Saturday, December 24, 2005

And, Away to the Barrio We Go

I just read a friend's blog which talked about her day at their local beach in the province.

While most of our provinces are not barrios anymore with Universities, SM Malls, McDonalds, Starbucks and the usual 20th century establishments now found there, it is still entirely different from Manila. That bustling metropolis that I have known and loved since birth.

I have visited a rural province back when I was about 5 or 6. It was a barrio, really, complete with nipa huts, the batalan, the trees at the backyard and a few steps walk to the beach. It was beautiful really and it was nice for a few days.

Then came college fieldwork where we were made to stay in a barrio in Antique. That was for a month and a half and it was there I realized that rural living is definitely not for me.

There was electricity and running water (thank God!) because we stayed in a school dorm. The electricity was fine and which we're grateful for mainly because of the fluorescent light and the electric fan that struggled vainly to give us air in the intense heat of the place (it was the el nino season then. Talk about timing, right?) but the running water was the here today, gone tomorrow type that forced us to pump water via the poso. That was fine really, until we found out that the cloth that acts as a filter to the pump was, gasp!, a man's briefs whose origins and history were quite unknown to us. And we took such enjoyment from the cool, refreshing drink from the cafeteria that came from it...

The place was really beautiful, though. The towering mountains and trees on one side and the great blue waters on the other. Stars were a nighttime affair with us and we must have spent a million hours just staring up at them. We really couldn't believe that the sky could hold that much stars.

The people, too, were nice. They were all helpful and welcoming. We even had someone takes us in to their beachside nipa house when a sudden rainstorm left us stranded for an hour on the beach. They didn't know us from Adam and they let us into their home and even gave us some fruit. That is, of course, an impossibility here in Manila. No one would dare let a complete stranger into their home with the fear that said stranger will walk off, at the very least, with the furniture.

There were no TV, no radio station hosted by a fairly comprehensible deejay (he spoke in the local dialect and played the same music), no phone nor cell site (we had to travel to the provincial capitol just to let our families know that yes, we're living fine among the cows and the gecko, or tuko, that littered the place), no mall (the department store consisted of a two-story building that offered meats and eggs right beside the pail, dipper and other plastic furniture), and no convenience store (we had to make do with a very small sari-sari store that has a cooler for a fridge and where if you're lucky enough, you can get a snack of Chippy that hasn't lost its crispness. It was tended by a very nice old lady, though), and lastly, no decent transportation to speak of! (we mostly rode the tricycle whose every bump and jar and rattle we felt in the most uncomfortable parts of our body).

So, you may well understand my wariness since I remember most vividly how, after just a few weeks of rural isolation, we almost turned into some sort of half maniacs whenever we came in sight of a TV or a phone or an aircon. That's how much we missed those 20th century conveniences we, city people, take very much for granted.

Inspite of the fresh wind, the beauty of the place, the really nice people, and the total casualness they regard time schedules (the hectic pace of the metropolis and the frantic working hours are totally lost there), I felt constricted and so hastened to come back to Manila.

There's a different energy here in the city. It entices me, that energy that eats you up and spews you out but which you can never get enough of. Along with the traffic, the pollution, the beautiful yet at times, corrupted people, I welcome with as much open arms as the pleasure that I get from living in the city. It is here where I feel I can, at least, conquer my part of the world.

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