breaking dawn last friday, we drove to porac pampanga to live with the aetas. our vehicle had to stop at villa maria resettlement chapel and we had to trek two mountains to reach barangay diaz, where the 'unadulterated' minorities dwell.
it wasnt an easy trek. while there was a helpful trail and guided by some natives, we were in for a rough and tough hike. we scaled, we skidded, we slumped. we fell, we crossed swamps and rivers. we cleared some pathways, we had to bear insect stings. we passed natural tunnels and manmade barricades. more than any obstacle, we needed to surpass our physical strength to make it.
the most difficult climb was the way to the top, where barangay diaz is situated. every inch became steeper, every step more challenging. when we thought we saw signs of the community, it was a mere case of 'so near yet so far' mirage. when we thought we heard giggles of kids making fun of us, they were birds actually, chirping enough jeers to wobble our knees.
i was panting like an old horse. a very old horse. my training in preparation for this hike was gone in the wind. i stuck my tongue like giving up already but the sight of a nipa hut confirmed it was no longer a mirage. i wasn't in desert of nowhere after all, i was in a verdant rainforest, all set to the summit.
when finally the nipa hut was clear to my view, i knew we were just more or less five hundred dreaded steps away. but each step was miserable. like you wish you were clark kent. or you didn't join the trip at all. but hey, no giving up, there's the sign of life already. the birds chirping were replaced by kids cheering.
i was among the first ones to reach barangay diaz. enough for us to call ouselves the pump squad. and you know what was the first thing we saw when we reached the gateway to the aeta community? a basketball court. yes, even aetas can jump and play ball. hmm, sounds interesting, basketball match with aetas!
the kids hug us like we were brothers. but yes, in the eyes of the Lord, we are equal. yes, we are brothers. we hug them back like we pump squad was being pepped for a big basketball game. indeed, it could be the biggest game of our life: living with aetas.
up there was baguio times twenty. very, very cold. but the smiles of aetas were warmer than the Sahara sun. they get to you not to scorch you but to make you feel home. it was home sweet home for an adventurous manila boy.
we were there for a purpose. aside from immersing into aeta life, we were there to start the chapel we want to build for the long forgotten aeta community in barangay diaz. there were so many homes and families there, and each one of us got a foster family. my foster parents were kuya robert and ate mariel. i refused to call them tatay and nanay because i thought they just a young couple. young couple with eight children. beat that. i lived in their modest abode. for aetas, i was lucky to be living in kuya robert's palace, it was one the biggest there was. hmmm, i will leave it your imagination how big is big for aetas. just a sampler, some homes have no walls, no ceilings, literally speaking.
no electricity, no bath, no water. they had to fetch water from spring 15 kilometers down. just imagine how we held dear the bottled water we brought all the way from manila. like a prized possession; you wouldn't want to waste a drop.
i ate whatever they had for lunch, dinner, breakfast. this is part of the whole immersion program. it wasn't a fear factor challenge, but a 'real' reality show. praise the Lord I was a salad-freak. I eat greens like a goat. And up there, were so many goats. I nourished like a goat for the longest two days of my life. I was so tempted to ask for goat.
in the morning, we started clearing the ground for the construction site. and what a sight it was. young students, all barely 15-16 started digging....