It wasn’t until the black metal barrel swung towards my face, that I re-considered the warnings, “Don’t visit Cebu.”
This bbq stall – one of ten identical tables serving grilled meat and karaoke tunes – was several blocks from the tourist section of town. Families slept on cardboard squares along the alleyway and men squatted over dice behind us. We’d seen few foreign faces since we arrived, but more than enough guns: semi-automatics slung over the shoulders of security guards, pistols checked at department store entrances.
But why us, why here? I watched, disembodied, as a finger purposefully pulled back the trigger.
“Powpowpowpowpowpow!” An explosion of sound effects and giggles, while the young boy peppered us with imaginary bullets.
Hadyn slumped dramatically over his pork adobo, playing along.
The assailant was joined by three other barefoot children. They laughed and teased, pointed to our digital camera and posed for photos. They shared names, we shared bites of chicken. It was the briefest of interactions, not unusual from a thousand others we would have in Southeast Asia.
But when Typhoon Haiyan passed through the Philippines, I remembered those disarming smiles. Five minutes of mimicry in 2012 changed the recent natural disaster from an event of distant sympathy to one of personal horror. What happened to those boys?
“We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate.” – Pico Iyer
My meager Red Cross donation will not reverse the destruction caused by Haiyan, but I believe that human relationships are stronger than 150-mile winds. They remind us that the only things separating an American backpacker from a Filipino youth are a few miles of ocean.
If you get the chance, visit Cebu. In this place, I discovered that the most sincere human connections come from the simplest environments.