San Miguel, Philippines - week of Apr. 23, 2000
It's 9 pm. Had my first shower in 3 days! (more on that in a minute). I'm lying in bed waiting for Carl to page me. Been trying to get in touch w/him about tomorrow's shooting schedule. It's really become tight and we're falling behind. I'm not sure we're gonna make it. Everyone's spirits are up, that's a plus.
We arrived back in San Miguel late this afternoon. Tomorrow we follow Carl on a visit to a sick friend in the hospital.
We're staying in a small hotel this time. It's like everything else - plain, poor, dark, and out dated. Dinner was good. We ate in a small cafe down the street. It was dark in a romantic way. The five of us crammed around one table. We rarely separate. It's better that we're together, being in unfamiliar country, but all this time together is unhealthy and as a result sometimes tiffs and conflicts erupt. Minor, though, and resolved quickly. Dinner consisted of lumpia, lapu-lapu, rice, and lively conversation. The laughter served as a release for the stress accumulated this week.
Carl just paged. We're set for a 2 pm visit to the hospital. Morning will be spent prepping, getting some b-roll and establishing shots.
Poor Bluey, left all alone back home to write and arrange the script and routines we need for our upcoming show at WGRB (in 3 weeks!). He's probably out partying. I called him when we arrived this afternoon. I was lucky to catch him in. It was a bad connection, lots of static so we didn't talk long. He's off to Texas soon for his music gig. He's happy.
April 27, 2000
Since arriving in the Philippines 2 weeks ago I've had some amazing experiences, but none more so than what has happened to us today.
Since part of this documentary centers around Balibago's involvement with game hunters, we decided to spend a couple days getting some establishing shots of the city and its people. Balibago is small and dusty. Its main attraction is Town Square where there's a big fountain and a large, labyrinth-like outdoor market.
At one point we found ourselves in the middle of the market, at a place near City Hall (an old cement building masterfully sculpted, but stained brown from the pollution). A barber had set up a makeshift shop roadside by placing a small wood crate (the customer's seat) under a tree. For only a few centavos, a man could have a trim and a shave, and any unwanted hair in his nose and ears removed by skillful strokes with a razor blade.
Vendors of all kinds showcased their products in the market stalls, exposing everything (from toys and jewelry to meat and fish) to swarms of flies and the unsympathetic tropical heat. Drinks were served from one vendor in a clear plastic bag accompanied by a drinking straw.
At the center of the square a fountain spewed and sprayed water. Lots of people scurried past, in and out of the markets, up and down the steps of City Hall, but no one seemed to pay much mind to a little girl sitting on the ground all alone. Using a dirty plastic cup, she was drinking fountain water, gulping it dip after dip as though she were unable to quench a dry thirst.
I had left my crew for a quick wander through the market in search of our guide - who as usual had disappeared without a word when lunchtime came around. As I approached the market I saw the girl, but wasn't paying attention enough to really notice her. I do admit my first impression was a strong one, however undefined it was at the time: it seemed strange she was by herself. She couldn't have been more than seven or eight years old, I thought. But my mind was on Kofi, our missing guide.
A quick once over around the market and I was back in the square heading towards Richard, Mike, Dwayne, and Sharon. The little girl was still sitting on the hot brick, drinking cup after cup from the fountain.
This time I noticed her in more detail. She was dirty and malnourished, but underneath the dirt was a pretty face and glossy eyes. She was ready to cry.
I approached her.
"Are you okay?" I asked. The girl only looked at me as she continued drinking from her cup. She looked up at me through big, dark, almond eyes. Her hair, though thin and oily, was long and black, and her smile (I later discovered) made you melt.
I stooped down beside her and tried to communicate, but she just looked at me with those big eyes. Looking back on it all, she must have been a strong-willed person. She seemed to hold back her tears with sheer determination.
Maybe she was trusting. Maybe she recognized I was a kind stranger. Or maybe she was just desperate. Whatever the reason, she took my hand and walked with me to my crew, who'd watched the whole encounter from a nearby bench.
Richard, take-charge by nature, interrogated the girl with the same round of questions I'd asked, but received an equal dose of silence. Sharon also tried to help, but even her nurture was ineffective. Not seeing a policeman anywhere, the only thing we could do was wait for Kofi to return to interpret for us. Who knew - maybe her mother was right inside the market and would be calling for her daughter.
We figured the best thing to do was to just let the girl be free, but close by just in case she really did need help. As Richard reminded us, we're not in America and there are cultural differences too sensitive to tempt less we suffer the consequences. (But still, I figured, there's no excuse for inhumanity.)
A man pushing a metal cart wheeled past. He was selling ice cream. I looked at the girl and pointed to the pushcart.
"Do you want some ice cream?" I asked. If she didn't understand English, she certainly understood the gesture, and agreed to my offer with an open smile and a definitive shake of her head. It was the first I'd seen her smile. (Honestly, Filipino ice cream has no appeal to me at all, as a prior unfriendly experience proved.)
The little girl picked her flavor and indulged herself. It was the first I'd seen her cheerful.
We tried explaining to the pushcart man that we suspected the girl was lost, but without Kofi there to translate we couldn't make ourselves understood. Fortunately, it was at this moment Kofi returned from his regimented lunch break.
Post Script: Thanks to Kofi's help, we learned the girl's name was Jessica. She had been separated from her aunt while shopping in the market. A policeman was found and Jessica was taken away to look for her aunt. I wonder if we'll ever know how it ended?
Sat. Apr. 29, 2000
On the flight now back to Baltimore. Just going over Japan ... beautiful!
Started looking at a collection of footage last night from the shoot thus far. We were housed in a television production truck, but since our footage had been transferred to video that was okay. We've gotten the best editor we could find in Manila, a fellow named Richard Francisco. We worked together on a few cuts I was anxious to assemble.
Amazing moment - as we watched the footage from Thursday morning's shoot at Balibago (the day we met Jessica) - there appeared on our screen that beautiful child. Unbeknownst to any of us, Jessica showed up in several crowd shots. At one point, Richard even got a close up of her. I thought I'd never see her again, and the next day - BAM! There she is. Her image immortally captured on film.
I don't know why I'm so touched by that moment of helping Jessica. She had a magical light about her, an intriguing energy that instantly captivates a person. Maybe the chance meeting with Jessica brought out a kind of nurture that I never knew existed in me: the capability and fulfillment of being paternal. In discovering Jessica, maybe I actually discovered something about myself...