Sunday, August 10, 2003

My Native Home

For breakfast Sunnie and I go to Cecil's house. She also works at MSU but has a weekend home in Cagayan. Her youngest son is there too. We have a delicious breakfast of longanisa, rice, fresh mango, puto, etc. They have 3 white cats. Cats in the Philippines are no where nearly as fat as American cats, even the house ones. Her cats had a lean look to them. White with sparkling blue eyes, except for one which had one green eye and one blue eye.

A taxi pulls up and Maui arrives. His girlfriend wasn't able to come, she wasn't feeling well. Though I've never met her, she seems to be quite a woman. I mean, he did leave for the U.S. for an entire year, with an indeterminable end date. My comment to him was, "and she took you back? must be true love." Plus, he refused all the proposals and advances from women in the U.S.

He hands me a book. Essays on the struggle of Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao published by an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), what the rest of the world calls non-profits. My girlfriend thought you might like this book. I'm thinking, though we've never met, this woman knows me well.

We jump into a taxi and head to the ecovillage and wait for the DOT guy. We're hoping he can get us in for free. He is, afterall, the DOT guy. The road to the ecovillage is a long way off from the main highway. We're actually kind of scared that the taxi might not be able to take us all the way up, but we make it. While we wait, I txt Don, who is now back in Manila. I have a 6 hour layover in Manila and want to see if I can have dinner with them during the wait. I love txting. No yelling into phones. No worry about not being able to hear people over staticy lines. When you're in range it'll send, if not it'll wait.

The DOT guy arrives and we enter. It's not really my idea of what I thought an ecovillage would be like. There are 4 houses constructed by each of the four indigenous groups in the area, constructed in the traditional way. Then there are people from those groups who basically hang out at the house doing weaving, playing instruments, dancing. I think they live there. Then tour groups come by and watch them do stuff. It's a strange feeling I get here. In one sense, it's good that people are learning from the indigenous groups, in another sense, I feel like the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis when Filipinos were on display. Well, that might be extreme, they're not forced to wear indigenous clothing or hunt in front of folks.

I guess this display was similar to when I was in Vancouver at the suspension bridge there and there was a woodshop where Natives were carving totem poles and other wood works. It was open so you could talk to them. But it had that living museum kind of quality. I still haven't been able to reconsile that feeling.

We enter each of the houses. All made of wood and thatch roofs. Because Sunnie and Maui had spent years traveling to the home areas of these indigenous people, they played music, danced and conversed with them on different things. The people seemed to appreciate how much they knew about them and their culture.

Though it was hot, all the houses with their angled roofs were cool with open frames that let the cool breeze pass through. Ang sarap! (it taste good). Certainly beats the tin ovens in the city, hollow block and tin. Tin and brick last longer and withstand the elements longer than grass roofs, but they're basically ovens. They don't breathe. I'd also hate to be in one during an earthquake. Forget it!

Maui says I should tell Rhett that he can come back and build a house just like this. I wouldn't mind living in a house like this. After a while you get used to the mosquitos anyway and no real need for tv. It would be cabin living in the tropics. I wonder if I could live here in the Philippines. Maybe not in one of these houses but do what Don and other friends who have come here to live do. The people I would meet, the places I could travel to.

There are other wooden houses on the property that people can rent out. They're really expensive, over 500 pesos a night. Yet, they are very nice abodes in a relatively remote place. It's not like you can get to the downtown nightlife from here readily.

There is a mini canopy walk what consists of rods for steps and 4 thin wires traversing two platforms about 20 feet up. Sunnie tries it first, you can hear him scream across the valley. This walk is a replica of an actual canopy walk that is nearby. But to get to it you actually have to do a wire slide to the platform. And the real platforms are 150 feet in the air amongst the tops of the trees. 20 feet is good enough for me.

You have to go slow because it shakes. They did this on purpose because school kids used to horse around, so they made it wobblier so it makes them second guess. That's it, make is less stable. Not something we would think about in the U.S. Let's make it less stable, so they won't goof off on it. Here, if you get hurt, well it was your own damn fault.

It's time for lunch. The taxi the DOT guy used is still waiting for us. As we head down the hill, we decide where to go for lunch. Someone offers, "KFC." Cagayan de Oro has a brand new Kentucky Fried Chicken. I have to protest that suggestion. I'm about to sit 14 hrs on a plane to a country where KFC is on every other block. I'm not about to eat it here. So instead, we head to a more Filipino chicken place, sit down and kamayan (eat with hands) style. This is more like it. Here, I get to order green mango salad with bagoong and roasted chicken and halo-halo. Might as well splurge on my last day here. That hits the spot!

Sunnie, Maui and I, split from the group and I say my goodbyes and thank yous to Cecil and them. Sunnie, Maui, and I pick up our stuff from the hotel and head to the airport. They're not allowed to go past secuirty. I give them both hugs goodbye. It hasn't hit me yet. It has been an amazing trip, that I cannot even comprehend it all.

I get through security and check in my box and luggage. I go through security to the waiting lounge. Apprently, lotion bottles are not allowed, so I go back to the registration desk. They let me into the back area where my bags are. They don't even verify if I'm going to the correct bag nor stay long enough to watch me put stuff away. What kind of security is this? And I can't take lotion on board? Yes, this is the Philippines.

Go back to security and I get through. I buy some last pasalubong items for my officemates. Get some last goodbye txts from Maui and Sunnie and Jun. As I wait for my plane, the goodbyes start to hit me. The last 18 days I've been so involved in the places that I've been in, just living and being in those places, and now I'm going home. My eyes start to tear up and I try to pull my emotions back. An domestic airport lobby is not an ideal place to be emotionally vulnerable.

To focus my mind, I take my journal out and write about the last few days. On the tarmac, a military helicopter hovers low to the ground looking for a spot to land. I remember Marawi and the sounds of bombs. As it looks for a spot, it turns and for a moment it faces the lounge, the guns on either side are pointed at us, at me. There is no real danger here. But for a moment, I imagine what it might be like to have these guns pointed at you day in day out. To hear the sound of helicopters in the early evening heading out to one of their "runs". I feel the fear enter my heart, I feel my face harden. I am reminded of one of JoeyAyala's songs, "Tutubing Bakal" (Metal dragonfly). He wrote it when on the beach with his son and the metal dragonflies crossed the sky and he felt this fear.

The helicopter turns hovers out of view and lands. In my mind flashes everything I've seen, smelled, tasted, touched, experienced in the last 18 days. I watch the helicopter out of view and think, "THIS is Mindanao."

There is something addicting about Mindanao. A sense of vibrancy in life you rarely feel anywhere else. This land has been tormented with strife and fighting for what seems like forever. There is an edge here. As if those who live here, live on an edge. The fighting that has lasted too long. Yet, the people here wonder why people fear this place so, this place that is home, where their hearts are planted well. So many contradictions. So many surprises. So enchanting, so amazing, so dynamic. There are not enough words to explain to someone who has not been there, what Mindanao is like. There are not enough words to describe the faces of the people here, their spirit, their diversity. The only way to know, is to be here, is to see it for yourself.

The boarding announcement has gone out. I walk across the tarmac to the plane. As we take off for Manila, I take one last look at the land below. It's as if I'm looking back through the looking glass and asking myself where have I been. I'm not exactly sure, all I know is that I want to go back.

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