We are Sparta! roars Screen Six.
“- Magándang umaga!”
You’ve just exchanged “Good morning!” in Tagalog, says Screen Three, linguistic pride flowing. That’s the trade language of the Philippines.
These many young humans, their faces bronzed, their hair dark, eagerly await their first Kids’ Camp in this humid jungle. But even I, Mr. ADHD Ambassador himself, am caught offguard by their enthusiasm. Are they – are they all like me? What a wonderful world this would be!
Do I hear Sam Cooke? asks Two.
“Guys,” I tell my screens, “we got through the greeting. But now the kids are chanting three more words, all different, not one of which is clear to me.”
Should be, replies Three. All of ’em are in English!
“But the accents are so thick! What are the words?”
Chook Norris karate!
I turn and look at 6’7” Rick. He’s clueless. He’s also impressive, his towering figure draped in black for the karate demonstration coming next. Perhaps the kids already know this and cheer for him?
The increasing noise triggers my six screens to start a brain scan, and suddenly I am stepping back one month in time …
“Come help us build orphanages deep in the Cavite province’s jungle,” urges a friend with Samaritan’s Purse. “Flights are 13, sometimes 17, hours. Extreme heat, maybe 100 in the shade. Long days. We’ll tackle backbreaking work with basic tools and little sleep – ”
Suggest he never run tours, whispers One.
“- but you can’t put a price on providing a safe place for those kids!”
I’m still not sold. Then I learn impoverished parents on Luzon Island drop off unwanted children – daughters, especially – at the nearest dump, to survive on their own. Tiny ones are no match for the strength of the older kids and often perish first from hunger and disease.
We’re going! demand six screens. Book the flight now!
Our crew steps into the capital city and quickly renames it “Manila Madness.” Four-lane roads handle six, sometimes seven, vehicles jostling impossibly side by side with jeepneys and bicyclists. I search for a pharmacy to conquer my abrupt intro to Filipino sicknesses but find island illness safer than the bus that nearly flattens me … on a sidewalk.
Reaching the job site, I’m relieved to find just-installed flushing toilets at the almost-completed first orphanage. Less satisfying finds are the hand-sized spiders nesting between lids and seats.
Beats the ladies’ room snakes.
Cautions abound from those in the know. “Separate wallets and cash. Tuck ID and passports in socks. Never pay the straight price, but do pay better than American tourists. Watch for signs of in-ground ant colonies – their bites burn a long time. Drink water, water, water. Keep flashlights in good working order and don’t go off alone anywhere, at any time.”
Last line’s an invite to explore the jungle, remarks Five. At night.
Dinner done, I travel broken road for about a mile in the jungle’s screech-filled evening air, then turn to check my bearings. Wow, says Two. Worksite sure is a ways back, eh? But we’ve got the flashlight –
And backup batteries, adds Four, who’d thought of them on his own. Moments later, a soft pop creates blackness so deep I can taste it, feel it on my skin. It wraps around my heart and constricts, an inky python claiming me for itself.
Quit clickin’ the flashlight, Sherlock, says Five in irritation. The bulb blew. Man, that never happens. Nobody carries a spare bulb.
But you’ve got backup batteries, Four adds brightly.
There, in the distance, faintly glowing against dark that melds ground and sky, the first orphanage beckons with its welcoming “all in” bell.
Here, in the jungle, I understand the next step could be my last, depending on which creature I encounter. To reinforce the point, something massive crashes through brush behind me.
Cheers! exclaims Five. At last, an adventure worthy of us all!
Postscript – Stay tuned for next week’s exciting conclusion. Bet you wonder whether I survive, eh? Guess you’ll have to wait and see!
In the meantime, so many folks told me they’d enjoyed the “margents and threads” columns, I thought I’d give you another snippet of one recent exchange with my next-youngest brother.
Ted: We went for a drive in the [South Dakota] hills. They are just breath-taking … it was amazing. At one point I wanted to jump out of the truck and, as I am running into the woods, whip off all my clothes and be one with the land.
But Kenny child-proofed my door locks in advance and I couldn’t get out.
Blackie: Thank you, Cousin Kenny, for child-proofing Ted’s door locks and keeping him from scaring nature’s creatures until they wept.
Remember, Ken, only YOU can prevent forest criers …