I belong to the car-less sector of society. Wasn’t always the case – I used to drive everywhere, until road rage, traffic, a car wreck or two, and a generally limited budget got the better of me. Now, I walk or commute most everywhere; save for the occasional ride I manage to catch with friends or family. My legs are more toned, my carbon footprint is smaller, and my budget goes a longer way. Although, I usually get heaps of quizzical looks and outright open-mouthed stares for it.
Yes; I am and have long been “that foreigner” who draws an almost irksome amount of generally unwanted attention, all because I speak the vernacular and I walk and commute around Manila’s less-than-glamorous streets.
I walk whenever and wherever I can, or take buses, trikes, jeeps; but, of late, the sweltering heat and the unpredictable weather have forced me to seek refuge in the cool, dry, reasonable safety of cabs. These cab rides have been both the source of amusing anecdotes and annoying accounts; the former thankfully outweighing the latter.
At the onset of 2018, I find myself thinking of some of those cab incidents, curiously enough.
What on earth does all this have to do with the New Year, you may ask? Despite the seeming lack of relevance, if you hang in there and read on, it’ll all make a semblance of sense – I promise. And, if it doesn’t ring true to you, well then, go grab some salt and munch on a few grains!
Back to the cab rides. On an early morning commute to work, sometime in 2017, I found myself in a lengthy and animated conversation with the cabbie. In the course of our convo, I discovered that Kuya (Mister) Cabbie had two daughters, the firstborn of whom was premature and had seizures. He recounted having to work long hours at his job, not only to provide for his family’s needs, but also to be the father his kids deserve.
I also learned that he had helped deliver a baby in the front seat of his taxi, and that he had had a cellphone accidentally thrown at his head when he tried to appease a lover’s quarrel on board his vehicle.
Some days before that, on another trip, the conversation was with a Kuya who had worked as a cabbie in Baguio and who, over those years, had had many encounters with “ghost passengers.” He regaled me with story upon creepy story, in a suspenseful and melodramatic manner. On yet another day, I found myself discussing climate change, rather intently, with an irate Kuya who ranted about and railed against global warming, and spoke of how “forestry” is the answer to the Philippines’ climate woes. He seemed a lot like an ecological activist to me than anything else!
The disconnect, connected
On board those vehicles, I hear the cabbies’ hopes, their experiences, heartaches, and aspirations – and often, I am even treated to a generous slice of their humor. Nine times of 10, the Kuyas express surprise and gratitude that I speak the vernacular – “Ang sarap po kasi ng may kausap, Ma’am!” (“It is so nice to have someone with whom to speak!”), is what they usually say.
Each conversation makes me feel more connected to the country in which I was born and raised; the country that has become my home. Each conversation makes me realize that there is a semblance of serenity beyond the strife in this land, dreams midst the despair, and genuinely good people despite the abundance of A-holes.
Moreover, each conversation makes me feel more connected to people in general – not just to those whom I call my friends, but to people I do not even know. With this feeling of connectedness comes the realization of similarity, as well. The awakening to the truth that you and I share several common denominators with the cabbie, the CEO, the random person crossing the street, the junkie, and – gasp! – even with the politician!
A sense of shared humanity
Moments like these bring to the forefront a sense of shared humanity, despite very obvious differences in background, upbringing, social standing, life path, and all other dictates of society. At the heart of it all, we share the same composition; albeit, for some, this composition has been greatly impacted, affected, and damaged, even, by their life experiences. To be honest, though, we each have our own flaws and failures – some of us are just better at coping with, or hiding these. And that, too, is shared humanity.
When we connect with others, when we suspend judgement and open ourselves up to those around us, this is when we get a glimpse not only into our shared humanity, but also into our collective soul. At the end of the day, we are all just trying our very best to get by in life, because of, or in spite of all that we’ve been through. Some might be more cynical and see it as being “prisoners here of our own device,” to quote from Eagles’ Hotel California. Others may view the situation from the more rose-colored vantage point of optimism.
The point is this, although you may have already picked up on it: no matter your perspective, your level of jadedness or positivity aside, we all have more than a little-something-something in common with the person next to us. These things tie us together, whether we like it or not.
By ANGIE DUARTE
Art by MACJANRY IMPERIO