Yesterday we walked the slum village on the outskirts of town: Pasil. It was overwhelming: the crowded alleys bursting at the seams with noise, garbage, teeming life. The men are giving us resentful looks, sending us hostile messages with their eyes. The women are calling out to us–one grabs Zach’s hand and walks with him hand-in-hand for a few steps. He recoils and she laughs, walking away with glimmering eyes.
Dave tells us to keep our eyes peeled down the alleys. I try to with sidelong glances, but it’s hard to do so without appearing conspicuous. But I do and note that the dark side alleys run deep, giving testament to the sheer density and scope of this city within a city.
I’m intensely self-conscious. It’s overwhelming; street kids hanging onto our pockets (we’ve filled them with candy, and I find that my pocket has been sliced open already). They’re everywhere, smothering me with their hands, fighting each other for the sweets. They’re loud, intense, joyful, clamorous, direct (“hey! give me money!”). God, do I have a category for this?
I find myself walking through the alleys with a steely gaze, a half-smile plastered on my face. I’ve experienced parts of this before, somewhere, but never all at once. I wonder how I’m perceived. A Western male doesn’t just traipse into this part of town without wanting something from it. Dave tells us that if we walked here at night, our reception would have been far more chilly.
Instead we get a blistering, smothering welcome, a tidal wave of heat, smog, clamoring hands, babies’ cries, game show theme music, marching bands, basketball uniforms, fish rotting in the heat that you can almost feel them disintegrate as you walk by the markets. A drunken man I cannot see is singing in a karaoke shack, and a woman is giggling outside as she is playfully dragged back in; Ken presses more candy into my hands to give away. We barely squeeze by a couple of garbage trucks rumbling through a side street; a kid loses a sandal. A hand grabs mine, and I shake it off.