PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Thursday, October 10, 2013

 

Waiting for Godot in the streets of Manila

(Or, The Innumerable Sorrowful Mysteries of Commuting in Metro Manila)

In this life, there are many crosses. What are yours?

One of my crosses is that I am Filipino. In my case, to be Filipino here and now is to be poor. That alone is one big cross.

It is no cross to be poor when everyone else is poor. But the world is no longer what it used to be. The world has advanced in so many ways, and it feels terribly bad to be left out.

It feels particularly bad to be poor when there are people around me who are amazingly rich. I know the wisdom of contentment. I have lived long enough to know that material wealth won’t make me happy, but I know I need money to live, and I know the value of material things. I appreciate comfort, ‘luxury,’ style. I believe art is a part of living, a necessity.

I feel particularly bad to be poor when I know I shouldn’t be. It feels awful to be poor because of social injustice. I know suffering, and I know suffering that shouldn’t be.

But I've also heard that we can turn around suffering, any suffering, to our advantage. Until that point comes, in case it hasn't yet, I wish the gift of endurance.

Being a Filipino as a long-time resident of Manila alone is like taking one protracted test of suffering.

I wish to flee Metro Manila – for good, but it’s mostly because of the daily commute. Earthly suffering here has become so exquisite that I’ve lost count of the varieties of torture I’ve been through. Here’s what I can remember in the heat of the moment – and I am leaving out the other Metro Manila problems I know (the cortisol-raising effect of airplanes flying overhead, the cramped housing, the high risk of fire in the neighborhood, etc.)

Pasay Rotunda

Waiting (for a ride) that seems interminable, intensifying the fact that life is uncertain

Waiting under the heat of the tropical sun

Waiting while it’s raining furiously and the nearest shed is too far away, and I didn’t bring an umbrella, and I catch cold first thing in the morning

Waiting while it’s raining furiously and heading off to the nearest convenient store to buy an umbrella for about Php150, only for it to break down right after I open it in the rain

Waiting while it’s raining furiously and being forced to buy one of those cheap (at Php50) umbrellas, which help, thank you, but which proves useful only until after two more usages

Waiting in the dark and being accosted by a pimp saying, “Ser, chicks, kahit pangkape lang”

Waiting alone in the dark fearing for assorted beasts to materialize out of the jungle

Waiting and waiting for a record time of five hours together with a thick crowd that grows increasingly impatient and panicky 

Enduring the noxious fumes (from all those vehicles)

Enduring the extreme noise especially from the monstrous buses beeping their way to high heavens

Enduring the overcrowding

Enduring the stench of garbage piled up around midnight, or not even

Getting stuck standing for hours with hundreds of others due to flood and/or heavy rains

Getting stuck standing for hours staring at jeepney drivers cutting their trip, changing their signboards right in front of everyone to see

Having a difficulty navigating the maze from LRT to MRT, and vice-versa, especially the part where I negotiate the steep and long stairs from Taft going to Metropoint Mall

Being pickpocketed by a trio (called the Ipit Taxi Gang) while hailing a cab, and it’s raining, and there’s a power failure

Running headlong in panic together with dozens of fellow commuters at the sight of the lone jeepney home after a considerable stretch of waiting

Palpitating, or my blood pressure shooting up, and having other health concerns right before or in the middle of a trip  

Being trapped in traffic with my bladder filled to bursting

Walking long distances in the dark just to reach a place along EDSA that has an available ride

Fearing this constant equation of rainy + Friday + night = bedlam and nightmare

Merville Access Road

Getting almost sideswiped or hit by an overspeeding vehicle while crossing the street even when I was being careful and law-abiding

Seeing fellow commuters refusing to line up and being Darwinian about it all

Waking up, on a good day, to a queue that snakes up to ten to twenty meters

Being forced to hang at the back of the only jeepney available at past 9PM, and I did not have dinner yet

Wondering if I still have any dignity left, asking myself “I went to college for this?”

Witnessing first-hand cases of cell phone snatching

Fearing the possibility of being held up at gunpoint (which I have heard from the grapevine, though it’s a very rare case), the fear intensified by zero police presence/visibility

Seeing my silent prayer evolve from supplication to regret to restrained, guilt-ridden cursing

Sitting next to undesirable creatures: the drunk, the stinky, the armed, the dirty, the suspicious-looking

Missing the FX taxis that suddenly vanished even after they solved almost all of these problems overnight

Through it all, watching the parade of empty buses and empty jeepneys

Watching the parade of private vehicles and fantasizing about  the utter comfort and convenience the lucky ones enjoy

Riding in cars and SUVs of friends and seeing the big difference and wondering if I will ever come to afford such luxury, and fighting off any hint of envy in me because it is evil. to say nothing about sense of failure, frustration, potential despair, and depression

Watching my jeepney being accosted by a traffic enforcer or policeman for being colorum or violating traffic ordinance passengers, then bearing the brunt of the driver’s anger

Seeing the situation getting worse every year

Pasong Tamo/Chino Roces, Makati

Witnessing necklace-snatching first-hand by guys riding a motorbike in tandem

Being pickpocketed by a trio of burly men and, after asking my fellow passengers where the nearest police station was, hearing the passengers say, "Naku, sila-sila rin yan!"

Kamias Road, Quezon City

Being victimized by the Ipit Gang in a bus

Ayala Ave., Makati City

Having no choice but taken an overloaded bus

Praying for a miracle for the bus crowd to part as my stop nears

EDSA cor. Ayala Ave., Makati

Seeing about five buses guiltlessly creating traffic by blocking the road and refusing to budge

Ayala Center, Makati

Lining up for an hour at an extra-long, unmoving queue at the taxi stand at the mall

Hailing a string of taxi cabs that refuse to take me in, complaining of the certainty of heavy traffic in my destination because of the heavy traffic due to the flood caused by the sudden downpour

Finding it impossible to take a taxi just when I needed it the most

Waiting for taxi in the rain for hours, only to give up and take the bus or MRT

Finding taxi drivers, in case they finally take me in, that demand a fixed fare that's incredibly high

Waiting inside a claustrophobic, exhaust-trapping space bursting with unendurable noise

MRT Pasay Rotunda and MRT North Avenue

Lining up at the MRT in an overly long queue in an overly humid and hot, overcrowded space.
  
South Luzon Expressway

Watching the expressway turn into the world’s giant car park after it rains or after one vehicle stalls in the middle of the expressway

Taking a jeepney or FX van that suddenly malfunctions mid-ride

Taking a jeep/van/bus seat that's way too uncomfortable it's like a torture or violation of human rights

EDSA to Novaliches

Finding that there is not one air-conditioned bus going to my sister's place in Novaliches, and the only 'ordinary' buses available look threateningly rickety or ramshackle

EDSA Cubao

Being conned by the Zest-O Juice gang, who went, "Ilan, ilan kayo?" (How many are you?") When I said two, a guy handed me two Zest-O juice packets and demanded I pay an amount higher than the actual price in the market. Out of fear, I handed him the money. Feeling scammed, I stared resentfully at the bus conductor who did not warn me -- and I have yet to pay the bus fare for two.

Upon reaching home

Reaching home thankful and bitter at the same time

Being appalled at the very idea of children, the elderly, and the handicapped/specially abled surviving the commute

Doing leaps in logic just to be able to think positive, to turn the bitter experience into something better, and in particular, channel the anger to something productive

Counteracting all that negativity by recalling all the favors I have received in life, particularly all the answered prayers I tend to forget after all the novena-type petitions I made

Contemplating ‘revenge’ on the city by plotting to enjoy the city’s many worldly offerings together with friends (as a trade-off, just to feel better)

Knowing everything could have been avoided with a modern transport system

Realizing there is no need to be poor because it turns out there's more than enough funds to go around

Resenting grand corruption in local and national government

Sleeping and waking up to a brand-new day with these words subconsciously mocking me: “Repeat all of the above.”

Fearing for a ‘last straw’ that will break the camel’s back

Resorting to Samuel Beckett-inspired ruminations: Why me? Why here, right now? Why this place, this life? Why, God, why?

Realizing that the only consolation left is the thought that I could be doing my time in purgatory here on earth and that I could offer up all the suffering in atonement for my sins or be like Christ by offering them up for other people’s iniquities

Hoping and praying I’d gain strength and accept everything without questioning

Trying so very hard, praying for a miracle, relying on pure grace, pleading for the Divine Mercy, if only to be able to forgive and forget everything and bestow unconditional love to this city, this world, this life

Speculating that maybe this sacrifice may yet turn out to be pleasing in so far as it is seen as sharing in the passion and death of Jesus Christ on the cross 

Hoping and praying for solutions nonetheless, for better times, for urban renewal, convinced that this is no way to live

***

I write this from a position of relief and comfort as an online home-based worker, but the sense of horror remains because going out of the house now and them remains inevitable.

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