And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Much to my surprise, I found myself riding an L300 van bound for Calamba, a small town in Misamis Occidental. It was a choice I did not embrace readily for at least two reasons: convenience and safety. This van particularly defied its intended seating capacity. We were already 22 on that trip but the konduktor (or the person that collects the fares) claimed there is still room for 3 more passengers.
The old lady on my front was headed for Dipolog. She was engaged in a hearty conversation with the young man on her right. He was also bound for the same place to sell a bag full of rubber sandals. The guy relied on his memory of a small barangay in Dipolog where he once peddled some goods. It turned out that the old lady happened to live near there. It didn’t take long for both of them to establish familiar relations. The two were complete strangers but they sound like they know each other for quite some time.
While stopping over in Oroquieta, an 81-year old man joined our trip. For the old man’s convenience, the young guy quickly volunteered to transfer to the last row in the van. One of the passengers quipped, “tagaan nato ug chance si lolo kay milaban pa ni ug World War II para nato” (Let’s give this old man a small favor. He fought in the World War II for us).” The konduktor also gave him a considerable discount for his fare – from Php 30.00 to Php 20.00.
The view of the countryside – rice fields, mangroves, and clean rivers provided an idyllic background to the other conversations that transpired during the trip. For a while, I thought I was in a parallel universe – where everyone knows their neighbors, where you can actually live a full day without spending a single peso and where it is still possible to safely crawl across the road at anytime of the day. My version of this universe consisted of an entirely different scenario – where everyone wants to get rich the fastest and easiest way possible, where you will never trust the person beside you in any public vehicle and where a safe and clean drinking water would cost you Php 55.00 for three days.
I asked myself how the old lady or the young man selling rubber sandals or the 81-year old war veteran could find their respective places in this rapidly changing world. (This is poignantly captured in Joey Ayala’s song). While the government is confident with the creation of the Super Regions, I do not know if the people riding on that van would embrace or even understand this endeavor.
I arrived at my destination safely. I saw my old friend waiting for me at the Calamba terminal. We grilled a big fish for lunch. He later got some fresh coconut meat (which will be then mixed with condensed milk) for dessert. After a few hours, I dragged myself back to the terminal to catch a bus back to Ozamiz.
On my way home, I asked myself the same question – where can I find my place in this rapidly changing world? I do not have a definite answer to the “where” but this road trip interestingly pointed me to the “how.” Aside from not eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, it reminded me to thank God for every small miracle in my life, to treasure relationships and to find meaning even in the familiar.
It is so easy to be lost in a 4 ft x 4 ft cubicle. I am just thankful for the passengers on that van for allowing me to hear their simple conversations, for making that trip comfortable and for helping me back on my road again.