By Guy Malfait (Philippines)
“Make sure you go see something other than Manila.” That was the advice we got upon arrival in the Philippines. Some weeks later, just before our kids started school, we were on our way to the Taal Volcano, one of the many natural marvels of the Philippines.
Stuck in traffic and waiting to spot the first pineapple field, I saw a small dilapidated shop with the words “vulcanizing shop” written on an old black tire.
I knew nothing about “vulcanizing” – it was definitely not part of the English vocabulary I had to study in high school. “I think we are really close,” I told my youngest son, who had thrown up some time before from a combination of heat, polluted air, traffic, and an ultra noisy and violent Korean movie playing on the bus. “I saw something about a volcano”. The little white face got some more color and together we were convinced we really had to be nearby as the number of black tires with “vulcanizing” increased.
Yet, I had some doubts: why all these ram-shackle places? Why always these piles of tires all around?
It would take me some more weeks and a first flat tire on my bicycle before I realized my mistake. Four years later, I’m a regular client of the vulcanizing shop near our place. A flat tire never comes at the right time and I’m always there with a pissed off face. A vulcanizing shop in Manila isn’t the most exciting place but the more I go there the more I get to appreciate the place and the people. I keep on being amazed by the creativity of the men working there. What is considered trash in many parts of the world is still of use to them.
One time the guys at our local shop even used two old tubes and one old tire to repair the tire I had blown up using the compressor at a gas station! I had never seen someone dismantling the valve of a tube and replacing the defective parts before.
These guys remind me of my father. As a child, I used to spend hours and hours on the farm watching and following him. He too had at times these kind of “state of the art” solutions. It would take him quite some time to look through what he called his “hidden treasures” to find this or that particular object needed for his repairs. But once he completed the job, he would look at me and say with a meaningful smile, “I don’t think they teach you this kind of thing in school, eh?”
This all comes back to me as I wait for my tires and tubes to be repaired.
The guys at the vulcanizing shop have a trade, a skill – one that can’t be learned in school. The shop is open 7 days a week and it’s hard labor – just think of the huge truck tires. They might not earn a fortune, but I see there’s always food around, I see the kids wearing school uniforms, there is always someone for a good talk or the latest gossip from the neighborhood. I can see the guys are proud of their job.
Yet their efforts and skills are not recognized. There’s no business permit from City Hall issued to them. Officially, they are only part of the millions in the country identified in statistics as “unemployed and uneducated.” Einstein was right – you can’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. Now I’m just waiting for Harvard University to propose a PhD in vulcanizing science!