2 AM. I was on the toilet when I heard a loud scream. Silva’s. I thought she was having a bad dream. But when I came into the room, the lights were on, she had a messy hair and was completely awaken.
‘Cockroach fell on my head!’ she was shocked.
‘A cockroach. It must be here somewhere. There it is!’
Indeed, cockroach it was. Brown, slightly shiny and about eight inches big. We caught it with a towel, opened the room door and it flew out like a ladybug. By now, I didn’t even know that cockroaches can fly.
A paradise for insects
There are tons of rats in Navotas slum, together with vermin, bugs and cockroaches. Friends of the streets one might say. The streets are full of garbage, sewage from the drains and smell of excrement. The stench is mixed with the fragrance of the food, the moisture and exhaust.
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But it is one thing if you see an insects in the garbage pit and on the street, and other thing entirely, if they climb over your face during sleep. Poor Silva.
That night, one out of four we spent in the house of the Famini family, we almost skipped our sleep.
Not only did Silva jump out of bed at every noise and investigated the terrain, but also after the incident with cockroaches, we left the lights on for the rest of the night. We thought in these circumstances, it would perhaps be best to sleep with the lights on and thus avoid any new surprise.
Well, even with the lights on, we every now and then saw a rat running over the bed, from one of the opening on the thin strip towards another hole. How she did it without falling on our bed is still out of my mind.
Dark slum streets
Robert and Harlyn Famini live for 32 years in Navotas. Like many others, they came form a rural province in search of a better life.
They moved to this shanty town and settled in a kind of residential complex, similar to most of the locals’ type of accommodation.
The path to their apartment from the main street leads to a dark alley, much narrower, only a few feet wide, with tall wooden huts on each side. Streets are so narrow and housing is so high that the sunshine simply can not break through. Huts stick to one another and are separated only by thin wooden walls.
Father Robert until his retirement worked as a fireman, while mother Harlyn worked from home, she is running a small home-shop, selling rice and cares for six wonderful children. God has given them a daughter and five sons, but three years ago, one of them was taken back to Him. A heart stroke.
When we lived at Famini family, we could only met Harlyn, fourteen-year-daughter Hazel May and the youngest sons, Ramil (22 years) and Rex John (7 years). Robert was absent, as he was renovating a house in the countryside, where they intend to move in the coming years. Other children were already becoming independent and no longer live in a slum.
Hospitable, honored and curious
What amazed us was the incredible hospitality, respect and openness to us, seen with people in the slum; our hosts, people from the streets. Otherwise this is typical to Filipinos, particularly in relation to the whites.
Walking along the streets, people were waving at us, children were running after us and shouted up: “Amerikano, Amerikano,” adults welcomed us: “Hello, sir”; “What is your name, sir?”; “How are you, sir?”; “WHERE do you come from; sir?”, over and over again. Often, they wanted to take pictures with us, they would be touching us and shaking hands.
Early on, Sister Therese said that such a visit from “external” guests (especially if they are white people from the rich West), means a lot to them. They are honored and proud, although surprised and curious about how such a man could end up in Navotas and what is he doing here anyway.
Therapy for the pampered
Harlyn is a hardworking woman, she cleans a house, cooks, prepares meals, washes the laundry, alongside raising children, and at the same time being available for customers who come after rice in a shop twelve hours per day.
When Slovenes complain on how life is hard and how bad are the conditions in which we live in, in fact we do not know exactly what we are talking about.
Every European who is dissatisfied with his life, should for some time be living among the people in the Navotas-like slum. Entire change of mindset, I reckon.
Robert and Harlyn have sacrificed all their lives so that they may educate the children, to be able to find better jobs and enjoy living in better conditions.
They managed to do this by being entrepreneurial, in-genuine and by having a lot of eagerness to work.
They have picked a life for themselves in the ‘hole’ together with cockroaches and rats, which brings then almost no expenses besides electricity and water – so that they could save enough money for their children’s future.
With a help of shop revenue and firefighter salaries, they have managed to put together two houses outside the slum and partially covered the costs of their education (partially subsidized by the Gift of the heart foundation). In other words, they were humiliated to extremes, so that they could enable their children a better and safer life.
The oldest two sons have graduated several years ago, and found a good job, they created their families and now live outside the slum.
Ramil is still studying and working at programming company in Manila. Hazel May is completing elementary school, and the youngest, Rex John, a playful, mischievous and immensely likable 7-year-old would like to become an engineer. He goes to a school and is already making similar steps to his brothers.
Happiness and satisfaction – where from?
When we lived at Famini’s, sharing their daily life, we had a great opportunity to once again evaluate what is the most important in our lives. What makes some people happy, while others stay unsatisfied and unhappy all the time? These are our expectations!
Neither Harlyn nor anyone else with whom we talked to, was complaining about their life. Our neighbor had a flood in his bedroom after a heavy rain. He was sitting in front of his door, telling me about it with a smile on his face, as if this was the most common thing ever.
That day and the entire night to follow, the street was full of drilling and pounding noise. We slept very little, but in the morning, we could see the same cheerful smile, announcing us that the flood problem was resolved.
Filipinos are people with a smile on their face. Tourists, travelers and those who know their culture can confirm this fact.
Smiles devoted to one another, are expressing mutual respect, but are also a witness of their inner freedom, one that can only be achieved by lowering one’s expectations and by a friendly embrace of life, no matter what God has it for you.
Lets help them
Famini family is one of many, which are connected to a network of associates and friends of the Gift of the heart foundation. Sister Therese and her colleagues put daily efforts to help young and older people in the slum to improve their education and to have better relationships.
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