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Monday, July 15, 2013

The Simple Life At Alibijaban Island


It didn't took much effort getting there. The six hour bus ride is nothing compared to the bare living conditions at the island. As seen from my outsider's point of view, the scarcity of everything I couldn't live without flashes like a bulb in front of my eyes, until the brightness effect renders me blind already. It was a perspective which proved to be inaccurate - a mere hour into our stay there. We were greeted by a middle aged woman whom everyone fondly calls as "Kapitana", to some though, who have strict odes about current politics prefers to call her "Ex-kapitana". It doesn't matter whether she won or lost in the last barangay elections, what stuck out to us then was her hospitality and lack of attrition in cutting the chords of unfamiliarity between her and two visitors who came into their island. 

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It was like she was expecting myself and Gretch to to arrive that morning. Coffee was instantly served and small talk ensued. As simple as their life on the island, which has no electricity and fresh running water, she told us about her three children, the youngest is a criminology student based in Manila, the older daughter is now based in the Mountain Province and an OFW son based in Bahrain. I imagine her telling that fact to the every visitor of the island. As if to break down the notion that people who were raised in this part of the country and eluded by modernity, will never get the chance to break out and chase their dreams elsewhere.

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I saw a tinge of pride covered her face while she speaks of her children, as if telling us we are not different from them. There's nothing to feel sorry and guilty about. It's the kind of life they chose. A simple one, yet they still give the next generation the chance to seek a greener pasture away from the island. 

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The small community rests just in front of the shore fronting the mainland of San Andres in Quezon Province. Fences made from coconut wood separates the houses and divided by three rows running parallel to the sea.  The small streets were just flattened white sands and a little further back, a copra plantation occupies the rest of the island.

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The island's industry stems from fishing and copra farming. Kapitana says it is becoming more difficult for them to earn since copra prices have been driven down to a paltry 10 peso per kilo. It was the day before the election. You would expect them to be fed up with the failed promises of candidates as evidenced with the almost forgotten state of their island. It was the polar opposite. The excitement of going to the polls the next day - which undeniably something I would not give a flying f*ck about missing out, was the talk of the town.

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In a 20/20 hindsight, they showed me how, even times of hopelessness, the call for change and the importance to have a voice still rings true in a true democratic country like ours. They will never give up that right to vote, even though politicians have the tendency to break campaign promises, throw soaps on the floor while waiting for their constituents to bend over so they could screw them again and again.

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As we wander around the island until sunset unknown to us that time, Kapitana was busy waiting for the fishermen to come home so she could order some to cook for us that night. Even the island is a fishing community, most nights they would just cook a simple meal of kamote, kangkong and tuyo for dinner. Not this night though, Kapitana wanted to make sure to serve her guests a special meal that night.

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It was one of the best dinner I've ever had in a long time. Under a candle-lit table we shared plates of crispy fried fish (pardon me for forgetting what type of fish it was). Since then, every time I would dig my hands in plateful of rice and fried fish, I always remember our dinner setting at Alibijaban island. I could imagine Kapitana staring us with her worried look, hoping we're enjoying the food she served. She had no idea what a feast it was for me and Gretch.

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The next morning as the town is busy preparing to vote at the island's lone tiny school, we walked towards the part of the island where the mangroves are. I almost stepped into a live snake, if not for Gretch reacting with a surprise shriek, there's no way of telling if I would end up with a snake bite. 

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The local community at Alibijaban have endured all sorts of figurative snake bites, the primitive way of living may present an image of a hard-bearing life to outsiders like us. For them, it wasn't the case. They are living a simple life - for all of them, its what matters most. Kapitana told us how happy she is to see visitors arriving, but at the same time fear the moment when a rich man would buy the whole island and transform it into a fancy beach resort.

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Right now they are hearing murmurs of a rich political family planning to buy the island. I asked her what would they do when that happens. For the first time I saw her face sadden and said in a low voice "We have no choice but to fall back inland, we could always farm there" - still full of hope and fighting spirit, but deep inside we both know, it would be better if nobody shakes up their small and simple community.



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