Thursday, November 4, 2010
Iloilo City isn’t my site, but it has been my refuge. I made the jeepney trip to the city on about a weekly basis, searching for coffee, wifi, food and a chance to escape the heat. In the process I learned the jeep routes (but not the street names), some shortcuts-that-are-not, where to find the best internet connections and which places charge a fee for using wall outlets.
Iloilo is dirty and polluted and sometimes is seems like nothing’s happening, aside from an ill-considered and long-running construction project to add another vehicle flyover to a not-that-important intersection. They are, however, now building the city’s first Starbucks.
But I’m going to miss Iloilo. I’ll miss its cheap pensions as much as its nice hotels, and the cracked sidewalks much more than the several shiny malls.
During the rainy season I cursed its slippery walkways. In the summer I despaired in its shimmering swelter. And after every trip I extracted the black residue from my nostrils, washed off the urban slime and wondered why I bothered.
And of course the reason was simple: it gave me a break. A break from my town, where (and this is not a disparaging comment) two roadside burger stands were as cosmopolitan as it got, aircon was almost impossible to find, and power outages left me in a heat stupor on a daily basis.
I started writing this post in the present tense at first and had to make a conscious effort to change it. I’m gone – hopefully not for good, but at least for the foreseeable future. On Monday night I made the last ride into the city with my supervisor, my counterpart and several of my center’s youth: it was rainy and cars’ tires slopped mud around the pavement, and lights bounced off the puddles and streaked windows.
The next morning, before my flight up to Manila, I couldn’t resist taking one more stroll downtown. I walked past the cafes I’ve frequented, down the streets I’ve walked a dozen times without really seeing them, and through one last market, its floors slick with freshly spilled pigs’ blood and its air smelling of bangus and pasayan.
And then I was leaving, riding the air over the City of Love one last time. Below, 400,000 Ilonggos continued their business; nobody looked up. But I looked down.