Friday, December 11, 2009

My Thriller in Manila

I first heard about Manila while listening to my dad talk about the third fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975, arranged by boxing promoter Don King.

Manila is the capital of the Phillipines and has a slightly larger population than Philadelphia. It is the second most populous area in south east Asia, is southeast of Hong Kong and northeast of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The main religion is Catholicism. While many speak English for business and education the main language is Tagalog.

The Ali vs. Frazier bout was called the “Thriller in Manila” and is considered one of the greatest matches of the 20th century. Muhammad Ali would recall, “It was like death. Closest thing to dyin' that I know of," and he was the winner.

Well, I had my own thriller in Manila on day two of my trip. It’s Friday and I journeyed to find The Golden Mosque in an area called Quiapo for Jummah prayer. I am not the adventurous type but today I was. I spoke to the concierge about traveling to the Mosque. How much would the taxi be? Could I get another one there to come back? How far away was it and what was the neighborhood like? I compared what she told me with my internet research. If I was going on an adventure I wanted to have as much information as possible. Finally before I left the hotel, I left a message with Dr. Linda Malone-Colon from Hampton University so someone would know where I was going just in case. Just in case what? I didn’t want to consider the possibilities. I watch way too much tv.

So off I go in the taxi to Quiapo. My driver wasn’t sure where the Mosque was so we stopped twice for directions. After speaking to a police officer he turned to me and asked, “Are you Muslim?” Considering the recent Muslim Christian conflicts in nearby Mindanao I wasn’t sure what exactly he was asking but without hesitation I said, “Yes”.

It didn’t seem to matter because soon I was outside the opening to the Golden Mosque and Cultural Center. He couldn’t drive down the street because so many were headed to congregational prayer. I got out of the taxi and into a jitney (bicycle driven) and was taken the rest of the way.

This was my first Jummah prayer service in a foreign country and followed the women to the entrance. Not a similar entrance for the men like at Mosque Maryam in Chicago or Masjid Muhammad in DC. We went to the back of the Mosque as in the back of the bus.

I entered a world I had only heard and read about. The mothers of civilization, women who rock the cradle and teach the children were behind a wall where they could be neither seen nor heard. But the converse was also true we could neither see nor hear the Iman.

We sat patiently and waited. It was a strange experience that the other women seemed perfectly comfortable with. I was not. I wanted the freedom, justice and equality of Islam that I was used to receiving in the states. I wanted these women to know that Islam had more to offer them than this. I wanted them to know the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. I wanted them to hear the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Alas, that was not to be on this day so after prayer I left the Mosque and made my way through the crowded streets of Manila to find a cab back to the Manila Hotel. Careful not to look like the tourist I was, I held my purse close and walked fast. While tempted by begging children, mothers with deformed babies and handicapped men I kept going. I made it to the main street but couldn’t get a taxi to take me to the hotel.

Finally a kind soul told me I was on the wrong side of the street. I made my way through the underpass to the other side and was escorted to a taxi for 40 pesos. I arrived safely back to the hotel surviving my thriller in Manila.

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