By the time I arrive at Dencio’s in the Trinoma mall, Joy has already started drinking cocktails. She’s seated squarely in the centre of the long bench seat behind a table large enough to seat six, and the waiters are attentively at hand any time she requires another drink.
Joy has recently graduated from Law and is staying with family in Manila during the week to attend further ‘Review’ classes in preparation for her Bar Exam in September. Her daughter normally stays behind with family in Bulacan, but Joy typically sees her on the weekends.
As we greet each other and I sit down, Joy asks me “So, what would you like to drink?”. After some persuasion, she allows me to order a bottomless Iced Tea rather than a cocktail, and we slip into conversation. The MRT, traffic in Manila, the judges she knows, family members in local politics. Joy’s English is, naturally, fluent and it’s fairly ease to converse on a wide range of topics. Joy has a fairly strongly held view on most things.
Joy’s a work hard, party harder kind of person. She’s studied her law degree successfully, but most any time when she wasn’t studying she would be found with drink and cigarette in hand – whether chatting online at her computer, partying with friends, or holidaying at a beach resort (also with a group of friends).
As our conversation turns toward poverty, as it is wont to do when I’m around, Joy sounds intrigued by what I’m doing. Or perhaps surprised is a better term. “I really admire people who care so much for others.” There’s an unspoken implication that she can’t quite muster the same empathy in her own heart.
The conversation dances between grassroots poverty relief, and corruption in politics, to the appointment of the Philippines’ new President Beningo “Noynoy” Aquino. As Joy comments on the corruption in politics, and indeed every walk of Filipino life, I feel it is safe to also express my agreement about the lamentable level of corruption amongst politicians and Filipino leaders.
“But it’s the same everywhere” Joy insists. “Not just Philippines. Everywhere. There’s no place in the world it doesn’t happen.”
I try to suggest that, although I’m sure the probity of the political process at times surely does encounter issues anywhere in the world, maybe we’re talking about a vastly different situation in Philippines to, say, Australia? Perhaps it’s a spectrum, and many developed countries experience comparatively little political corruption, whilst a common theme in developing countries appears to be an exponentially greater levels of corruption and abuse of office?
Joy is adamant that this is not the case. I’m pretty sure she feels that I’m just burying my head in the sand, and that pervasive corruption in politics is rife throughout the world.
The conversation steers back to poverty, and the reasons people are living in squalor in Philippines.
“I love the Philippines, don’t get me wrong. But many Filipinos just don’t want to do anything to help themselves. They complain about their life, but then they sit around and drink all day. And if you give them something, they stop working and just live off the handout until it’s run out.”
The most striking part of our conversation, that I find myself encountering many more times over the coming days, is Joy’s comment:
“I’m not going to help somebody who won’t help themselves. Everybody is responsible for themself.”
Although I agree that no-one is excused from doing the best that they can in their circumstances, I suggest that perhaps the environment in which we live has a major influence on our probability of success, and recount an anecdote from ‘The Tipping Point’, about Rudy Giuliani’s approach to reduce crime on the New York public transport system in which he focuses on correcting the environment rather than on any dramatic increase in law enforcement. But that’s a topic for another blog post!
Joy’s cousin arrives to hang out with us for a while, and to drive Joy home after we’re done. The conversation turns to international travel, as Kay has recently been to Australia and US, and is now waiting on a visa to return to the US to work. While she waits, she’s not working and is always happy to have a few drinks with Joy and to drive her around. After a few more drinks, we wrap up the conversation and head off.