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Another universe
By Elson T. Elizaga, July 12, 2020. First published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily, March 2, 2020.
Barra garbage trucks Garbage trucks of barangay Barra, Opol, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.

Finally, it is happening. Our barangay Barra, thanks to its officials and concerned citizens, now has two trucks for collecting garbage. One truck is for “malata” (biodegradable trash) and the other is for “dili malata” (you guessed it). The trucks rumble down the street like Transformers. As they stop by each house, the garbage men, swift and nimble like athletes, remove the leaves, sheets of used paper, cans, plastic bottles, bags, and food wrappers. 

Despite this beautiful development, a tiny section of our community still burns solid waste. Just one day after the trucks passed by our neighborhood, I went to the plaza and saw several plastic bottles, spoons, fork, and bags on black mounds, ready to be incinerated. I took a picture of a pile and used the image to decorate my webpage titled “Garbage burning and the Wuhan virus” (tinyurl.com/san2nz6) to show to big pharma that they have a huge market here: a metropolis of people with asthma, tuberculosis, lung cancer, brain damage, and other diseases. 

Two drug stores near our place are not sufficient to meet our needs. Around 4 pm, they get crowded with customers, some senior citizens. Whenever a buyer sneezes, the others politely and slowly step away from him – a behavior described by sociologists as SIR (smooth interpersonal relationship). They don’t even stare, they don’t tell him to wear a mask, but treat him like a spoiled brat or king, at least in public. But quietly, in their minds, they tell him.

The minimum response for this situation is the secular expression “pastilan.” For members of the faith, the suggested remark is “sus ginoo” or the more powerful “litseng yawa.” 

But who are we to judge the ailing gentleman? We, too, if we burn our garbage, are as guilty as he is. Perhaps even more. Perhaps he is just a victim of the pollution that we regularly create in our yard, or expel from our vehicles. Perhaps he is a law-abiding citizen whose neighbor tosses his garbage in the back of a school after buying chicken from Jollibee or imported cookies from S&R.

One day, I made a compost pile outside our fence. It was filled with dead leaves, sheets of paper, banana peelings, and other vegetation. When I opened the pile after three weeks, I found a festival of black beetles, shiny earthworms, and colorful millipedes from the moon Pandora. There were certainly other creatures, too small for me to see, but I was certain I had discovered another universe. 

Then one morning, I found plastic bottles, packages, and pieces of cellophane on the mound. Apparently, some people believed from the bottom of their hearts that my compost pile was just another dump. 

My editor must be thinking now: Pastilan. End

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