Manila. I know two of her boundaries: the one on the west where I work, and the one to the east where I live. The first is along the coast. But cast all thoughts aside of any hint of tropical beach beauty. This area of Manila Bay is more like a sewer. It’s literally the garbage dump of the city. Here is recycling on a massive scale. But it’s not for environmental reasons, it’s for survival. Thousands of Manila’s poor literally scrape through the city’s waste, picking out wood, plastic, metal, whatever they can find to sell to the junk shops for enough pesos to cover the next meal.
We first arrived in the Philippines almost thirty years ago. Then we worked and lived in the same area, along the western boundary: a poverty-stricken concrete jungle by the cesspool sea. We went for months on end without seeing a blade of grass, a bird, a tree. About five years later our bucket of stress overflowed; we crashed and burned. We returned to Europe, leaving the NGO work behind us, our tails between our legs.
Fourteen years after this miserable exit, we returned to the scene of our demise. Well, not quite. Our work location has remained almost exactly the same as before. Where we have come to live, however, an utter contrast. For the last nine years we’ve been happily perched on a green hillside, surrounded by trees, grass, open spaces, as well as the sights and sounds of creatures beyond count, whether they be bird, reptile, amphibian or insect. How many times have they rescued me from the despair of the city’s ugliness…
The western and the eastern boundaries, not more than 30 kilometers apart – which Manila traffic translates into between one and a half to three hours away. When we plunge into the pollution to cross the city to work, I often arrive slightly shell-shocked. The trip home, however, is completely different: darkness covers the urban insanity, plus I’ve spent the day connecting to the reason why we’re here: the people.
And nature helps keep us here.