Honesty Café: Only in Batanes
I went to Batanes for the first time after getting an invitation from a friend who was going there with her son. I decided that it was a good opportunity for me to go, and take my son along. Whatever I had heard previously about Batanes did not do justice to its beauty, as well as the goodness of its people, which I experienced during my trip. People there are content and do not live their lives preoccupied with thoughts of natural calamities — the events that, sadly, make Batanes familiar to us. Their homes are made of limestone which is naturally porous and resistant to earthquakes and typhoons. More importantly, every house is an architectural sight that makes one feel how much love and patience was put into the construction. I was amazed to hear about the community’s housing cooperatives. The neighbors help one another build homes for their families.
Batanes may be isolated, but it is no doubt a successful community where interdependence is the norm. The pervading culture dictates that it is a privilege to help and be helped, and almost an insult to receive payment.
While biking in one town called Ivana on the main island of Batan, I got fascinated with a relatively popular yet inconspicuous fixture — The Honesty Café. This little store was started by Aling Elena, a retired teacher who decided to provide refreshments to townfolk and travelers in the area. Anybody who enters the cafe can get food and drinks and drop whatever payment they feel like in a basket. While the items are tagged, the store is not manned. Some people drop their payment, others don’t. But it’s all okay with Aling Elena; her ultimate profit is the chance to awaken her customers’ consciousness to honesty and responsibility and to teach them to live these lessons in the other areas of their lives.
Together with her husband Jose, she toils the fields and takes pride in being a farmer. In her daily labor of love she prays, “God, please help me with my crops so I may share them with others.” As Elena and Jose talk about their 50th wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day next year, it’s as though their celebration is already happening, every day. Their life together reinforces simple values: what you plant, you eat; what you sow, you reap; everything is abundant; everybody sees beauty.
I was overwhelmed by the simple and profound lessons of life that are the day-today experiences of the people of Batanes. Life is about thanksgiving, with Sundays being strictly for church service. To many of them, sharing their lives with one another and sincerely helping is the only way to prosper.
As I looked out at the fields, beaches and mountains of Batanes, talked to Aling Elena, Mang Jose and their community, I became more convinced that in simplicity lies majesty. Nature, when respected and nurtured, can provide us with everything that we need to live abundantly.
This is my experience of Batanes and its people. Life that is lived fully will lead us to knowing who we are and becoming what we are made to be. Giving starts with one person. It starts with one home. One woman prepares food with love. One man takes pride in his labor. One traveler pays the right amount. One child learns to share. A neighbor gives unconditional assistance. Everybody does the same. And we get blessed with a community called Batan in an island simply known as Batanes.
By Rose Anne Belmonte
Updated January 25, 2009 12:00 AM