SCENE 1 (Alex trying to show me and Andrea some asanas in yoga)
Alex: Tita Eva, this is the ‘tree pose’ in yoga. This is a very dangerous pose because some people might cut me and turn me into paper.
Andrea: Yeah, they’re gonna turn you into toilet paper!
SCENE 2 (Alex and Andrea trying to get to know me better)
Andrea: How old are you Tita Eva?
Tita Eva: How old do you think I am?
Andrea: Would you be 54?
Tita Eva: I don’t like your answer. No beach treat for you.
Andrea: Oh no! But I thought I saw some white hair!
Alex: Yeah, the white hair that the hair color failed to cover.
Tita Eva: Aaaargh! Take these kids back to Canada!
When my son was little, he used to tag along with me for my quick dashes to the grocery to buy his Papa’s extra crisp starch sprays for his shirts. While lining up at the cashier’s, Enzo left my side. Just when it was my turn to pay, he pulled me and led me to a corner to show me this. If it doesn’t melt a mother’s heart?
Never mind if I have to go to the end of the line again.
God’s grace, hubby, a very loving person is never averse to showing subtle public displays of affection. When we’re together, we somehow are interconnected physically, even if it’s just holding hands or putting an arm around the waist.
I know, I know we’re mushy. I plead guilty but I don’t want it any other way.
Here we’re waiting for the catamaran to take us to an island. Our son Enzo took this shot of candid, unguarded moment of closeness.
Here, his father is asking Enzo what he wants to eat for snacks while waiting for the stable boy prepare the horses for the afternoon ride. His Papa is the first person he looks for in the morning (not me). And they share a lot of secrets between them. I love it that way!
This farm house on top of a hill is also a home on the range where the horses, goats and chickens feed in harmony
But the goats keep to themselves
The same island has many beaches. Here Enzo prepares to drive from a diving plank
Enzo and Mahal, one of the more than ten horses in the farm
When my son was in kindergarten, I made it a policy not to give him any money on weekends as there were no classes. However, one Saturday, he was unsettled because he had a few friends coming over to visit. He wanted to buy them snacks. I stood firm and did not give him any. Instead, I told him to check what he could come up with, with whatever he found in the refrigerator.
A few minutes after, he came up with this: upended Jellyace (mango gelatin) over chocolate covered biscuit wrapped in foil.
In his sweet and proud voice he asked ‘Do you like the Yellow Chocolate Hills‘ I made, Mama?
I was one proud Mama!
As the public utility jeep where Mary and I found ourselves squeezed into was winding its way in the bumpy asphalt road, I asked her to crane her neck out the window to check out the mountain range of Montalban that overlook Payatas.
(Fast forward: When the government decided to relocate some residents from Payatas because the mountain of trash caved in a day after heavy rains one July morning, where many scavengers were buried alive among the trash, Rizal and Montalban were considered as relocation sites. Many residents objected despite the catastrophe because this is where their daily bread is coming from and Montalban is quite a distance and had nothing to offer, revenue wise)
Mary said retorted ‘You call these mountains? These are hills. You have to remember Eva, I come from the Himalayas’.
Back then, Everest was such an enigma to me and I inquired if she had scaled the Everest summit.
The mountains of Montalban
‘Everest base. I went as far as the Everest base.’
At this point, she narrated how she found her way to Nepal.
‘I used to work with the UNICEF, bringing iodine supplements to children in the mountains. You’re a doctor, you know iodine deficiency causes goiter in adults and cretinism in children. The problem was, I was not prepared to encounter cultural barriers.’
I interjected ‘How come. Any well-intentioned mother sure would want the best for her child’
‘That was not the case. You see, in certain cultures in Nepal, the bigger the goiter is, the more beautiful she is in the community. So they would refuse.
A Nepalese woman with goiter
What would have been a two week stint would take three months each time. So you could imagine my life in the mountains, sleeping in tents with my team, the locals and the sherpa for three months. We had no source of water for bathing. After three months, I had lice’
“Not just head lice. Body lice. the kind that stuck to our thermals, our blankets, our clothes. The funny thing was the UN and my agency needed an inventory of all the equipment and gadget they made us use. They had to have everything back, including the lice’
I stifled a laugh because I thought it was impolite. There was a tinge of desperation in Mary’s voice when she told this bit about lice infested things.
‘Not all the time. I was a volunteer. You know what, when I finally got down to Kathmandu and found myself a hotel, I must have been in the bathroom for half a day because I did not want to stop bathing until the brown water that dripped did not become clear.’
At this point, the jeep dropped us off in Payatas B, the community where, about a hundred meters away awaits our makeshift health center, with about thirty older persons from Payatas ready to greet us with warm smiles and eager albeit queasy anticipation.
To be concluded
(Nepal photos sourced from the internet from the guy with Olympus Camera)
Mary breastfed her baby even at work. She never ceased to amaze me with her stories that transcended race, creed and continents. And this is the ‘safest’ representation of breasts I can show in this post.
I first met Mary in England. Back then, she was on the last few months of her PhD in Nutrition while I was sent by an international NGO or a not for profit group for Aging for a conference on account of my volunteer work and the Older Persons’ program I enhanced in Payatas, which at the time was a world renowned garbage site. It was the time when segregation was unheard of and cranes and dump trucks would unload trash every day that made for hills and mountains of garbage. People around Payatas (most especially Payatas B) would wait and scamper about and scavenge in these mountains of trash for recyclables to sell at junk shops.
We were introduced by the unit director Suraiya and when she, Mary learned that I was from Southeast Asia, specifically, the Philippines, Mary talked to me at length over tea and biscuits for a project she wanted me to collaborate with.
Mary, as I fixed my gaze on her face was the usual white woman I would see, often with freckles on her face, pinkish skin only hers with a lot of brownish spots which she got from staying too long in the sun in Nepal. She married a Nepalese who owned a hotel in Kathmandu and she would shuttle her way from the UK to the Himalayas
What she wanted me to help her with, was to become the field testing coordinator for Southeast Asia for her book, the assessment of nutritional status of older persons using anthropometric measurements.
‘If you could do this for me please. I’ve no one from Southeast Asia. I’ve got a lot from Africa and other former territories of the UK. There’s Dottie from Malawi, Sandra from Antigua, Dominique from Montenegro, Nelia from Angola, the Carribean. We got them covered except Asia.’
Now, I am an easy person to talk with when it comes to projects for older persons so I said yes right away.
And this was how I found my way in the university in central London in a room full of people working for older persons’ nutrition – Oxfam, PhD students, doctors working with the ministry of health from their home countries, UN representatives for refugees etc.
Mary presided the workshops. Every two hours or so, I was wondering why she would excuse herself and disappear. Apparently, she would go out to breastfeed her baby, who at the time was about eight months old. And after that, she would proceed where she had left off.
After a flurry of e-mail exchanges and after sending to me anthropometric measurements like calipers, stadio-meters from Camden, she arrived in my country.
I took her to the dump site where she was warmly welcomed by everyone. For someone from the UK, she did not show any tinge of condescension, snootiness nor did she complain about the heat, the stench that clings to you like second skin. I toured her around the area – from the dump site itself, to Area 1 up to Empire. You see, even in the slums, there is a semblance of hierarchy. Those from Area 1 are better off than the succeeding areas. People lived by the roadside, near the water source, near the dump site while those farthest, in this case Empire, were the poorest of them all.
To many families, scavenging in Payatas is a matter of survival . This woman is wearing the typical scavenging gear – wide brimmed hat, layered, long sleeved clothing and boots, sometimes a mini-crowbar to extricate what could be a gem of garbage.
(Payatas dumpsite photos by Nana Buxani)
She stayed in a very modest hotel where I would pick her up and ride the bus and get off corner of the street leading to Payatas. To get there, we have to squeeze ourselves in a jeepney from Litex, which the driver almost always would have overloaded by placing a plank of wood in between the jeepney entrance to accommodate one more passenger.
In the many trips we took together, riding public transport from her very spartan hotel to Payatas, Mary shared many stories about being an English woman married to a rich Nepalese and many things in between that showed much of her heart for the poor and uplifting their situation, her conversion to Buddhism and her vocation as a mother.
(To be continued)