The Grocery Store
This trip starts like any other to the mall. I have set out to pick up some groceries from the attached grocery store at the mall. This is my first time to go in this grocery store. The store is over flowing with people doing their shopping. The funny thing is that it is a Wednesday night, unlike the United States where people save their grocery shopping for the weekend this week night seems popular to pick up the essentials. After navigating endless isles of all the staples I make my way to check out lanes. As I make my way to the checkout there are two options one for small blue grocery carts and then check out stations for people with the standard grocery cart. Well on my way into the store I picked a small blue grocery cart knowing I would only need a few items.
My dilemma starts when I realize that the blue cart lines will take longer to check out then the regular carts, so I figure I will just go to the non blue checkout stand. As I pull in the line behind one other person ready to get my goods and go, the check out girl looks at my cart and says “Sir” then points to the blue grocery cart checkout lane. Ok, ok I will play by the rules but I don’t see what the big deal is. I move over to blue grocery cart line behind 5 other people and patiently wait my turn.
At last I pull up to the checkout counter and everyone stops, the store goes quiet. Then it is the voice of God, well actually it is the store load speaker and a Catholic prayer being recited. The prayer goes on for a minute or two and then business resumes as normal. During this prayer I am confused, amazed, concerned, and left bewildered. I have never experienced anything like this. I reserve judgment of this practice to cultural differences. Being a person of faith I have my own thoughts about prayer, but I try to remain open to different practices.
Now that the prayer session is over the checker is gliding my few items across her scanner, and before the last item crosses briskly across her scanner the store stops again. Another prayer, no now it is a customer appreciation cheers. While I don’t catch the words it is apparent this is a routine act where all the employees repeat a cheer with a quick staccato clap. Now that we have prayed and been appreciated maybe my groceries will all be checked out. The last item clears the scanner and I look at the total of 523 pesos, and quickly do the math in my head with it coming out to about $10. Not bad for getting a hand full of yogurts, cereal, Gatorade, milk, chips, and a snickers. (Yes I was craving an all American candy bar)
Riding the Minibus
Traveling from one Kiva borrower to another often involves riding a minibus. This is one of the three major modes of travel that probably 80% of the population uses to move from place to place. I mention the minibus in particular because I was struck by the operations of these buses. A mother is riding with her two young children. We have been riding for some time with the warm air circulating through the bus from the outside air. The only way to keep cool or should I say not over heat is to ride with the windows down because there is no air-conditioning on these buses. The women’s little boy sits in her lap while the little girl sits in the seat across from her mother. Sweat has drenched the little girl’s hair leaving it plastered to her forehead as we bump down the road. The young girl nods off to sleep before the bus arrives at her stop. The mother signals to what they call the conductor that they have reached their stop. The conductor functions as the money collector, baggage mover and in this case mover of a precious little girl.
The conductor gently reaches down and scoops the small girl into his strong arms as the mother exits the bus carrying her little boy. The conductor seems to glide down the steps without the little girl making a motion still locked in her dream state. There is a concrete bench that the conductor sits the girl down on as gently as he picked her up. He stands there for a moment as the little girl wakes and her mother gently grabs her hand.
This episode stands out to me because of the culture that these conductors carry out on the minibus. They are there as servants helping people to enter and exit the bus. They don’t just collect money; they make the rough trip just a little easier with their service. I am impressed by this culture of help on an unspoken word, you should understand the special thing about this conductor and little girl interaction is that there was no need to ask for help by the mother. The conductor knew that was what needed to be done and so that is what was done. Amazing.
For my friends and family that know me, they know I love to play sports. Well as luck would have it shortly after arriving in the Philippines I have found a new favorite sport. Indoor soccer. I had the chance to meet a friend of Raymond’s who is not involved in microfinance but plays indoor soccer. So we got talking and he invited me to come play with him the next day, Monday. It turns out he plays twice a week on Monday’s and Wednesday’s.
Great I am an athletic activity for my time here in the Philippines. Monday evening approaches and I am get excited and nervous. The usually anxiety of will I be good enough, fast enough, and do I have the right equipment start boiling up in me once I know Pocholo is on the way to pick me up. Pocholo my new friend picks me up and we head out for the indoor basketball court that we will play on. The sun has set in Bacolod and we are driving turning right, then left, then left again and soon I have no idea what part of town I am in. Pocholo explains that we are going to a subdivision that had the roads put in but no homes ever got built.