I just got back from the Philippines tonight. Just this morning I was having lunch with green mango salad and halo-halo in Cagayan de Oro in the blazing heat, then dinner at Cafe Havana in Malate.
It's quiet here in Oakland. Just the hum from my computer, a ticking clock and the water running in my fountain. On my trip, I had met up with Maui, a Sining Kambayoka member, who had spent a year in the U.S. and had just returned to the Philippines last December. We talked about reimmersion. The Philippines is intense: weather, sounds, people. In contrast to the U.S., it's hard to get a moment to think. He talked about how it took a few months to readjust, learn to txt message on his phone again and get back in touch with the community he had left behind.
This was my fourth trip back in 8 years, my second trip to Mindanao. I'm pretty experienced in packing just enough stuff and can fake the language enough to get by. I even borrowed a friend's cell phone just so I could get onto the cell txting band wagon as soon as possible. Though, I don't think I could ever get used to the mosquitos, at least two bites a day with or without the insect repellant. After a while I quit the insect repellent and just didn't care.
Though I'm not sure if my parents were really ready for me to go. When you say Mindanao, to most Filipinos who are not from Mindanao, and even a few who are, will often say it's a dangerous place: full of war, kidnappings, terrorists, etc. They are also fearful of the Muslim population there, since well, just about every bad thing that happens in the news is first blamed on a Moro rebel, with or without evidence. For a country that is 95% Christian, Islam is a world full of stereotypes and fear.
But I have met too many people from Mindanao who told me stories about its enchanting nature, that I knew I had to eventually go back and find out for myself.
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to take you with me to Mindanao along my journey there. Mostly as a way for me to chronicle the journey and take a second look to where I've been. My travel took me from Camiguin, a fairly isolated island off the north coast near Cagayan de Oro, that has a very small town feel, to Surigao known as the Port to Mindanao where you can take a ferry to just about everywhere within a day, then to Marawi, the melting pot around Mindanao State University as well as a place that has hit the news lately with plenty of rebel-military clashes in the nearby mountains.
Get your passports, let's go!
From San Francisco to Manila is 12 hrs and you lose a day going there. I left on a Wednesday got there on a Friday. My flight is early, an hour early to be exact. So now I have 6 hrs before my flight to Cagayan de Oro. I fly through on PAL (Philippine Airlines), whose domestic and international wings are conveniently adjacent to each other. It's the easiest way to catch a connecting flight. Otherwise, I would have flown into the old airport then have to truck me and my stuff over to the domestic airport for all the other airlines. The airport is an airport. It looks like any other airport especially with all the Filipinos working there.
The US government wants a local address in Camiguin. I don't know. I play dumb American. the immigration guy thinks I'm crazy, but checks me in anyway. So long as I get my passport stamped. Camiguin it will later turn out is a postage stamp and it would take 2 seconds for the US government to locate me there.
As I get off the plane from SF, several people bust out their surgical masks. There were a few confirmed SARS cases in the Philippines, specifically in Pangasinan (my family's home province). The woman had gotten it from one of the SARS countries. She also infected a boy and her father. Both she and her father died. But before then, she went all over Pangasinan and Baguio looking for doctors or healers to treat her. The newspaper listed that nearly 2200 people came into casual contact with her and about 260 were quarantined for having direct contact with her. 2200 people within a week's time! I silently smirk knowing the masks will save them from dust and particles, but the holes are gigantic compared to an actual virus. If you wear a mask, you're saving yourself from other people. It does little to nothing to protect you from other people.
I blow some time: buy a map of Camiguin and Mindanao, call up some friends on the landline, get a massage for 400 pesos (SO worth it!!!). I find myself still on US speed of go go go. I cannot get myself to just sit. I try to calm myself down. I buy some arroz caldo at a vendor.
I cannot wait a few hours yet this country does nothing but wait and endure. Wait for the rain to stop. Wait for a ride to come by. Wait for the flood waters to recede. Wait in line through security. Wait for Macarthur to return. Wait for the right bus. Wait. it's all about timing. Knowing to cross the street at just the right moment. The moment to jump off the jeepney. Since no one really goes by a watch here, time is relative. Time is more of an instinct here. The right moment is when I get there and not when I was supposed to get there.
I sit at the gates watching the people get on their flights while I remain sitting there. There are fighting cocks boxed and crowing, they're boarding the flight to Legaspi, must be a large sabong there. They must be champions, they take airplanes. I watch the flights head off to everywhere: Cebu, Zamboanga, Palawan, etc. I sit at the flight to Zamboanga. Zamboanga is not one of those places a casual traveler really goes to anymore. It's not all that safe, even for locals. I notice a group of military men, probably commanders waiting for their flight. They are dressed casually in civilian clothes, but they can't help but dress in fatigue colors of dark green and gray on their polo shirts. It's a sparce flight, not many board.
It's not yet dawn in Manila. There is heavy cloud cover, it's still cool. I watch the sun orange pierce the horizon and shoot across the tarmac. By 10am you can feel the heat and humidity press on the large glass windows. I still don't feel like I'm in the Philippines. Sitting at SFO feels like this too, just not as hot. At last it's time for me to board my flight to Cagayan de Oro. I review Don's last email correspondence. Merci and family will await me in Cagayan de Oro airport. There will be a van to take us to the ferries in Balingoan. We don't have time to dilly dally, the last ferry to Camiguin is at 3p. I check my new map. He's right, Balingoan is a ways away. I hope we make it. I came here for the wedding and I'd hate to miss it. I'm trying to recall what Merci looks like, it's been 3 years and my mind is still foggy from being 10,000 ft in the air for 12 hrs. Well, I'm sure she won't miss me. A really tall Filipina. One and a half hours to Cagayan de Oro. Buckle your seatbelts, we're going to Mindanao.
Monday, May 26, 2003