It was the fourth time that day I had been asked for money, and frankly, I was really getting irritated. Had gone to Iloilo this past Saturday to do some shopping and while I was outside the Mercury Drugstore near MaryMart and SM Delgado waiting for my asawa to get The Giant Lizard Killer's (my mother-in-law) high blood pressure medicine refilled, I was approached by a middle-aged Filipino wearing a fedora and a sport coat that held out his hand. He wasn't blind. He wasn't disabled. He saw a white-skinned "rich" foreigner and was looking for a handout. Begging is illegal according to an Iloilo City ordinance. Illegal for anyone to panhandle and illegal for anyone to give money. It was hot and humid, and I wasn't in a giving mood.
The Sainted Patient Wife and I returned home to Guimaras and boarded a crowded jeepney waiting at the Jordan Wharf, where the dispatcher directed me to the front seat next to the driver, while my wife and our three-year-old niece JalAmiel sat in the back. I offered my boss the front seat, there was room for two, but she declined. She would just stay put. Probably would have taken a gigantic can opener to pry her out of the already packed jeepney anyway.
I joked to the dispatcher that I didn't want a lola (grandma) to sit next to me, but would prefer a cute Filipina. This is one of my favorite lines and please note that even though my asawa is behind me in the passenger area, she is used to this little joke of mine and endures it. She also is not carrying her bolo. My remark always elicits a laugh from the dispatcher and the driver, and that's all the encouragement I need to keep using this lame attempt at humor. After a couple of minutes and one scare (a particularly aged lola passes by but opts for the back passenger area), I get my seatmate.
She wasn't a grandma, but a young bespectacled denim jacket-clad lady of around 30. I let her sit next to the driver, since my big frame sometimes interferes with the driver's shifting. You'll rarely see an automatic drive transmission in the Philippines and certainly never in a jeepney. I remark to her that I was glad she was not a lola, she smiles and announces she was getting close to that (no, she wasn't.)
After a quick stop for P100 worth of fuel our driver heads home to San Miguel. He suddenly comes to an abrupt halt after just a minute as he notices a load of corn had dropped off from the top of his vehicle. Without warning an aged lola, with a shawl covering her head and holding the hand of a very young girl, materializes outside the front door of the jeepney asking me for money. Already greatly agitated by the earlier beggars in Iloilo, I merely respond with "Wala!" (None.)
- "Give me some money!" she demanded. "I don't have a home!"
- "I should give you money just because I'm a white-skinned foreigner?"
- "Marcos gave us food to eat and a house to stay in." she stated.
- Oh, so you want the dictator Marcos back?" I asked.
The jeepney passengers are roaring with laughter at this point. My asawa whispers to me:"Dear, I think she is crazy."
By this time the driver has retrieved the corn and tells the woman to get away, but she remains standing, still clamoring for money as we pull away. "Loco loco lola!" I say to the driver. He nods his head in agreement. I'm just relieved we're leaving. Yes, I am well aware there are millions of people in the Philippines that do not even have enough food to eat on a daily basis. That said, my first obligation is to my wife and the relatives we support at "The Compound." If I gave money to everyone that asked for a handout, I wouldn't have enough money to feed my own family.
I apologized for my rant to my seat mate, but she replied that she understood. As I am a foreigner in the Philippines, she is aware that kanos often are approached by beggars and thankfully she did not throw me out of the speeding jeepney. Turns out the young woman has plenty of experience with dealing with irate Americans. More on that story later.