When we enter Bistekville IV on Day 4, instead of “Good morning” we say, “Magandang umaga”. Tagalog is their language and the smiles that shine back grow bigger, acknowledging our attempts at this greeting. “Magandang” actually means more than “good”, a better translation being “most beautiful”, and what a wonderful foundation for the coming day. One of our team members reaches a hand in to a small boy of about ten months, in a swinging cradle, and he takes it, then touches it to his forehead as a blessing. This respect taught, at such a young age, is overwhelming.
Another fitness instructor from the Canadian team, and I, have been alternating the morning warm-up. It’s my turn, so I start the day with a stretch to Rita Ora’s song I Will Never Let You Down. A good sentiment as we are team, we are family, these days and we must not let one another down. Bucket brigade is a common job here, passing full buckets – of rubble, sand, gravel, cement – or empty ones, sweet buckets of air – back. To be refilled. Over and over and over. The piles are massive and never-ending and ALWAYS in the wrong spot. We ask about using a wheelbarrow and are told that that would not speed things up for a few reasons – the lane we work on is too narrow, the surface is uneven, and often the material in the bucket needs to be on the roof, two floors up.
I want to tell you about these buckets because I finally figured out what they are. Imagine an empty five gallon plastic blue fuel container. The cap is screwed on tight. Cut it in half, then you have two buckets. About two inches from the top of each, on opposite sides, drill a hole. Bend a couple of two- to three-foot lengths of a good heavy piece of rebar – readily available on this job site – into a semi-circle, put them through the holes, bend them back up to hold them in place and voila! You have the most precious vessels known to Bistekville IV. They are just the right size for unskilled workers like us to manage without hurting ourselves, while sculpting forearms and biceps that friends and family will be super-jealous of upon our return.
We need a long line today, longer than our numbers, so ladies from the village magically appear, like angels. Randy and I work on either side of Thelma and she teaches us to say, “Paki ipasa ang timba.” Please pass the bucket. And, “Pagod.” Tired. And, “Mainit.” Hot. She’s 38 and looks like she’s in her 20’s. Age comes up time and again. A young girl we think is 15 is twenty-something. A man, who works hard alongside any laborer, is 80. It goes both ways though: Thelma thinks I’m in my 30’s. We’re besties now.
Randy and I befriended a young girl, about 6, Ayessa (pronounced Aye-eesh-a) the first day. She has a sweet, shy smile. She greets us when we arrive, visits us under the tents and waves when we leave. I tried to take her picture, but she adamantly refused.
Mariel, who now hollers down my name from the roof-top and spends way too much of his day toiling and boiling up there, asked Randy about her gloves. How much he’d like them he indicated, holding up his right hand with a lesser quality glove on it. “Too small,” Randy pointed out. We talked about it, how perhaps he’d cut the finger tips off, to make them fit, then the next day we noticed that his left hand was crushed, the fingers just stubs.
Except for the foremen, every paid laborer on the job site is wearing flip-flops. We’re told they make 2,000 Philippine pesos per month, which is $57.14 Canadian.
We take a water break and six of us cluster in the tiny amount of shade just across the lane, which is someone’s dwelling in the condemned center of the community. The man who lives there rushes around and somehow, although his place doesn’t even look big enough, produces three chairs and three stools, cleans them off, and we sit.
In Western society, money tends to define us. It is most beautiful, from time to time, to exist in a state where the power of money pales in comparison to the power of people.