Over the week I went with work to look for some people outside of Manila. It was exciting to get out of the city. Being in the province villages reminds me that we are in a developing country. Here in Manila we see the poor and destitute conditions of a developing country, but when you get out into the province you see exactly what the name means: DEVELOPING COUNTRY. It also reminded me how simple life can be.
(Sorry no photos, I did not take my camera on the trip! So sad that I didn't)
As we drove the roads went from pavement to dirt and the city buildings turned into small villages. The scenery changed from cement and signs to open fields and rice patties dotted with homes. It was interesting to see the difference in housing. Most of the people actually have yards, some even with grass—something you do not see in Manila—many of the homes were large and painted bright neon colors or had faux rock façades and large picture windows displayed living rooms with cathedral ceilings. They must get money from family members working overseas. Others were still large but were cement grey with corrugated roofs that were burgundy from rust. Which I figured was noisy during a rain storm.
As we drove I was fascinated by the life in the province. Neighbors out talking story as children chased each other up and down the street, chickens pecked through the garbage waiting to be burned. Rice and peanuts were spread out on large tarps to bake and dry in the hot afternoon sun before they sell it at the market. Compared to Manila, life is so simple here.
As we drove the dirt roads became more and more narrow. At one point we crossed a bridge that looked like a wooden foot bridge. But it held up! People standing on their door steps were literally a foot from my car window, I could have rolled it down and given them all a high five as we drove by. At one point three kids started dancing as we waited to move forward. I thought to myself, “Oh great, they want money,” because in Manila people send their kids out on the street to dance for money. Then some adults came out to see what they were laughing at and again I thought., “Here we go…” But then the mother looked at herself in the reflection and started to comb her hair. It was then I realized they could not see me and were captivated by the tinted glass as a mirror! I had to laugh.
We were searching for people and with no street signs or numbers on houses, the only way to find things out was to ask the neighbors. We stopped at a village school that was one room and had small homemade desks filling it. As my colleague asked questions I looked around. The underside of the corrugated roof had insulation for the sound. The books and posters were all in English. I read two of the stories that the teacher had copied on large poster paper, one was about becoming a seafarer and the other about becoming a nurse. Two careers that Filipinos like because they can work in another country.
When we stopped at a house to talk to someone, nosey neighbors would come and join in the conversation as if we had gone to their house and wanted to talk with them. We politely listened to all of the gossip they thought we needed to know while we waited for the answers we actually wanted. Inside the spacious houses, again something you do not see in Manila, walls were covered with large posters of the Virgin Mary next to some American paraphernalia like NBA stars or WWF (I am hope Mary does not mind that Kobe or the Rock get the same station in hierarchy).
We looked for one person in a local cemetery and it was interesting to see how people buried their family. They had some “Stand alone plots” where the person is buried in a cement box looking like they covered the casket above ground with cement. Others were placed in a box along the perimeter walls of the cemetery that the custodian of the cemetery affectionately called “apartments.” I could see why, they were stacked 5 high each had a name plaque of some sort. Some were fancy, some were painted by hand. All of they had eerie burn marks and dripping wax stains on the white paint from past candles being lit in honor. Some people were buried side by side with their family members with a small fence designating their area. All of these were tiled and neatly swept. The most impressive, though, were the mausoleums. Most were two story and had rock façades like the homes outside the cemetery walls. I could not help but think that some of these people were buried in larger homes then their families they left behind live in.
At one point we could not drive anymore because the roads were too narrow. People were shocked to see a white guy walking through their village. Not realizing that I could understand their Tagalog would talk to each other across the road or from windows “Hey a foreigner is here.” Or , “Wonder what he wants.” Little kids were excited to walk with us. They would fearlessly shake hands and talk about whatever they could think of, the rain, their swim this morning, their sister’s work ... Unlike the children of Manila, these children just wanted attention and time with the American, they never once asked for money, something that children in Manila seem to be trained to do from the time they can talk.
One family we needed to visit lived on the edge of one of these small villages with a large river beside it. It turned out that the half of the family we needed to see lived on a small island downstream. So took a ride in a small Bangka driven by two young boys I guessed to be around 12 or 13. The hull was fiberglass and had a small 12-volt engine hooked to a propeller. There was a slow leak somewhere in the boat because as we traveled both boys were constantly scooping out water so the engine would not get wet—or so we did not sink! On the way back the engine would not start so those two boys earned their $.50 the manual way.
The island was more compact with homes but neatly cared for. As we walked down the small sidewalk through town, people came out and leaned on their colorfully decorated fences (the decoration of choice seemed to be cut up colored plastic bags) to watch us pass. Then gossip to each other about what they thought their neighbors had done to have a white man had come to their village. By the time we arrived at the house we were looking for, we had a trail of villagers as if we were the bridegroom party going to visit our bride’s family.
Once inside, again I was amazed at how spacious the house was. As we entered the living room we saw the family sitting around a small laptop Skyping with their family in the States! Here we were in the middle of rice patty nowhere, had to walk, boat, drive, and question our way to their house on an island and they were using Skype!
As we drove home I watched again as the simple life faded back into the concrete chaos of the city and I decided if I had only a small income I would rather live out here. Yes, it is far away and life is simple, but the neighbors are kind, you can grow your own vegetables, eat the chicken or pig in the yard, or fish from the stream. Days are spent repairing fences or relaxing under a coconut tree and nights are filled with fiestas and stories about the day the white man walked through the village.