Like any other Filipino night, the night of 31st December 1990 was warm. The altitude of the city of Baguio in the northern Philippines made it a pleasant place for Europeans when compared to the humidity of Manila. New Year celebrations in the city were noisy and a little group from Ireland staying in the city’s teacher training facilities probably seemed very subdued when compared with people in the city lighting firecrackers and firing guns in the air.
The next day was a holiday. No-one would be going far and a day’s rest was allowed in order to explore the city, but we were warned that there would be an early start on 2nd January. The morning came and we took a jeepney to the city centre to catch a bus to a town in the mountains. The bus had not come.
There followed a period of uncertain waiting. Perhaps the bus would come; perhaps it would not. Our Filipino companion became anxious, he was to hand us over to someone who would be our escort in the mountains and travel back to Manila. The woman who was to be our companion appeared, but the bus did not.
People sat around waiting. One man sat on his heels, his back against the wall, unmoving. He seemed to accept with an impassive stoicism each story that flew around about the fate of the bus. Eventually, there seemed a definitive statement: the bus was not coming. We were given a simultaneous translation of the debate that continued as to the reason for the bus’s non-appearance: some suggested there had been mechanical problem that could not be fixed on New Year’s Day, others suggested that the problem was that the driver had celebrated too much on New Year’s Eve and had consequently not made the journey to the city the following day, leaving the passengers with no bus on which to travel.
After further discussion, our first guide went to find a bus to Manila and our second said she would meet us in the morning. We would returned to our accommodation and enjoyed a lazy day and went out for an evening meal.
The next morning, bright and early, we used a jeepney as a personal taxi to the bus station, where our guide awaited. The man sitting on his heels was still in the same place. The guide commented that people often had simply to wait at bus stations until their bus arrived, even if it took days; they had no money to pay for accommodation; they might buy a little food from street vendors.
Waiting in Dublin Airport yesterday afternoon for a plane that never arrived, and then standing in a queue while people were given refunds, or tickets to fly elsewhere, or were given details of free hotel accommodation, the temptation to feel despondent was immediately dispelled by thought of the man sitting in his heels. Even today’s confiscatory budget leaves us considerably better off than the man sitting for 24 hours in the bus station because he could afford nowhere else.