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Saturday, November 1, 2008

It's a Family Affair

Today I met with a woman(call her Barb) and her four beautiful children.  I have been speaking to Barb on the Internet on and off for almost three years.  I was unsure if I wanted to meet her today.  Barb is unmarried and trying hard to raise four children.  This woman, as so many others in the Philippines our, is very poor.    The reason I was unsure if I wanted to meet Barb was that for much of the time I knew her she has continually told "sob stories" of her life. 
 She then asks, pleads and begs for money to help her through her current woes.  I have heard many stories from many people, and I'll be honest it's very hard to believe them all. Barb has told me everything from her house blowing away, to cancer, to a story 
of the death of close family member, and many more tails. Many times I would not respond to this woman's initializing a conversation with me online because I just didn't and couldn't face another story of woe, and then a barrage of asking for money.  Many people ask for "help", many have stories, most go away after I refuse to help.  But this woman was persistent and very compelling.  She would make a great lawyer.
The last couple of weekends I have been inviting  people I know to bring there children here for swimming and food on Sunday's.   It was very hard to say no to Barb when she knew other's were already coming.
Barb arrived with her four children.  As you can see from there pictures these children are very cute, they are also incredibly well behaved, funny, affectionate, and respectful. What you can't see from the picture is that these children are incredibly hungry.   I had worried and made myself a little uncomfortable thinking of there arrival.  That feeling was washed away like a roaring river as I saw these children.

As I write this now and try to get across the feelings that I had as I saw these children eating, I have my own empty pit in my stomach.  I had been giving the kids candy as we waited for a few others to arrive.  The kids were all smiles as I played with them.  I had downloaded some superman episodes on the computer and turned that on for the kids,  John the six year old was mesmerized.  He had never heard of Superman, but the cartoon was perfect.  He stared at the screen for the twenty minute episode, when it was over he found me and took my arm so I       could start another episode for him.  Sydney the youngest was just four years old, she kept reaching in my shirt pocket for another chocolate candy kiss.

Someone said the kids were hungry and they hadn't eaten breakfast.  I quickly got up and took out leftovers from dinner the night before.  Rice is a standard at all three meals and someone plated a big pile of rice for 
the kids and there mother.  I went to get a glass of water for them as the four were sharing one glass, and when I came to the table they were polishing off most of the food we had given them.  When rice is the only option in a household, in the morning it is served with sugar, and in the evening with salt. 
A little while later the rest of the folks showed up and I called everyone in to sit and eat.  I told Barb to sit with us and eat and try what I had made.  She was shy to eat again as she had tried some of the food with her kids.   Barb took very little and I spooned more onto her plate. Everyone here seems to eat quickly, I think that is because there is never that much food for most meals and you eat fast when you can get it.
  As soon as people were done they got up and washed there plate.  I noticed Barbs kids sitting close.  "If there still hungry?"  I said. Motioning to the food on the table.  She called John to come over.  She put a plate of rice in front of him and he ate it by the handful.  Silverware is not used in many households either. John sang and giggled under his breath as I fooled with him as he ate.  The brightness of his eyes and the smile on his face as he ate that plate of rice was so awakening.  I sat and just started to wonder what a life these children must have. 
The other part of coming over was to go swimming.  I went in the other room and started pushing people to go swimming.  Barb had not brought swimsuits, and the truth
 was she nor her kids owned them.  We put our
 heads together and came up with enough swimming attire for the five of them to swim.  What a rag tag group I sent over to the swimming pool.  Swimming cost around 150 pesos per person.
When the kids came back, Barb told me her oldest daughter Lanny had asked? "Is it really cost 150 pesos to swim for one 
time, we can buy a lot of rice?"  I didn't ask how Barb responded to her, but I did feel a little perplexed, and said "maybe this will be a special time she remembers for a long time, that's important." I don't think my answer was very good, but I didn't know what else to say.
As everyone left my friend Mira asked me what I thought of Barb.  It wasn't an easy question to answer.  I had hard feelings to start with Barb because of the past things she had told me. After I thought about her situation I realized this was real, and Barb is in a fight everyday when she wakes to somehow put food in those beautiful children's mouth.
To think that there are nights that children go to sleep hungry. No one reading this knows this feeling.  To see it close up is quite extreme.  If I think of my niece and nephew, or any of my friends children, or hell any child in the world, and the thought of trying to find food for them on a daily basis, or even one child going to bed hungry is incomprehensible to imagine.  The limits that Barb goes to everyday are to say the least extreme.  But are these limits unrealistic for survival? Of course no one wants to be lied to about anything, and I certainly don't condone the actions that Barb or any other person feels they need to take to survive.    Before I came here I often mentioned and talked about seeing the children, trying to give back, to do something while here.  It was easy to talk about, but I never in a million years thought a child that I would know would be so hungry that he hadn't had food in a day. 
How ignorant of me.  I knew coming here, that there were people who were hungry!  But the level of poverty here is as bad as any poverty stricken country in the world.  You pass by poverty every time you leave your house.  A beautiful house sits with gates, green grass, a gleaming swimming pool, and shrubs manicured for every leaf or needle, and immediately next to the house and of course blocked by a big fence si
ts a house wired together with bamboo sheeting.  Garbage, clothes, weeds, tires, all manner of garbage is strewn everywhere around the house. People sit on porches with no job, no money, and not much hope.  
To realize what life brings to some of us, is an awakening  in itself.   These people and these woman who I speak about above would love nothing more than a job to support themselves. They are all smart, hard working and 
love there children.  Most will wash clothes for a few peso's, but they are lucky to even find this job.  If you talk of any hardship's with Filipino's, they will often offer these words, and I have heard it several times, "We are Filipino, we are strong when pushed, and even stronger when down!"

A few days after my first meeting with Barb and her children, and after I had wrote most of the blog above, Barb called me on the computer.  She told me that the kids had really loved me, and she wondered if I would think about adopting Sydney the littlest daughter.  The thought floored me, and I kind of laughed it off.   Her daughter told her "she wouldn't cry if she went away, and when she was older she would come back and get her mother." 
 I asked Barb "how she could even think such a thing?"  I wasn't sure what response I would get to my question but the one I got really punched me in the gut.  Barb said "I know you would give her a great life, and I can't even give her three meals a day."  If there was ever a time to shed a tear that was it.  

1 comment:

Mike said...

Hey Warren, Mike Donlon here. School has kept me in such a frenzy that I have not checked the blog in a while. Holy Cow, Much has been added. I would estimate that you are having an incredible cultural experience no? Just reading your blog is making me think more about the contrast between experiencing life and having a life experience. Sounds like you're getting plenty of both. The pictures are fantastic, and the narrative is well read. I'm going to duck outta the comment room to finish reading. Cheers! Oh no, it's that username password thing again,