One day a short time ago, I took on the challenge to help one of the greatest person I know in the Philippines, Naprey Almario. “Nap” as we call him, happens to be a bit famous in the Philippines as he was a contestant in ‘Pinoy Big Brother’ in one of the early seasons. Many may remember him as he is, and has been the only contestant to be in a wheelchair.
Nap is disabled and has been in a wheelchair since his youth. But for those that believe a wheelchair confines you to your disability, let me tell you that is just not the case here. In time you’ll see a lot of me and Naprey, not only is he a friend of mine, he is also a business partner is a venture or two and I support, help, assist and do what I generally can for his charitable organizations. You can see his ventures and life at his site www.behindrollingchair.com.
Not long ago we created an annual event for Naps friends at “Kids Day” at NCCC Mall and it was an incredible affair. But the day I’m speaking about today not only was unexpected for me; it was without a doubt one of the highlights of the time I’ve lived in the Philippines. The day before this event, we gave “Back To School Supplies” to an orphanage on the outskirts of Davao. But the following day we were off to the region of St. Maria in Davao del Sur, a area not far from General Santos City.
Upon entering the upper regions of St. Maria the beauty of the roads, paths, tall mountain peaks and the landscape that simply rolled on forever, took my breath away. Once in the town of St. Maria we unloaded the truck and loaded up a habal-habal with school supplies. Waiting for the opportune moment and a few daring motorcycle drivers later, we were about to embark on the adventure in which no one saw coming.
Before our departure I asked how long the trip was up to the provincial school. Somehow the general consensus was ‘about an hour.’ Well, in Filipino time it might have been an hour, but in real-time it took over three hours to reach the top… But I can say, at the end of the golden road of slippery, mesmerizing pie-in-the-sky, adventure of a life-time, it was worth every minute.
At first we quickly ran a massive washed out roadway that had been rutted by major storms. Once we made that first big right turn, it was straight up the side of the mountain- and boy let me tell you this, it was not a climb for the weak at heart.
Once up the first hill, you start questioning “how far is it”, but the next hour or so gave the answer to “we ain’t never getting there.” After multiple climbs, several photo ops, a break-down here, lost products there, we finally reached what must have been 6,000 or so feet above sea-level.
Just when you thought to yourself “are we there yet,” I find out the level tops of this particular span of splendor had numerous rivers, daily-if not hourly rain with mud, dry patches, villages that never seen a white guy and some other interesting things to add to the bucket list.
After about 2 ½ hours into the venture my level of enthusiasm started to drain my mental ability to think, my back was killing me, my sunburn was burning me and the list seem to just go on and on. But, we pressed ahead – knowing we are going to run out of time at the pace we were keeping.
The motorcycle and I were now permanently attached to – started to stall out in the rivers and creeks. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it started to rain (very lightly) but then I saw sun, but then I saw rain and then… well you get the picture.
Just when I thought the trip up the side of never-never-land was near we came to the widest river yet, and this is where I finally wanted to give up… But wait, “the school is just across this river”, someone said (my mind was still stuck on the person before that told me about an hour to get here). The motorcycle lurched forward and I still broke a smile because I knew for sure this was it, this is the last leg (and possibly the last 2 legs I’ll have) but onward Donner, and Prancer and Vixen and then… the unthinkable happens, the motorcycle stalls and I had to get off and walk, as the river almost engulfed the damn motorcycle.
But wait, there’s more. I walked about 2000 yards and there it was, up on the hill with 200 kids waiting with smiles, and wondering “what took you so long”… hmmmm, it didn’t matter, I ran up that damn hill and whisked past those kids and found myself a chair (but then my back hurt, my ass was numb and I couldn’t sit down).
At first the kids were entranced by us and couldn’t wait to get our little gifts and possess something that most of them never before received. About an hour slips by and as you might have guessed, another storm came rolling in. The volunteers sprang into action and before you know it we were 85% done and then the rains opened up and came down in at blistering pace.
Luckily the school had a nice oversized pavilion and there the deed of “Back To School Day” was concluded. Sorry to say but we even ran out of gift giving’s and resorted to handing out extra school paper to some.
That’s when we had to pack it up and run for the hills, I mean down the hills, because the storm was making it virtually impossible for us to return if we stayed to long. So a quick video, a hurried ‘thank you’ and then ‘goodbye’.
But a funny thing happened on the way to heaven… okay, in this case on the way back to heaven… On the way out, one teacher told her class, “Students you’ve seen only seen them in textbooks, but there goes a real white man, standing right before you.”. I still laugh when I think of that, 6,000 feet up in the mountains of Davao del Sur in a region that is impossible to get to, ‘life lives’. That life is not only part of this land, it is the corner-stone and staple to the life of a Filipino. Here these mountains can tell you stories that can never be told, not because they did or didn’t happen, but because the rest of the world could never understand.
Our return trip was hampered by heavy down pours and slippery roads. Our one stop under a basketball court brought the entire village alive, wondering, thinking… I took the candies I had in my pocket and tossed them out into the rain where the kids played, looking for curiosity, yet finding friendship as we had extra food supplies that we unloaded right then and there.
Once the rain subsided, we were off again this time through some dangerous waters and then, like Filipino weather, the sun came out and everything was back to normal. We stopped to take one more photo opportunity and back down the inclines and back into the arms of St. Maria and the area of Little Boracay in Mindanao.
What did I learn that day? I learned something that takes action to remember. I am not a rich man, not poor by Filipino standards but I took that ride, gave what I could, did what I did and in the end… I asked Nap to do it all over again.
I’ve asked Nap if we could find a way to give during the Christmas season in that area, because to them, they don’t go to the local markets every day, they don’t visit the malls, see the stores or see the sea – they simply live life, in the cool, clear and crisp mountains of southern Mindanao.
I never have to ask myself why I want to return, I only have to ask myself what can I achieve for those that simply have nothing. Yes they have love, family; most have a home, but what can I find that might make their lives a bit easier? I’ll take a child’s smile or a happy finger pointing at the way of the white man but I’ll just take what I can because this day and every day from here in is not for me, it’s for them.
I’d hazard a guess for one thing for sure; those kids are still talking about the day “the big white man came to town”, the day that brought a bit of happiness into the lives and world of so much unhappiness… that’s the outcome of reality when living in the Philippines.