"Welcome to the real world.” This, I have learned, is the customary way to greet a recent college graduate. A year ago I was hearing it constantly, from friends, family, even my dentist. It made me wonder where they thought I had been for the past four years.
When people make knowing references to the “real world” that follows graduation, they mean the working world and the responsibilities and burdens that go with it—getting a job, paying rent, acquiring health insurance, sticking to a budget. They aren’t talking about places like Payatas.
I spent the summer before my senior year in Payatas, a Filipino village built on the Manila city dump. Some classmates and I were there on a service trip. We were guests of the religious sisters who served Payatas and, by extension, of the entire village.
In the midst of stray dogs, tin huts, and polluted streams, we supervised a day of games for the village children. The kids swarmed all over their visitors, vying for our attention, grabbing at any loose clothing or limbs they could reach. After a few games, I sat down to watch from the sidelines, and soon I had three little ones sitting on my knees. I bounced them up and down, and they laughed and squealed. Before I knew it, one little boy, in tattered clothes and with a slowly healing wound on the back of his head, had fallen asleep on my lap.