While I go to Agdao primarily to visit my kids, I have inevitably met several of the residents, just by walking by their houses or businesses. The same people are usually there, people in this neighborhood don’t travel far. Most I know just by face, I don’t know their names, families, or what exactly they do to survive day to day. We make eye contact, they recognize me as the white girl that frequents the neighborhood, and we exchange a friendly “Hey!”.
I have made friends with one of these locals though, sort of. Can you be friends with someone whose name you don’t know? The covered basketball court in Agdao is the “transit station” for tricycabs headed to Agdao Market. For about 12 cents, I can get a ride back to the Market, where I often park, since there is no parking in the neighborhood. It’s about a five minute ride, so it’s a bargain. The cabs line up, and when one is full (about 6 people), they head off. By chance, I wound up in one particular driver’s tricycab several times in a row. After a couple times, he asked my name. Marlene is a difficult name for most to remember, so I told him “Mars”, as I have told many others. It simplifies life. “Mars? I’m Jupiter!” he exclaimed. We laughed, and off we went, and he began to ask me the same questions he does every week. Where do I live. How long have I lived in Davao. How many kids do I have. How old are they. I think he likes to make conversation, but that is his limit of English. I answer the same every week, but it’s tempting to mix it up to see if he catches it. Our conversation always has an audience of other riders, usually accompanied by giggles or further questions from them. Now when I see him on my walk in, he yells “Hey Mars!” to which I reply “Hey Jupiter!”. All the other drivers grin, not quite understanding the joke.
Last week I got a glimpse into Jupiter’s life, and it made me realize that everyone has a story, and not everything is as it seems. As I was making the short walk to the basketball court after class, Jupiter appeared out of nowhere on his tricycab. “Sa palengke?” he asked (“to the market?). I hopped on. As we approached the line of other drivers, I tried to figure out how to avoid making a huge cultural faux pas, taking a cab out of turn. Jupiter handled it, breezing past yelling “Special trip! Special trip!”. OK…I guess it’s just the two of us today! We passed a beautiful girl who smiled and waved at him, and he told me that was his daughter. He said he has three kids, and it hit me that he was more than Jupiter the cab driver. He told me his kids ages (12, 14 and 16), and then said his wife was an Overseas Foreign Worker, a domestic helper, in Kuwait. She makes 12,000 pesos a month (about $300). Then he sighed and added, “yeah…she forgets to love me”. I suddenly felt incredibly sad for him and his family. $300 a month is worth putting such a strain on the family. Unfortunately it’s a story that’s told over and over around the world. However, it usually just doesn’t meet me face to face.
This time our conversation went behind the normal questions, it was broken and challenging, but I was able to tell him a bit about our business and what we do. When we arrived at the market, I paid him the going rate for four passengers, feeling bad about making him spend extra time and gas just to take me (yeah, I didn’t ask him to, but still…), feeling bad about his situation, and feeling bad that I still don’t know his name! At what point in a friendship is it just too late to ask someone their real name?! Unless of course, his name really is…Jupiter.