What the weather brings

>> Saturday, June 16, 2018

Ramon Dacawi
(This piece found print several  years ago.--RD) 
 When it rains, Rhoda Boquiren comes to mind.
 She’s that 37-year old mother of five moving up and down Session Road. When she’s lucky enough, you see her pulling a plastic bag almost empty or half-full of recyclables on one hand and Benjamin Jr., her youngest at six, on the other.
 Like Metro-Manilans picking up the pieces in the wake of the flooding, she should be cursing the rain. She can’t sell cartons and paper that shop owners leave for the rains to drench on the main street.
 It seems, too, she rues, that everybody now also segregates recyclables or collects what’s already segregated. Two years ago, she remembered a woman with a car competing with her. When she asked, the woman, who was then working in an international company,  told her she, too, had mouths to feed.
 The upside is that rain, if not too strong, does wonders to her sayote plant. The shoots and tendrils grow fast and soon get blanched or – for better taste – get sautéed if there’s lard to come by. With rain, her kids can eat and won’t have to fetch water for a while. 
 So, plus or minus, what the rain brings depends on who and where you are.
 Rhoda’s family of seven huddles in a shanty deep into  Purok 5, Sto. Rosario , not quite in danger of getting flooded. The downside is it’s far from the road. Benjamin Jr. often complains why he has to walk and walk – often  up and down Session Rd.
 Rhoda can’t carry him always. With a tiny, frail and asthmatic frame, she coughs often. Her doctor  had told her to be on maintenance dose to prevent osteoporosis (or is it scoliosis?) from getting worse.
The last time Rhoda herself was cuddled  was when she was 12. The ninth of 12 children of a coconut farm worker in Catubig, Samar, she was then on board a ship, on her way to find her fortune in Manila . As she had no ticket, a  neighbor also bound for the big city cuddled her like her own child, sparing er from paying  the fare.   
 “I thought then life was kind in Manila ,” she said in Tagalog.
 She worked as domestic for a family in Bicutan, Rizal. She couldn’t cope and so asked her sister Celia, who lived nearby, to take her in. At 17 she agreed to work in a printing press in Malabon. She told her employer not to pay her , just to provide her food, a place to stay and support for her education.  
Given more work than study hours, she quit both at the end of her sophomore year in high school. She decided to come up to Baguio , again to work as a domestic.  
In the wake of the July 16, 1990 earthquake that hit Baguio , Rhoda found refuge in an evacuation center near the city slaughterhouse. There, she met Benjamin, a miner who was sidelined due to work-related injuries, but still volunteered in the rescue operations for victims trapped in the collapsed Nevada Hotel days afer the quake.
Years after the quake,  Rhoda unwrapped Benjamin’s bronze plaque credential in volunteerism.  “In recognition of service above and beyond the call of duty in rescue of victims of the July 16, 1990 earthquake,” the inscription read.
 It was presented by Benguet Corp, on September 28 that year, signed by Alfonso Yuchengco, chairman of the board, and Dennis Belmonte, president.
 Rhoda remembers Benjamin was among those who rescued Sonia Roco, wife of then Senator Raul Roco. The temblor struck while Sonia was attending a conference sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development at the Nevada Hotel.
Benjamin Sr. was on-and-off at odd jobs, as his old injuries prevent full-time work. If he could  find some materials, he could improve their shanty, which they built with support from a nun. It bears no number, and stands on a lot owned by somebody else. Two years ago, he succumbed to illness, leaving behind Rhoda to raise the kids.
The patchwork of GI sheets, canvas and scrap without electricity or plumbing  is home to their  five children – Rejie, 20 and out of school; Sharmaine, 19, Sunshine, 17, Benzon 15, and Benjamin Jr. On rainless nights, the kids sometimes go to a neighbor’s house to watch TV.
The couple had tried opening a micro-mini store with a P5,000 livelihood loan from the city social welfare and development office. It was promising at first, until customers became familiar to be refused credit.  Rhoda’s consolation was having repaid the loan.
Six years back, an Ibaloi woman raising her own daughter in Kentucky got wind of Rhoda’s plight. She included Rhoda in several anonymous fund support to the needy here. Part of it went to the family’s daily sustenance, the bulk for Rhoda to work on in  a door-to-door vending of fish and vegetables.
The family’s needs, however, were still too much to bear, including her and the children’s medications against weather induced illness. The would-be livelihood capital was re-channeled to addressing these. 
Each time the weather permits, Rhoda is back along Session Road, spotting bags of trash to rummage.  Or at city hall where employees hand her their empty plastic bottles.  Passersby can identify her through Benjamin Jr., who sits on the pavement and wails at times when he’s had enough of walking.
(P.S. – Thanks to a fund support raised by siblings Sunshine and Paulo Paclayan-Balanza, from fellow church-goers in Michigan,  Rhoda and Benjamin eventually improved the family abode.  Thanks to support from Shoshin Kinderhilfe, the humanitarian foundation former world karate champion Julian Chees established  in southern Germany, Sharmaine, now  a student at the King’s College in La Trinidad, Benguet, was able to take her class examinations. (email:mondaxbench@yahoo.com  for comments).  


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