Martina Pfeiler

Travel & Transitioning

The Philippines

Manila International Airport, 1987

“Anything to declare?” she asks,
and I say “Yeah”.
I saw the happiest man on earth, dressed in a potato sack
in the streets of Cagayan de Oro City.
I saw a “girl-boy” on Kalamkam Beach, when I was ten,
half-guessing, half-knowing what that meant.
I saw a card-board figure of Michael Jackson
advertising his new album ‘BAD’ and I thought
that the people here didn’t like his songs.
I saw kids chasing away poisonous snakes and spiders
and me trying to catch geckos (losing their tail) for my biology lesson.
I saw kids (my age) begging for sweets, sticking their
hands (like in a cage) through the gates
of our bungalow camp-site.
I saw “The Octopus Man” with three hands and four feet at a fun-fair,
selling his body in a cabin as a show attraction,
because the doctors had not relieved him
from the limbs of his never developed twin-brother.
I watched two nuns praying on our flight from Hong Kong to Manila,
thinking “if they don’t get saved, who will?”
I saw a stone smash the window of my friend’s car
and our driver stopping
and taking out a gun from the back seat  for our protection.
I saw myself & my friends almost being eaten by sharks
when the anchor of our small boat got stuck
25 feet below the surface of the open sea.
I saw the bays of the Philippine Sea,
from the top of green hills,
watching out for snakes and having a picnic
with native friends  till the sun set down
calmly on the wet horizon.
I saw a hunger-tortured mother,
stealing food for her baby at the local market.
I saw the moon look the same in the Southern Hemisphere,
laying in darkness on a diving board,
hearing the croaking of frogs, joining into beautiful
songs in equally unknown tongues.
I saw a man cutting the throat of a chicken that
then ran in his yard till it dropped dead.
(I refused to watch cock-fights).
I saw us rafting down Cagayan the Oro River in a tire,
passing Carabaus and native people washing their clothes.
I saw a poor family in the jungle,
waving to us on our motorbikes,
shouting in a cheerful voice “Americanos”,
evoking a strange chill running down my spine & my skin.
I saw schools that were so different compared to what I knew
from home – and kids playing the same games as we did.
I saw “Filipino Pesos” handed over the cash desks and
did not  understand how a large bottle of Coke
could only cost 1 Schilling and 20 Groschen.
I saw half-dead, still-squeaking pigs being
transported on the back of Cheepneys and
people roasting and eating them,
almost instantly turning me into a vegetarian.
I saw hand-made wooden items that were
more beautiful than anything you can get
at our toy stores.
I saw a scorpion crawling from underneath
the trunk on which sat to roast
bananas in our little bonfire.
I saw a volcano-heated pool in the mountains
where we went for a swim and a
cold waterfall touch upon a flat surface
of a natural basin, clear enough for a dive.

I see Western Civilization creep into
Manila International Airport
trying to adapt me to my Austrian life at home.
I watch myself weighing my thoughts on a native scale
And I hope for some extra space to fill my
mental suitcase, not yet ready to be taken home.

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