On a drizzling afternoon of January, I found myself in a crowd of NGO workers, dancing to the beat of a sacred music under the huge dome of the sky. Three Swiss women led the sacred dance (and I had a sudden wish it were a full moon) but of course, it was not, and it was not really that kind of dance!
The three Swiss women belonged to the women's group Theresa Ladeli (ladeli is the Swiss term for "little shop"), who auctioned unused items in Switzerland to send the proceeds to help poor communities in the Philippines. Later, Daday would tell me how boxes of pencils made in Switzerland and Germany would find their way to Aeta communities in Tapak or how boxes of Swiss knives would sometimes get into the hands of Customs officials who wanted to take some of them as "souvenirs."
Monica Baumann founded the group after the shock of her first visit in the country 16years ago. She has been coming to the Philippines once in every two years to see how far the group's assistance has been going; and this time, she was with two women companions, Lilly Wirz and Anna Rosa Gersbach.
Lilly was upset because she saw a baby died of pesticide poisoning in the midst of a banana plantation in Compostela Valley on the week of their visit. They also went to a house in between the huge tracks of land owned by the Zubiris and another landed family in Bukidnon, where a few months earlier, a nine year old child happened to eat a stolen banana (newly sprayed with insecticides) and died. (Later, I would also read what happened over a year ago to two women workers of a group that Theresa Ladeli was assisting.)
Lilly could not talk to the crowd without bursting into tears. I thought that Ana Rossa did not want to talk, too, because she did not want to show her emotions. But at the end of the program, she delivered this message:
"Maayong Hapon, my dear sisters and brothers," Ana Rossa began. "I say sisters and brothers because you did let me feel at home, you did let me feel being a member of a big family - salamat kaayo!
You gave me the chance to look behind the smile in the faces of the Philippino people and what I saw is more than sad and bad - it's unjust and unhuman.
After all I have experienced these six weeks, the last five and the first three weeks here in Mindanao, I do not go back home the same woman as I was before. I will go home half Swiss and half Filipino (not only because my skin did turn darker) and this half part always wants to come back to you again, because you became part of my life.
It's a privilege to have the choice--as all the people you serve--and this is unjust and unhuman. But you help them, you bring hope, you give all you have --your love--and you risk your life. I admire all of you and thank you for this very precious work. You work as NGO's, you do not go overseas. You have the choice to either work for a big company here and earn bigger money or go abroad but you made your choice to stay in your home country, to stand up for your people, to serve the poor.
On our way back to Davao city, our companion pointed to them a Swiss Deli we passed by on our way to Bajada.
"No, no," Lilly said, vigorously shaking her head. "We don't go looking for Swiss food when we're in Asia, we eat 'real' food," she said. "We eat Swiss food only when we get home and then, we know, that it's for real."
I nodded because I saw her eat with relish boiled eggplant and okra with bagoong that afternoon.