Nothing to say. More snow. This is the hardest time of year, when the back of winter has been broken, but it just keeps dragging itself, slowly, along, smearing its mess all over the place.
I was trapped home, alone, most of the weekend by a blizzard that threw itself against my windows, howling like a wounded animal.
I realized Sunday night that I hadn't had any significant face-to-face interactions with another human being in over 36 hours. Not good, so I made more of an effort today, actually sending a text message that included the phrase "desperate for human contact."
To make up for having nothing to report, below is a piece of writing I've been working on for my creative non-fiction class, a brief visit to another time and place:
Flying east from Manila, I lose a night, and arrive the same time I left.
This morning, which was also tomorrow morning, I pulled the gate behind me and stepped into the humid darkness. On an ordinary day, I would be greeted by a chorus of squatter children, bright eyed but toothless like old women. “Hello, Hello, Isabel-po! Where are you going today? What are you doing? When are you coming home?”
Instead, hours before dawn, I find the city eerily still, its chaos muted in the brief pause after nightlife ends and before the markets open. Eyes still sticky with sleep, I marvel at the silence as I brace myself for the long taxi ride to the airport.
Traffic enforcement was abandoned years ago, and EDSA, this vast highway slashed through the heart of the city, is innocent of stoplights, crosswalks or left turn lanes. By dawn, cars, trucks, busses and jeepneys will careen through like pinballs in a chute, horns blaring, yielding to no one; but in the stillness of 4 a.m., traffic flows smoothly, and I can hear the gentle rush of rainwater sluicing beneath the wheels as we pass through Cubao, Mandaluyong, Makati and Pasay.
The airport is harsh, bright and noisy. I submit to a cursory body search and take my place in line, cross-eyed, bent double, bags on my back and around my neck, dragging a cardboard box tied with string. I arrived three months ago with perfectly respectable luggage, and wound up dragging home a used water-filter box full of coffee mugs, unspeakably hideous t-shirts, a handmade cell phone cradle cleverly shaped as a rocking chair -- useless tokens of affection I was powerless to refuse or dispose of.
Approaching the gate, the guards check my bag one last time. No water, toothpaste or fingernail scissors – just tape recordings, reams of paper wrapped for me with infinite care, and photographs of thin faces, tattooed with suffering and unbearably young, looking straight into the camera from behind bars.
This country tears my heart out. The great, green, cloud-wrapped mountains of the north and the shantytowns of Manila, mazes of shacks over brackish water. People, children, staggering under the weight of hope or despair. The rain and the sea and the small boats on open water, held together with zip-ties and bright blue paint.
“I’ll see what I can do,” I said again and again. An easy thing to say when I have a government grant and a return ticket to a country where drinking tap water doesn’t feel like Russian roulette and I will probably never have to worry about being swept out to sea through an open manhole. I can’t help feeling like I’m abandoning a sinking ship, waving politely as I unfurl my own private lifeboat.
My last impression of the Philippines is the same as my first – the damp, vegetal air seeping into the gangway, so thick I can feel it on my teeth and my hair.
On the airplane, it’s already a new world, cool and quiet and clean. We cross the international dateline, chasing the pink of dusk, long cloud shadows on the sea as we head into darkness, hurtling towards yesterday morning.