Saturday, January 28, 2006


Pamilya Manila

January 22

The airport baggage area is a throng, a word I will use again. Rob tells me that the Philippines has 76 million people crammed into a country with the land mass of Arizona.

One problem at the airport is the many, many large boxes lumbering onto the luggage carousel. These are American goods coming to the Philippines. They usually come by ship, in huge freighter containers. Like the over many billion dollars being shipped here from the millions of Pilipino workers abroad, stuff comes on every plane as well.

I stand back while Rob squirms his way toward the carousel. A couple of huffs and puffs, and we've loaded the cart. Coming through customs is not the serious ritual it is in the States. The guy takes one look at us and waves us through the exit door.

And there, the man walking tentatively towards us, a trim, light-browned skin man dressed in a traditional white Pilipino shirt akin to the barong Tagalog, is Pedro. We shake hands. I break all the rules I read about in the guidebooks and give him a hug, American style. He is gracious, if embarrassed. His English, as I knew it would be, is impeccable. The car is coming around, he says, as he guides us to the curb. It is hot, even at midnight. It's like being under an overpass in Brooklyn or the Bronx. It's a smell of a fuel, rain, and grit.

A shiny black SUV pulls up, and out comes Pedro's wife, Lydia. She is a small woman with short black hair, sweeping bangs, and a wide smile. She puts her two hands on my face and says slowly and sweetly, 'Welcome to the Philippines.' She knows, of course, how long I have been planning this trip. Her welcome seems deliberate, and I am immediately touched.

There is Quinio (sp?), Pedro's son-in-law, quickly and deftly hoisting our luggage into the back. And in the front seat, his wife, Janelle, a doctor. Like her parents, she is warm and welcoming. Pedro climbs in the back with Rob and I and we're off.

I'm very excited, practically beside myself with gratitude that they have picked us up. Because--a huge crowd of people who apparently parked their vehicles (loosely translated), are stuffed behind a low gate waiting for their relatives too.

Right off, I see a Jeepney, or two, or twelve. These creatively decorated long, covered jeeps are crammed with passengers. The Baraoidans point them out as we thread our way through the dense traffic toward the hotel. I am doing double work: talking, catching up (they want to know about Janet, Bill, Jamie, and Ruth), and I"m peering into the dark, humid night, absorbing as much as I can.

In five minutes we cover important ground: how Pedro introduced my aunt to her fourth husband, who was his rooomate at West Point, what Pedro did afterward. Right off we learn that he has a Ph.D. in Math from Berkely, that he left the country afer Marcos was toppled (or, he says, after the US arranged for his topplement.)

At a light (there are only few of them), Pedro remembers to tell me that, oh, a coup is on. Some escaped NPA officers are threatening another revolt within the military. The Baraoidans are laughing, and I am wide-eyed, since they say that the last time there was a coup, the rebels took over a well-known hotel. This is gentle teasing from the Baraoidans, fun stuff. I remember that suddenly from growing up. But there really are escaped NPAs within a mile of our hotel.

Before the light changes, I glance over my right shoulder toward the back seat window, past Pedro's face.

A girl, maybe ten, has pressed herself up against the window. She has stringy hair and hollow eyes. She just stares at me, with a look that is so penetrating I can recall it instantly, days later. It will be a stare I, and any other wealthy persons, receive from beggars.

No one says a word, even though they see her I'm sure. 'You always know there is a traffic back-up by the number of beggars who come around the car,' Pedro tells me two days later.

The girl staring at me both intently and woodenly in a way that would come back to me. Come Bauan, I would begin my own kind of staring. She wanted money. I, a naive traveler with no third-world-like experience, would want to remember images for my writing, like this blog. We were both purposeful starers, the girl and I.

But yet we're so very, very different. I don't need blogs for my next meal, and she surely need the little change we might pass to her from the car, but-- don't.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?