Closer Look at the Urban Poor

Last night’s adventure was as close as I can get to the conditions of the urban poor. My friends and I went about to visit a lady for some business with her but truth to tell, I wasn’t exactly expecting the kind of place we ended up on. I was silently surprised that the roads we traversed turned narrower as we came closer to our destination. It wasn’t exactly a squatter’s area, but it surely was a humble dwelling of those people making ends meet from day to day.

I was able to park behind an otherwise beat-up jeepney (was it?). Then off we went at once down a slippery congested slope leading to the lady’s house. The path was dim. It was obvious that we were visitors not used to that kind of place. We were taking small and calculated steps each time. Sometimes, we were forced to cling to a wall during missteps down the uneven course. I feared that the wall I held on to with regret was stained with urine from some bystanders I passed by early on.

The lady’s house was small but brims with some 7 or 8 housemates if I’m not mistaken. There were 3 kids and the rest adults. I couldn’t make out the relations of each to the other but the lady who we came for was the mother of the children. I surveyed the rest of the household and no one seemed to be the father. Maybe he was still at work.

The house was a square piece of land with plain hollowed blocks as walls. The yero (galvanized iron roof) served as the ceiling already. Only curtains partitioned the abode into three areas. One-half was the bedroom, one-fourth living room and one-fourth kitchen. The bedroom was just several tables put together with pillows on top. Only one “bed” had the comforts of a thin sheet of foam. The “closet” was actually just a mountainous pile of clothes in a corner. One has to literally dig for the shirt they want to wear. In fact, this small girl spent some time whining, as she could not find her panty on the heap.

The toilet could be found just outside behind the kitchen. It was surrounded by only a low curtain for privacy; no roof on top. The small and bare toilet bowl sat next to two big drums of water. The lady who led me to the toilet apologized repeatedly for this “condition” though I really didn’t mind. I just silently wondered how the ladies of that house could take a bath there without feelings of uneasiness.

Since my friends and I (four of us) crowded ourselves in the small living room for most of the night, the rest of the household spent the whole time outside singing along in their videoke machine. It really is becoming a modern Filipino pastime. The only intermission was a simple dinner of sinigang na isda. I noticed that they only had spoons and plates; no forks. They push the food to the spoon with their thumbs. They finished eating quickly, wiped out the table clean at once and just as quickly resumed to their loud singing binge.

It’s not everyday that I see such kind of cramped living condition. It was still decent living compared to the more impoverished sleeping under the bridge or in a kariton. I was just being quite observant last night. Simple joys truly abound the place. For what is greatly lacking in material, they compensate for in a lot of other ways. The small girl who by this time found a panty to wear seemed to have no interest in videoke. Instead, she found her niche at a corner playing with toys by her lonesome. Though there really is not much room for privacy, I think one of the perks of a small house is that there’s no choice but to bump around each other and bond the whole time. I guess that was evident from what I encountered last night.
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