June 13, 2016
Blog Entry #5
You are staying in Payatas?
‘You are staying in Payatas?’ Since arriving in Manila, I hear that clarifying question everyday, multiple times per day, asked with sense of surprise. Payatas is known for the ‘Smoky Mountain.’ Smoky Mountain is the nickname that has been given to the largest garbage dump in Manila- that is constantly burning off the toxic waste fumes. Besides being a dumpsite, it is also home to over 30,000 people, including my host family.
My first day in Payatas, my host mom (Ate Jane) told me we were going to do ‘outreach’ with her church- delivering school supplies to 50 kids who were living on Smoky Mountain. After the church service I walked with Ate Jean and her eldest daughters to Smoky Mountain. I was surprised to find that the entrance to Smoky Mountain was just 50 feet from where the home was located. Hundreds of families were living in the low-level slums surrounding the towering Smoky Mountain. As we played with the children and handed out school supplies, load after load of foul-smelling dump trucks rambled through the narrow street, kicking up dust and leaving behind small remnants of trash and waste.
As we walked home I realized that the only thing differentiating my family from these families was a short fifty feet. But that fifty feet meant a gap in education, money, time, and food. It was these same things which separated my host family from the rest of Payatas, and separated Payatas from the rest of Manila and the Philippines.
While I had never experienced a place quite like Payatas before, I had also never experienced the same strength, love, generosity and faith as I did in Ate Jean’s family. I found the strength with which Ate Jean passed through life nearly incomprehensible. Her daughters were overflowing with love- even when I burned dinner. They were so generous- offering me my own room while all five of them slept in one room. They were also very patient with me as I struggled to pronounce new words in foreign Tagalog. All four of them were like the little sisters I never had.
I think above all else, I was amazed by the faithfulness of this family- always offering up prayers of gratitude for their safety and health. And what touched me even more- they were always offering up prayers of gratitude for me. So when people asked me, ‘You are staying in Payatas?’ I had a response in mind that I continued to use for the duration of my stay. ‘Oo, sa Payatas,’ I would reply quietly, smiling, ‘sa pamilya doon.’ (Yes, in Payatas, I have family there.)
*All names have been changed to protect identities.
*A birthday card from one of my host sisters. ‘Ate’ is a term used that implies ‘elder sister.’