"Kuya, kung babalik ka dito bukas, bigyan mo ako ng slippers ah? (Bro, when you come back here again tomorrow, you might want to give me a pair of slippers?)" This is the most words that touched me when I came to visit at the Juaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex, grandstand, to look for a human interest story as tasked by my Editor-In-Chef, in the remaining evacuees after the Zamboanga siege occurred last year.
I recalled that supposed, it was the lucky-blissful month for me as it was my birth month, but the world turned out and made the entire Zamboanga dwell in complete agony when the Misuari factions cordoned the city for their claim to raise their flag at the Zamboanga cityhall, completely armed.
As a diarist, I came to the grandstand to gather news. I remembered before during the siege that I volunteered for humanitarian service. We offer our free service to the evacuees who need extra assistance at those very trying time.
In those days, hearts of the people clamour for peace, justice and love. And sadness is the only visible curve on the faces of every young ones and old ones on the evacuation centers. Full of hope, yet, uncertain. Uncertain, for they, we, do not know as to when the crisis would end. No one knows, all were puzzled.
Wearing my ID, I set myself comforted for a while in a shade of the tent set at the grandstand under the bursting heat of the sun, watching the refugees falling in line for their lunch, and others for their late breakfast. Every faces were still filled with agony.
A child approached me and stared at my pen and paper on my bare hands. I smiled at her innocence, she smiled back and said in a calm-soft voice: "Kuya, press ka po? (Kuya, are you member of the press?)" I understand what she was trying to ask because she was looking at press my ID.
"I serve for your meals. Have you eaten your breakfast yet?" I answered her.
She was one of the many refugees who fell in line to get their meals. She was 8 years old and a grade two elementary student of Sta. Barbara Elementary School. She prefers to be called Didang. She and her little brother, she said a 5 year old, were responsible of falling in for their food every day. Could you imagine an 8 and 5 year old children falling in together along with the thousands of people standing under the heat of the sun just to have a packed lunch?
"Kuya, may kapatid ka babae yong kasing liit ko po? (Kuya, you still have young sister as my age?)" She said. "Kasi wala kasi ako slippers (we might have same size of slippers)," Didang showed me her left foot seem to have been burned; I guessed it was because of the sun. She recalled that her slippers were left when they fled at their house during the first day of the siege. Her father was a stroke patient and has not recovered yet, her mother was just had her appendicitis operation and has not recovered yet. That is why Didang and her little bro were the ones responsible for their food ration.
When Didang brought me to their tent, I saw her father and mother. They seemed weak, frail yet hopeful to overcome the challenges that they have been experiencing. Didang was right when she said her parents can't move. Oh, how I admired this little innocent child, sacrificing her poor soul in the midst of the strong sun rays just for her parents to have meal.
Didang's mother, name refused to divulge, recalled their first days at the evacuation center and said that Didang was their only hope until her older sisters will come, but unfortunately due to the cancelation of commercial transportations implemented in the city, that time, their siblings were not able to come for them. For her, that was the most tragic and most trying day for them.
I went home and came back to the grandstand in the afternoon. I looked for Didang, but I didn't found her, I went to their tent, there was Didang lying and the poor little child was sick. I brought her a pair of slippers and for her entire family. I also bought some goodies for them, an alcohol, sanitizer, and fruits as my simple present.
"Era tienne pa manada jovenes como equal contigo noy (How I wish there would be more youth like you, young boy)," Didang's mother said to me in shedding tears. She hugged me warmly full of motherly care, "You'll be more than blessed, when tomorrow comes." She whispered to me. Didang cried and kissed her mother.
About the Story
I wrote this story after the Zamboanga City Siege. A real experience from the evacuees at the evacuation center.