A Weekend of Firsts – Part 1: All that is well.

This three-part series of a small weekend adventure took place in Mariveles (Balanga, Bataan), Subic (Olongapo, Zambales), and Minalin (San Fernando, Pampanga) from 14 November to 16 November 2014.  This is about how things go well, even if not according to plan; and how we can learn, or even be inspired to change, from the detours.

This first part is about how my privileged expectations were shattered and broken, so as experience can build something new in its place.  Humble as they are, the memories remain in my heart — rich, haunting, and strong.

The Road Trip

It was a postponed road trip that was supposed to have taken place last 7 November. Only Debbie and I were supposed to go, as we were the ones invited to give pep talks for a jump start organization aptly named Jumpstart. The postponement however, allowed for Debbie’s childhood friend Jake, to join us.  At least, he would serve as our chauffeur, given that she wouldn’t be in a condition to drive four to five hours.

Nevertheless, it was a much needed road trip as Debbie nor I had gone out of town (and the Color Manila Run in Alabang doesn’t count, as it’s part of the National Capital Region) for the entire year.

It was my first road trip with Debbie, my landlady/roommate, and it was her first ever since she got her car, Misty (a cute black Mitsubishi Mirage). It was my first out-of-town trip that didn’t involve a relative (as an older road trip to Zambales still had me go with my cousin, Gab). I had barely recovered from my 16:00 to 01:00 Thursday shift when Debbie and I did some final touches to our preparation (read: fulfilling Debbie’s dream of filling her tiny cooler with ice and stuffing it with soda, juice, coffee and water), met up with Jake, and made our way.

Because of my shift, it really was a treat to see the sunrise.  I wasn’t facing the sun in any way, but just to sleepily watch the sky change colors through the Metro Manila smog around the North Luzon Expressway, and to see the smaller towns outside the Capital Region come to life was enough for me.  What can I say? I’m a morning person in denial.

… and since we all lacking sleep, pictures of our mugs were highly discouraged during the trip 😛 !

In my mind, I expected beach-side resorts, sand between my toes and sea air filling my lungs.  I awaited cozy hotel rooms with fluffy pillows, soft lights, and with the view of the sea.  I expected polished function halls ready for my slideshow, filled with participants eager to listen my telling them why they should write as the proud children of historical Bataan…!

Blue skies frame rocky ravines I anticipate sea and sand deep in my daydreams

Blue skies frame rocky ravines
I anticipate sea and sand
deep in my daydreams

Daydreams surely were sweet, as I caught whatever snooze I could. Soon enough, thanks to the combined powers of the Mirage GPS and Waze we found ourselves in Mariveles.  Needless to say, it was my first time there.  I was quite fascinated by the winding mountain road that lead down to the Freeport Zone of Bataan (FAB) as I was met with the view of a highly industrial town: warehouses, oil tankards, open lots.  The beach-side resort and hotel, I very soon found, was a mere fantasy.

Blue skies frame foothills the road leads ever lower the real breaks daydreams

Blue skies frame foothills
the road leads ever lower
as the real breaks daydreams

We were met by my (now former) colleague, Ivy, at the only Chinese restaurant in town.  Being me, I was already cranky due to lack of sleep, general self-consciousness of not deeming myself presentable to the general public, and my fantasy being shattered, but I had to remind myself that truly, I wasn’t there for 100% vacations — I was there on a mission.

The School

We soon convoyed to a public school, where kids in their physical education uniforms ran around.  It felt like a holiday, as the narrow residential roads leading to that school were littered with stands carrying novelty toys, school supplies, and snacks.

Entering the school grounds felt a whole lot like entering any local school — it was most probably because of the unique energy that fill the grounds, and the typical layout of buildings and structures.  It took a while for the idea to truly sink in, and had to fight through the sleepy haze of my mind.

First, I noticed the hand-painted classroom signs, acrylic on wood, welcoming the homeroom teacher into the classroom.  It wasn’t the acrylic door signs of my former high school.  Then I realized how small the school grounds were, the biggest building being a three-story structure with 9 to 12 classrooms.

We were standing on one corner of the basketball court — the only basketball court, which also served as a play area, and multi-purpose gathering area.  At one end of this court was a stage — a decently designed one in concrete with stairs on either end, and an overhang.  I noticed that the stage’s backdrop was composed of several sheets of printed paper, forming a picture of two children reading.  They were celebrating “Reading Month”.

On the stage was Viel — the visionary behind Jumpstart.  He was a university professor in psychology, but decided to pursue his passion in theater.  On the stage, he looked nothing like a professor in his t-shirt and chinos, surrounded by 50, 60 children from 3rd to 6th grade.  He was showing them how to properly carry a person across the stage, and how to position oneself so as not to hide one’s face from the audience.  Some of them weren’t paying attention, but a good lot had their eyes on him.  Some of them had to move around so as they could hear him properly, but regardless, the children’s energy was boundless and they eagerly responded to his questions, and laughed (or rolled their eyes) at his jokes.

Viel with kids who are rich in spirit. They need bridges -- knowledge, opportunities -- to get them going and growing as individuals, and as a community.

Potent dreams, strong wills
flock to a source of knowledge
savoring each drop.

(Picture credit: Debbie Encinas)

Another thing jumped at me: not all children were wearing their complete PE uniforms — not because it was a holiday, but because they couldn’t.  Not all of them were wearing sport shoes — a good number wore worn out flip flops, some wore their regular uniform shoes (brown or black loafers), some were even barefoot.

I was snapped out of my reverie when I heard Viel call me over.  He said that the children called me Jolibee, after the mascot of the local food chain — a fat bumble bee in a red tux; and I pretended to walk away from him.  After that little drama, I said “hi” to the children, and granted him his little request: to say something in French.  I told them that I was there to help Viel in his mission to teach them theater, and to encourage them to write their own scripts.  Debbie took her turn to say “hi”, and then I went back to my corner of the court.

Then it sank in.

That wasn’t just any local school.  That was a Philippine public school, and this is how public education makes do of what scraps the Philippine government deigns to throw their way.  The children were dumbfounded to hear me speak French, not because they were impressed, but I realized that they might not be equipped with the knowledge that a country called France exists, and that French is an actual language spoken by people.  To them, I might just be speaking jibberish — like the incomprehensible buzz of a bumble bee.

As we made our way to the inn we were staying in for the night, I couldn’t help but feel bad.  I never realized how truly privileged I am to have been educated in private schools, to have complete sets of uniforms and footwear, to have whatever opportunity to grow as a person easily available at my fingertips, to know that there is a world outside my door where I can hear speech and music in different languages.  Those children most likely have more will and drive than I did at their age, and yet, opportunities are lacking, whereas I had everything practically served on a silver platter.

As I lay down for a nap, fresh from a cool shower, on a soft bed, with my panda patterned blanket, in an air conditioned room, satisfied from a delicious lunch of pinakbet and sinampalukan, I thought about our short detour at the public school.  Ideally, Viel and Ivy would meet us at the Chinese restaurant, then convoy us to the hotel/resort where we can eat, rest, then freshen up for a night out in town; but they asked us to say “hi” to the kids despite our relative lack of presentability.  I thought about how I even snapped at Ivy in all my entitled spoiled brat glory like, “Are you freaking serious? I can’t show my face like this! Dude, I haven’t slept a wink, I just want to sleep!!”, then realizing that those kids couldn’t and wouldn’t given one single damn about how big my eye bags are.  I realized that being called “Jolibee” was not entirely meant to ridicule me, but I was probably as rare to them as the beloved fast food chain mascot (and I probably have the same bright smile– okay, I’ll stop).  To them, I am from Manila, and I’m classified as some kind of awesome and bizarre oddity.

And as I closed my eyes, I couldn’t help but truly, and sincerely ask myself: What have been I doing with the privileges I have been given?

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About Cielo

I am a paper-pusher by day, a log by night, an aspiring singer-dancer and a wannabe artist in-between. I am also a Professional Space Cadet.
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