When i travel I like to go to places that are not necessarily tourist places, but rather places that locals visit from time to time as a part of their daily life. It gives the opportunity to compare with places i know back home. I therefor said yes when a friend asked me if I would join her in her visit to the cemetery.
The La Loma catholic cemetery is one of the bigger cemeteries in the Metro Manila area. It’s situated in the northern part of the city and is 130 acres big. Situated right next to two other big cemetery sites (Manila North cemetery and Chinese cemetery), making the combined area the biggest burial site of Manila.
I jumped into a cab from my hotel and after 45 minutes of dreadful Manila traffic I stood outside the entrance of the cemetery. I was kept waiting for a couple of minutes before my friend showed up and we went inside the huge cemetery. We bought some flowers and candles to place on the grave from a vendor at the entrance and started walking along the paved road. The calmness of the cemetery is a strange contrast to the constant stress and never ending stream of traffic on the streets of Manila.
After a short walk we got to the grave of my friends daughter. I was not aware that she had lost a child earlier and felt really stupid when I realized that we were putting flowers on the grave of her daughter that only lived to be a year old. As I started looking at the surrounding graves, I realized all of the surrounding graves were also graves for infants or toddlers – we were in a child cemetery, and there were literally thousands of graves. I felt that i had to ask what was the most common cause of death for young children. “Dehydration and Dengue. Poverty…” was her short answer. I didn’t feel like this was a good time to ask more questions so I kept them all to myself and help her set up the flowers and the candles by her daughters grave. I thought to myself how sad it is that so many kids die as a cause of poverty.
She said a prayer for her daughter and told me that she is happy that she at least have a grave to go to. If you can’t afford to pay the rent for a grave your dead relatives will be put in a nameless grave on a field, and you will not have a place to go to for your prayers or remembrance of the dead.
The La Loma is really a serene and quiet place, and considering how run down many places in Manila can be, it’s in good shape, considering it was first established in 1884.
The size and the condition of the graves at La Loma vary quite a lot. There are huge, almost mausoleum like, graves that have private keepers, and then there are run down simple graves that are falling apart.
As we were about to leave we passed by a man that was looking for something in the ditch. My friend asked him what he was looking for, and it turned out he was fishing for frogs. He went on to tell us he was living in the cemetery with his family and had been doing so for a few years, since he lost his job. You might be in the cemetery, but it’s not only inhabited by the dead…