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1 August 2013

Six things I learnt living in a slum

For five and a half months I lived in a medium-sized squatter community on the edge of a 7-lane Highway in Quezon City, Philippines. It was called Manggahan. I learned to call it home, and much more besides…

1. Always survey the area before stepping into a room

This means that you are less likely to have a heart attack if a cockroach or a rat suddenly shoots out from behind the door. However, after doing this every day for the past 5 months, I began to see the benefits of a ‘look before you leap’ mind-set also applied to everyday life. Before agreeing wholeheartedly to a task, assess how capable you are. There is not much good that comes from a project started enthusiastically, if you are to freeze, realising your fear and limitation, and then drop it later on.

2. Play in the rain and go with the flow

Being a Brit, I was used to complaining about the weather, and I have never been especially fond of rain. However, I have never lived in a place with quite so many leaks, neither had I lived in a country with such heavy downpours. The best way to deal with rain you cannot escape from, is to go out and dance in it. It’s no good to be the only one staying dry if you’re the only one not having fun.

3. It is good to wash dishes

I wanted to build schools and revolutionise political systems when I arrived in Manggahan. Now I know that would not have been very helpful at all, but I didn’t in the beginning and so I threw my frustration into soapy water and scrubbed away furiously at dishes. I learned to wash up Pinoy-style; three big tubs on the floor for rinse, wash and then rinse for cups, spoons and plates.. I could never have imagined how much delight it brought people to see a missionary washing determinedly. How funny, I thought to myself weeks later, when I had become a different girl since Jesus also was a servant.

4. Always have something to do, but at the same time, don’t be afraid of not doing much

It became clear to me that God’s purpose for me in Manggahan was just to make friends. This seemed to me to be a very strange thing; to send me across an ocean to make friends. However, God is extravagant, and He does things like this. So I tried my best to always be around people, and if they didn’t want to speak English, I’d sit next to them and read a book. If I didn’t have a book, I’d often end up making a fool of myself trying to find some way to communicate, usually by dancing!

5. Share-share na lang

We had two fridges on our street, and almost every house had something stored in one of them. The strength of community amongst the urban poor is fierce. There is little need to pop over to your neighbour and ask to borrow a cup of sugar, most likely because they’ve borrowed all your cups and you’ve used all their sugar. It is something I admired greatly at the beginning of my stay and something I hardly noticed towards the end, because I became one of them. I even left some sugar in one of the fridges.

6. You find safety in numbers

The first few times that I walked into Manggahan by myself, I walked fast and looked down. I was afraid and I had reason to be; there are dark powers at work there. Yet when I finally returned smiles and waves, I started to make friends. I then  felt safe,  and I learned that if you are known and loved in your mission field – the people will protect you!

Rosie Taylor
UK Serve Asia Worker

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