Sitio Beto

In 2008, a work assignment led to one of my most memorable trips. I joined a group of volunteers who were bringing some basic health services to a sitio (hamlet) of Matigsalug in Davao City. The Matigsalug are one of the groups that form the Manobo, an indigenous people in Mindanao. That day in August, the sitio was also receiving information on Tuberculosis for the first time.

It could have been just another day at work for me, except that the sitio we needed to reach was on top of a mountain. To get there, we had to take a 40-minute habal-habal (motorcycle) ride up some very rough, dirt road; then, walk for about an hour over some very rough, muddy road.

Horses and humans walked the trail, but the former would leave behind a more distinctive mark, making the path almost ready for farming.

And tough for walking. We held on to trees to keep our balance.

We met some nice things along the way: flowers of the Makahiya (sensitive) plant…

…and Rambutan trees, though I wasn’t sure.

The midday sun found us on the mountainside. But the volunteers walked on, even when one of them felt faint.

The views close to the sitio made me wonder if I was really still in the largest city in Mindanao.

Finally, after over an hour of walking, we came upon clothes being dried in the sun near a few wooden houses. Welcome to Sitio Beto.

Matigsalug residents received life-saving health information in this house on a hill.

The house also served as the sitio’s sari-sari (retail) store, where snacks, rice, bananas and other goodies could be bought.

There were also cacao or cocoa being sun-dried near the store.

Matigsalug children were first wary of me and my small camera.

So I took one shot and showed them their picture. That amazed them enough to smile in the next one.

And I felt my conscience pricking me. Was I introducing things that I shouldn’t? That could inadvertently influence the way they saw things?

But something had already beaten me to it. Although the Matigsalug lived a hard life of farming corn and other crops, it seemed there was a bit of time for basketball. Even on top of a mountain, you can find a basketball court in the Philippines…

…as well as the usual animals and pets.

Of course, there was the tired, old horse to help transport crops to and from the village center.

We snacked on boiled bananas dipped in fish sauce–disgusting for some, but delicious for us.

As we left the sitio, children called out to us, “Sana bumalik kayo (Hope you come back).” It was sweet and sad. I knew I probably wouldn’t have a chance to go back.

The trek going down was a little more difficult in a way. I had to constantly ‘lock’ my knees to avoid slipping and rolling off the steep trail. Then, we met children walking home from school. They did every day what we did for one. Who was I to complain?

After the hike, we snacked again, but on freshly-picked jackfruit this time.

It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.

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