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Excerpt from A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves by Jason DeParle, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves by Jason DeParle

A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves

One Family and Migration in the 21st Century

by Jason DeParle
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  • First Published:
  • Aug 20, 2019
  • Paperback:
  • Aug 2020
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

Finding Jesus in the Slums

Thirty years ago, I was a young reporter in Manila with an interest in shantytowns, the warrens of scrap-wood shacks that covered a third of the city and much of the developing world. I called the Philippines's most famous nun, who lived in a slum called Leveriza. Though I didn't say so, I was hoping she would help me move in.

Sister Christine Tan was a friend of the new president, Cory Aquino, and busy on commission rewriting the constitution.

"Call me back a few months," she snapped.

Hoping for a quicker audience, I explained that I worked with another nun in her order. Apparently, they weren't friends. "That's a mistake!" she said. "Meet me tomorrow morning, outside the Manila Zoo."

Raised in affluence, educated in the United States, Sister Christine had gained her renown as a critic of Ferdinand Marcos, the American backed dictator who had proclaimed martial law in 1972 and plundered the country with the help of his shoe-happy wife, Imelda. "I hate their deceitfulness, their sham, their greed, their avarice, their lies, the deliberate trouncing of our rights and the burying of our souls," she once said. The Vatican had told her to tone things down. The police had threatened arrest. Sister Christine had defied them all and gone off to find Jesus in the slums. At fifty-six, she had a smooth, grandmotherly face, which made her look gentle, though she wasn't.

"Are you CIA? ... You wouldn't tell me if you were, would you?" she began. When she called herself " anti-imperialist," it sounded like an accusation.

"The poor are magnificent people, unlike the rich," she said, but boarding in Leveriza wouldn't work. Most of the shanties lacked toilets, and Americans can't live without them. A host would feel obligated to serve pricey food. I'd be a burden. She denounced the United States for keeping military bases in the Philippines, then suddenly waved a hand above her head. "That's all up here," meaning her views of American policy. "Somehow, we have to build links between the First World and the Third World." If I returned in a few days, she'd see what she could do.

Sunk into a mudflat near Manila Bay, Leveriza held fifteen thousand people in a labyrinth of alleys behind the whitewashed walls of one of Imelda's old beautification campaigns. Children played beside listing shacks. Women squatted over tubs of laundry. Roosters crowed. Sanitation mostly meant saucers," bundles of waste wrapped in newspaper and flung in the surrounding canals.

I figured that Sister Christine would use the time before my return to approach a potential host or two. Instead, she led me into the maze and auctioned me off on the spot. I knew just enough Tagalog to realize our first prospect was aghast. "Hindi pwede, Sister!" It's not possible. The second candidate smiled more but ducked as rapidly. The third was too astonished to respond. Tita Comodas was forty years old and sitting at her window in an old housedress, selling sugar and eggs. A scruffy American looking to rent floor space had the appeal of a biblical plague.

Her thin patience exhausted, Sister Christine left. "If you don't want him, pass him on to someone else. And don't cook him anything special—if he gets sick, too bad!"

I don't know who was more frightened, Tita or me. Neighborhood entertainment was scarce; we drew a crowd.

"Ask him if he eats rice!"

"Ask him if he knows how to use a spoon!"

"Ask him if he wants to marry a Filipina!"

Tita had a boisterous neighbor who fed her questions and whooped at the answers. But Tita struggled to see the humor— after all, it was her house. The reasons to decline were many. Her husband was working in Saudi Arabia ... she was busy raising five kids ... she already had two relatives sleeping on the floor ... her English was limited and my Tagalog was worse ... Who knew what problems strange foreigner might cause? Then she surrendered to what she took as Sister Christine's request and said I could move in. I stayed on and off for eight months and made a lifelong friend.

Excerpted from A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves by Jason DeParle. Copyright © 2019 by Jason DeParle. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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