Monday, May 4, 2009

Beauty

We were forbidden to bring our refrigerator-sized suitcases to our summer Community Exposure, which meant provisions to be brought were down to the bare essentials. When I first caught sight of our dilapidated classroom which would turn into twenty nine student’s living quarters, I was beyond reprieve. Numbly, I sat on the Manila paper and flat sheet laid on top of the cement floor, which was to be my “bed” for the next six days. My entire first day was spent grumbling inside with a smile on the outside, silently cursing, in alternating manner, the heat, the stale air, the mosquitoes and files, and the fact that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

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.

4 comments:

mink said...

Thad, yung community exposure ba is same as what other top caliber private schools call immersion?

very humbling nga pag pumupunta sa mga bukid bukid. as a young boy hindi naman kami ganun kahirap at hindi rin ganun kayaman, pero kahit nung maliit ako, namulat na ako na hindi ganun kadaling mabuhay. ang kagandahan naman ay hindi sa panlabas na kaanyuan lang, gasgas na gasgas na pero sa palagay ko, once in a while, dapat siguro malaman natin na bili nga tayo ng bili ng pampaganda tapos, sobrang dami nagugutom, shocks, napaka unfair talaga ng mundo.

wala lang affected kasi ako sa post syado.

take care and God bless!

Trip said...

di yata immersion yan kasi ang immersion dapat doon ka mismo titira sa bahay ng respondent mo. para bang homestay.

MewFanatic said...

@ Mink and Trip: It is of the same origin.. Dati immersion talaga, but due to safety concerns lalo na sa female students daw they had to modify the program-- sa school o barangay hall na lang mag stay as a group..

Trip said...

ganoon ba? pero parang mas maganda yata iyung doon ka mismo titira kasi participant observer ka talaga. siguro as long as makuha mo ang objective mo, kahit anong methodology puwede na rin. :)

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