I have talked a lot about Marawi on my blog in a negative light. There is so much that I despise about the city, from the dirty politics to the heaps of trash that grow into mountains on the streets. Marawi is imperfect, yet the people thrive in its imperfections on top of their glorious history, of their crumbling infrastructures, overlooking the majestic Lake Lanao. In its imperfection, it inflamed a love within me that I have nurtured all my life.
My heart cried with hot tears, only God knows, upon seeing the photos of what have become of their beloved Marawi. The streets are littered with decaying bodies and fragments of buildings hit by bullets and bombs. I can almost smell the stench of decaying flesh. I can almost hear the muffled cries of civilians, almost imperceptible but you know it’s there. The school has burned down. They will never smell again the old books in its library. Their memory of childhood in Dansalan College, the innocence that they associate with its old walls now tainted by terror. I cried for my friends in Aleppo last year, I weep for Marawi today.
And so I resolve to commit to memory all the days we had before the siege. These memories shall remain beautiful, unspoiled by war.
The week before the siege, I was in vacation in Marawi. Two of my friends were graduating that week. I am not a great cook but I take pride in baking cakes. So I was home baking cakes for my friends. I get so much joy when I bake a cake that is just right that it vanishes off the buffet table in seconds.
Forty kilometers away from Marawi, not knowing if my friends still has a house to go back to, if my baking utensils are still in the cupboard, I still cannot be anything but grateful for our safety. One thing that this crisis has taught me is the importance of friends. We go on with our lives every day chasing material dreams that in an instant can perish and sometimes we forget what is truly priceless. We may lose wealth, bombed in a snap, but we will never mourn as much as losing a friend.
The house where I stay may not stand still, but the memories of the laughter that we shared within its four walls, I will forever carry in my heart. I will look back with joy to those times we struggled as a friend to make both ends meet. In our humble home, we built dreams on our empty stomachs. In the absence of luxury, we tempered our values.
They built a life in Marawi, brick by brick. They slowly filled their shelves with books until it overflowed. One of my friends tended her garden in their backyard. They have two papaya trees bearing the sweetest papayas with pink flesh. They have a housecat they named Sundae that we spoil like a baby. Last month, I became an uncle when my friend had his first baby named Marzia. She has become our greatest joy. Two years ago, I met my friends in the heart of Marawi City.
I used to run at 5 a.m. around Quezon Avenue until daybreak. I love how the sleepy city slowly awakens to the soft light of the rising sun. Sometimes when I am feeling extra athletic, I would run across the bridge, the bridge that the Maute has barricaded, and I would slow down on the bridge to marvel at the mystery of the Lake, its shores blanketed by fog in the cool early morning.
They lived modestly. They lived with integrity. It was a life that is enough for them.
Marawi will always be home to many of us. When the gunshots have dissipated and the land no longer shakes with the explosions, we will go home to their ingud a pilombayan(land of their childhood). We will love it more, more than we have loved it before. We will heal its wounds, each bullet hole on the walls. We will scrub the streets off the blood that stained it. We will paint the burnt walls with vibrant colors of hope. We will embrace each other and swear to never again let them humiliate the city.