I don't do groceries regularly; like any Filipino, I like buying my stuff piece by piece. A sachet over a bottle of shampoo. Cookies in little plastic packs over cookies in big metal containers. I patronize the sari-sari store economy. But this one time was a little different. I felt like I had to replenish my supplies. My parents would be relieved knowing I was munching something.
To get to the nearest grocery store, I have to walk past a squatter area occupying an entire block. If I walk fast—like when I'm late for an exam—it takes me around 3 minutes to get there.
To tell you the truth, I wouldn't hesitate going to that store if there weren't any shanties to pass by. I always have the option of going the other way, of course, but that would take longer. I don't like the place. The heavy smell of urine. The patches of dog poop in the middle of the road. The half-naked sweaty men playing basketball. The loud yakking of teenage girls with missing frontal teeth.
I could get mugged or punched in the face. I could incur Leptospirosis. Or I could get bitten by one of the ugly canines incessantly barking. I could die.
I saw the place again when I did my groceries earlier tonight. Nothing much has changed, except that there wasn't any coffin lying around. Normally I would see a wake, with people busily gambling, waiting for the dead to be finally buried. Maybe this night was different.
And then I saw the children's faces. I paused and looked at them, and I sensed that they were playing the same games I enjoyed when I was younger. Langit-lupa. Taguan. I remember that my brothers and some childhood friends used to bicker over who was the real taya at games like these. But we had real fun. The children I saw were oblivious to the state of their clothes—or the lack of it—and they didn't mind the overwhelming density of human beings surrounding them. Like they had an entirely different world.
It occurred to me that apart from the physicality—the structure of their homes, the completeness of their teeth, the sanitation of their water supplies, the composition of their sentences—I wasn't so different from them at all. They're human beings. So why the snobbery?, I asked myself. Why the repulsion?
I remember that Jesus Christ loved them so dearly. He cared for the poor and needy. He healed their diseases. He listened to their cries. He died to save them from their sins. If I am to be like Jesus, then I must love the people He loves. And that means seeing people past their externalities, and looking more inwardly—do they know Christ in their hearts?
Maybe that means I shouldn't just walk past the shanties when I do my groceries.