The sweet fragrance of garbage


Payatas dumpsite

(Note: This is a repost from a June 16, 2015 post on my Xanga site.) 

“We live in a world full of injustice and disquiet. It is our duty to contribute to the search for an understanding of the causes of these evils; to be in solidarity with the sufferings of those who are marginalized and to fight for their total liberation, helping them to fulfill their desire for a decent life.”
Carmelite ConstitutionArt 111, Chap IX

“I am happy that there are wasteful people, at least because of them we are able to let our children taste food from Jollibee,” said Ate Arlene as she happily prepared her freshly bought pagpag (left-over food from the garbage dump), which was to be our lunch that day.

Once cleaned and re-cooked it doesn't look that bad, but it has a distinct taste, though.

A mother of three, Ate Arlene and her family welcomed me into their home for our 10-day immersion in Payatas, Quezon City, as part of the inter-congregational novitiate program, EXODUS, late October 2014.

Looking at the garbage-laden and muddy surroundings of the community where I was to stay for 10 days, I thought to myself, “Why are we so cruel as to push people to live in such an undignified manner?”

And then I remembered what Fr. Bernard Roosendaal, O.Carm, told us in one of our classes on Carmelite Spirituality where he said that no one becomes rich without causing injustice to another.

And that is why, Fr. Bernard said, Christ taught his early followers the economic system of sharing, of building a community where everyone takes care of each other, especially the widows and orphans.

One form of exploitation or the other will always happen if we wish to pursue a selfish individualistic ambition, like becoming rich. It might be innocent for a child to say that he wants to have plenty of cars and a big house when he grows up, but do we ever tell them that in order to reach his goal he has to take advantage of people, consciously or unconsciously, and of varying degrees, even sending some to the garbage dump or leave them homeless and landless.

This economic system is so alive in anawim communities like Payatas, unfortunately what they have to share is not enough for all of them to rise from such an inhumane condition.

But despite the lack, the stench of rotting garbage, human and animal wastes, and stagnant garbage-filled canals in this fly-infested community, has turned into the sweet fragrance of hopes, dreams, and passion of a people long deprived and forgotten both by the church and an economic system supposedly sworn to serve them.

And the pagpag, that piece of treasure from fly-ridden mounds of rotting garbage, a delicacy with the most delicious taste of a people’s dream for the good life.

“We have been neglected and pushed to fetch for ourselves, to look for a decent source of livelihood because government refuses to see us,” said Ate Arlene, “and now, even that they want to take away from us including our homes.”

“Our work may be dirty, but it’s honest,” she lamented.

Where do we stand as Christians?

The community is named Plastican because they process the plastic waste of the city, cleaning it on a canal that flows through the community.

What would be the standpoint and the viewpoint of the man from Nazareth, whom we claim to follow?

These people do not need pity, they do not need charity, nor do they need to be patronized.

What they need is recognition. What they need is inclusion. What they need is the sincerity of the people tasked to give them a decent and humane way of life.

What they need are true Christians – people who live as Christ lived – who are not just willing to take up their own cross but also that of others, just so everyone could truly experience the true kingdom of heaven.

They do not need a beautiful parish or a shrine in an exclusive subdivision where they could not even visit without getting scrutinized and discriminated by arrogant guards. Where is Christ there?

What they need are true Christians.

This experience has strengthened my resolve to continue my journey to the heights of Mt. Carmel. I know that I can make a difference, if not for the whole community, at least for one soul, to inspire him to be a true follower of Christ, by becoming a true Christian myself.

My prayer is for the Father to help me, to keep me grounded, and for him to constantly remind me that this is the reason why I am here – others.

The family where I stayed for 10 days. I visit them as much as I can, and on my last visit I learned that they decided to join a local sect because of the groceries that they receive. I respect their decision because somehow I felt that their relationship with God was better, which made me reflect on the impact I made on their lives.


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