Renewed hope in the most unlikely of places

by Kelsey Mason

A leap into the unknown Philippines


"Ingat ka (take care), Britney (Spears)!" Accustomed to this epithet that Filipinos often fondly dub Caucasian blond girls, I bid adieu as I departed from the barangay (village) to board the nearest jeepney. Kitschy and adorned with vibrant paint, glittering ornaments, and a small aluminum horse at the helm, it was difficult to distinguish this refurbished, bedazzled remnant of the American presence during the Second World War. Seated face-to-face, unavoidably interlocking legs (and claws) with six other passengers and two chickens, I positioned a handkerchief atop my mouth. As swiftly as I hopped on this ubiquitous symbol of Philippine culture, the "Ada Maria" sputtered off into the dusty haze and onto the typhoon-worn roads of outer Manila. Careening over rolling hills and along hairpin curves at a pace that would trepidate the most talented speedway driver, our horn incessantly beeped at oncoming passersby. Gazing upon the narrow valleys, alluvial plains, and daunting mountains of Luzon, I grasped my peso in anticipation of customarily tapping on the roof to signal my impending egress. Tap, tap! My peso resonated as it collided against the cool metallic shell of "Ada Maria." I stepped from the assurance of the jeepney's refuge onto a shunned, hallowed ground perpetuated by centuries of fear and ambiguity. Its divinity could be felt: a sort of heaven and hell on Earth. Chills pervaded up my spine as I was overcome by the moment's gravity in approaching one of the last surviving Leper colonies. The gentle smiles of the Lepers quieted centuries of stigmas within the caverns of my mind. An older man's glassy, almond-eyed gaze met mine as he extended his mangled, claw-like hand. His disfigured face gleamed joyously as he gestured toward a drawing he created using a fragment of chalk. His artwork was ostensibly a relic of bygone years, afore leprosy wreaked havoc on his eyesight and nervous system. The lines of the man's drawing precisely intersected to depict a moment frozen in time. These people have survived countless oppressors, yet still somehow grasp onto a single strand of hope each day. I was humbly reminded of the strength of the human spirit which enables us to persevere, and even flourish, given the bleakest of circumstances. Our cognizant tenacity to begin each day with renewed hope empowers us to carve our own existences anew. The spirit of sanguinity and fortitude ran deeper than the deepest Luzon valley that day, conveyed to me by one of the most unlikely of sources.