Reality check

I took probably over a thousand photos during my recent trip to the Philippines, and you bet many of them were shots of the sunset, the beach, my family, and tons of food. But there are a handful of photos taken while riding with my cousin to their office deep in the city that make me stop in my tracks and get serious for a moment.

I think they’re beautiful shots. They’re not pretty like sunsets and flowers, but their beauty lies in their stark honesty and the fact that they remind me of the reality of things here. They remind me that not everything lovely is pristine, and that life here is not all private resorts, daily massages, and endless restaurant meals.


This was the street we drove through as a shortcut to avoid traffic. Just minutes before this, we were cruising down a residential area with custom homes, manicured yards, and multiple cars in the driveway being handwashed by chauffers. Who had the liberal use of water running through a hose to complete their daily morning task. (Yes, cars there usually get handwashed every morning.)

This street had no running water. For your water needs, you had to do this:

Imagine having to do that several times a day, every day of the week. Makes me feel like such a spoiled kid complaining about having to mop my kitchen floor, when all I have to do is fill a bucket from my kitchen sink – which is right where I need to mop, instead of several houses away from the nearest pump.

Speaking of kitchens, I’m also going to stop stressing about coming up with meal ideas everyday. When I feel a whine coming, I’ll simply remember the scene below and be thankful for the lovely climate-controlled kitchen I have, and the refrigerator that is usually stocked with food that I sometimes ignore.

And laundry? Good grief, can I even complain about laundry when I have a working washer and dryer, as well as access to dry cleaning for the clothes that require it? Sometimes, I’ll even run a load twice if I don’t think every inch of fabric absolutely smells like whatever fabric softener tickles my fancy that month. What if I had to do this instead?

Can you imagine having to dry your clothes like this? Surrounded by smog, the food smells, and – yes – the ever-present faint smell of garbage?

The Philippines has always been battling the problem of poverty and inequality. Corruption only worsens the already deplorable situation. Close to half of the population lives on barely $2 a day.

But you know something? One thing that has never failed to impress me is the attitude of the so-called poor. Yes, they may be poor in the financial sense, but they are rich in so many other ways. Sometimes, far richer than those with the shiny, newly-washed cars who think nothing of spending hundreds of dollars (yes, I meant US dollars) on the latest European fashions in any one of the many marble-floored malls in the city.

Because, if you look closely at these humble folk, their faces are rarely bereft of a smile and a ready greeting. They have friends, are well-loved and love equally well. Their families are solid and intact. And no matter how rough things are, they never fail to find joy in the simplest of things.

Even if that simple thing is the mere act of splitting wood for kindling. To cook in their makeshift outdoor kitchens.

24 thoughts on “Reality check”

  1. This is one thoroughly reflective piece as seen through your lens.

    Can’t wait for you to begin writing for onebalita.com with your column presenting life in such expressive images!

  2. Beautiful post. One of the reasons that I love photography so much is just as you explained … not only do you get to capture beauty in our own personal everyday lives (and be reminded of how lucky we are) but also we can document the beauty as well as the not-so-pretty in other area’s of life. You can reach out to people and show others what happens in another corner of the world. You can make a statement, you can broaden our horizons and understanding.

    Thank you for sharing your images!

  3. Your pictures tell stories… many stories… I so enjoy that. I too will now think twice before whining..

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks, Jessica, PG. I was just writing from the heart, typing what was going on in my mind as I viewed these photos. I’m glad the message was able to resonate with others too.

  5. Its true. And very well said. No matter the circumstances, a persons happiness does not result from the things he possesses.

  6. Great photos- when I see this I want to be outdoors more. In a good way. Always huddling indoors instead of outside saying hello to my neighbors.

  7. The thing about the Philippines is it seems there will be a nice apartment complex or office building next to a house that someone built from scraps of wood. It is very real, but I love that about the Philippines, I’ll be back there in November. :)

  8. P.S. Your first picture, I used to annoy my fiance with this but I don’t get the trend of walking with your shirt half rolled up, I saw alot of filipino men doing that, maybe they are too modest to take their shirt off all the way. hehe

  9. I just returned from Pico Portugal. I took over 1000 photo’s too!
    I didnt see poverty, but I did see a huge contrast between the wealthy with their new homes, and the old houses built from lava rock, stacked to make walls with no “glue” to hold the stacked rocks together.
    My grandmother lives in one of these houses. At first sight, I thought.. oh boy, I have to stay here?

    By the end of two weeks, I was not missing my computer, or the ease of dozens of plugins for all my electronic needs. (there was one recepticle)

    I found I spent more time outside.
    More time singing songs to my baby.
    More time listening to stories from my grandmother.
    More time cooking and preparing traditional foods.
    More time enjoying a sunrise and sunset.
    More time enjoying life.

    Now that I am home.. I am once again on the computer. But I turn it off more.

    I loved your post. It’s great to be reminded that material things are a luxury that we should be more grateful for.

    Amanda

  10. Great post Ivory! The photos are truly beautiful in their honesty and reality. As you astutely point out, most of us do take for granted some of the most basic comforts and conveniences in our lives. It’s always nice to be reminded to be thankful and to stop whining. Hope you are well.

  11. I just discovered your blog and I am so happy I did. I love this post and the beautiful stories your camera tells. Thank you for sharing this.
    Michelle

  12. I spent 3 weeks in the Philippines two summers ago and this was a wonderful trip for my memory. Thank you for the reminder of all the conveniences most of us have at our disposal. I take them for granted much too often.

  13. Great pics and very well said!

    “Because, if you look closely at these humble folk, their faces are rarely bereft of a smile and a ready greeting. They have friends, are well-loved and love equally well. Their families are solid and intact. And no matter how rough things are, they never fail to find joy in the simplest of things.”

    I’ve always believed that poor people are not necessarily unhappy like they depict them on TV, news, movies etc. Sometimes a simple life allows you to spend more time on things that matter – friends, family in contrast to always working hard to afford the “comforts” of life.

    Every time I visit the Philippines (where I grew up, I live in Portland, OR now) my stomach hurts from laughing too much :-) There is nothing quite like it.

  14. What a lovely post! With such beautiful photos. It (of course) reminds me of Malawi. We take so much for granted, it’s important to take a moment from time to time and remember how easy life is for us. But I think there is something very beautiful about the simplicity of life like you’ve shown in these photos. I loved it. But I am grateful for a washer dry – washing clothes by hand takes forever!

  15. I spent 30 years working as an urban squatter settlement upgrading specialist in developing countries, and the Philippines, my first assignment in the 70s, was both the most interesting and the one I most treasure. I lived and worked there in the slums for eight years, made many longstanding friends, and never got over the optimism and hard work of my clients there, many of whom lived in conditions far more difficult than the ones shown above. And yet, they went about their business with good cheer and made something of their lives (and those of their children) under difficult circumstances when given the slightest hand up. Thank you for highlighting these issues. So important for those of us with easier lives to be aware of.

  16. Very well-written and thought-provoking post, Erika. Your photos really captured the reality of life for so many people that live in extreme poverty. It should make all of us appreciate what we have.

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