I see on the weather charts that typhoon activity is picking up. It's that season. Every day I check out the satellite photo supplied by NOAA. I think it is done by one overworked guy. Occasionally he sleeps, so the photo doesn't change on those days. But he is always on the job before typhoons, and that is what counts. It is a simple way to be advised of brewing storms a few days before they hit. We can lay in a good stock of drinking water, rice, canned tuna and Snickers bars.
Did you know that the Philippines is one of the leading tuna canning nations in the world? And one of the worst at managing fishing resources? There will be a crack-up between the two forces in a few years. Like, when there are no more tuna out there to put in cans.
But I digress early.
When I wrote this, a nearby typhoon was bending the bamboo and slapping some wayward tin around. I think it will just graze us. I look down the hill and see mostly trees, but I know that under those trees are homes with kids and old people and people who work hard. I wonder if they know it is coming.
Filipinos have to deal with a lot, you know? I'm talking about the common Filipino, not the oligarch or the business man or the rich people. I'm talking about the laborers, rice workers, construction workers, shop clerks, office workers, fishermen, teachers, guys who climb coconut trees and chop sugar cane, and transportation workers. The millions who go out daily and earn a pittance, and from that carve out a life of family and laughter and getting through another day.
Getting through another day.
Filipinos do that better than anybody.
The water and sanitation suck. Health service is crappy. School kids are stuffed tighter in their hollowblock canisters than sardines in a tin, and teachers are relentlessly overworked. The main transportation vehicle is a pair of cheap, worn out rubber slippers, or crammed five to a motorbike.
Then a typhoon or flash flood or fire comes ripping through the place and kills hundreds, or a ferry tips over and kills hundreds, or rebels and extremists come ripping through the place beheading and murdering innocent people in the name of high ideals. People lose eyes and legs and arms and teeth like Mr. Potato Head coming apart in Junior's hands. What is workers compensation for a coconut worker who falls from the tree these days, anyway?
It has been 22 years since the last major volcanic eruption, but we all sit atop a big gurgling mass of boiling rock, not to mention giant tectonic plates that are eternally rumbling eastward under our feet. Every day we have but a few hundred meters of dirt between us and Hell.
People get sick. Tuberculosis and STD, flu and diarrhea, food poisoning from non-refrigerated leftovers, horrible sanitation. Snake bites. I read a report a while back that said ATM panels are as germ laden as a toilet seats.
Well, there are not a lot of toilet seats here, so no problem, eh?
(Note to self. Buy a case of those surgeon's rubber gloves for banking requirements.)
The common Filipino just deals with it, you know?
An Uncle dies, they do the blessings and the march to the grave and weep and light candles and someone feeds everybody, and the next morning they are out stuffing rice shoots in the mud for 10 hours. Pay is a bag of rice at the end of the harvest.
Saturday night, someone who had a good day or week pops for a jug of tuba and the wizened old men, and the young men who are wizened by the sun before their allotted time, gather under the mango tree to tell dirty jokes and cackle the night away. At some time they inevitably talk about their fighting chickens.
The women take care of the kids and keep the dirty kitchen cooking.
When they are done with that, they take care of the kids some more, for there are a lot of them. Or auntie's kids, or the grandkids.
Sunday, the good people go to church or sleep in or go to work again, seven days this week.
If there were eight days a week, they'd work that one, too.
And the French get all bitchy because government wants them to work more than 36 hours a week. Hell, 36 hours here is half the work week. Change the name of the fried potato slices to Wuss fries.
Life here is tangible. So is death.
This is no squeaky clean suburb with manicured grass lawns, two cars in the driveway, fancy schools and a hospital right down the street, with drinkable water piped in 24/7 and no brownouts.
This is dirt and wind and rain blowing through the cracks in the bamboo and the only thing between the family and a flock of dengue carrying mosquitoes is a ratty old sheet. Lots of folks piss in the corner and shit in the woods and cook over the sticks that Junior hauled down from the hills last Saturday.
The motorcycle has no warranty. Hell, it is 15 years old and held together with tie wire and electrical tape. The motor has been rebuilt more times than the late Michael Jackson's face.
The national bird is the Philippine Eagle and the national air is Smoke. Everything burns here, plastic and wood and the dog's shit, when it isn't fertilizing the banana trees.
The nearest movie theater is 125 kilometers away. The local pizza tastes a lot like cardboard.
The national animal ought to be the Pig.
No one does pig better than Filipinos. No part is too obscure not to be devoured in some concoction, and heart attacks are the National Cause of Death, from eating all that fat.
But it fits, you know? You drag yourself through life, face death in every form imaginable, what's wrong with a little fried fat? Or riding a motorcycle without a helmet? Or playing with guns?
No one deals with life better than Filipinos. Because it is framed in death, every day, in every way.
They are aware the Grim Reaper's hot breath is there. Always there. Somewhere.
They just deal with it.
Thats the way it is.
Just dealing with it. It's this nation's soul.