After spending three days in Marawi, we agreed that it was time to leave. We considered ourselves lucky because we achieved our goals, Nick more so, but Susan got a bonus. She succeeded where Nick and I failed, and this without asking questions or trying to make an impression. She was invited into a Maranao home, where they exchanged personal items. And she was given an intricate silk malong.
They made her feel at home. “For me, their hospitality and unpretentiousness was astonishing,” she said. Susan’s fascination with their lifestyle was evident, for it was written all over her face; like them she was curious about people who were foreign to her. She was taken in by a large close-knit family and said they made her feel at home. Children dragged her to a house, and a woman invited her in. “With me, she wasn’t shy or veiled,” Susan said. “She asked me for my T-shirt and, in exchange, gave me this pretty malong. I was a bit taken aback. Hum! Little taken aback.”
Within a few minutes, Susan found herself comfortably sitting inside a rather large house, with one central room. A devote Muslim, a mother, and businesswoman, her host took charge of her. Other women appeared for more than one family lived there, a sister-in-law, a grandmother, all gathered around her and welcomed her. They all sat on mats, with smiles that revealed how they felt. “We’re happy you’re here,” one of them said. Susan felt moved.
A daughter, who had just finished her studies at Mindanao State University, magna cum laude in Accountancy, and ranked well in licensure exams, served Susan tea. She said, “Nangandoy ko (I aspired for it), and Susan could see that her mother was very proud of her. Their movements were graceful, fluid, and were accentuated by the way they walked. They wore silk, which didn’t seem to fit Susan’s idea of everyday clothing.
They asked her if she’d like more tea. It would’ve been rude for her to refuse, so she said, “Yes, sure. I don’t know your customs, and if I make a mistake, ignorance is my excuse. It seems silly that I didn’t know what to wear when I see how women are covered up here. I understand why people stare at me. I don’t mind people asking me if I’m married, and I am; or how many children I have. I have none. I don’t really mind the stares or the questions. I’m just as curious as you are. I really don’t mind. I like it here. You’ve been nice to me.”
It was cold then in Marawi. Susan complained when she got back to the resort at the university. It was green and wet, and she said she should’ve brought more to wear than T-shirts. Susan then explained how in Marawi women in T-shirts were frowned upon. Some one should’ve told her. More than frown up it was against the law, and someone should’ve warned her. With the elevation, she felt not just cool but cold. It was damn cold at night, and someone should’ve warned her about it too. The lake, the second largest in the Philippines, dominated the town and provided pleasant views, but it was cold. She froze.
Susan looked for postcards. There were none. I don’t know why she expected to find post cards. Marawi hadn’t been a chartered town long. The emergence of the town as a commercial, educational, and political center only occurred in the twentieth century. Many of the Togogan houses, with antique royal high roofs, however, were much older. Susan told us about being invited into one and showed off her malong, though she would’ve preferred a sweatshirt or a sweater. So she retreated to our bed and her novel and curled up and read the rest of the afternoon.
Having hiked all morning and climbed Mt. Mupo, I decided to catch what sun that was left in a lounge chair on our patio, which overlooked a 9-hole golf course. A man on a mission, Nick continued his quest. Comparatively, Susan and I were living the life of luxury and felt that we deserved it. Nick said, “Giving up so soon? I’ll see you for dinner.”
I asked Nick to bring Susan back a postcard of Lake Lanao, if he found one.
“Will do,” he said.
He started to leave; then changed his mind, or ran into someone, and they, within earshot of me, started a conversation. “You know, I’m trying to make sense of Marawi, but so far I haven’t gotten very far,” Nick said. “And without help, I don’t think I will.” Nick then asked him if he were a tourist.
“No, no, I’m a Muslim, from around here,” he said. “We are Maranaos and proud of it. And my family has enjoyed the blessings of this beautiful place for many generations. We enjoy a sense of history and have always resisted foreign intervention.” Neither he nor his students were afraid of the government, he said; rather they were brazen. So he was a professor.
Yes, Nick had found a cohort. But where had this guy come from? But it didn’t feel right to Nick. It didn’t feel right to be approached at a resort like he was, but there was no way of checking the guy out and knowing for sure who he was. By the time he walked around the town and bathed in the mosque Nick had no doubt attracted attention. The three of them had, but Nick more so but the other two were obviously tourist, American tourist. American tourists meant dollars, and dollars meant prosperity, but a Filipino … a Filipino Christian who bathed in the mosque attracted attention. Now Nick was viewed as an intruder, and Nick wanted to avoid arguments and avoid misunderstandings, but still relished this contact. It was what he was looking for, but he wasn’t on his own turf and knew he had to be careful. This gentleman was sent to check him out, and Nick sensed it too. They were eventually able to talk, yet Nick was never able to ease the man’s suspicion.
“Four centuries of jihad, first against Spain, then America, now Marcos, and never defeated. Even when we were no match for machine-guns and artillery, our struggle for freedom has continued.” Until he heard this, Nick wasn’t sure he wanted to talk with this gentleman, but now he listened intently. But as a Christian he knew that he had to watch himself. “The Bangsamoro masses have always resisted while our leaders have often fallen for tricks and collaborated with our enemies. Now our homes, our mosques, and our madaris are being burned. Armed Christians, instead of living side by side with us, are gorging themselves on our land and, without mercy, are killing our young, our old, and our women. ‘Rats,’ is what we call them, and they attack us, while the government supports them and not us.”
Nick was familiar with the story but not the whole story. He shared with the gentleman his own experiences in Central Luzon and his parents’ struggle against the government, which to Nick’s surprise caused the gentleman to frown. Nick didn’t know the connection between his father’s revolt and the mass migration of Christians, or “rats,” from Central Luzon to Mindanao. This caused a mass displacement of Muslims. Nick would join the Muslims, if he could, he said, and the gentleman still shook his head. Nick would have to do what he could in Manila, where he’d support his Muslim brothers and sisters by speaking out.
The gentleman acknowledged Nick’s statements with a grin, took his hand, and then shook his head again. “We’ve heard it before,” he said. Whereupon Nick asked, “What would it take?”
“I don’t know. “I’ve often asked myself why is it so hard,” the gentleman said. “Christians are in the minority here. Um! In any case, no one is stopping them from worshiping.”
My parents, who were Seventh Day Adventists, often sent money to missionaries in the Philippines. Some of that money might’ve gone to Marawi and the Lakeside clinic there. I didn’t make the connection until the gentleman mentioned Seventh Day Adventist. He talked about their good work and the clinic, and how they saved the life of one of his children. He praised Dr. Santos several times and finally saying it was an example of how Christians and Muslim can live together in harmony. I missed the clinic when I walked around the town and asked Susan if she saw it. I also wrote home and told my parents about the good work they were doing in the Islamic City of Marawi.
Later I asked Nick if he had found a post card.
“I didn’t get that far,” he said.
The next morning we left Marawi by bus.