I've lived in Belgium for 23 years and have Belgian nationality. But there's little doubt that my heart's home will always be the Philippines, the archipelago of my affections. I still call those 7,107 islands home even if my last visit was 6 years ago, and a shaky bank balance reminds me that the next visit is far off. I call it home, though I regularly feel desperate and angry about how things are over there: the grinding poverty, the natural disasters, the Catholic church's continuing ban on birth control which is criminally irresponsible given the country's population of 97 million with a growth rate of almost 2%, the shocking corruption of politicians from the President on down, the malaise of the educational system, the non-existence of healthcare, the utter disregard for the environment - the dumping of garbage everywhere, unchecked urban sprawl, the rape of coral reefs and pillage of old growth forests, the unquestioned sway of the West, particularly America, on Philippine culture, and the consumerism that shouts from billboards and gropes pinched pocketbooks in sprawling malls. It shocks me that rich friends think nothing of giving a 9 year old child a 3G iPhone or buying their daughter a $6,000 Louis Vuitton handbag for her 16th birthday, while people who've lost everything in recent floods huddle in shanties closeby. And it saddens me that families spend less time enjoying healthy, home-cooked meals together in favour of eating junk-laden burgers and drinking soulless caramel brulee lattes at Starbucks cafes which have sprouted like a rash all over the place.
Living half a world away and railing about the pitiable state of my homeland does not help much. At most it brings me fleeting relief from frustration which lasts five minutes, if that. In a feeble, angsty First World way, I wring my hands and commiserate with the plight of my fellow Filipinos, for all the good it does them or me. I can get really hot under the collar or feel righteous or shouty or guilty; often all those things all at once. Powerlessness - seeing it in others, and feeling it in myself - is hard.
The joy of seeing comes from being aware that life brings its own little corrections to any given situation, if I take the time to look beyond myself and my overblown judgements.
I came upon this beautiful gem of a video yesterday, and found it starkly moving. It was directed by the artist-activist Mae Paner and shot by Boy Yñiguez, a first rate cinematographer who also happens to be a dear friend. The small group that made it worked for free and produced it themselves. Sadly, there have been no takers for this video among cinemas and TV stations back home because it doesn't have any famous actors or politicians in it. Shame on them. If you like it, please share it with others.
It is simply about a poor boy who finds a paper Philippine flag in the dirt, dusts it off and climbs up an abandoned flagpole with it. The song in the background is the Lupang Hinirang, our national anthem, delivered with sparkling dignity by a children's choir instead of the orchestral bombast that usually accompanies it. That is all. And yet. It gave me pause and made me cry. Everything I love about my country IS in that boy - in the purchase of bare toes on slippery metal, in his unflinching ascent, in the shy smile of victory he allows himself when he reaches the top. He is golden like the morning.