"This is where it all started.... see that house, people died there!"
And so after the scenic drive across green fields and mountains and rivers the reality of Marawi confronted us. Our driver and guide for the day, Ahmad, thought it would be good to pass by the house where the terrorist and his wife were spotted, where the gunfight raged for days, and where allegedly, the terrorist escaped but the wife did not. Seeing the house up close, I thought it would be impossible for anyone to have lived through the firefight. The bullet holes on the wall, on the roof, on the fences and rails were just, literally, inches apart. I shuddered a bit in my hijab, in the hot afternoon sun.
Soon people were going out of the houses and talking to us, telling us their stories. There was absolutely no suspicion, that we had a bearded male foreigner with us, and we had cameras firing away. The townspeople were proud to have survived their biggest trial yet, as a community.
Then the little children came running out, and Chris got the ball from the car. The change in mood was automatic, and soon the stories were overtaken by the laughter of both children and adults. I took out my stash of candies and sweets, and distributed them to the informal audience, as we watched the boys scramble for the ball. They were quick learners, delighting in headers and passing and dribbling, and were in awe of Chris and his keep-ups, each one eager to learn.
Direk Erik and the crew said this was amazing - it's as if all the variables came together and we had this little stage where all of our expectations of visuals and players had presented themselves at the right time, in the right place. We wanted to make a video that would show the real picture of Marawi, and we did just that.
We saw the destruction, but we felt the warmth of the people, the authentic joy of the children, the strong bonds that held the community together. We were not strangers at all, but fellow Filipinos who came to see and learn and share.
Finally, it was time to go, and Chris told the boys - here, have the ball, and keep practicing. I'll be back next time!
Yes, we will be back. For the children, for the future!