About two days ago, I emailed a good friend I haven't seen in a while, and in the letter I shared with him a moving portion from Augustine's Confessions, among the best books I've read thus far. (I've been using the John K. Ryan translation, which is just wonderful.) You judge me, O Lord, for although no one "knows the things of man but the spirit of man which is in him," there is something further in man which not even the spirit of man which is in him knows. But you, Lord, who made him, knows all things that are in him. Although I despise myself before your sight, and account myself but dust and ashes, yet I know something of you which I do not know about myself. In truth, "we see now through a glass in a dark manner", and not yet "face to face." Therefore as long as I journey apart from you, I am more present to myself than to you. Yet I have known that you are in no wise subject to violation, whereas for myself, I do not know which
Taft Avenue is flooded. It has been raining steadily since last night. My roommates and I haven't been anywhere, except to buy canned goods for lunch at the local Mercury Drug Store. The fun part about having typhoons is that the air is cool. School and work get cancelled. My group was scheduled to work in a clinic in Tondo today, but that has been postponed until further notice. A major Agape activity was also cancelled. I've had an entire day to myself.
I met Ronald, 30, while I was killing time at a sari-sari store, sipping a cold bottle of Coke, taking time off from the afternoon heat. I noticed his tattoo—I'm simply drawn to tattoos, a habit I can't seem to get away from—and so I asked him who Lyn was. His wife, he told me, smiling, a look of longing in his eyes. They have three children. He works at a dental laboratory, making dentures for a living. He was thrilled when I told him my mother is a dentist. Maybe she could send her orders to us, he said. A hardworking family man, ladies and gentlemen.
Through our Community Medicine creative project, Bagong Bahay, Bagong Buhay: Kuwento ng mga barangay health worker ng St. Hannibal Christian Community (New Home, New Life: Stories of barangay health workers of St. Hannibal Christian Community) we share the colorful, often heart-wrenching stories of people who've been rescued from depressing living conditions that still beset many Filipino families in urban centers today.
After almost two weeks of immersing in the SHACC (St. Hannibal Christian Community), the people already know most of us by name. Their handshakes are warm, their welcome genuine. They greet us the moment they see us enter the gate. After more than 20 years of renting cramped spaces of makeshift houses beside the polluted river, they've been given a new lease at life: concrete houses they can call their own. Their stories are moving. Living in a gated compound has its perks. They no longer need to fear for their security. They are more or less protected from flooding, which used to erode their properties. The bad side is that they're isolated from the rest of the barangay, especially from the shanty communities nearby. This isolation, according to the residents, is more because of envy than geography.
The trip begins with a 20-minute LRT ride to EDSA, a five-minute jeepney commute to a local health center, and a 10-minute walk under the scorching, melanoma-inducing heat of the noonday sun. Meanwhile we're lost in laughter, conversation, and brief outbursts of excitement at the mere sight of a bakery or a turo-turo or a carinderia —all potential hang-out places. Jonas, Krushna, Jegar, Ching, and I . . . we're far too easily pleased. Give us cheap food and an eight-ounce bottle of Coke, and we'll be happy. Community Medicine is a welcome break from the hospital scene. This time the patients no longer come to us; we go to them. And truth be told, they may not need us at all. This exchange, this reversal of roles, is teaching us many things we may have brushed aside. It's not about us but them.
I had the afternoon free, so I left for Diliman to get my black vintage glasses. I had the lenses replaced a couple of weeks ago. Yes, that's me, my cheeks bloated with fat. Soon enough I'll have the double chin. I wasn't in any particular rush. I walked around what used to be my campus and my home for five years. I felt envious of the students I saw: they didn't have to deal with the awful pollution; they were in their comfort zones.
I'm 30 minutes earlier than usual, dressed in my favorite pink rolled-up long-sleeves, jeans, and brown shoes, waiting for the next FX to pass by along my area of Taft Avenue, just outside the building where I live. I'm on my way to church, roughly a 40-minute ride away, give or take. A white, newly-polished FX stops in front. The driver motions me to get inside fast. I take the front seat, arguably the best spot. From there I can see the road straight ahead, I get the best airconditioning, and I don't have to pass paper bills or coins around. Just a couple of years ago, Toyota Tamaraw FX's have become an alternative option for urban commuters. They're a hybrid of taxi cabs and jeepneys—and I like them. They're fast. They're also comfortable, but not as comfortable as taxis, of course. At least FX's can shield the passenger from the grime and pollution of Manila's main thoroughfares.
The class was grouped alphabetically according to first names. So Lance was clumped along with Karla, Kristina/Krushna, Kimberly, Kay, Kat, Lennie, Laureen, and Leah. There were nine of us, and I was the only macho man who would protect them from evil elements as we marched along the hostile streets of Manila.
I spent half of my Saturday morning roaming Paterno and Gomez Streets in Quiapo. It had just rained, so the streets were soaked in what looked like mud admixed with the horrible things people in Manila like to throw around. I had been there before, during an immersion in my medical anthropology class with Dr. Michael Tan, but this was the first time I went there alone. I wanted to find old frames. Vintage eyewear, they call it.