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 What a War Zone Means to Me
 Juanita R. Ramirez, Philippines
 June 11, 2003
I am a Filipino woman of twenty-eight, and I now work as a maid in Hong Kong. I was brought up in the village of Pangasinan, two hundred miles north of Manila, and lived there with my family until a few months ago. Although we do not have much money our life is peaceful and ordered in the green countryside of Luzon province. My mother, my brothers, my cousin and myself all work together on our small piece of land. We have pigs (a woman pig and three men piglets at the moment), a fishpond and a banana tree. We grow ginger and pipino in the southern corner which overlooks the rice field of our neighbor and catches the early morning sun. We have a few chickens for eggs and a very noisy cockerel (nicknamed Marcos) who wakes us all at daybreak. I have a dog called Ramos, who has one pointy ear and one floppy ear. My Uncle Virgil is always threatening to eat Ramos for his supper, but my mother scolds Virgil and says that Ramos is a good dog and makes her feel safe at nlght. Every day one of us (until I came to Hong Kong it was usually me) walks to the market on the far side of Pangasinan to buy vegetables and rice and anything else we need and can afford. During term time I take the smaller cousins (Rachel, who is six, and Melinda, who is ten) with me and leave them at the school. Our neighbour brings them back in the afternoon. If there are problems one of the village officials or a policeman will. call and try and sort things out. But mostly life is peaceable and we celebrate Christmas and Easter and birthdays and of course, occasionally, weddings and births. Last year I was a bridesmaid twice and am myself being courted by a very handsome young man who works as a driver for an Arab family in Abu Dhabi. In the evening we sit outside our small house and chat or sing or mend clothes. We go to bed early and sleep soundly until Marcos wakes us with the sun. Then the day begins agaln.

To me a war zone means the opposite of all that I have described. To me a war zone means a place where nothing is safe or peaceful or ordered or happy It is a place where I or my mother or even my dear little cousins Rachel and Melinda could be attacked by soldiers, carried off, raped, tortured or killed. It is a place where there is no control. No one to stop anyone from doing anything they want to innocent people who cannot defend themselves. It is a place where the market I visit daily could be hit by a bomb or a missile, where the school could be destroyed by a rocket fired by men in boats miles away, by men we have never met, by men who are trying to kill us for reasons we do not understand. A war zone is a place where our precious plot of land with its banana tree and pig sty could be crushed beneath a tank. or the feet of soldiers with machine guns. It is a place where everyone is suddenly uncertain. A place where food is scarce, where neighbours run for cover to save themselves, where the cockerel is killed before it can cry in another day, where Ramos barks at the soldier who is attacking my mother and then never barks again. Above all a war zone is a place of real fear, of endless horror, of daily death and destruction. A place that generals, in a far-off land with too much money, have decided to try out their new weapons in. It is a place where everything that I hold dear is destroyed—even the trust between my family members, even my dog —where the children become old people overniqht, because they can’t forget the sight of broken bodies and the sound of screaming mothers and older sisters. A war zone is a place that is not fit for human beings. A war zone is hell on earth. Those who create war zones are criminals, because they do not see, or care, what their grand plans do to ordinary people like me and my family in Pangasinan. I hope my hometown will not be a war zone. I hope the Americans will leave our country in peace and never return there again. We have no oil, only a banana tree. Please leave us alone.

Juanita R. Ramirez is a Filipino woman living in Hong Kong.