The Travels of Sheila O’Hara Part 3
(Fr. Shay's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)
Before Sheila left Metro Manila to continue on her travels throughout the Philippines, she crossed the city festooned with election posters, banners and great advertisement boards from which beaming politicians promised justice, equality and prosperity and an end to corruption and many other impossible dreams. She was returning to her friends in the slums, those resilient hardworking women that fed their children and helped their hungry and sick neighbors with the small earnings from the soap and suds of their hand-washed laundry.
“The only washing machine here is ourselves”, Maria answered Sheila's question with a chorus of laughter from the laundry women when Sheila asked if they ever thought of clubbing together to buy a used washing machine. If it wasn't for the dirt and soot from the belchers, we would all starve” said Lisa referring to the diesel buses that belched black smoke and gave them lots of clothes to wash.
“They should ban them all”, cried Lorrie, “they cause asthma and clogged lungs to the children; we are all dying here”. “Lorrie’s right”, said Joan, “we should get out of here; if only we had a decent place to go, this slum is not fit even for animals”.
Sheila look around again at the tiny clapboard shacks and shanties that leaned precariously one against the other and climbed upward one built on another with scrap wood and flattened tin cans. It was getting worse by the week as more people were coming from the impoverished countryside. Here, some of the 12 million inhabitants of the metropolis eked out a bare living.
“Why did you come to the city?” Sheila asked. “Our family was kicked off our little farm when that big food company took it over to plant crops to send to Korea, we went without land or food”, complained Josie as she threw out the dirty water from her basin into the open sewer. “Now they want us out of here and we have nowhere to go.” she said.
Lorrie chipped in. “I came looking for my little girl, Angel. She was only 14 and went away with a pimp who told her she could have a big job in the movies. I heard they brought her to a sex club but I could never find her, I tried everywhere.” She broke into tears. The women became silent to allow Lorrie to cry a little and they gave her a hug to comfort her.” This is her picture”, she said drying her eyes, “I can’t find her anywhere”.
“I will try for you,” Sheila said. She took out her little digital camera, set it on micro and quickly took a photo of Angel’s picture. I am going to search for her, she added
The sound of police sirens pierced the afternoon heat, followed by the clanging bell of an old fire engine. “Fire!” they shouted together. Their worst fears were being realized, the place would be burnt down.
Two weeks previously they and hundreds of others had bravely stood together, sang hymns and stood their ground as they resisted the threats of armed goons and the roaring bulldozers that came to demolish their entire community, chapel and all. But they had held steady and won the day. The big-time developer who wanted the land for a glitzy mall for the rich and wealthy was furious and vowed vengeance. And now it had arrived. They looked to the sky and saw the distant smoke swirling skywards and vicious flames dancing on the roofs not half a kilometer away.
They moved as one, rushing to their hovels shouting for the children to come running. They were grabbing everything they could, and it was not much. Clothes were piled onto bed sheets and tied into bundles, old sacks were stuffed with their pitiful possessions precious to them but junk to others. Sheila and her interpreter helped. The community was alive with angry people shouting, “fire! fire! They are burning us out!”
It was like an angry stirred-up hornets nest. They had large plastic envelops stuffed with birth certificates and the photographs they cherished. These were their history, their identities, the only evidence that they lived and walked this earth. Then they fled, they knew what was coming, it happened every year to several shanty towns around the metropolis and while they defied and resisted the worst the police and demolition crews could do, against the flames they were helpless. [end]
Contact Fr. Shay Cullen at the Preda Center, Upper Kalaklan, Olongapo City, Philippines.
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