By the time the first night passed, I woke up drenched in sweat with my bones aching from the cement floor. And, as if to cap a perfect morning, I first did number two on a toilet with no indoor plumbing. That was the start of it. The rest of the day was spent eating half-cooked rice, walking in black rubber boots in Schisto-infested rice fields, and interviewing people under the blistering sun.
One day, I interviewed an old woman (or what appeared to be an old woman, since she looked weathered beyond her 53 years), which I think caused an abrupt 180 on my perspective. Her hut was about a size smaller than our living room at home, and was a kilometer’s walk on a muddy dirt road from the highway. She lived alone, and worked on the rice fields nearby. During times of harvest, she’s entitled to a ganta of palay for every ten gantas harvested- that’s her only source of food and income. Other than that, what she eats is from her own backyard garden. If the harvest is not good, then she would settle for kamote or hunger would ensue.
She went only as far as Grade 1, and had to stop when her mother died many years back. Her son, who only studied till Grade 2, also works in a nearby farm to support a family of his own. She’s separated from her husband. As I scrawled clumsily on my COPAR book, I had this lump in my throat that was hard to swallow. Yup, the world had bigger problems than a few mosquito bites, or a few scratches, or a darker complexion.
I gazed at her face. The skin was a dark hue of brown and sagged with lines that gave it an unusual texture. Her eyes glowed with both dignity and despair, as one who had struggles with hard times might show. And her hands were rough and calloused with work.
I thought she was the most beautiful woman I ever saw.
When I was back in Tacloban after the Community Exposure, I never quite saw things the same way. All those obsessions with fashion or hairstyles or skin care seemed too insignificant. I know now there’s more to beauty than a perfection of lines, planes, and textures. Or perfect manners and sophistication. This time, the rose-colored glasses have come off, and the stark reality seems, no less arresting or beautiful.