Friday, August 8, 2014

Community, de-complicated, gut-level

IMAGINE if there are only few words to describe or define human reflex and response? Truth is, that's how it was long, long time ago—when, for example, supplying dry land or a ricefield with water by means of ditches, pipes, or streams wasn't called “irrigation,” or when refurbishing “old” newspapers into open-market bags was defined as “recycling.” The word “composting” or dumpsite weren't a figment of the village flow, leftovers were reincarnated as fertilizers and “junk” were reused in so many ways from
flower basins to farming tools, materials for Christmas ornaments or children's toys. “Irrigation” evolved in the form of bamboo pipes fusing natural waters channeled from mountain brooks to paddies and plots that fed and nourished ricefields and upland farms.
Why do villagers instinctively gravitate to this seemingly nonchalant progression of daily life? The rationale was simple: Local governments have no budget for agricultural infrastructure, made worse by political favoritism and large-scale corruption. Basic services like garbage collection and water supply were left to the people to work around with. It's very economic, survival reality.
       Hence, high-handed words of “progress” don't gain entry in rural psyche. Agricultural terms, marketing lingo, behavioral patterns, technological language, objectivist epistemology? What are those?!? Since there's not much adherence to what science and industry could offer, accessibility and sustainability to those tools weren't talking points, barrio people and urban poor—as well as city-breds and middle class—share a simple, de-complicated, gut-level life. What you see is what you get, what you hear is what you believe—and what you feel is what you anchor your faith on. Science and psychology don't feed empty tummies, food does. If the people don't find ways to survive life, then—no one will. It's action-reaction survival kick.

THERE seem to be so many words to describe or define basic human reflex and response—when it's all about basic instinct. Society breaks down a singular sentiment into smithereens of compartmentalized behaviors, attitudes, and thinking—and so we get mixed up in a cocktail of spaced-outness.
       When I was a child, I witnessed and experienced community activities that moved and carried on like rain falling on earth, vertical rays of the sun piercing through skin. Take the case of communal effort to feed a village through a hog farm or ricefield.
       Every afternoon after school, children make the rounds of the neighborhood, collecting food leftovers on pails placed by residents on doorsteps of houses. The collected “trash” are deposited on huge bins in the farm, which are then mixed with vegetables and homemade “feeds” (including trunks of banana trees). Then, these are cooked or prepared on giant woks in the open field, where villagers are invited to contribute a task or two. Hogs and other farm animals are basically fed via this process.

       Before butchery, parents go door-to-door to take orders from families. Meat products straight from the farm are distributed to villagefolk, cash or “credit.” Credit means IOU listings that are paid monthly-basis, no paper work or contracts or vouchers. Just good old primitive trust and honesty. If one cannot pay, he/she works more hours in the hog farm or chicken coup, or the ricefield. Nobody gets hungry. If one fails to pay due to unreasonable circumstances, that person loses not just the respect or trust of the local entrepreneur, but the entire community.

       Meanwhile, I also put away bottles and canisters and old newspapers/magazines on a weekly basis—with a purpose of trading them with a barrio dude who goes around the `hood with an assortment of bread, pastries, rice cakes and coconut candies. These “recyclables” (bottles, papers) are then re-sold to vendors and stallholders in the open market. They thoroughly clean the bottles up and cut-and-paste throwable papers as bags for homemade soy sauce, vinegars, cooking oil, spices, veggies, beans, rice. Not much are bought in a store where products are mostly manufactured or packaged from somewhere far.

FUNNY that when US-based Filipinos visit home with their Campbell Soups, Black Labels, and Betty Crockers, most people don't consume them—they simply display these products in their tiny living rooms as a sort of “social status” baubles. People still turn to what are available in the village, food and stuff that they can easily access or purchase...
       Moreover, shrinks are the elderly—no one must question experiential wisdom. They are “paid” with old-school respect, just say “thank you” or maybe play board games or engage them in friendly banter about showbiz and politics and lessons of the past. Chiropractors and massage therapists and herbalists emerge in composite body and mind of a town healer called “herbolaryo” or “hilot.” These people practice their “profession” from ancient “trade” and know-how that are handed to them via ancestral line.
       I observe that many of us in the US seem to gravitate back to this beautiful primitivism or tribal sublimity like it's something new. Problem is, when market economics sets in, some of these practical ways and means are subjected to commodified sales trick. Medicinal plants and herbs like moringa, pandan, ylang-ylang, and achuete are easily obtained in the backyard or swamp back home (or could easily be grown in US soils)—yet these, after packaging and branding, cost a lot here.
       Living in the USA is a continually interesting conjecture to me. The earth and her bounty and endowments are fantastically sold no different from an iPod or SUVs. We consign human behaviors in frames and boxes, label a 3-letter acronym to our anger and joy and sadness and silence, so we can sell them, package them, for a price that are “paid” by money that we haven't earned yet.
       I see pockets of this mindset in Asheville (or in any other popular urban destinations). Yet as the city evolves into a more touristy destination and more high-rises clog this relatively small enclave, we see the past fizzling away to a one-click present time that is so in love with anything quicksilver fast but absent, disconnected and detached.
       Now, how do I describe or define my reflex and response to stuff and things around me? Should I google it, check on an appropriate app, visit Earth Fare for a salve that'll massages my brain with so I can think better, let Mercury Retrograde decide my life as I chug in a bottle of organic gatorade, or maybe summon an expert $65 a hour? Of course, not.
       If you ask me if we can all go back to how it was, yes we can. It's a no-brainer. Even Cyd The Koolcat knows it. She had me, a human being, figured out at meow.

[Published in The Indie, Asheville, North Carolina, August 2014]

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