Spending time in the Muslim Siralwan community

The sweat made my shirt cling to my already over-heated body. As we walked down the dirt paths lined with wooden houses with bamboo thatched roofs and t.v.s we were met with curious stares and timid waves.  When arrived at the community school, the classrooms were full of eager faces, segregated into girls on the left, and boys on the right. I was thankful to witness that girls were given the opportunity in this poor community to attend school.  The Hello Kitty patches that most of the girls had sewn on their dull green skirts flashed a group sense of individuality.  The teachers welcomed the interruptions we caused, and even allowed the children’s lunch break to run an extra half hour on account of our playing volleyball on the beach.

I was overwhelmed by the graciousness of the youth, giving up a full day to guide us around, displaying their community with pride. The openness and honesty of the community leader as he discussed the Mindanao war and the fear their community faces every time the military comes stomping through.  He spoke of the history and situation of the bracket of young adults who go overseas because they are consistantly discriminated against in the job force in the city due to their religion.

The sounds of noon-day prayers leaked from the open windows of the mosque, and the irony that even though a curtain will forever separate the worship of men and women, once they are through those windows, all of their prayers still end up intermingling.

The children begged for our autographs like we were pop stars. One new international friend commented, “You looked like a celebrity, the way they all crowd around you. Do you feel like a celebrity? Because you look like Angelina Jolie.” (oh he is far to gracious) Their little voices chirpped “Picture! Picture!” every time a camera appeared – quickly assembling themselves into a glob of grinning faces beneath their hijabs all askew and their sparkling eyes.

At the end of the day, saying our farewells, a crowd of children waved and shouted their heavily accented goodbyes. Standing behind the barbwire that kept school children from the beach during school hours, three pre-teens stood, trying to look sullen, but obviously not wanting to be left out of the international excitement. Over the sea of brown hands and little fingers furiously waving goodbye, over the pricks of the rusted, twisted wires, a single hand gesture to stand a part from the rest. A metal hand. Rock on kid.

As the bus pulled away from the community, we left having learned, having seen, and having heard.  We were thankful for the short time to see something beyond our normal realm of reality.  To hear the plight of a people living in fear, but trying to just live.  The children chased our bus, their little hands reaching up to the windows that were far above their heads, trying to get one last glimpse, one last touch, one last goodbye.

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