Over gallons and gallons of tuba ---the quintessentially popular Filipino beverage made out of palm or coconut trees--- I once in a while congregate with some friends from the neighborhood. I am not really so inclined to wallow on the native wine but lately, I had the keenest desire to socialize with the people I know just across the street and thus, I had grown fonder and fonder of the bittersweet taste of tuba every time I went out and join the men from the neighborhood. I wasn't as outgoing as I am now before where I usually stay indoor even during the weekends, reading piles of magazines and newspapers with the television always blaring in the living room.
But now, I can easily ignore the stench. Perhaps, one can get used to it through some time and become oblivious to the smell completely. One of my friend from the neighborhood once declaimed that tuba is the grape wine of the Philippines, that by drinking it, we somehow recollect a part of the life of Jesus Christ, where in the past He had often convened with His disciples through bottles and bottles of grape wine. I responded quite positively to this very keen observation from a friend and I said that maybe, if Christ indeed were born in our country, He would have enjoyed the exotic taste of tuba.
Tuba is actually constituted by fermenting the sap extracted from the palm leaves of coconut trees. It is the beverage of choice among the people from the lowlands as well as the hinterlands---the farmers, the fishermen, the laborers and even the tricycle drivers. You could say it is the condiment that soothes the ailing bodice of the masses, the magical wine that inspires the laborer to labor for more and the rural lover to serenade more ardently and sing more ballads, with gusto, while the moon is so full at twilight time.
Through this magical wine, I have known many new friends that speak to me and relate to me like they have known me for a thousand years. We converse at times of some vacuous things in life, some foolishness of youth, about some fleeting things like love and lovers, even of such frivolous things as the number of stars in the sky, and we became gleeful somehow of these fleeting things and our laughters resonate through the windy atmosphere of our neighborhood. But sometime, we talk of the more salient part of life, like the families we are responsible for, the children we rear and educate as well as the harshness of the economy and the stinging effect of rising prices to our shallow pockets.
Lustre Street, if you could only observed more closely, is a cornucopia of everyday reality. Some part of the neighborhood consists of the better-positioned in life with their houses newly-painted while they parade their classy automobiles as they pass by us. In the larger portion of the community dwells the more humble inhabitants and even the poorer ones, as small wooden houses outnumber the large ones by a ratio of fifty to one. Most of my friends are carpenters and masons while others drive the pedicab and some sell fish in the market. And then there are some of them who take their daily bread by carrying sacks and sacks of copra over their very young bodies, day-in and day-out. I have learned that a laborer in the port area earns only about fifty pesos after carrying sacks and sacks of load for almost a day. I find these situation so sad and regrettable. I wonder if the fifty pesos would suffice to answer the cost of food on the table, the fare to workplaces and for the education of their children. I guess, not. I guess they could not do anything but accept the lack of so many things in life. And I guess, with tuba on hand, they often cure the tiredness of their swollen muscles and empty stomachs through gallons and gallons of it, as if the native drink is the narcotic that relieves all the pains of poverty.
And then there are those who just do not have any form of permanent livelihood, who merely stands by the street while waiting for some opportunity for work. They often ask if somebody needed to have the grasses cut in their lawns or if they needed repairs on their toilets. They are often still so young to carry copra at the port area or whose frailty in physique is not as virile fit for a port laborer.
Even those friends I have who are accomplished carpenters and masons, they often complain that many times, work is harder to find. A group of them---Nonoy, Dan and Erwin---had just finished six-month worth of construction work on a plea market but now, they have gone for almost two weeks without work, and of course without any income for their households. Nyor Tony and another Dan on the one hand are still waiting for a certain Peter to arrive from out-of-town in order for their work on a bungalow within the neighborhood to resume. They too had not worked for many weeks. Toti and Paco have been contracted for some painting jobs just once a week and so they still have a problem where to source their daily bread during the rest of the week. Dodong was luckier. He had found employment in a government project in Barangay Ayala and pay is more than average.
Often, the people I know in the neighborhood paints the whole picture of hardship and constant struggle by the Filipino people at present where even those who are willing to work upon harsh conditions still could not find work. Even for carpenters and masons, the opportunity to find the means of livelihood is still very difficult, like threading the very small eye of a needle. Where in the world our country had gone too? To the dogs? There is a sort of panic in my mind thinking how many of our fellow countrymen have long endured the harshness of poverty and lack of opportunity. If only our senators and congressmen, jueteng lords, tycoons, hardware owners, the cabinet members, the President herself, the big business people, the bankers, the mayors and the governors, the political strategists, the U.S. envoys, the ambassadors, the mall owners, the manufacturers and the lot could even just for one day see for themselves first hand, upon close inspection and somehow experience the difficulties many of our countrymen suffers everyday, every time the sun rises from the east and settles in the west, then perhaps they would stop all their follies, all their bickering like who has the bigger pork barrel and who has lesser. If they could only fully comprehend the extent of our people's suffering, then maybe they'd all become less greedy and not full of self-interest as they are right now, as suddenly they would be patriotic and altruistic enough to help alleviate the plight of the poor amongst us, not next year or next month, but now, this moment, ahora mismo!
And so with my carpenter friends who sometimes have work and most of the time logging around and walking about because work is not at hand, I just said to them once that I wish there would be more buildings to be constructed, more houses to be built, more roads to be paved, more walls to be painted, more sand and gravel to be melded and more cement to be poured. By then, they can have work almost all the time.
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