Thursday, August 02, 2007

up the mountain

Yesterday I went to a Mangyan village at the base of Mt. Halcon that I've been to a few times. It's actually up the mountain, but since the mountain is about 3 or 4000 meters, we were pretty much still at the base. We were invited to attend their nutrition month celebration since we've had projects in their community before. The celebration was typically long, and of course we were the guest judges, so we judged three competitions. The first was a performance competition where four different groups of kids dressed in leaf costumes got up and sang and danced the exact same song. The song was put out by the government I think, and is sponsored by Knorr. It's about eating more vegetables, specifically eating more vegetables in soup form, all flavored by delicious Knorr-brand soup stocks! Anyway, these kids all danced the same song, doing the same moves, and then we were supposed to judge them. I picked the group with the cutest kids. The second competition was a cook-off, specifically a veggie cook-off, which was ok, although in all honesty, except for the first one, the dishes were all pretty much just unidentifiable piles of mush. Come to think of it, so was the first dish, but at least it was tasty. The funny, and by funny I mean tragically sad, thing is that what these people really needed was some meat. Or at least education on protein-rich veggies and legumes. A lot of the kids had the red hair that is a sign of pretty severe protein deficiency, so it was nice they were doing this push to eat veggies, but those they've got. Unfortunately you can't sing a government approved jingle and make chickens appear.

The microphone system was a bullhorn loudspeaker like you'd see at a county fair that they got from somewhere, rigged somehow to a microphone. They also blasted bad dance music most of the time, which the kids all loved. They had a demonstration on how to start a fire using the traditional method, which was freakin' awesome and would put some boy scouts and their two sticks to shame. They had a short play about traditional healers that weirded me out because the girls in the play were freaking out, crying, and it all looked very weird and real. It was an odd moment.

The experience is hard to describe because the Mangyans are not only poor beyond belief, but it's like entering some alternate universe where life as we know it took some sort of radically different path a few thousand years ago. It's hard to believe that so many radically different lifestyles can all co-exist at the same time. For some reason they've adopted western style clothing despite not being able to afford it, so rather than wear the traditional g-string and women's attire, everyone is dressed in super old over-sized shirts and shorts that are so full of holes they're barely holding together. I don't feel uncomfortable there because everyone is super nice (although super shy), but it always feels really weird to just pop into their world from mine of enough food, limitless possibilities, education, health care, etc, and then to be served a shit ton of food, like pork, iced tea, veggies, and cookies while a gaggle of dirty kids in huge t-shirts with rotten teeth and distended bellies looked on. That was fucked up and made me so incredibly uncomfortable I took just enough to not be rude and hoped they would give out the leftovers, and gave the rest of my food away to the kids. Not that they need cookies, but sitting there eating cookies in front of a kid who only eats rice is just something I couldn't do...

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