Saturday, December 20, 2008

178-B I. Lopez Street

I was born and raised in an apartment unit at 178-B I. Lopez Street, Bgy. New Zaniga, Mandaluyong. I believe it was in the mid-60s when Mother and Father decided to rent there and called it home. My earliest recollections of the house were the shiny wooden floors upstairs and the equally shiny red concrete floors downstairs. I guess when you’re small, you tend to pay attention to the floors because you’re closer to them.

Kuya and Ate were born in 1966 and 1967. I followed suit in 1969. We were not born poor at all. In fact, we had things that many would consider luxuries – television, refrigerator, air conditioner, even an automobile. Our fate abruptly changed when Father abandoned us and took off with another woman. I was 7 then.

To say that we were helpless was an understatement. Though Mother was only 32, she had neither education nor work experience to speak off. For a while we lived on the proceeds made from selling our possessions. One by one, our possessions disappeared. Once they were all gone, we lived on dole outs from family and friends and from doing menial things.

Except for drugs and sex, I sold practically everything I could think of on the street. Suman, biko, nilagang saging, nilagang kamote, sago at gulaman, halo-halo, etc. When times were really hard, we would rummage through our clothing and take them to Eloi’s near San Felipe Neri Church. Many times, we were forced to go to sleep early because there was nothing to eat.

We continued to live at 178-B I. Lopez Street, paying 150 pesos a month. Whenever the rent is due each month, I remember Mother getting sick to her stomach often not knowing where the money is going to come from. Worse, Mr. Cullen who owned the apartment complex decided to raise the rent to 300 pesos. There was nothing we could do but to stop paying. Mr. Cullen threatened us with eviction and took us to court. Fortunately for us, the process took several years courtesy of the slow Philippine judicial system.

For the meantime, they cut-off our water supply and stopped maintaining our unit. Gradually, the house deteriorated and got infested with termites and rats as big as cats. The toilet was clogged all-year long and earthworms invaded the bathroom. To this day, I’d still occasionally wake up in the middle of the night thinking I was back in that pitiful bathroom.

Since we didn’t have running water, we would wake up everyday at 2:00 am to fill our buckets from an illegally tapped pipe. Talk about survival. We just did what we had to do.

If we were suffering inside the house, it was worse outside. For as long as I could remember, we were alienated by our mostly middle-class neighbors. We were the weird kids – thin as sticks with worn-out clothes. Not to mention we didn’t have any toys to share with. In fact, the neighborhood kids eluded us because we tend to stare at their toys. I remember standing for a long time outside a neighbor’s gate because I was promised that I could borrow a bike. No bike came out and I was forced to come home because it was already getting dark.

The situation at school wasn’t any better. In ERES where I went, I couldn’t simply find anybody who could relate to my impoverished life. It seemed like they were eating 3 full meals a day while I often came to school on an empty stomach. That was particularly true when Ms. Molina who owned the nearby sari-sari store wouldn’t let us get food on credit. “Mahaba na ang listahan ninyo,” she would say. Whenever that happened, we would do anything to avoid passing by her store lest she embarrasses us.

I’m not sure how we managed to survive those turbulent years. Aside from selling mundane things, I baby-sat our neighbor’s two young children where I got paid 5 pesos per week. Other than that, everything is a blur.

When I reached 5th grade, Mother, Kuya, Ate and I were able to get work at the handicraft factory owned by Mr. Robert Tobias. The factory is on the far end of I. Lopez Street, near ERES. Together, we made about 150 pesos a week. Work was rough. We were exposed to harsh chemicals necessary to clean seashells. We had to work with large amount of bleach and muriatic acid to get the job done. The dust from polishing the shells can become unbearable too. We never complained though. To us, it was all a blessing.

Despite my work, I graduated from elementary in 1982 with honors. I went to Mandaluyong High School and continued to work at Mr. Tobias’s factory. I was the only one in my ERES VI-1 class who went to MHS. I was very happy at MHS as I connected with people with the same misfortune of being poor. There were very little pretensions.

I managed to graduate as the class valedictorian of 1986 and was the first scholar to be employed by then Mayor Ben Abalos Sr. I went to work during the day and went to school at night. In 1988, the trial court finally evicted us out of that apartment on I. Lopez Street. By then, our family was making enough money to rent a more decent apartment, this time in Bgy. Old Zaniga (for some reasons, we gravitate towards the Zanigas). In 1991, after I graduated from college and got paid better, I promised Mother she will never pay rent again. I bought her a house in Bgy. Plainview where she still presently lives.

Next year I am turning 40 and I plan to spend my birthday in the Philippines. I already asked Ate to take me on a stroll to our old neighborhood. I want to see the house where I was born and raised. The house that bore witness to my pain and suffering but molded me into the person that I am now – 178-B. I. Lopez Street.


Jun from Florida said...

Hello Maria Victoria,
I went to Google and search for Zaniga in Mandaluyong and click to your article. After reading your story, I'm impressed the way you describe your life.
My father passed away when I was 7 yrs. old and my mother can't afford o send me to college. I'm the youngest of 4 siblings. Nagtinda rin ako ng pan-desal, ice candy, pancake, etc. sa Batangas hangang sa naging Architect/ Manager ako sa isang Mandaluyong firm 1977-1989. Nag-abroad ako nung 1989 w/ H1-visa at naging US Citizen 10 yrs. later. To make my story short nag aral ulit ako dito at RN ang trabaho.
Kaya nag search ng Zaniga dahil tumira ako sa De La Cruz family malapit sa Basketball Court and Cemetery. Uuwi rin kasi ako next month at gusto kong pumasyal sa Old Zaniga.

Anthony said...

Marivic! We were classmates then under Mrs. Maliwat. Hope you remember me. I still have our picture during our field day back then. You were a flower then and I was a very very big butterfly. :-)

Hope we can chat some time.
Anthony Legaspi

Anthony said...

e-mail me: