Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Squatter's Field

Bent over with a scarf wrapped around her head, she hacks away at the ground in front of her. There’s a special exuberance in her movement. It rained last night – the first time in about six weeks – and this means her seeds might grow.

I approach her from behind. She doesn’t see me coming. As I near her, I call out.

“Filipina,” I yell. “Your plants have grown.”

Filipina whips around to face me, a huge grin spreading across her face.

“Yeeeessss!” she squeals. “The rain has come.”

Filipina a grandmother of four teenage girls, strides over with a pick axe swinging alongside her. She and her clan live near our apartment and I see them every morning when I walk to work. They live in an abandoned building next to a main road. The building looks like an empty car park but is a hive of activity. At least four family groups live in the building. Freshly washed clothes hang over the railings of the unfinished walls, and smoke billows out of the ground floor when food is cooking. Filipina is the head of her household and raises her grandchildren by herself.

In between the abandoned building and the path that takes me to work is a piece of land. During the dry season it was filled with a mix of grass and rocks. Recently Filipina and the other squatters have claimed it for food. Squatters turned urban farmers they’ve worked for the past month to prepare the field for planting. On many hot sunny afternoons, I’ve come home to Filipina bent over the ground hacking away at the soil. She planted seeds a few weeks ago but because there was no rain most of them failed to germinate and some plants that did grow rotted. A few were spared, but most of the field is still bare.

Filipina is a lively, spirited woman who cries out to us every time we pass. Sometimes I’ll hear my name from across the field. I’ll often look in the direction of the call and see Filipina waving her arms frantically from the top floor of the building. I often wonder how she reaches the floor as the stairs were never completed.

Today, she’s up early tilling the field ready to plant more seeds and admire the ones that grew overnight because the rain had come.

I inspect the small corn seedling poking its head out of the ground near my feet.

“I’m so glad it rained,” I say.

“Oh thank God,” she cries. “Now my plants will grow.”

She pauses thoughtfully and then asks “When do you go to Canada?”

I have told her my departure date many times, but remind her again that I leave at the end of June.

“Oh but we have to eat corn together,” she says wistfully.

Filipina stops for a minute and does some mental calculations. The frown on her face tells me the crop is not going to be ready before I leave for home.

Quickly the smile returns. “So you are off to work,” she says gleefully. “Well go and come.”

I turn to leave and then see Filipina’s grandchildren gathered at the railing of the abandoned building watching us from above. I wave.

I glance back at Filipina but can see that she’s already returned to her work.


Anonymous said...

Janet and Mark, What a nice friendship you have with such a beautiful lady. I loved the picture you have published of all of you. She is such a kind person and I am sure she loves the friendship she has with you and Mark. It really makes you feel how fortunate we are to have so much and how hard these people work to survive just to keep their families and in this case her grandchildren. They are so fortunate to have such a special grandmother and she to have them.
Love, Mummy and Daddy

Anonymous said...

It was so amazing to start reading this story, then scroll down the page to find the picture of Filipina and her grandchildren, who I danced with at your birthday party (especially Evelyn)!!!

xox Roanna