Published: July 11th 2008July 11th 2008
Okay, so that last post was probably a mistake and I apologize. Won't happen again, I swear.
So I've seen and done a lot this week. Right now, there is a huge rice shortage in the Philippines, and the recent typhoon has not helped. In one of the more hard hit areas, the price of rice is almost three times higher than the already inflated national average. There were actually stories on the news of people killing for rice in that area, which is pretty difficult to wrap one's mind around. Right now I'm reading a book set in a charred wasteland where people have to kill for food, and hearing that story took me straight to the book, which is a pretty scary connection between this world and the fictional one I am reading about.
Anywho, this rice crisis is basically hitting everyone really hard, so I spent Saturday talking to children who are forced to work in order to provide their families with enough income to eat. There was Gregorio, who worked in a junk shop (giant pile of trash) separating the paper. He usually worked 5-7 hours a day for three days a week. And then there was Chequi, who would dive in the notoriously dirty Manila Bay for crab everyday. There stories were pretty crazy, but for them, it's sort of just life, which makes it even crazier. They both seemed really well adjusted though. They laughed and smiled a lot, and I have the sneaking suspicion that some of the time it was directed at me, making it difficult to tell sometimes how hard their lives were.
The following Sunday, we went to Tondo in Manila. Tondo has quite the reputation around here. If you mention to someone that you're from or going to Tondo, their eyebrows immediately perk up because it's known as "a violent place full of violent people," as one person described it. I actually didn't think it was so bad. We went to church there at the church FH started at in the Philippines. We also visited a community where some of the church members were from which happened to be under a bridge. It was kind of shocking to see the conditions of the homes those people lived in. The word dank comes to mind specifically, and the number of people living under this bridge was incredible. And since it is right above a river in tropical climate like this, floods and diseases are a constant threat. This was all so strange to see and to hear and to smell, but I guess it can't be that strange if it's actually a reality. We then went to the basketball court right by the river right next to the village (there are basketball courts everywhere here) so Yvonne could get some footage of guys in the community playing some basketball. Down at the court, everyone was shouting "Hey Joe!" in my direction, because here, all Americans are named Joe. I smiled and waved, and they laughed, and I laughed, and then we laughed as if we either all got the joke or none of us did, if that makes sense. And that was Tondo.
I've also had some pretty surreal experiences in the community in San Pedro this week. The last two evenings I spent at a funeral parlor because the husband of a church member died, and both nights really stick out in my memory as odd. So basically, we walk in, offer our condolences, look at the body, and then sit and talk loudly for two to three hours. Except for when they first walk in, everyone basically ignores the huge elephant in the room, which happens to be lit by incredibly bright lights, lined with satin, and holding a dead man. People are cracking jokes, eating candy, just having a grand ol' time. I actually found it quite refreshing.
Yvonne and I were quick to join in the joking when we realized it wasn't inappropriate in the Philippines. She even went so far as to impersonate the man's ghost, which was a little too far for me, but whatever, I'm not judging. Last night, I spent most of the evening in at the funeral parlor being punched by Princess, the four year old daughter of one of the church members, who apparently thought I needed to be kept in line a little better. Really, the whole event could have been a party at someone's house, but we just so happened to be in a funeral parlor. It's an interesting way to confront death, and honestly seems like it would fit my personality well, but even for me it sometime felt a little odd.
I understand that the people here have very difficult lives, and their collective sense of humor (they are a funny people) has been what has gotten them through difficulties in the past. The children in Bacoor suffering from the food crisis joked around so they didn't have to dwell on the thought of not knowing if they'd have three meals the next day, the people in Tondo joked around because they lived in a slum prone to just about every danger a community can be prone to, but death is different. At least it seems different. This may sound weird coming from me, as I probably would be the first to joke about a friend's or relative's death (and I've pre-wrote a lot of jokes for you guys to ensure I will be the first), but it didn't quite feel right in that circumstance.
Maybe it's because I didn't know the guy, the distance between us and our lives making me feel like I should be more reverent. Or maybe it's because no amount of joking can really make death anything less than what it is, and seeing that as a fairly objective observer made it clear. Laughter can make a bad situation seem better, but can it really make a dead man seem any more alive? I don't know.
Once again, I realize the irony in this coming from me, someone who believes strongly in the power of a light spirit and good sense of humor, but I think my belief in its power also makes me better aware of where it is powerless. Does that make sense? I don't know.
Okay, so that was nice. An update on corruption here: Just the other day I saw a public service announcement urging people to not be corrupt. Seriously, a PSA about corruption. That's how bad it is. I also think I figured out why at least the police force is corrupt: The uniforms. Anyone dressing like these guys has to be corrupt. Check out this website for a dynamite picture:
What is it about that shade of blue that makes me want to put them in my pocket or run for fear of brutality?
Beard Report[/h1 center]
The early reports that my beard was doing well appear to be false. In fact, it is pretty unbecoming. It's even making me look less attractive if you can somehow believe it. On the bright side, it doesn't really matter what I look like here, because, if I'm American, I must be famous. Just this Saturday, two random girls asked to take their pictures with me. I obliged.
But I digress. The beard is pretty lame. It is not thick but is kind of long, creating a fairly atrocious juxtaposition of hair and flesh. Also, some of the hair growing on my chin is for some reason red, which just looks stupid. But whatever, I can last another month.