Meshed Up
2003-07-08 13:13:30 (UTC)

a drab account of a gorgeous exposure

Yesterday was one of the most memorable days in my life.
This fire to do what I must continues to burn deep inside
me. sometimes it makes me want to break down and cry. I
know what I should do. I know what I must.

Yesterday began with a rendezvous. We got there half an
hour earlier than what was agreed on. So we went to the
church across the street. Where I sat down and took in the
silence of the saints and Jesus at the very front, his arms
outstretched in an embrace and a plea to mankind. I sat
down, my heart pounding a mile a minute, not knowing who or
what to expect. I sat down, closed my eyes, and prayed.
That God. Guide me. that God. Help me. That God. Keep me
safe. That God. Show me the way.

It was a warm morning. We left the church and walked to
where we were to meet her. We were about to open the door,
when a woman approached us and asked a question. And we
knew. That she would be my guide.

I left with her. A thin sun-darkened woman who asked me
questions and chattered about her life. We got on a
tricycle and headed to the area where she worked. She told
me that I would be introduced as a friend instead of an
exposurist because I did not go through the proper
processes needed to be done by the office. I nodded. Felt
calm but also excited. I somehow knew what to expect. I
just didn’t know if I would last the day.

We got off the tricycle. And started walking along mud
filled roads with shanties made out of scraps filing along
all sides. The woman I was with – Mira – started calling
out. Telling people that we were passing that she was with
a friend named Candice who studies in Australia, is of
Chinese blood, but is very much Filipino. We kept walking.
The people looked at us curiously. Some coyly called out
that Shantsai (the heroine of the hit TV show Meteor
Garden) had arrived in their barrio.

We kept walking. Past shanty after shanty after shanty.
They were made of scrap material, the place smelled of
sewerage and excrement, and we kept walking and walking.
Mira continued to introduce me to the people who stayed in
the barrio. They either stared at me because of my fair
skin and chinky eyes, or they called out that Shantsai had
arrived. And that I should teach them Chinese. And that I
should say hi to Dao Ming (the hero of Meteor
Garden) for them.

We found an opening where a group of people clustered and
stared across the dirty water that separated their side
from the other. Some people were walking on the other side.
Their heads were bowed, and their hands were held by other
men behind their backs. There was a raid in the area. The
men were arrested for drug pushing.

We kept walking. People told us that a four year old kid
named Darren fell from a window and ended up with a cracked
head. He was rushed to the hospital and he would not be
able to attend the morning schooling that Mira holds
everyday in the area.

The shanties stretched on and on. They all stood high above
the ground. Possibly around three or four storeys up. I was
told that the reason why the shanties were all so high was
because, when it rains in the area, the flood goes up to
the second level of the shanties. And sometimes, people
stay on the roofs and wait until the rain stops and the
flood recedes.

Then I was told that everyday, police troops with guns in
their hands walk across the area twice a day to check if
any of the residents have done any repairs to their
shanties. Because repairs were prohibited by the supposed
owner of the land. The supposed owner. The Lopezes. Another
family of the oligarchy. They rented strips of land to put
up Meralco electric posts and then claimed that the entire
land was theirs.

We came across an opening. Where children began to file in.
we placed a huge piece of cloth across wires that hang
above us to serve as the roof for our makeshift school. The
children gathered. They all smiled readily each time we
smiled at them. They danced. They sang. They counted. They
were all below five years old. I tried to remember all
their names. Danica. Buboy. Antonio. Lolen. Cristina. Ejar.
And others whom I can’t even really remember. We played.
Mosquitoes bit me and the heat bore down on us. But we were
all happy.

When we let the children go back to their homes, Mira began
to talk to me about how these people lived. How it was
difficult to develop the people in the area because the
adults preferred to cater to their vices than to learn how
to earn money to support themselves and their families. She
said that that was the reason why in areas such as this,
education must be given to children. They must be taught
how to develop themselves.

We took down the makeshift school. Then walked back. She
stopped in a house and asked for water. The woman inside
the shanty asked me if I wanted some and I nodded. Mira
asked if my stomach could take it and I nodded again
bravely but I wasn’t sure. The water had a metallic taste
to it…and I dared not take any more for now. I had to let
my stomach get used to contaminated water and food slowly
before I indulged myself in their simple luxuries.

We kept walking and talking to people. Some were gambling.
Others were singing karaoke. Some of the children trailed
behind me and started singing the famous “Oh Baby Baby”
song by F4. complete with dance steps and everything.

Mira and I stopped at a shanty of a man whom I remember as
Tata. We stayed there and chatted and rested. Tata took
down an electric fan and turned it so that it faced me.
After a while, his daughter came home with grilled bananas,
bread, and a litre of Cola. After a while, Tata prepared
rice and other food for us to eat but Mira and I refused to
take them. We knew they were a poor family. And we were not
there to take the little amount of food that they had left.

I was told that if I would stay overnight, whoever I would
stay with would give me the best place in the house. I was
told that if I lived with them, if danger struck, they
would protect me as much as they could. They would give me
the best food even though they had no money. They would try
to make my stay as comfortable as possible.

It was a part of Filipino culture. Their hospitality was
their pride and their disease.

We talked. We talked about communism, globalization, the
politicians who constantly try to kill the urban poor. We
talked about Mao. Marx. Joma Sison. I said that
I wanted to own a copy of Joma’s books. Mira told me that I
had to get them underground because Joma was a political
enemy who would surely be killed once he steps back into
this country.

We talked about her past experiences. Her teammates who
were killed by the military. We kept talking and talking
and talking. I asked her if she could help me do immersion
when I come back to this country later this year. She
nodded and said she’ll see what she can do. She said she
must help me join an organization first. Preferrably an org
handled by priests or nuns for these are orgs that the
military are still not completely aware of. From there, she
might be able to arrange an immersion program.

But she warned me. To do immersion was not as simple as
doing an exposure. She said if I wanted to do immersion, I
will be sent to critical areas where the rights of the
people were continuously violated by the government. There
will be clashes between the military and the NPA and there
is no set date for me to come back to Manila. Many people
who have done immersions have been killed. I nodded. I said
I understood. Then I asked if she could help me.

We exchanged numbers. And when we were about to leave, some
asked if I would stay. Some asked if I was going to start
teaching the children too. Mira said she did not know.

I knew then and there that I would return to them. That I
would see them once more before I fly back to my other
world. Yesterday… July 7, 2003 … where I finally took my
first step and established another contact to help me enter
the world of the oppressed and the downtrodden. I know. I
just know. That this is my future. That this is not just a
phase. That I will continue to feel burdened to help them…
even just a little.