This Gray Mosaic

This Gray Mosaic


My mom described it best:

“It looks like Tacloban went in a shredder and was spit out.”

The Philippines was never a bright, colorful Disney movie, at least not where the people live. Where the people live, it’s often overcast with a haze from pollution or the latest storm, or a combination of both. Humidity is high, so the air in front of you is not quite clear. Pockets of government are corrupt, continuing this lack of clarity. The country is financially poor. The streets aren’t swept by big vacuuming trucks once a week like in America, so the scum and trash that were brought in by the last storm stay until the next storm brings its own. Nothing looks new.

I watch the news on an oversaturated television and want to turn the color down. I want to turn to a standard definition channel, where the pixels aren’t as crisp. I want to lower the brightness and minimize the contrast. I want to turn off the stereo sound.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper is a good guy, and I know he means well. But his eloquent, almost poetic narration just doesn’t match. His American cadence combined with first-world broadcasting and editing equipment is too polished, too perfect, for this country that is far, very far, from perfect. It needs to be closer to gray.

They need to show the mud-encrusted feet of the Filipinos, unprotected except for the thin soles of rubber flip-flops, tsinelas. They need to stand a local boy, dressed in a kamiseta, a plain tanktop shirt, and hand-me down shorts, next to an American soldier, with his steel-toed boots, flak jacket and helmet. They need to show the corrugated steel roofs that, under even perfect conditions, barely protected the homes of the poor.

I watch the news, and I cry for the country of my birth, the country that I and my family left when I was seven years old. I shake my head, wondering if the actual truths of this third-world country will ever be understood by a first-world country like America, with its wall-to-wall carpeting and two-car garages, its wine-tasting and fitness trails, its color-matched bathroom linens and traffic lights. I wonder when the Philippines will once again fade into the background without rectification.

When I was a young design student, a classmate showed me on an Apple computer how to brighten a picture, to make the blacks really black and the brights really bright, and to increase saturation so the people in the photograph “popped out” more. And then he put the two versions side-by-side, with the before photo on the left and the after photo on the right.

On the left is where I came from. On the right is where I went, where I am now.


Here is a direct link to donate to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan through Save the Children