Dark. Narrow. Uneven. Convoluted. Scary. Necessary. Full of life! The cries ring out revealing the fact that people want to connect with you: “Hello.” “Good morning.” “Makiraan po!” “Where are you going?” “Where do you live?” Eskinita are the lifeblood of Pingkian, the area in which I live. You may not notice them if you aren’t previously aware their presence because it doesn’t even seem like anyone can fit down them. But without them, life in Pingkian couldn’t go on, and understanding this can help make your life more fulfilling.
Eskinita is a word that always reminds me of the English word “skinny,” perhaps because that’s what they are. In reality, it comes from the Spanish word meaning “corner.” Since land is at a premium, in perhaps the most densely-populated area of the world, houses are built as close to the property line as possible. The spaces in between are the eskinita. Pingkian is by no means the only place where this happens. I have walked eskinita in Manila, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hanoi. Because houses are so small, life is lived on eskinita. Without eskinita no one could get to their house. No one could go to work or school in the morning. But eskinta is more than simply a means to and end.
Eskinita is stepping over the curb then three steps down. There is an initial sense of invading someone’s privacy when you first enter, realising that people’s homes front, not onto the street, but onto the eskinita. Scootch over to the side as someone passes by. People pass carrying large water jugs. The sound of an engine warns of an approaching motorcycle, making one wonder how it can even navigate! Stopping at the crossroads to sure we each know where the other one is going before moving on. Laundry tubs hang ready outside doorways. A cement bench outside a home waits for someone to pass the day sitting there. An open door swings out into the eskinita temporarily blocking my passage. Two young boys sit in the corner playing Mobile Legends on their cellphones. A lady in an alcove buys something from one of the many variety stores in the area. Many people set up a small store — or sell things like Avon or Tupperware — in order to help make ends meet. Strings of sachets containing every known liquid hang from the ceiling, drinks of all kinds, ice cream if you are lucky. A vendor walks by, his bucket filled with foods prepared earlier that day and suitable for snacking on. A friend used to sell banana-que, which is a deep-fried banana, coated with caramelized brown sugar on a BBQ stick. Delicious! Having walked each one everyday, my friend was a eskinita expert. A bicycle, loaded with wares, is stopped in the middle as a woman decides whether or not to buy a piece of chain – to use a leash perhaps? – a kargador waiting patiently to pass puts his load down; me, less patient, finding a way through.
Eskinita is bright blue PVC water pipes winding their ways along the ground, turning suddenly into the various houses — sometimes ending suddenly; cut off for who knows what reason? Rows of water meters silently recording consumption — when they are spinning fast it means a leak somewhere, when stopped it means they are turned off to save that same water from leaking. Dodging powerlines — more like interior wires strung up rather haphazardly, often just at head height — turns into an artform that you didn’t think you would ever need to master. Canals, or drainage ditches, sometimes along the edge, sometimes down the middle, sometimes non-existent carry water from various sources somewhere else. Videoke booms from somewhere near, accompanied by a voice — sometimes talented, often merely energetic.
Eskinita is sometimes cement, sometimes asphalt, and sometimes spongy ground beside a stream of black runoff that runs outside my friend Mang Pio’s house — evidence of the clogged drainage pipes hidden below. Mang Pio owns a fairly large chuck of land in the middle of a gaggle of houses. At 90 years old he is a fount of stories and jokes. I stop and chat with Edgar, who is doing laundry in a couple of 5-gallon pails in front of his place. Mang Pio, in his kindness, has allowed Edgar to stay on his property. He has a small place that the word “lean-to” wouldn’t adequately describe — more a hodge podge of various chunks of wood, plastic, and other light materials all precariously positioned to provide some semblance of shelter. Many homes along the eskinita are not like his, however. More and more I see multi-storey concrete structures, complete with all the comforts of home.
Eskinita is where animals abound. Dogs. Cats. Rats. Roosters. Chickens. Even the occasional rabbit. Sometimes caged but usually running free. The cats are perhaps the most resilient. Many times they may have seemingly fatal injuries but yet there they are, day after day, ekeing out a living. I guess that’s why they are said to have nine lives! The roosters (in reality fighting cocks) are the most cared for, receiving special feeds, daily grooming, and love from their owners.
Eskinita is where people are. Children playing hopscotch. Retirees passing the day outside their homes. Friends chatting. Men caring for their fighting cocks. People watering plants and/or the eskinita itself — one for growth the other to reduce dust. Small business owners selling fish of all varieties. Chicken. Pork. Rarely, beef. Vegetables. Barbershops. Internet cafes. Elderly women watching the world go by. And in the mornings mothers sunning their babies.
Eskinita is missing something, however. What is missing is space. Space that separates houses from one another. Space taken up by fences to ensure privacy. Space with garages, with doors that go up, then down, keeping occupants hidden from one another. There is no emptiness. No empty streets. No empty houses for most of the day while people are at work.
Eskinita is connection. A shared identity. A life living in proximity with others.
What do you notice about your community? Why not let the rest of us know in the comments below?
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Image was taken on my iPhone.