Bulag si Lola

It was the third and last day in Sta. Ana and Kuya Granny, our OSCI formator was processing our immersion. We gathered around him, some  sat Indian style, some with their backs to the wall, but all with their gaze slightly off-centered to the floor. The sun filled the small room with light, yet people’s heavy breathing felt humid.  Was there a point to this immersion? The uneasy air stuck to our thick skin.

People often question the value of the Ateneo immersion program and whether it’s built on pretension or good intention. For almost three days you have two groups from different social classes living together under one roof and  sleeping on the same floor. It’s an exchange of perspectives from the friendly fisher folk community to the students, but the experience is constructed upon assumptions — theirs and ours. That’s actually quite offensive for both groups, a friend mentioned to me during the trip. We put our best tsinela forward because everyone is watching each other.

Our family didn’t even allow us to wash the dishes. “Nakakahiya daw,” they said, referring to the embarrassment of allowing guests to clean up after themselves. This family, who struggles to feed themselves on a daily basis, were expected to provide 3 days worth of breakfast, lunch and dinner for two girls. We were the ones embarrassed. We took it upon ourselves to not only convince them to allow us to clean, but to eat a meal with us, like a real family should. Luckily, we eventually succeeded.

But what are we to do? Is immersion nothing but jargon to the tongue of some who simply feel just required to go? Or is it an experience neither here or there, engrossing itself in an attempt to understand whether how we acted is real or premeditated. Perhaps we are there to listen to their stories of hardship and hope, anger and contentment, but some students couldn’t shake the feeling that they were already expected to help afterwards. Wait, we should, right? We’re Ateneans after all.

How much can the blue-blooded Samaritans who depart the city with nothing but a few clothes and necessities in their bags actually leave behind? We wear magis (man for others) on our sleeve but comfort will always be the skeleton in our closet upon which we will be judged.

During our sharing I had a flashback to when Ate Lalene walked my roomate and I to our little house on the hill. It’s where we would be spending the next couple of days with her family. She informed us “Bulag si Lola. Okay lang?” I quickly uttered “okay lang,” not realizing then that Lola was blind because she literally had no eyes to see with. She covered them with shades to prevent people from staring, but during our last moments with the family I saw the tears starting to trickle down her cheek. Lola was crying.

More than two weeks have passed since our immersion and now we’re back living in our city of comfort. We spent almost 3 days experiencing a life different than our own. Did my bulag Lola still see more than we did?

Other pictures that I took below. Gaining perspective through the eyes of my camera.

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