“Wala’y utang karon, ugma na.”
I remember we were bringing our boat driver’s wife and his kid to his in-laws’ house. From our trusty riverboat, we disembarked onto a house that had an attached sari-sari store, placed right by the bank of the Adgawan River, all the way upstream in La Paz. On the store window, right above the serving hatch, covered by a thick metal screen to display all sorts of merchandise, was this sign, written in felt-tip marker on a crudely cut piece of cardboard.
“There’ll be no credit today, try again tomorrow,” it said. The humor of the sign wasn’t lost on us. I snapped a few frames, then our polite laughter then gave way to an untimely bottle of hard rhum (untimely for an occasional light drinker like me, being given it at 3pm, at room temperature, with no ice; the house was unpowered at the time), and the rest of the afternoon was accompanied by a slight throbbing of the temples.
Filipino humor is a well-documented phenomenon. One sees examples of it everywhere, from business signs on city streets, to huge swinging mudflaps on the backs of trucks on highways, to crude graffiti on public infrastructure. One can even accuse us of being too humorous, an accusation which may immediately be laughed at.
It was that sign, however, that reminded me of our obstinate resilience as a people, how we smile through situations that in other societies would be dealt with through bouts of counseling and antidepressants. The fact that it was a rural sari-sari store drove the point even further. Rural stores are largely run on credit, as many of its customers may not have immediate money at hand. A kilo of rice and some dried fish may be bought on credit to feed a family for a few meals, paid upon the next batch of crops sold, or for others, a bottle of firewater and some cigarettes to forget about one’s predicament for a few hours, sometimes written off upon death by liver cirrhosis.
Yet despite the worst (and often many bring the worst on themselves, but social ills deserve separate discussions and blog posts so I’ll skip them this time), Filipinos still manage to laugh. It might be borne out of apathetic resignation, sheer optimism, religiosity, or even situational equanimity, but we laugh. We never forget to do so. Along with our social ties, we face adversity not with a battle cry, but a battle laugh. It is one of our strong points as a people, the ability to flick the Vs at life and its sack of lemons and carry on laughing. And this is seen best in the most random locations, written on crude signs, eliciting, at the very least, smiles from passersby.