Saturday, May 28, 2005

Going to Pandan Island, Mangyan Encounter... In A Bus

My first and only Mangyan Encounter, so far!

Somewhere along the way, a group of native Mangyans (yes, Mangyan aborigines) joined the trip. There were seven of them. Two adult females, two adult males, two girls probably 3 and 12 years old and a boy about 7 to 9 years old. The two men loaded their produce, some live animals and themselves to the top of the bus (where some menfolk were already seated during the ride) while the women and children hopped into the inside of the bus. My heart sank at the next occurrence...

The bus conductor was harshly commanding them on where to sit as if they were dogs being asked to follow a trick. I saw the three children sit on a vacant seat near me but the conductor directed them to take the rear seats as if they were dreaded lepers or diseased persons who were not qualified to sit in the bus other than the last rows. The kids obliged, am sure not because of what was being said but because they understood the conductor’s waving hand and the tone of his harsh voice (as if shooing them away). I could understand the look in the youngest girl’s eyes as she and her siblings were transferring to the second-to-last row just in front of the adult Mangyan ladies. She was looking at the conductor and I knew those eyes were questioning, pleading, begging. I did not feel good witnessing this scene at all.

The children were clad in the normal gear that rural folks would wear (t-shirt and skirts / t-shirt and shorts) but the two women were topless. Yes, topless! Like they only had skirts but you can see their “boobs” dangling. The older of the two women was cuddling a little baby goat while the younger one was the spokesperson of the entourage. She spoke an understandable amount of Tagalog.

The trip went on but luck was really on our side. At some point (and this was already mid-morning) one of the bus tires blew. So we had to stop in the middle of an uninhabited part of the road for the bus crew and some of the male passengers to change tires. I took this opportunity to get off the bus to stretch, smoke and relieve my bladder behind the bushes and the trees!

As the bus was jacked up to change tires, I walked across the road to rest under the shade of the trees in full view of the bus and everyone around it. I saw and heard a woman passenger who was already on the road talking to her companion perched on a window of the bus. I vividly heard she was borrowing an umbrella and I thought that was utterly ridiculous! If she wanted to avoid the sun, she could just walk towards the shade of the so many trees by the roadside. When the umbrella was given to her though, she did not open it. She walked to some distance away from the bus carrying the still unopened umbrella. There, she carefully stepped out of the road, opened the umbrella, laid it on the ground and sat down behind it. Her actions, before finally disappearing behind the umbrella, were obvious to me. She was going to have a bladder-break too! Oh gosh, oh well! If I did not take this trip, I would not have learned about another way to/of using an umbrella! Soon other umbrella-clad women went off to different places to do the same thing. How ingenious the Filipinas!

I sat on the ground smoking while watching the men remove that flat tire. As I did so, I noticed one of the two elder Mangyan men on top of the bus still there squatting. Yes he knew the guys were scrambling to change tires but just the same, probably knowing he won’t be of any help or they would not entertain any help from him anyway, he remained in his squatting position watching everyone from the top! There was a goat right next to him standing on its four legs and not actually tied to anything! Just a rope around its neck, the other end of which was held by the elder Mangyan. I thought that goat must have been too used to riding on top of buses. It acted as if the situation was part of its daily life! From time to time, the elder Mangyan would pat or caress the back of the goat’s head. Quite a sight!

Then I felt an itch in my head and instinctively scratched it. There was a mild sense of panic upon touching my hair. It was way too stiff than usual and it felt rough and coarse! I thought “shit, what happened to me?!” All along, my companions were watching me from their bus window and they were laughing! One of them shouted “alikabok yan, look in the side-mirror of the bus, puti na ang buhok mo!” So I rubbed my hair as if trying to let it dry… and immediately a cloud of dust enshrouded me! Then, I was sneezing in succession that people in the bus were already watching me as if I was an entertainment gig happening in front of them. Gosh! I was both amused and amazed. My goodness, so this was the reason why I felt messy and the very same reason why my lips seemed thick – which I thought was just the effect of wind smacking at me!

I got curious! So I took my sweatshirt off, flapped and flittered it in air and another cloud of dust shrouded me. So I ran away from that cloud! I saw that the passengers (including my two companions were having fun watching me). I went behind the bus still doing the same task of trying to brush all the dust off me. It was not easy! Next I wiped my lips and face with my hanky since I already knew for sure I was full of dust. Astounding! Right on my hanky was not just a smear of dust, it was MUD! Gosh, I swore and looked up to the sky murmuring there better be a good Pandan Island, for me to be enduring this “earthly” experience!

Back on the bus, we were laughing about how everyone’s eyebrows got so white and why all the women had bandanas wrapped around their heads and why many of the menfolk chose to sit on top of the bus than in it. It was to avoid dust. Even the Mangyans were giggling as I continued to shake dust off my hair! The older Mangyan woman did mutter something to me that I never understood. But I did manage to return her a bow and a smile. She looked at me as if I urgently needed help! There was concern in her eyes! I was touched, really!

Then the conductor told me: “ser, malayo pa tayo, madami pang alikabok ang didikit sayo!”

So on with the bus ride. This time, probably after I made a scene at that tire change, most everyone was jolly and talking to everyone else. Probably also because there was nothing else to do as it was already almost noon and we had been in the bus since sunrise!

Suddenly, our attention was caught by a giggly commotion at the rear end of the bus where the Mangyan natives were. They were just about two rows away from me actually. When I looked back, all them Mangyan kids were laughing while the bus conductor was again on top of his voice, this time swearing and scolding. When Mr. Conductor came by, I tugged at his shirt and asked him what was that all about. He was still fuming mad when he told me that the baby goat carried by the mother Mangyan peed and to avoid getting wet she shoved the little thing unto the bus seat, thus, the area was wet with goat pee! I did instantly feel like laughing too, like the Mangyan children did, but I controlled it lest this uptight conductor vent his ire on me. He was still standing beside me.

After a few clicks of the bus pitching and tossing on gravel road, and sensing that the “wrath” of Mr. Conductor seemed to have subsided, I courteously asked him “bakit sa likod lang sila pwede umupo?” My goodness! That question actually brought him back up to his ire at the native folks! His eyes were furious while exclaiming “eh ang babaho ng mga yan, tapos wala naman pambayad! Kung mamalasin ka nga naman talaga, huuuu!”.

I instantly had the itch to debate this conductor but my saner side prevailed. It was useless. He who himself was probably unschooled too – but was not Mangyan, and knows what money is – was so condescending at these discriminated minority folks. I mused that he would not have understood me if I started arguing with him that he had a responsibility to serve and keep them alive. These Mangyans are one of the few that remain true or at least not yet too accustomed to our present modern, westernized, tech-controlled lives. I know I have read somewhere that they ‘in themselves’, plus their traditions and culture, are a treasure that the government declared must be protected! So all I could do was pretend I shared the grievance of Mr. Conductor by nodding and saying “ah ganun?” What hurt me more was that the younger of the two lady Mangyans could hear what we were talking about and her eyes were on me. I could sense it… and from the corner of my left eye, I could actually see her watching the conductor with a controlled anger. I knew, in her mind she was cursing the arrogant conductor to burn with all the devils and probably even also already loathing me! But, what else can I do?!

As the ride progressed, and I was getting too impatient in my cramped seat, I opted to stand once again trying to stretch every limb that had available room for stretching. Then I noticed there was vacant space enough for two people at the rear-most row where the two Mangyan ladies and the youngest Mangyan girl were seated (with their little baby kambing of course). So I walked towards that part of the bus. And as I did so, the younger of the two lady Mangyans was a bit alarmed and said something to the little girl which seemed to me like she was ordering her to transfer to where her elder brother and sister were seated. I motioned my hands to keep them where they were and actually said in English (yes IN ENGLISH): “no, its okay”! That, I said while trying to show them a genuine smile. So they stayed put.

I took the leftmost edge of that rear seat (where it was not wet of the baby-goat’s pee) and pretended I was busy looking at the sceneries, as if not minding them at all. Truth was, my attention was 1000% to their every movement… every sound! I could hear my companions exclaiming (without looking at me) “come back here to your seat… its not ok there”! And I answered also not looking at anyone... “am fine here”!

At a glance, I saw that the conductor was observing me with some apprehension. When I looked straight to him, he looked at me with a mischievous smile as if announcing to the world that I was interested in the hanging bare-boobs of those two lady Mangyans! Hello?! But as the ride went on, he kept glancing at where the Mangyans were seated versus where I was, and he seemed to display a message that he was ready to lunge at any of those aborigines anytime they did something untoward to me! Deep in my mind I smiled and thought “I am safe here”! Oh the benefits of being mistaken for a foreigner in my own country!

As the seemingly endless bumpy ride went on, I kept silent just pretending to watch the outside sceneries. Actually, my attention was still totally on them. In my head, I was of course cursing myself for not having brought my videocam to this “new seat” which in fact had more leg space than my original seat so I could easily move around with the camera. But then part of my lowly brain said, bringing out the videocam could have gathered all the thick dust unto my Carl Zeiss lenses! And even another part of this lowly brain said, catching them Mangyans on video without asking for permission may have offended them. And I knew I have not yet heard of how wild or aggressive they could be when offended. I will never want that Hong Kong incident to happen again where a rickshaw driver kept chasing me the whole day after I took his picture without paying him 10HK Dollars! Gosh! So I sat there happy and contented to experience and commit to memory whatever it was I was witnessing!

Somewhere along a dusty plain that seemed to be a rice plantation, the mommy Mangyan started shrieking motioning her children to get moving. I also heard the younger lady Mangyan called out to the conductor saying “para! para!”. Thus, the bus stopped and they piled to get off. I did see how quickly one of the two Mangyan men clambered down from the roof of the bus. And excitingly enough, they were able to let the adult goat down also from the roof without much of a fuss. It was never tied on its legs – just a bare walking goat with a rope around its neck! For me, this again was such a lucky sight. I think I saw that the Mangyan remaining up on the roof lowered the goat holding its two hind legs while the other man received it down on the ground. Am not sure! But one thing is a fact, they were able to let that goat down from the roof even faster than the children and lady Mangyans could get off from inside the bus!

Just to emphasize the rarity of this experience, imagine yourself trying to let down an adult free-standing goat from the roof of a bus! Sige nga?! But then again, that goat might have already been too tame (if there is such a thing)!

The younger lady Mangyan did attempt to give the conductor some amount of money both in paper bills and in coins which I saw her take from a rolled hanky. The conductor answered sarcastically and said “hindi na, ok na! Ipambili nyo nalang ng tinapay”!

I was so absorbed at the unfolding of this scene; I was literally watching every move of every Mangyan without regard if I may have already been offending. I noticed that the mommy Mangyan was muttering something as she looked me in the eyes. Whatever it was she was saying, this drew the attention of the whole family to me (this time I was already perched on the window where she was previously seated). I attempted to smile (but made sure I did not show my teeth). Not because of the fact that I have ugly teeth, but probably because I learned from national geographic and/or discovery channel that apes, lions and other wild creatures show their teeth to signify aggression! I was deeply touched at what I saw next...

Suddenly, all of them were smiling at me (with their teeth showing), the two ladies even managed a slight bow (or nod?) as the children waved goodbye to me and probably all of us in the bus!

Oh well, at that instant I honestly believed that this trip was worth it. I even told my companions “even if we go back to Manila now, am already happy”! Yes, I genuinely was! Who gets to encounter them endangered tribes without attempting anyway?! We were lucky! Probably this was the good karma in exchange for all the trouble we had been through since 9PM last night!

As the bus ambled along, too many things rushed through my mind. What could that mommy Mangyan have been saying to her flock? Why did they all look and smiled and waved at me? Where could they have been going to? Another place in the forest? Were they going to visit friends or family? What were the goats for? Gifts? Or just pets that they can’t leave without? Why are they discriminated upon? Don’t they really take baths? One of them understood Tagalog and was being lambasted by the conductor, did she feel hurt? Don’t they feel insulted? Are they used to it? Do all people in Mindoro belittle them? Do their children go to school? Do they know about hospitals? Or the police? Or TV or beach?

Ahh yes, we were going to Pandan Island and I had to snap out of these things when one of my companions teased me “hoy, ang tahimik mo!”

Okay, after another conk-out somewhere in another uninhabited part of the island, the bus finally rolled into concrete road. And the place looked big! It was like a city! So I thought we were there. We were not! Bad trip! We just arrived at the town or city called Mamburao. The bus parked in front of a sari-sari store and had its refill of gas while we stayed in our seats (and I would occasionally stepped out to smoke and stretch). My impatient coming and going from the bus led me to discover that the reason why we were not moving yet was because the bus crew, yes the driver and the conductor were having their brunch inside the sari-sari store! How cruel! And they left us waiting. Nyeta!


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