Wednesday, March 28, 2012

CROSSING BORDERS

by Linda Bansil

When I was in college my teachers would always tell the class that the real world is harsh , that its not the same with the safety confines of the school. That sooner when we graduate we will be among those who will look for work and that we will lose our idealism and become like everyone. We will be earning bucks for a job done and be consumers like the rest. Not that its a bad thing but being in school grounds the individual to idealism for some period of time (until one moves on to the much dreaded real world they say) . I didn't have to really go far away from the school confines to discover this and it wasn't really that exaggerated except the real world is just much like the world if there is such a thing as another -world.

My thesis in my senior year was about content analysis of violent front -page photographs in local newspapers in Zamboanga City. In the study I had to search around piles and piles of newspapers at the library. I would have never seen so much gory photographs in my life if it weren't for the study I was making , not to mention sorting them according to crime (from stabbing, hacking, shooting , bombing etc.) These photographs were taken for just a 1- year span what more if I used more? . By looking for samples of photos I had to also check all other issues in past years, some of the photos did not even have names of the victims and no story accompaniments. I began to think how lonely it would be to die in a drowning incident and being photographed too. It seemed cruel to be in that photo looking bloated and lifeless, but the photo helped the relatives to identify the victim which was actually helpful and the complete reverse of what I was thinking and then I thought- in the real world this photo helped.

I began to realize that the job of a journalist is not easy one as every topic especially crime related ones will always leave a visual mark in his head perhaps even forever. Maybe I am too soft and maybe these images were already getting into me as I found myself stressed day by day. This stopped however , after I had my final defense and passed. And I swore I will never be a police beat writer and it became a mental mantra of some sort. I wish I knew better.

I worked as a production manager for a cartoon project with the Ateneo shortly after that . I began writing scripts for values education . But a year before this my sister and I began video documenting demolitions when our house was included in a demolition that included 70 families. My mother , who is a Moroccan looked like a homeless statistic in the footage I cannot believe this could be happening. Talk about attracting social issues to my own life and giving the slogan "personal is political"  a brand new meaning . The video with a working title " a year of demolitions" was literally a documentary about one year of demolitions . I learned how demolitions were rampant and how homeless people suffer .Not only that they lose structures or roofs but they also lose their dignity in the process. Much like the shattered window glasses, cemented walls and everything that binded the house together , families also lost their livelihood . But more than this is the effect of demolitions to the children who had to stop school due to this, which is something that cannot be measured. While missed classes is something that can be addressed the psychological trauma caused by seeing homes shattered to pieces is another story.

One day a fire swallowed hundreds of homes in Camino Nuevo in Zamboanga, a friend of mine who lives in a dormitory there went home to her parents and left all her things there. We had to rush to her room to save her things. A day after the people were temporarily sheltered in a nearby school where they could sleep and place the stuff they saved. Losing a home made me more sensitive about others losing theirs.

Days passed , one sunday afternoon we went to look at the area which looked bare and there were wires all over that meant that the people were not allowed to go back there. Long before talks about a demolition was soon on the way according to residents. But there were some families who began building small shelters made of wood and tarpaulin roofs outside of the wire cordon. One of the security guards who was said to be drunk that time started to shoot with his gun. Our jerky camera footages of this incident is a mirror of how we felt , scared to death as we lay on the ground hoping not to be shot at. 


The rights to adequate housing at that moment I thought paled in comparison to the right to life that we were about to lose. But like sea gypsies we knew that this wave is not the strongest and we went on following each demolition as it happened where it happened in the city. Some of the people's suffering that we heard had also a cathartic effect to me personally. I felt losing a home is the most natural thing on earth as I met more and more people with the same predicament. After almost being shot and watching homes upon homes being destroyed I think it somewhat takes a toll.

What would we do after having around 16 rolls of footage and a year of demolition caught on tape? Its just a time to detach to the material. I began doing other things going from one workshop to another radio production , human rights , writing etc. then I packed my bags and left Zamboanga and went to Manila, only to be welcomed by familiar looking fruits in supermarkets. Durian and mangosteen from Sulu grace fruit carts here , at first I thought are these following me? Huh! This one made me smile for what reason I don't know. But I am glad this to me is good news, something better than bombing stories.

My next job is a complete opposite of what I was doing before I am now a front desk staff at a wellness center or day spa, where the sound of serene music fills the air with almost silence from trickling sound of water and birds. An ambiance that spells comfort and luxury and promises an end to aching muscles and joints. I give a run down of wellness services and how to get a total pampering experience to every guest coming in. keeping calm is a great challenge to me, to making sure that to see other people's needs and wants is the center of my attention. I wake up everyday knowing that one of the events to look forward to is guiding a guest toward the new center of the world it seems -the jacussi , steam and sauna.

And like journalism I have to be accurate, brief and credible when I describe a foot therapy, knowing that what I can say has a big effect my listener's decision. Now I have added problem solving skills which includes pacifying guests complaining about ill- fitted bathrobes and towels, not to mention chipped nails. You might think I hated my work for lack of grandeur or excitement or that chipped nails is too small a problem to worry about although I am sure that there are bigger problems elsewhere say Sudan , Ethiopia ,Burma or Mindanao where I came from.

But to me every day is a chance to prove myself, that I am not only capable of documenting problems I can also help in solving them may it be removing stress out of people's lives. My job now was to keep customers satisfied with every visit and make sure that they get de-stressed. I never heard of such a goal before for myself or others. 


Sometimes I think how dedication can lead to almost perfection, not bad even if its just cleaning your own window so you could see the view better. Someday when I meet my teachers again I will tell them that the real world is no different with the ones they warned me about , now I think thats a mix up. There are only two kinds of worlds the safe and unsafe one , and truth for that matter depends on where you stand.

Ah life makes me feel like a hundred year old, but sooner I have to work on editing the demolition footages and find the right venue where it can be viewed. Sooner I have to leave the country to cross a new border to rediscover my mom's roots and my other cultural heritage. When is that I am not sure but  I am sure there will be some mangosteen and durian from Sulu in supermarkets or being carried in the back of camels in the Sahara. 




February 2, 2007 
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