The Heart of Davao City

Nonfiction by | March 23, 2008

For someone who has never been inside Bankerohan, the place is the worst idea of a tourist spot. People who do not visit the far dark corners of it would even wonder why it had been made a destination. Others question why a wet market is constructed beside a dental clinic and other establishments that offer a comfortable place and clean services. The stink which makes passers-by cover their noses when the jeepney drives through; the dirt which can be seen in every vendor’s clothes, stall, sack, cart, and anywhere along the sidewalk; the chatter of the people which is nearly unbearable – are the main reasons that some people prefer to go to air-conditioned supermarkets. Furthermore, the rows of stalls are not organized. Some vendors simply pile their fruits and vegetables on a dirty sack along the sidewalk, and some even go beyond the boundary line, making traffic worse.

What a terrible place! But for a person like me the idea is the other way around. It was once a second home to me. Every weekend, vendors of various commodities litter the streets of Bankerohan. Among those vendors were my parents. We used to sell quail eggs to the patrons of Bankerohan and deliver eggs to the stalls near the wet market building. The “stench” of fish and rotten trash was a wisp of fragrant air for someone who needs money. And we needed money. We welcomed the feel of the dirt and grime Bankerohan had to offer, because it offered customers too. But more than a livelihood, Bankerohan is my second home because it is where I saw people who cared for each other, just like a family.

Uncle Willie, whose eyes were always bloodshot because of vigils repacking assorted food items, always greeted me with a smile. He asked me once, “Dina, kumusta naman ang imong pag eskwela?” (Dina, how are your studies?) And then added with pride, “Uy, kabalo kaba, ang Ate Nila nimu muadto og Japan? Manganta sila didto, kauban man gud siya sa Chorale sa UIC. Kaya maningkamot jud ko, dili man gud libre ang ilang pamasahe!” (Do you know that your Ate Nila is going to Japan? They’re going to sing there because she’s a member of the UIC chorale. That’s why I’ll strive to earn for the fare since it’s not for free!) He sent his daughters to a private school hoping that they would have a better life than his.

Then there was Manang of the carinderia in the second floor of the wet market. I once came to eat palabok at her carinderia, and was ten pesos short. She said, “Ayaw nalang day,” (Never mind) when I offered to go back to my father and ask for more money. She added, “Ayaw na, basig ma late ka pa, tarunga nalang ang imong pag iskwela day, sige na!” (Never mind, you might get late for school, just do well in your studies!) True enough it was almost seven thirty because I had been forced to help my father deliver the eggs on a school day since my mother was in the hospital. I felt guilty about not paying her because earlier, I had heard a woman asking for the money she had lent to the Manang. She had none to give. And the “tig-5/6” (loan shark) ranted about Manang’s sons being drug addicts, and her daughters being whores, and the Manang just smiled. The Manang needed money but she gave me a discount on the pancit, simply because I was going to be late for class. There were many people in Bankerohan who helped the little struggling “pugo” (quail) girl. Yet, just like all the places in the world, Bankerohan also has bad guys.

Bankerohan is a place where one can discover the actual reality. The meat, fruits, and vegetables sold in the wet market are not always fresh. Sometimes, nasty vendors intentionally put bad fruits among the good ones, or add carabao meat to the big heap of beef. And not all Manangs and Manongs would give the exact change or display the real prices. Beggars plague rich-looking people for alms. It’s true. But it’s not only the people whom I had met while working in Bankerohan that taught me many things about life.

I first learned mathematics in Bankerohan. I was the quail egg girl in the sidewalk of Marfori Street, in front of the LM Bakery, where Caltex Gasoline Station used to stand. Addition and subtraction are necessary tools for a tindera (vendor) because it’s not just the store owners who “ilad” (trick) their customers, but there are also customers who would try to deceive the vendors. People thought that they could trick me because I was young. But I came equipped with the mumbers.

Many people in Bankerohan thought that they could get away from a loan because a small girl came to collect, but they were wrong. I knew how to make irate and stodgy debtors pay their loans. When we delivered at dawn, I collected in the middle of the morning, yet, some store owners in Bankerohan refused to pay, and they came up with lousy excuses. Sometimes they would hide and let their tinderas face me; some tried to be indignant and righteous, saying, “Ayaw og kabalaka, mura mag dili ta kabayad, unsa? Desperado na ka og kwarta? Wala na kay gi kaon?” (Why worry, as if we can’t pay? Why are you desperate for money? You have nothing to eat?) Some would sing this tune: “Unsa! Dili ka hulat! Sige! Kuwaa nalang na imong itlog! Ingna imong mama na dili na mi magkuha sa sunod!” (What? You can’t wait? Then, take your eggs! Tell your mother that we won’t get eggs from her next time!) This, after all the eggs I had delivered were already sold. What I learned is to use my “charm” as a small girl, saying something like, “Te, pasensya na gud, pampalit man gud namu na og feeds”, (Ma’am, I hope you’ll understand that it’s for the feeds we need to buy); or “Te, pasensya na, naa man pud mi utang na dapat bayaran.” (Ma’am, I hope you’ll understand that we also have debts that we need to pay). I realized that when collecting payments from thick-skinned debtors, I had to gain their sympathy, and as much as possible remain humble. It never hurt to be respectful and silent even if you were insulted. For a girl who learned these in Bankerohan and has seen its beauty and warmth, the dirt and stench was worth the stay.

It’s been a while since my mother ended our selling days, for she prefers to work as an accountant, than a poultry raiser. Today, I rarely visit the grimy alleys of Bankerohan, rarely see the people in it, and rarely hear the alluring buzz of a market that has stood so long and so proud, but I wish that I could come back to see once again the wonders of the heart of Davao City – Bankerohan Public Market…my second home.