Hold your horses. Now, before you release the Kraken of emotions and negative comments, allow us a small amount of your time to walk you through the stories of Boracay people, their experiences, whether they bring a smile to your faces or tears to your eyes. Their story. Their life. The little voices of Boracay.
After nearly a year of being cooped up in the confines of my four-cornered husks, I decided I needed to fly. I needed to fly and be with nature. I need to find a way to connect, not just to the outside world, but most importantly, to the people who were also equally limited by the pandemic.
Bags, all set. Seat belt, fastened.
Ah, there it is—the familiar mix of ocean breeze and soaking heat. My feet can feel the sand again. Not just any sand – it’s the soft and powdery sand of Boracay. I started walking closer to the shore when a lifeguard reminded me about my face mask. Right, for a second there, I forgot that we’re still in a pandemic.
As I sat on the sand, I watched the water wash my footprints – erasing the trail I made. A soft voice started to come closer.
“Sir, braids? Massage? Pang kain lang po.”
If this were in Manila, some people would give this man the kind of treatment for a beggar. But I guess it was a force of habit for me to answer a question with a question. “Ano po name ninyo? Bakit ‘di pa po kayo kumakain?” He told me his name is Jess before giving me a gesture that suggests, “Wala eh, walang kita.”
I always hear people say, “Give a man a fish; you feed him a day. Teach a man how to fish; you feed him a lifetime.” I say, do both. We can give a man a fish while teaching him how to, can we not?
“Sige kuya, massage, mamaya.”
There are a lot of Jesses on the island. It’s so interesting to see how we’re all similar and different at the same time. Similar in such a way that most of us rely on our jobs to bring food to the table. Jess is right. No work, no pay, no food. The only difference is the level of privilege we have and that not all of us have safety nets. But you see, we don’t necessarily have to experience their struggles and challenges to understand their hardships. Sometimes, these people simply need to be seen and heard because for every word they utter, their insides scream for so many questions that no one seems to answer – and that, my friend, is excruciating.
Sometimes, these people simply need to be seen and heard…
Boracay has been through a lot of challenges the past few years. From closing and getting undressed to save and maintain its beauty and tranquility to opening its doors in the most inopportune time when the pandemic reached its shores.
Boracay is home
One of those affected by it is Marlyn. She lives in the nearby village with the rest of the Ati community, who were able to secure low-skill work. Their families and ancestors were compelled to the island’s hinterlands when claimants started occupying portions of their ancestral land.
“Pupunta ng aga sa school para kunin yung modyul ng mga bata, balik sa bahay para magluto ng kamote at kangkong, tapos dito na.” Marlyn softly and quietly shares while pressing my back with her hands. I could feel the labor and struggles she’s been whenever her palms touch my skin.
“Minsan nga po gusto ko nang mawala dahil sa gutom. Pero yung mga anak ko, kailangan kumain. ‘wawa naman.” I honestly didn’t know what to tell her. Maybe I didn’t have to say anything. Perhaps I just needed to listen to her. Maybe, at that moment, all she wanted is someone to confide the weight of her bearings – in the hopes that when her story reaches the right people, a chance for a better life may come. Every story shared, every person talked to, is a shot she’ll take.
She works in the hotel twice a week. I released a sigh of relief when she said regardless of whether they get clients or not, they still get paid. But there are weeks that they are never asked to come to work. With a faint voice, she said she understands because the hotel is also trying to sustain the help they extend by offering jobs. “Kailangang pagbutihin ang gawa kasi ‘pag ‘di maganda, baka ‘di na kami kailanganin.”
Boracay as a mere contrast.
Behind the aesthetics, the shining white buildings with their state-of-the-art facilities, and abundance in supplies, are the communities and people who only get to taste a small portion of a cake—overshadowed by big brands and intimidating structures.
Whenever I hear promises of progress and development, I often ask, for whom? I often wonder about the roles of people and how much they contributed to planning. Do only select people have a say? How about those communities that will carry the weight of falling behind technological advancements and modernization? How prominent are their voices in all this?
With beauty comes the struggle
Boracay is undeniably one of the most recognizable beaches in the world. The white sand, the congenitally breathtaking sunset, and the crystal clear water are all so deserving of its accolades. But these are all the covers of a place that hides an ugly truth.
The truth that some people and cultures are being left behind. In every innovation and development, a culture may struggle if not considered, included, and protected. And that… is ugly.
Wherever you are, when you meet your version of Jess and Marlyn, hear them. Listen closely to what they say. Amplify their voices by supporting them – whether it be through their services or the goods they sell. It is only when we care so much when we see things get better.
To Jess and Ate Marlyn, I’ve made my promise. Your stories will be heard, and hopefully, they will live on forever.
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