People from the slums are the most friendly people in The Philippines
I walked the beach that no tourists go. Greeted people for the last time as they waved and called over to me. A group of ladies were taking a bucket shower in their t-shirts and a handful of giggles rose up. The reason I know few tourists go here is because very few of the children came running up to me asking for money. Nor did that annoying V-shaped pose for a photograph.
Life in a Filipino slum
Most children ignored me and continued playing. Only here the playground is a mix of sand, sea and sewage. The stilt houses have built-in bathrooms that empty onto the sand below. During low tide the waste trickles down the shore to the sea. The place doesn’t smell bad. In fact it’s actually got quite a soapy smell. It’s morning time and many people are washing.
“The smell in the air is more of the sea, and of wet wood with a hint of detergent.”
One of the things in a slum I always try to do is greet everyone. The old will often wait for you to say hello first, and then will burst into a smile. The young approach often times repeating the same “Hello Joe!” phrase over and over.
Joe is derived from the USA troops during WWII – GI Joe. All male foreigners are called “Joe!”
The teenagers are as any teen in the world usually is – moody. Then there are the people with dyed hair, bloodshot eyes that gathers in a group.
Dealing with the bad element in a slum
Such a group was gathered in a circle by a boat raised high for the tide to come in. They were playing cards. Camera in hand I walked up and got a few solemn stares from the type of people you probably don’t want to meet late at night in the city center. But here I was in their backyard big camera in hand, mobile phone bulging out of my shorts, and an air of no fear across my face.
“What are you doing?” I asked peering over the huddled group.
A lessor minion gleamed up with stoned eyes. “Cards!”
“The others took turns in looking up at me, at my camera, at my pocket, my shoes and my daypack.”
“Joe, you join us?”
I waved at one guy and then looked at the cards before raising my eyebrows and making the Filipino “oh oh” sound.
“Not today thank you, I am late. Just taking a walk around. But, thank you.”
Getting permission, and paying respect
What I had done was let them know what I was doing. That I was no threat, and I had balls. If I’d walked by and started photographing them, it might have been different. If I’d just walked by and ignored them; some might have followed. Who knows. But what I do know is that for me, my system works.
Slum hospitality at its best
I continued walking along the shore until I got to a sea barrier. An old man extended a hand and helped me climb up. On the other side were two men knee-deep in the sea. They looked up in surprise and then greeted me. I asked if they were fishing.
One man looked embarrassed and just nodded. The other understood nothing of what I said. I repeated again as a wave crashed down. The first man shook his head this time.
“No fish,” he said putting his hand in a plastic bag. He pulled out a small crab, but struggled with the word for it. I answered for him.
“Yes crab,” he said glancing at his friend with the remembered word. “Food for family.”
I smiled and walked on.
Never have I met such friendly people
Some teenage girls called out from far under a stilt house, ” Picture, Picture.”
I obliged as they straightened out their hair. Pulled creases from their dresses and broke out into posed smiles. I was too far away for a good shot. But it made them happy to see me photographing them.
My time was running out. I had an appointment to keep elsewhere. Yet, deep down in truth; I really wanted to spend the day in the squatter slum. I passed by the two crab fishing men again and gave them a wave.
“You have peso?” called up the first man.
I shook my head.
Without hesitation the first man nodded in a sympathetic way. “You no money too …”
I nodded. “I have no job. Just picture picture.”
He nodded back with a smile.
Finding common ground
I think that I know why I like the slums or squatter camps. These are the people who are often decent and honest. They are just trying to survive with what they have. They look out for each other. They have to; no one else will.
They are looked down upon by the rest of society. They are pushed further and further away from the city whenever possible. Further and further out of sight.
Yet, these are the very people, I feel, that are the real genuine people of the world. When you have nothing, you only have yourself. So why lie? These are the people who greeted me with more genuine hospitality than in any of the cities, malls or even hotels. Not just in The Philippines, but all over the world.
Why are the people with nothing so much more genuine than the people with something?
These people who so many look down upon and push away also have something I don’t. Something so valuable that’s eluded me my whole life. They have a place called home.
I wish them well, and I hope no one takes their home away.
Few people like to think about this type of place, nor even associate themselves with it or the people there.
I hate to break it to you, but I’d rather spend time in a slum with people talking to me. The other choice is walking around alone in a pristine mall, having beers with aged young girl seeking expats, equally drunk backpackers or the tropical resort tourists where the dollar rules. The common link is going all day without one person saying a genuine hello.
There are good people in The Philippines, but it’s becoming a rarity. Such are the times, and such are the choices people make.
Search the rural areas and the slums and you will find good people. They are endangered, treat them well.
And, so this is it. My final journal entry from The Philippines.
Thank you to the people who said hello …
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