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.