There aren’t any squatters among a million deceased residents in vast Manila North Cemetery. If my family doesn’t pay the lease every five years, someone living among the headstones and colorful tombs will earn three bucks to dig me up for cremation. That’s reasonable work. Six thousand poor people need a little food and shelter more than a dead man needs a coffin and space. Coming from a wealthy family, I never considered these matters until I drove too fast and got moved here.
I feel like I’m part of the community and don’t say much when people sell drugs and fight. I’m all right as long as they don’t bother me. It does worry me, though, when the Philippine National Police charge in here and start shooting. Sometimes the rougher guys really do shoot first but often it’s the police. Quite a few people live next to or over modest graves of sons who died without due process. Parents say they feel better being close and able to talk to departed sons and are comforted by the prospect of someday joining them.
Meanwhile, residents above ground build headstones and coffins and sell flowers and scramble other ways trying to get some informal schooling for their children who chase each other around the graves and, when they’re a little older, play spirited basketball games on dirt courts. When the weather’s unbearably hot and humid or rain never stops or typhoons strike, it’s tough on the living but not so bad for the dead.