Our plane landed in Manila again and we took a taxi to the Makati district, where my cousin Nessim lives with his wife Caroline and the children. I knew they lived in a beautiful house, but I didn’t expect the luxury. The taxi turned and suddenly stood at a barrier with security guards guarding a walled and fenced area. They wore both uniform and machine guns and wanted to know who we were going to. The taxi driver had to hand in his papers and only because we were registered they let us through.
Makati was a sizable neighborhood in itself and nothing compared to the shabby, smoggy and smelly majority of the city. Especially when I think of the corrugated iron huts of Baclaran, through which we wandered on our previous way to the airport.
Makati had clean streets, clear traffic, lots of private cars and glass skyscrapers. This is the city’s financial center and shopping centers, parks and green pedestrian zones take you back to the western world. In order to have even more peace and quiet, the rich isolate themselves in enclaves. In the mornings over the next few days we should see columns of Filippinos pouring through the barriers into the enclave to work as gardeners or housekeepers and to take out the pets. It almost seemed as if the Filippinos lived here when they met their masters’ dogs on the street. But they do not exchange words with each other but work diligently and conscientiously. In the evening the same thing could be observed as an exodus. You could hardly see anything of the actual residents.
It was a nice reunion with Nessim, whom I only met once at a wedding in Germany a few years ago and whose invitation to Manila I finally accepted. We found his princely home next to the palaces of ambassadors, great artists, and businessmen. Even among the rich enclaves, this was the most exclusive. In addition to the pool and the tropical garden, the huge bungalow also had two domestic helpers. The greatest luxury, however, was the tranquility in this juggernaut.
Of course we had a lot to talk about. We learned what the life of a Westerner in the Philippines looks like, even if it corresponded to any imperial cliché, while we were eating in the nearby polo club. Nessim and Caroline work at the Asian Development Bank, the continental equivalent of the World Bank. The children went to private schools and to Oxford to study. We talked about life in Germany and our travels and exchanged our knowledge about our family. In this luxury we felt guilty, having enjoyed the simple conditions the days before wonderfully.
The Easter days began now. On Good Friday, Caroline took us into town by car to show us the “beautiful” part of Manila. When the city was still a fortress of Spain, the señors and señoras indulged themselves in Spanish style and built stately colonial houses. These can still be found between the now tiny old city walls near the harbor, together with a towering cathedral where Pope Francis held a service last year. This neighborhood is called Intramuros.
Because of the holidays, we got into the city center with traffic that was unusually fast for Manila. Because of the holidays, there was a lot going on around the cathedral, and thus almost in all of Intramuros. A few business-minded youngsters had already specialized in guiding drivers to a parking lot and earning themselves a generous tip in return.
The cobblestone medieval streets were full of people, colorful flags were stretched over the houses and lots of traders took the chance with their stalls to supply the people with essentials, such as food and plastic toys. The people were dressed in bright colors and there was no question of a day of national mourning like in Germany in this super-Catholic country. One celebrated. We took a look into a church that was also being used for a service.
While we have to be dead silent, this was more of an open-door event, where everyone came and went and talked as they liked, while Jesus’ Passion was recited in front.
Not far from us, in some villages around Manila, the people are so excited about this day that they even let themselves be nailed to the cross with a big show. We should read in a newspaper a later day that a Filippino was doing this for the 30th time.
However, people here were very distracted by Jani. Everyone stared at her, some sneaked photos of her. Jani shocked some by simply speaking to people and offering them to take a picture with them. We caused a stir on every street.
On Saturday we planned to go cycling with the whole family in the mountains near Manila. The drive took hours, however, because many city dwellers wanted to get out of the city into the country that day and we only reached the ridge in the afternoon, from which we whizzed down on our bikes.
After a few bends, however, it was over again: in front of us was a swath of devastation where a bridge was supposed to be.
Half a year ago a typhoon raged here and unleashed masses of water and earth. We climbed a bit in the resulting gorge, through which a seemingly harmless brook splashed, before we set off again without having achieved anything on the hour-long walk home to Manila at walking pace.