to remember, somewhere in this world, someone believes in you. And if other people will doubt you, always know that you are special in your own way.

What apps or websites do you recommend for bibliophiles? Definitely Goodreads for book recommendations. But if you want e-books and audiobooks, subscribe to SCRIBD. It's a paid subscription but you can enjoy unlimited books!!!

What projects are you currently working on for the #bookstagram community? Right now I want to focus on reading one book a week. It's been a challenge to me lately since I've been so busy with work. But I'm encouraging everyone to read at least one book a week and share it online!

What is your ultimate goal as a leader in the #bookstagram community? Honestly, I don't see myself as a leader. I simply share what I love reading. And if I can encourage one person—or one kid—to read, then my goal is achieved. Because that kid will grow up and end up loving books as well. At least that's how I visualize it.

“I simply share what I love reading. And if I can encourage one person—or one kid—to read, then my goal is achieved.”

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