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Neverland

Open your eyes: ‘On the island of Mahaba in Surigao Del Sur, I’ve found something that doesn’t need a name, because it can’t afford one even if it tried.’ Photos by GLENN QUIRINO MABOLOC

MANILA, Philippines - I’ve always wondered. Wondered about things and places I was never really sure of, and then retreated to the world I know, because it feels safer and familiar. But on the island of Mahaba in Surigao del Sur, I’ve found something that doesn’t need a name, because it can’t even afford one even if it tried.

Charming little Mahaba has about 46 households of fisherfolk — men and women with children. The day care center is on that same island, but grade school and high school are in San Juan and Hinatuan, which is only accessible by boat. Selling fish and seashells is their major means of survival. This is a normal life here.

Gas lamps power the entire island. Every night, a generator is turned on for that one house that shows movies and charges P6 per head for adults. During the screenings, the sound of the island is usually the soundtrack of various Bruce Lee movies.

During one discussion with the residents, I found out why there were signs that taught people how to escape in case a tsunami takes place. This may sound rather alienating to those of us who live in the city and having access to everything, but we aren’t spared from the ravages of nature. If anything, Ondoy has taught us that we aren’t impervious to its wrath, a lesson that up until now I am still personally coming to terms with (being a resident of Provident Village in Markina for the last three decades and living there still). The effects of climate change on a small area like Mahaba is sobering to contemplate.

Even if the people of Mahaba have devised a way by reforesting mangrove trees as a means of preparation and survival, realistically it won’t help much especially if the local government doesn’t do anything about it. They don’t even have a bigger bangka to help them get off the island in case another tidal wave happens. A small one is enough to drown out the entire island in minutes. Like the erratic behavior of the rains, lifelines can easily emulate this. This is just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended).

In a nutshell there is still much to know about what surrounds us: what we do not know, what I have not mastered, what doesn’t take a genius to perfect, what we will never know… But what I realize now is that it’s okay to jump in and take it from just one perspective: from one who has seen and continues to remember.

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After all, immersion isn’t merely experiencing living in a community. One must also have gained a perspective, one that’s open to all those possibilities no matter how unpleasant (or if you will, inconvenient). It takes into account differences but more importantly similarities. It’s learning that no matter where you live — in Markina or Mahaba — we’re all on the same little island, after all.

At least, that’s what I took home with me.

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