Much of my beloved market route now lies in ruin.
Many of my sukis' stalls burned down today: the manang from whom I buy sweet mangoes so tiny that the only way to eat them is with your hands and lips working at the precious flesh; manang Lilian and her family from whom my family and I have been buying shitake, juicy red tomatoes, goose-liver sausages, marble potatoes, special tofu, and other fine vegetables for three generations now; the manangs and manongs from whom I buy okra, squash flowers, malunggay, kangkong, camote, garlic, and onions across from the tobacco sellers; the calm and always busy manangs seated down low among sacks of fresh herbs, from whom I buy lovely-smelling basil and mint, and also pungent chives and wansoy; the manangs and manongs from whom I buy wonderful varieties of bananas; the families from whom I buy strawberries, persimmons, avocados, chicos, oranges, and passion fruit, depending on the season. All their stalls and stock up in smoke in a matter of hours.
Some say the fire was caused by faulty wiring. Others believe there's foul play behind the flames. Looking at the almost neat lines along which the fire raged, and how this section that burned is right next to the section that burned down last year, it's difficult not to jump to conclusions about arson and it's even harder not to think about all the politicians and corporate entities who have had designs on the market (such as privatization) over the past couple of decades at least. And then there's the question of accountability, if not culpability...
At the end of today's work I headed down to the market. I had been anxious to go all day. Silly as it may seem, I had this strong urge to hug my sukis if I were to see them, especially Manang Lilian who I have known since my first ever trips to the market as a whining little brat clinging to my mother's hand. Today I felt like I was going to a wake, although no one died or was injured in the fire.
(Except for this cat, any maybe a few other four-legged creatures.)
The market was as crowded and busy as ever, except for the vegetable section, which was still smoking. People were picking through the debris, recovering what they could.
Two men were retrieving tuyo from the ashes.
Some were picking up bottles of jam that were intact but blackened and putting them into crates.
Deeper in the ruins, men and women were attempting to clean up the mess.
I found one of my sukis for bananas on the sidewalk, her hands blackened with ash, her eyes slightly swollen
She was able to rescue a few bundles of bananas from her stall. I bought one miraculous bunch from her. Even then, she was still doing business. One has to, she said to me. The vendors plan to work to clean up the area themselves and aim to get back to business as soon as possible. They will not wait for empty promises.
I feel sad, angry, and full of regret -- regret for all the pictures I wanted to take but didn't, regret for all the wonderful things I wanted to write about but didn't, regret as though there was anything I could have done to save something I love so much. I will wait for the market to rise from the ashes, and when it does, I want it to be the market I know and love, with the faces I have come to know, and their vast networks and decades of ties among families, entrepreneurs, farmers, vendors, and sukis. The Baguio Public Market may well be the last place where community as we once knew it can continue to thrive.