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Cassana Kelly - Blog 3: Living in the Barangay

Cassana Kelly - Blog 3: Living in the Barangay

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About a month ago I decided to make my fourth housing move since the start of my internship.  Moving around so much has certainly had its pros and cons but I continue to shove my growing collection of things in my now bulging suitcases and find new places. Some people find moving a hassle, but I personally find it exciting.

My last move has been by far the most interesting and challenging.  I found a close yogi friend who was also anxious to move and we found  a cute little house in the UP Diliman Dagohoy Barangay (barangay meaning neighborhood). After viewing the home we were ecstatic to rent the place.  Yellow floors, funky decor and a loft-- I was in! I was so enamored by the house and accompanied garden that I failed to really consider where I was signing up to live for the next 2 and a half months. 

It wasn't until a few weeks later that I learned that my community is an informal settlement  where only a fraction of its residents area actually permitted to live.  The community has a considerably low standard of living, however it is lively and bustling. Vendors line the streets selling an endless assortment of deep fried foods and a community basketball court sits directly across from our home, which often doubles as a community karaoke venue. Every cheesy radio hit you can imagine is sang (or awkwardly shouted) into the microphone and the increscent tunes of the songs I would try so desperately to avoid back at home come vibrating through our walls. At the beginning it drove me a wee bit crazy, but I now find myself humming along as I cook in the kitchen.  

Trying to describe my experience living in the barangay is difficult as it is different every day. I mostly receive smiles as i walk to the jeepney stop or when I am buying fruits and vegetables from vendors. However, smiles are not always the case, and sometimes it seems my presence in the community is not always welcomed. From smiles to insults and stares of curiosity to infatuation it is certainly never a dull moment.  It seems I am constantly navigating how to react to these situations, attempting to find common ground, acceptance and maintain safety in a place where foreigners simply don't go.  

My approach to establishing and maintaining safety has been to become known and integrated within my community. I have worked to build relationships with community members who will look out for me and offer me support when encountering certain people or situations where I am vulnerable. I treasure the relationships I have been able to build while living here. Particularly the Lola (grandmother) that sits outside my gate and sells rice cakes in the morning... exchanging smiles with me and "good morning" greetings. And the Kuya (older brother) who has a shoe fixing stand just to the right of our small garden and who has on more than one occasion saved me from what my roommate and I refer to as the "barangay crazy". He seems to find it a novelty to creep me out each morning as I walk to catch my public transport; feverishly stroking his hair as he stares at me muttering to himself. My kuya does not speak any English and my Tagalog is less than conversational, but sometimes he will recognize my anxiousness as I am coming out of my gate, and will walk with me past the 'barangay crazy' to my jeepney stop as we share a morning cigarette.

I cannot possibly unpack within this blog entry my feelings towards my identity and privilege but I just wanted to note the self-reflection that has been facilitated particularly by the experiences living in the barangay.  No doubt the benefits of my new home out weigh the interesting or unsettling encounters and have enabled me to experience the daily reality for many Filipinos who work hard and struggle to make a living. I am very thankful for the opportunity to join this community which has brought me a lot of personal growth, and has on numerous occasions brought me far out of my comfort zone.