India has been on my mind since I left her a few days ago but try as I might, I can’t quite begin to write about the experience without first having to share a story of what few people are doing to improve the lives of others.
This weekend, a group of volunteer photographers, lawyers, advertising agents and other professionals are going to set sail for Patikul, Sulu. This area in Mindanao is only ever spoken of in the same sentence as the word violent and heaps of travel alerts caution tourists from venturing this way lest they dare become captives of rebel groups.
Beyond what newspapers often say, my bias has always been that Mindanaoans–owing to their religion and culture–aren’t often included in the affairs of state and are often just regarded as a region to deal with and not really engage with. Proof of concept comes when the most dangerous places are mapped around Manila and people are quick to say that Muslim communities rank high in crime…really? For the past year and a half, I’ve worked in close proximity to these so called Muslim areas in Manila and I can vouch for the kindness of the people who populate its streets. Once, it began to pour and I was in a shady part of town, trying to walk toward a fast-food chain. I was carrying a cartload of books in my knapsack plus another plastic bag full of documents. The rain was threatening to seep into each page and deform these tomes that weren’t even mine. In my haste, I became completely unaware of the lack of rain falling on me at all. Only when I saw the soaked pedestrians did it dawn on me that I was incredibly dry. When I looked up, part of a huge multi-coloured umbrella obscured my view of the sky. Behind me, a man wearing a Muslim cap smiled and told me to take care of my packages before he walked away with the same purpose I seemed to have lost in transit.
Apart from constantly filling up the well of hope for humanity, this experience emboldened me to venture into Jolo with the same people who are going to Patikul again this weekend. On our brief sojourn we helped conduct a medical mission and were present at the inauguration of a school that one of our companions had a hand at funding. The experience was made ultimately richer by the opportunity we had to live in the barracks with some of our marines. This alone yielded so many stories but while I peered at the island of Jolo from Camp Bud Datu, it became real to me that even the ways by which we must later involve ourselves with our brethren from the South must change. In tune with my alma mater’s motto, we must go down from the hill.
Initially, this was going to be about travel but when I think about what it means to me, I can only think of one word: understanding. If you open your mind enough and use it on any road you traverse, you’ll find that there is always something worth learning. I also posted the photo of the blackboard above because I was amazed at how Arabic was included as a medium of instruction down South. I suppose I should have known all along but I didn’t and seeing it gave me a renewed sense of wonder because here were my people learning this I never did in school. It gives me a sense of pride also to see how communities own their culture and use it to express themselves.
I would just appreciate if someone could translate the text. For all I know it could be the classic “Cat Hat Mat” text on the board of every grade school–still, I’m curious.
p.s. If you write about Jolo, Sulu on WordPress, the “Related Articles” field will prove my point about the bad press they get. Just saying.