Lablita is four years old. She has only very recently moved to Boracay to live with her sister, Asa. They come from Mindoro, a nearby island, from a very big family. Asa is the oldest at 24 and Labli is the fifteenth of sixteen children. Asa tells me her mother is in trouble with the Medical Clinic: they told her she mustn't have any more children as it may kill her, but she didn't listen and is pregnant again at the moment. I ask why. She tells me, "my mother does not want to know about family planning." I don't say anything, not wanting to judge. But I think my face betrayed my feelings, because Asa continued, quite sharply "it is not the same for other women here. Many women do want to know."
I say, "that is good" and she nods.
Her mother has to work very hard to feed the family. "It take more than 2 kilos of rice every day for us!" says Asa, raising her outstretched palms, at the sheer impossibility of such a thing. Her mother works at a restaurant. She takes the baby to work with her, but Labli is too old for this and "runs around too much". So Labli was left at home, alone. Asa tells me her mother would leave Labli in her crib, with 3 bottles of milk and her toy [note the singular]. Her mother works 10 hour shifts. Labli would never drink more than 2 bottles during the day. Asa thinks she was always careful in case her mother didn't return.
After Asa's last visit home, she invited Labli to come and live with her, here in Boracay, "because" she says, quite seriously "in Boracay there is more food."
Labli sits beside me while we look at a glossy magazine. She is very tactile, touching my hair, my leg or holding a handful of my tee-shirt in her tightly clenched fist. She likes to point at the pictures and for me to tell her the English words. She is quite absorbed in this. We reach a page of recipes, there is a photo of a colourful pasta dish. Labli claps her hands and says "Happy Birthday" in English. Asa laughs and says "she always say Happy Birthday when she see a full plate of food" then she looks a little sad and shrugs "for her, this is what birthdays are." I ask Lablita what is her favourite food. She grins, hugs herself and says "bread".
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