(This piece found print nine years ago, and Rhoda’s family still comes to mind, especially when it pours.-RD)
When it rains, Rhoda Boquiren comes to mind.
She’s that forty-something mother of five moving up and down Session Road. When she’s lucky enough, you see her pulling a plastic bag almost empty or half-full of recyclables on one hand and, years back, Benjamin Jr., her youngest at six then, on the other.
Like Metro-Manilans picking up the pieces in the wake of another climate change flooding, she should be cursing the rain. She can’t sell cartons and paper that shop owners leave for the rains to drench on the main street.
It seems, too, she rues, that everybody now also segregates recyclables or collects what’s already segregated. Years back, she remembered a woman with a car competing with her in collecting recyclables along Session Rd. When she asked, the woman, who was then working in an international company, told her she, too, had mouths to feed.
The upside is that rain, if not too strong, does wonders to her sayote plant. The shoots and tendrils grow fast and soon get blanched or – for better taste – get sautéed if there’s lard to come by. With rain, her kids can eat and won’t have to fetch water for a while.
So, plus or minus, what the rain brings depends on who and where you are.
Rhoda’s family of seven huddles in a shanty deep into Purok 5, Sto. Rosario , not quite in danger of getting flooded. The downside is it’s far from the road. Benjamin Jr. often complains why he has to walk and walk – often up and down Session Rd.
Rhoda can’t carry him always. With a tiny, frail and asthmatic frame, she coughs often. Her doctor had told her to be on maintenance dose to prevent osteoporosis (or is it scoliosis?) from getting worse.
The last time Rhoda herself was cuddled was when she was 12. The ninth of 12 children of a coconut farmer worker in Catubig, Samar, she was then on board a ship, on her way to find her fortune in Manila. As she had no ticket, a neighbor also bound for the big city cuddled her like her own child to spare her of the fare.
“I thought then life was kind in Manila,” she said in Tagalog.
She worked as domestic for a family in Bicutan, Rizal. She couldn’t cope and so asked her sister Celia, who lived nearby, to take her in. At 17 she agreed to work in a printing press in Malabon. She told her employer not to pay her , just to provide her food, a place to stay and support for her education.
Given more work than study hours, she quit both at the end of her sophomore year in high school. She decided to come up to Baguio, again to work a domestic.
In the wake of the July 16, 1990 that hit Baguio, Rhoda found refuge in an evacuation center near the city slaughterhouse. There, she met Benjamin, a miner who was sidelined due to work-related injuries, but still volunteered in the rescue operations for victims trapped in the collapsed Nevada Hotel in the wake of the July 16, 1990 earthquake.
Two years ago, Rhoda unwrapped Benjamin’s bronze plaque credential in volunteerism.
“In recognition of service above and beyond the call of duty in rescue of victims of the July 16, 1990 earthquake,” the inscription read.
It was presented by Benguet Corp, on September 28 that year, signed by Alfonso Yuchengco, chairman of the board, and Dennis Bemonte, president.
Rhoda was proud telling those who would listen that Benjamin was among those who rescued Sonia Roco, wife of then Senator Raul Roco. The temblor struck while Sonia was attending a conference sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development at the Nevada Hotel.
Benjamin Sr. was now on-and-off at odd jobs, as his old injuries prevented full-time work. When he could find some materials, he would improve their shanty, which they built with support from a nun. It bears no number, and stands on a lot owned by somebody else. But building a home was not meant to be. Benjamin Sr. died a few years back, leaving a family of orphans.
The patchwork of GI sheets, canvas and scrap without electricity or plumbing is home to their five children – Rejie, 21 and out of school; Sharmaine, 20; Sunshine, 17, Benzon 15, and Benjamin Jr. On rainless nights, the kids sometimes go to a neighbor’s house to watch TV.
The couple had tried opening a micro-mini store with a P5,000 livelihood loan from the city social welfare and development office. It was promising at first, until customers became familiar to be refused credit.
Rhoda’s consolation was having repaid the loan.
Seven years back, an Ibaloi woman raising her own daughter in Kentucky got wind of Rhoda’s plight. She included Rhoda in several anonymous fund support to the needy here she sent through this writer. Part of it went to the family’s daily sustenance, the bulk for Rhoda to attempt a door-to-door vending of fish and vegetables.
The family’s needs, however, were still too much to bear, including her and the children’s medications against weather induced illness. The would-be livelihood capital was re-channeled to addressing these.
Each time the weather permits, Rhoda is back along Session Road, spotting bags of trash to rummage. Or at city hall where employees hand her their empty plastic bottles. Passersby can identify her through Benjamin Jr., who sits on the pavement and wails at times when he’s had enough of walking.
P.S. – Thanks to a fund support raised by siblings Sunshine and Paulo Paclayan-Balanza, from fellow church-goers in Michigan, Rhoda and Benjamin eventually improved the family abode. home. Thanks to support from Shoshin Kinderhilfe, the humanitarian foundation former world karate champion Julain Chees established in southern Germany, Sharmaine was able to go to college).