Tuesday, July 22, 2003

the emerging day

It's 3:30am and my cell rings its alarm. Time to get up and go. Wipe the sleep from my face with some cold water, unplug the recharger for my cell and go. The streets are still dark. There are numerous people at the ferry terminal already, two vendors sit in the booth a light shared between them. Other than the bright light at the pier entrance, this is the only light next to the moon's fading glow. It's booked. Both trips. They tell us, they might be able to fit standing passengers depending on what the coast guard says. So we wait.

A small snack stand is open for business too, selling corn and drinks. The island once green and bright, is not encased in black and dark blues. I can't see much farther than the rim the lamppost light casts. To the side anchored near shore is a lone bangka. Filipinos understand opportunity involves waiting and timing. There are no takers now, but they know when the ferry leaves there will be more than enough to fill his boat.

Right now, we're all back to waiting. Boy, can't get on this island, can't get off. No wonder people end up staying. 4:30, they begin to take ticketed passengers, the duty of the lone guard at the gate. He tries to separate the locals just saying goodbye and helping load cargo with folks trying to get in on the ride. The sky is starting to lighten a bit, the island's mountain peaks begin to show themselves.

5am. This older woman pushes her way past the guard waving what appears to be a ticket. He decides to let her storm through and keep the tide of the crowd at the gate. The folks on the ferry can deal with her. By 5:30, the passengers and cargo are loaded and the coast guard officials come on board to make sure things are in order. The sky's dark blue hue lightens and more of the landscape emerges, the small wave crests, the shore, the land.

10 minutes later, the ferry disembarks with no extra passengers allowed. The bangka picks up anchor and moors itself to the pier. The time is now. "Suwerte si Manong." Jun comments, "Manong is lucky." I guess it's 3 more hours on bangka. As we take off from the pier a beam of lights crests on the horizon, the colors melt into place from this point on. I reminds me of water cascading on a dirty window slowly revealing another side of the world. the sky's yellow and reds push out the blues of pre-dawn. We putter away following the wake of the ferry.

After getting comfortable, most of us try to sleep through the calm of the mangroves. The growing heat of the morning wakes me and I notice the other passengers on the boat. There are 3 women travelling with two young girls, one about 6, the other just a toddler. There is another guy and one woman with a Muslim head scarf. Eleven passengers in all. The waves are noticeable now, it scares the young girl, but her younger sister is unphased, she seems to enjoy it, though you can see the fear in her mother's eyes with each wave splash. We play with the toddler. She has taken a liking to Sunnie and shows him the handkerchief her mother gave her to play with.

Two hours go by, sleep, play, sleep. We pass through the last of the mangroves and hit the open water. We can see Surigao in the distance. It's a bit windier and this boatman is not quite as skilled. The waves though only a few feet seem mountainous to this tiny craft. They put up a tarp to shield the two in front from the crashing water. It only helps a little.

The Muslim woman has been tense the entire trip. I'm sure, like the other passengers, they have read and watched the news over the years about capsizing ferries and tragedies. I'm sure, like most of the other passengers, they do not know how to swim. She has tried to force sleep onto herself. She has wrapped the scarf over her face and head, her prayer beads held tightly between thumb and forefinger. I watch as the beads rotate which each thumb movement. The craft rides high on a wave and comes down. The beads spin faster and faster with each crest.

We are sitting near the back next to Manong. Yet the spray still reaches us back here. The little toddler enjoys the ride, thinks it's a game, like taking a bath. We cruise up and over each wave. The next one Manong doesn't quite time, sitting at the bottom of the wave, all we see is a 4ft wall hanging over us, a collective inhalation of breath is heard as we all turn to the back of the boat, the wave thoroughly drenching the front passengers, tarp or no tarp. its wash spilling to our feet. The Muslim woman moves to the back and rides with Manong. Her face is more relaxed, she feels safer there.

This is where the currents cross which makes the water choppy. I'm not that scared. During a sailing class once, we capsized our small dinghy 7 times in high winds in waves this high. Then again, I know how to swim.

We pass through this area and enter calmer water as we approach Surigao. It's 9am. We are all grateful to be on more solid footing. Sunnie, Jun and I go to breakfast at the marketplace. This restaurant has a small air conditioned eating area. Sunnie and I are heading to Marawi today. Unfortunately, Jun has many things to attend to and cannot join us. I ask him what Marawi is like, he tells me, "it's a whole other world." Thus far, I've only seen one or two mosques, a handful of Muslim women. I wonder what this other world looks like.

We stop by Surigao high one last time to pick up my other bags. Jun has one final surprise for me. One of his students drew a charcoal drawing of me as a parting gift. It's quite good! I'm very impressed! Sunnie and I pick up a tricycle to head to the bus depot. I take a picture of them waving at us as we leave. This leaving is not as sad. Perhaps it's because I've been in motion, this seems more like a brief stop, than a settling.

From the bus depot, we take the bus to Butuan. Though airconditioned, the bus picks up so many passengers along the way, you can't even feel the AC. Again, I try to sleep, it makes the time go faster. At some point, I get tired of even sleeping and just settle watching the land go by and txting. Jun txts me in Maranaw telling me to ask Sunnie later what it means. I txt Maui, another kambayoka member who came to the states. He's in Iligan teaching guitar. I'm hoping we're able to meet up as well.

We reach Butuan 3 hrs later and wait for the bus to Cagayan de Oro. It is 2pm. Four more hours to CDO. Sunnie says it's too late to go to Marawi. We'll sleep overnight in Cagayan. We reach Cagayan de Oro and take a taxi to the hotel. Cagayan de Oro is a bustling city with an active night life. It's quite safe here. Don had told me there was a Filipino-American that was kidnapped here. It turned out he was kidnapped by his own relatives hoping to extort money from his family. Other than that, it's really quite uneventful place.

We have dinner at this hip restaurant, Tribu down the street. Maui too has arrived and will meet us there. It's good to see him again. He was a member that stayed for nearly a year in the U.S. He tells me about his assimilation back. He actually spent a few months first in Manila, just re-learning how to txt again. It had been so long, his phone number expired. (Unlike in the U.S., you can easily transfer your number from phone to phone, just by moving the card, and the number disables itself after a certain time of inactivity.) He had to find people's numbers again. He had to get used to the heat and travelling by jeepney again.

He realized the Philippines is sensory overload. There are people EVERYWHERE! And constant noise and sound. In the Bay Area he found pockets of solitude, particularly late at night when everything shuts down. But here, there is no such thing as that. He can barely think, he barely has time to do his music in between commuting and teaching classes. It's funny, I think, Maui is experiencing what most Fil-Ams experience the first time they come here. The sounds that most Filipinos have pushed aside as a quiet din is echoingly loud for unaccustomed ears. The individualistic nature of the U.S. requires the need for moments of solitude, but in an overpopulated country like the Philippines, you must find solitude in the privacy of your own head.

We go to a 1950's US type outdoor diner, another kind of hip trendy restaurant, for beers. Later we head back to the hotel. It's 9pm. I've been up for 18 hours and travelled nearly 11 hrs. whew! Tomorrow we wake up at 4am to take the 6am bus to Iligan. From there a friend will pick us up and drive us up to Marawi.

Some other Kambayoka members stop by the room. Enye, who I met on the tour, her husband who left before they got to SF, and one other guy (I can't quite recall his name, who was supposed to have gone if Jun hadn't). Enye's husband asks me, "So are you ready for the full Mindanao experience? Hold on, I can make a phone call to some friends. Just remember I get 20% of the ransom but I'll give you 5%!" We laugh. Everyone thinks that getting kidnapped in Mindanao is a rite of passage or something.

There shouldn't be any problems really. Being Filipino allows me to blend in more, just let them do all the talking. I've survived the trip thus far.

I'm grateful for the day's travel that brings me sleep. Otherwise I think I would have been anxiously awake. The aircon fan noise lulls me to sleep.

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