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Avril of Cagayan de Oro: ‘Life can be hard, but find happiness’

Not that many people actually know her name. Instead, locals just know her as “kanang ga-pangayo ug P55.00 para sa chicken fillet (that one who begs for P55.00 for chicken fillet).” In fact, “kung hatagan nimo’g P20.00, mu-reklamo siya; tag-P55.00 daw ang chicken fillet (if you give her P20.00, she’d complain; she’d say that chicken fillet costs P55.00).”

She’s a “resident” of Divisoria in downtown Cagayan de Oro City – that is, because she’s homeless, she now partially resides in the plaza (i.e. Divisoria), her means of living mainly to beg for whatever passersby can give her.

Meet Avril – so called because “ga-admire ko kay (I admire) Avril Lavigne,” she said – the self-proclaimed “prinsesa sa (princess of) Divisoria.”

Avril actually found her way to Divisoria sometime after 2011.

In December 2011, when tropical storm Washi (locally known as Bagyong Sendong) made a landfall over Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro City was among the places most affected. In fact, as per the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the storm took the lives of 1,472 people, with 1,074 more missing and 1,748 others injured. Total infrastructure damage reached billions of pesos.

Avril’s family – who lived in a barangay (village) called Indahag – was among those affected. “Nadaot tanan (Everything was destroyed),” she said.

Her family was relocated, but Avril left her family. “Mingaw man gud didto sa (It’s lonely in the) relocation site,” she said. With a friend, another transwoman, “sa plaza na mi nipuyo (we lived in the plaza).”

Avril’s parents – and her five siblings for that matter – were never cruel to her. In fact, “wala ko gikasab-an nga girl ko (I was never reprimanded for being a transgirl),” she said. “Mahadlok man sila nga mulayas ko (They feared that I’d run away).”

Avril was “gi-palangga (beloved).” “Wala man ko gikulata sa balay. Ganahan sila nga ingun-ani ko kay naa mutabang a paglimpyo (I was never abused at home. They liked that I’m like this because I helped clean the house),” she said.

Avril also helped her mom do laundry. “Labandera man si mama. Isa ka balde, P100 bayad. Mga silingan ang gilabhan (My mom was a laundrywoman. For one pail of laundry, P100 is the payment. We did the neighbors’ laundry),” she said.

Whatever was earned added to her father’s earnings as a panday (blacksmith).

In hindsight, she has some good memories from home. “Nakatuon ko mag-bra sa akong ate (I learned how to use bra from my elder sister),” she said with a laugh. But she has bad memories from home, too. “Dili na ko ka-eskuwela kay gigisi sa ako magulang ako card – special child man gud siya (I can’t go back to school because my elder sibling tore my school car – that sibling is a ‘special child’),” she said.

Avril would occasionally cross paths with her family members, but she said “dili jud ko muuli. Ambot asa sila; bahala sila (I will never go home. I don’t know where they are; I let them be/I don’t care about them).”

Then, with a loud laugh, she said: “Friendship lang kaya ko ibigay sa kanila (I can only give them friendship).”

Now sleeping on benches in the plaza, Avril said it isn’t easy. “Kung muulan, sa ‘dorm’ mi mudayon (When it rains, we proceed to our ‘dorm’),” she said; that “dorm” referring to the façade of the Red Ribbon branch in Divisoria.

The begging doesn’t always go well, too, so that “kung dili muhatag, awayon (if they don’t give me anything, I quarrel with them),” she laughed. “Sultian nako: ‘Wala forever!’ Masuko sila [I tell them: ‘There’s no forever!’ They get angry).”

The expression “There’s no forever!” is used to highlight that no relationship lasts long/forever; and that everything ends.

Most people, though, remain nice to Avril. “Muhatag sila’g kuwarta. Usahay, mamata ko, naay pagkaon (They give me food. Sometimes, when I wake up, there’s food there),” she said.

But she still prefers receiving cash – preferably P55.00 – so she can buy “chicken fillet sa McDonald’s.”

Avril finds some comfort in knowing “naay Guinoo (there’s God),” she said. “Kung may problema, musimba mi; ma-Diyosnon (When we have problems, we go to church; we become believers).”

Avril, of course, eyes to have better life – “mu-eskuwela tingali (perhaps go back to school),” she said. But for now, “lipay lang ko (I’m just happy),” Avril ended.

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