Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Soaked and wet"

When Lizzie was a little girl, and got caught in the rain, or exited the bathtub before a towel could be made ready for her, she'd hop up and down on her feet, shiver loudly, and complain that she was "soaked and wet," which always made Dave and me giggle.

Now we're living the "soaked and wet" episode of our lives, Lizzie and I. It's been raining, madly, with whipping winds that howl through the apartment and smack the doors and windows around, off and on since... God, since I can't remember when. Did this start on Saturday? Sunday? In any case, we're up to the J name typhoons, and my students (source of all information on the fly) assure me, with shrugs, that this is normal, yeah, about 10 storms, by the beginning of August.

I walked home from classes yesterday and got wet, again. My Earth sandals (flip flops) have developed a nice earthy smell that no concoction can eliminate, and every dip in the rain accentuates it. Furthermore, I think the skin on my feet, which can never really dry, is beginning to slough off. If you're thinking ew, gross, you're not alone. I think that a lot, too.

Beng thought I should not let the rain get to me, and should venture out today, Friday, to the Vargas Museum cafe on campus, sip a latte and scribble in my notebook. Sounded like a good plan, in the abstract. And then a massive wind tore through the yard outside and a wall of water smacked against the open window, drilling onto the floor and tumbling all the random papers off the table. Lovely.

So I slammed the rest of my Coke Zero and came down here, to the breezeway, where the aggressive breezes are at least keeping the mosquitoes at bay, and have been lost on Facebook for more than an hour. Maybe I'll make it to the cafe later.


Cynch has been busy with "depressing" reports to the Department of Education, so I toddled off to the nearby UP Cooperative to buy a few necessities (syrup, butter, Pringles, ice cream). I dumped all the change coins into a pocket on my shopping bag and headed home.

As I walked toward the Campus Health Center, I saw a lost and semi-drugged looking little boy, probably about 7 or 8, waiting for me in the middle of the sidewalk. I prepared myself for the encounter, flashing back to Slumdog Millionaire, which Lizzie and I just watched. Okay, I said to myself, do it, give him the change. He asked me for money and I dug around in the pocket until I fished out the handful of coins and handed it to him. He looked into his palm with narrowed eyes, probably wondering just how much I'd managed to dump on him. Across the street, a woman with a baby in one arm and an umbrella in the other, and a little girl of about 5 wandering in front of her, smiled and called out to him.

By the time I'd made my way nearly to the corner, where I turn in to home, the Balay Kalinaw, an old woman had stationed herself in the middle of the sidewalk. What? Do they have radar? I had time to wonder, before she stopped me and asked for help. She gestured to her neck, where scaly white patches climbed up into her hair. "I'm sick," she said.

"Oh," I said. "That's too bad." I fumbled with my wallet and pulled out the first bill--50 pesos--and handed it to her. I smiled and she smiled and nodded and then I moved on.

As I made my way down into the apartment complex, it occured to me that my colleagues, if they'd been with me, never would have let me give money away. "You encourage it," they'd say. "It creates a bad atmosphere at the University. Beggars flock here, and bother the students. Then we have a situation like we had a few years ago, where they're holding people up on campus and stealing their laptops. So the University is asking that we don't give money to beggars."

But, I told them in my head, climbing the stairs with my melting ice cream, what am I supposed to do? I just watched Slumdog Millionaire and parts of it made me want to climb out of my skin, screaming. After all, it's just dumb luck that I was born white, middle class, and American, to overeducated parents. What if I'd been born dirt poor, black, and Indian, my mother digging a hole for us to live in the hills of garbage? Shouldn't I acknowledge this luck and, if I can, spread it around a little? Besides, I can't tell a 7 year old boy to "get a job"--begging is his job. And who knows what waits for him on the other side of the street? A mom with her umbrella, waving and calling out, or a Fagin with his eyeball melting spoonfuls of acid. I can't tell a poor old lady with spots on her neck to get a job, or, with a clean conscience, hustle past her as if she's scum...

Besides, I'm reading Charles Dickens now, Hard Times, and I'm reminded that the worst things happen when we lose sight of our humanity, when we look at people as numbers rather than fellow human beings. We become poisoned machines.

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