• January 6, 2012

Deprived Areas

Deva, Romania

“One of our apos­to­lates is at the fish­port, the big com­plex a short walk from our home, the point of ref­er­ence we use when describing where we live to other Manilians. Tahanang Puso used to visit the fish­port by night, when the fish comes in off the boats and is pushed around the port in great vats by gum­booted men and women. Children used to work here late into the night, stealing thrown-away second-rate fish to sell later for the tiniest profit for their fam­i­lies. It was dan­gerous work. Since the gov­ern­ment leg­is­lated more firmly against this child labour a few years ago, there are few chil­dren who work by night, though still many fam­i­lies with par­ents employed in the port squat here. We now visit the port by day, when the port is at its qui­etest, when the adults are at rest and when the small chil­dren who call the port home are unoc­cu­pied by the diver­sions of the port at night and wel­come our dis­trac­tion.

When we arrive at the fish­port, the chil­dren (often naked and wet from a swim in the harbor) come run­ning to us squealing, in a flurry of hands around waists. Despite the ugli­ness of their sur­round­ings, these pot-bel­lied unschooled chil­dren with their black-smeared faces have a sweet­ness which makes our visits to them among my favourites in this mis­sion. The girls glow in awe when you affirm their pret­ti­ness with some­thing so simple as a few clips in their hair.

We have a spe­cial friend who lives at the fish­port. Kuya Nonoy is 26. His home is a deck chair under one of the many hangars, raised high on a moun­tain of crates for the smallest mea­sure of pri­vacy. He sleeps under the bright flu­o­res­cent lights of the port and takes what­ever rest he can during the day, because the nights belong to the small wooden cart from which he sells small little can­dies and sachets of drink to the port workers. The cart is his liveli­hood, and the means to see his spe­cial family every few months. Tahanang Puso met Kuya Nonoy last year. He was newly wid­owed; his young wife died a few months after the birth of their third child, a baby named Jerome. For many months, Kuya Nonoy strug­gled to care for his weak new­born baby, alone in the fish­port, this gentle young grieving man. Eventually, he made the deci­sion – the hardest deci­sion, because Filipinos are ter­ri­fied to be alone – to allow his young chil­dren to live with the willing family of his wife, in a far away province. I see in this so much love, so much sac­ri­fice. The fish­port is no place for chil­dren, he tells us, the chil­dren here do not go to school, it is no good life. And so he works hard, so that every few months he might have enough money to spend on the hours-long bus which takes him to his chil­dren and have enough to give his in-laws so that he can claim the dig­nity of pro­viding for his chil­dren. He returns from these visits back to the fish­port calm and happy. His eldest daughter is learning to read, he will say with quiet pride. Jerome is learning to walk.

I love deeply our visits to Kuya Nonoy. He is a gentle man. With my broken Tagalog, and his hard-learned English, we piece together simple con­ver­sa­tions. In snatches I learn more about his life in the province, before he was lured to the big city as a teenager. He says a small thing which reveals his enduring love for his wife, his loss. We learn about our friends like this – little pieces of infor­ma­tion shared in growing trust. We invite him to our home for lunch, and we are joyous when he arrives (and early!). He wants to learn English, so we give him a gift of a little English-Tagalog dic­tionary. In January, we vis­ited the Fishport at night, a throw­back to the old days, for good reason: it was Kuya Nonoy’s birthday. We arrived with a cake, and he was a little embar­rassed. “I have nothing pre­pared - it’s not my birthday!” he said. And we laughed and said, of course it is. We sang and cut the cake, and, in the Filipino way, insisted he make a wish (birthday wishes are shared aloud here). His wish: A long life filled with friends like us.

In Heart’s Home, we speak often about the con­so­la­tion of our pres­ence. In this so-simple mis­sion, I did not reckon on the con­so­la­tion of the pres­ence of our friends to we who have no answers to their suf­fering. Our friend­ship with Kuya Nonoy is beau­tiful and hum­bles me. “

Leeanne Grima in mission in the Philippines, 2009
JPEG - 19.2 kb
Manila, Philippines

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