One of my favorite things about living in the same place for any length of time (which many of you will know is something I only occasionally do) is that eventually people begin to become familiar to me. It is wholly understating the obvious to say that I am by every stretch of the notion a hi-how-ya-doin’ type of person. I’m not exaggerating when I say that among the many things I enjoyed as a smoker was getting to know my local liquor store / offy / sari-sari store owner…gone, however, are those days, but we have now been living in the same place for some time, and there are some people I look forward to seeing on a more or less daily basis.
The first such people don’t even know who I am. They are the two blokes who drive ’round the neighborhood in the morning – virtually every morning, selling freshly caught fish out of the back of their pick-up truck. They shout something…I think it’s in Visayan, but if it is in English it might be “ICE FISH,” presumably because it’s on ice. But they may not be saying that at all. Thing is, neither Chris nor I have the guts to clear the guts out of a whole fish, like, unadulterated and maybe still twitching a bit. So I guess we may never know what it is they’re saying.
There are two gardeners here…one is named Richard, but I’ve not gotten around to getting the other guy’s name. They pass by our place about once or twice a month, and out of pity for our lack of trim (our landlord hasn’t really kept up his promises when it comes to our landscaping…not a big deal), they clear up the jungle that has amassed in their absence. They work from early morning and just keep going straight through into the hottest part of the day. Each day they make their way to a different fraction of the subdivision, so that once a few weeks have passed, they’re in our region again. But even if they see me from a distance, they take the time to look up and wave as I come and go.
Then there’s the security guards. Such is their kindness that it wasn’t until Chris informed me last night that I realized that they – like all security guards here…at least those not carrying semi-automatics – carry handguns. One is called Lundi – he’s been here since we first moved in – and the other is Alan. Both really sweet guys, although beyond hellos and goodbyes we haven’t really deepened connections there or anything. They work 12 hour shifts, and until very recently they had no shift-changer. Because they switch back and forth from days to nights and back again, at the end of the week, there was always a roll-over shift. If your math is as good as mine, you’ll know that means that one of them gets a full day off (yes – one every two weeks), while the other one gets a 24-hour shift. It made us cringe when we’d see them on the “long shift”…I cannot imagine having that as part of my normal week-to-week routine. Luckily they’ve resolved that now, and while they still only get one day off for every 13 they work, at least there’s no more working the zombie shift.
The shuttles that run from our neighborhood to the center of town are driven by only a handful of guys – all guys…I’ve still yet to see a female driver of any public transportation – and most of them are really sweet. Cucui (pronounced ku-KU-ee) has gone out of his way to get to know me, and made a point asking after Chris the last time I saw him. The name for “older brother” here is kuya, and it’s basically what you would call any elder male you see on a regular basis. I find saying “Kuya Cucui” very fun indeed. There’s also a funny kuya of mine on the other end, by the wet market, who always has a high-five and a, “Hello, my friend!” when I come to get on the shuttle. His job is to fill up the shuttles one-by-one by directing (shepherding?) us onto the appropriate one as they’re all lined up in a row and otherwise we’d never know which one to board. I think I’m the only person – as Chris pointed out yesterday – that has the nerve to try to convince him that the shuttle is simply too full: “Kuya, it’s pono (full)! We’re just too big!” He ignores me as if my voice were a mosquito flitting past his ear.
In the past month or so we’ve had a bit more luck on the social side…but these everyday encounters are priceless to me and my sanity. Kind words from almost-strangers have to be one of the best things about being human.