The Road to Marawi
It's 5am. Everything is in a light blue hue of morning. I always like this time of day. The air is crisp, the streets are relatively quiet. inin-inin (sp?), a word I've heard, I think literally it means when the rice is just cooked but you let it sit a bit before it is really ready, sometimes it's used to refer to that time just after waking when the world is still a blur and you rest in bed slowly coming into consciousness. I enjoy this part of waking up. We often cram past it by drinking coffee or taking a cold shower when all we really need to do is lay in bed for a few more minutes with our eyes open, but waiting for our minds and bodies to fully awaken. This time of day is like this: inin-inin, a slow rising to the morn, when cats stretch and jeepneys putter past, when you hear the sound of walis-tingting scrape against the concrete porches, the air is cool and rested, the light not so harsh on the eyes or skin.
We take a taxi to the bus station and pick up the bus to Iligan. I sit next to Maui who is my resident tour guide for this part of the trip. Born in Jolo, his family moved to Marawi when the fighting there got bad. He says, "I was born in Jolo, but in Marawi, I learned to be Maranao." In Jolo, the fighting is still bad. That's where most of the US troops here are located, in the southwestern part of Mindanao.
It's an hour and a half to Iligan just east of Cagayan de Oro and about 38 km north of Marawi in the province of Lanao del Norte (north of the lake). The bus is sparce, plenty of seats. We pass by Baligoan, the ferry port to Camiguin. It seems so long ago that I was there, though it's really only been 5 days. We reach Iligan at 8:30am. Take a taxi from there to downtown looking for a breakfast spot. The only thing open is Jollibee and even then we have to wait 30 minutes. They open at 9am.
Iligan sits on the north coast of Mindanao. There are 14 waterfalls around Iligan. The largest is Maria Christina. The dams around Iligan supply roughly 80%-90% of all power in Mindanao. It used to be called the Pittsburgh of the Philippines. It used to be quite a prosperous town from the mining in the mountains. They were a steel capital. That's when prices went up. But when the mining industry went down, the prices, still stayed up. It's a much smaller city than all the others I've visited and stopped through thus far. This is where Maui teaches guitar lessons to Chinese-Filipino kids, whose parents don't let them out anywhere, for fear that they be kidnapped and ransomed. He says sometimes it's like babysitting.
A Jollibee employee at the door says it will be a few more minutes. The staff is doing their morning prayer.
Jollibee finally opens. We order, but it seems as though almost everything on the menu is going to be another 20 minutes. Sunnie asks, "what's the point of opening if nothing is ready to eat?" I order pancakes and they order the chickenjoy. Yes, chickenjoy is an any time of day meal. There is a plaque on the wall verifying Halal standards of food preparation. It'd be like McDonald's saying they're a kosher restaurant.
This is how Halal is defined:
Halal is an Arabic word meaning lawful or permitted. The opposite of Halal is haram, which means unlawful or prohibited. Halal and haram are universal terms that apply to all facets of life. However, we will use these terms only in relation to food products, meat products, cosmetics, personal care products, food ingredients, and food contact materials.
While many things are clearly Halal or clearly haram, there are some things which are not clear. These items are considered questionable or suspect and more information is needed to categorize them as Halal or haram. Such items are often referred to as Mashbooh, which means doubtful or questionable.
All foods are considered Halal except the following, which are haram:
- Swine/pork and its by-products
- Animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering
- Animals killed in the name of anyone other than ALLAH (God)
- Alcohol and intoxicants
- Carnivorous animals, birds of prey and land animals without external ears
- Blood and blood by-products
- Foods contaminated with any of the above products
We wait here for Sunnie's friend Alex. A woman passes out flyers for some homes being built. 5000 pesos down payment for a house less than 600 sq ft. I'm not sure how much the entire house would be. Yet most likely there will be at least 6 people living there. The American dream may be to buy a home, but nothing is like the Filipino desire to come home and be tied not only to a house but a location. Even when the kids grow up and move on their own, there's a homestead to come back to.
Alex arrives. We wait for him to eat, then jump into the car and head up the hill to Marawi. Alex went to MSU but now works for a pharmeceutical company.
Me and Maui sit in the back and describes what I see along the way. It is 38 kilometers to Marawi City from Iligan, but 28 Army checkpoints along the way. The checkpoints begin near the Shell refinery next to the soccer field where the helicopters refuel before their bombing runs. There has been heavy bombing along the Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur border about 40km from Marawi City where there are MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) camps. It's part of GMA's (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) plan against terrorism. In her term, she has sent more refugees fleeing from their homes than the get tough actor ousted former president Erap.
People living in Marawi often hear the deep bass of the bombs dropping. It doesn't phase them.
Checkpoints consist of three blocks that allow only one person at a time through in either direction. It forces the cars to slow and weave left and right to maneuver through. To the side of the road is a raised wooden outpost where a soldier sits watching each of the cars. At night, cars will be stopped at some of them. Larger vehicles will be asked to empty of the men as all the men are searched. It depends on how tense the situation is.
There are no buses to Marawi, only jeepneys. They can maneuver through the blocks. There are a few larger Army trucks along the way in fatigued green. Maui points me to a plateaud hill. "See that," he says, "the military bombed that flat. Suspected rebel communications outpost." Its flattop stands out amongst the more rounded hills around it, an unusual mesa in the middle of it all.
We enter the gateway to Marawi. Bolos Kano (Welcome)! There are red and yellow banners all along the roads. "Alhamdullilah and Congratulations...!" (Alhamdullilah means thanks to you God) to Sultan So-and-so for this-and-that-accomplishment...from some-family. Or it will congratulate someone completing their Phd or passing a board. The land of streamers they call Marawi. Part of the Maranao tradition for friends/family to openly proclaim the accomplishments of their loved ones. A strong sense of community in one sense. An understanding that the accomplishment of one is the accomplishment of all.
I try to take pictures of the streamers as we whiz past. Also of the smaller mosques along the way.
The air gets cooler the higher we go. Marawi sits in the mountains at the edge of Lake Lanao, which is really a redundant name, Lake Lake. It's the largest lake in Mindanao. Jun txts me, tells me that I should ask them where Sacred Mountain is. There, Maui points. "Why is it sacred?" "oh, I don't know. I guess because it kind of shadows Marawi as if it's guarding the city."
After a while you get used to the zig-zag through the military checkpoints, but so many of them do scratch on your soul. I can't imagine doing this every day. I am told nighttime is much more dangerous. Another txt from another friend who lives in the Philippines, "wow, nevr bn 2 marawi! ingat!" I txt him back saying I'm in good hands, and I'll bring back lots of pics and stories. Of course in txt speak it looks more like "oo, n gud hanz d2. com hme w pics & storez." It's a mix of Tagalog and English. oo=yes. d2 =dito=here. yet another txt from a different friend, "Merci says ur having quite d adventure!" I reply, "yes, quite, n marawi now. bak 2 cdo 2nite." His reply, "b safe!"
I trust the people I am with to guide me through this unknown city. It's not a common place for tourists. Unlike Camiguin and Surigao where I saw quite a few foreigners, I have yet to see someone with white skin here. The newspaper the day before spoke of the nearby bombings. I am a bit grateful we are not staying the night. I don't know what kind of haunting memories I would have had, if I got a chance to hear the helicopters and bombs exploding. In some sense, I am cautious of experiencing the reality. There are enough emotions running through me now. Unlike the others, these uncommon sounds to me, I feel will rattle my nerves to no end. My friends say I am adventurous travelling all these places in the Philippines. In one sense I am, in another, I'm not all that crazy either. I go, so long as I feel there is safety and people to guide me through whether I know them from before or find them along the way. People have been kidnapped here recently. There are active military actions happening here. Though these people are not refugees, they are close enough to know how to tell distance from the sound of the explosion, the way we count seconds between the lightning and thunder.
You begin to see more and more women with the head scarfs. The scarfs are quite colorful: light pastels, white, black. Some in the stricter full clothing, where only the eyes are showing. These women are dressed in black. Reminds me of the pictures of Iran on TV. Some of the men too are wearing the middle eastern type hats and tunics. I suspect those that leave here often go to work in the middle east, in the same way quite a few of the Catholics go work in Italy. They bring back what they see.
Back in San Francisco, my kulintang teacher worries that when Filipinos bring back the stricter Islamic practice it will put pressure on the old culture. He says sometimes they come back saying that we shouldn't dance and play music, this music that has been around before Islam came to the Philippines. (Kulintang is an ensemble of percussion instruments, the main one being the kulintang, a set of 8 sometimes 7 or 9, depending on the area, graduated brass gongs.)
It was the same with Christianity pushing out "traditional" music and replacing it with others.
I am beginning to sense what they mean by this "other world." Other women and men, wear the cloth malongs, the tubular cloth outfit, mostly the common Indonesian print. There are fancier styles with more distinctive designs that indicate the cultural region, but the imported Indonesian ones are cheap and easy for everyday use. We pass a Madras school, the Islamic based schools, then a mosque, it's crescent peeking above the trees.
We reach the entrance to Marawi State University. Rows of flags with "Bolos Kano" line the main drive. To the side are the classic Maranao flag decor, bright colors, triangular patterns. We reach the middle of campus to the Kambayoka office and theater building where Sunnie lives. This is it! I'm in Marawi.
Who are these people? What makes people fear them so? Why are Moros blamed for everything? Where do these people live? How do they live? I have so many questions. We wait here for the private transport. I'll get a chance to answer some of my own questions soon enough.