POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 3 May 2012, Thursday
A Little Patch of Paradise
Waukee, Iowa – It’s a town of less than 14,000 people, about twenty minutes from Des Moines on the freeway, and is as close to Heaven as a bit of earth can be.
It’s my first time to visit the Midwest. I am here to spend a few days with physician Amerlon Enriquez, his wife Eva, and their two children. Amer occasionally contributes to MST’s Diaspora column, and has been based in the US for nearly twenty years. He and his family have been Iowa residents for almost ten.
It is springtime, and God has laid wall-to-wall carpet in emerald green. Grass and trees growing in endless profusion, rolling from hill to hill. Lilacs fill the air with a heady scent. Fresh-mown grass is another common fragrance. Soon, Eva tells me, roses and hydrangeas will poke their colorful heads above the ground.
An Iowa landscape.
Iowa has a large farming community, and is one of the country’s top producers of corn and pork. Stuffed toys shaped like pigs and corn ears fill souvenir shops, along with John Deere tractor merchandise, homemade fudge and jam, and other tokens of an agricultural nature.
Massive silos reach into the sky, giant steel fingers filled with corn to be turned into food products, animal feeds and biofuel. The prosperity of the state shows in the miles and miles of perfectly paved roads, clean streets and sidewalks, and well-maintained public buildings.
Silos dot the Iowa landscape.
These infrastructural achievements are even more impressive when you learn that the entire state, which has an area of 145,743 square kilometers, almost as large as the combined area of Luzon and Visayas at 165,765, is maintained by and for only a little over three million people.
In contrast, Metro Manila is crammed with over eleven million people in an area less than 639 square kilometers.
Iowa has one of the country’s lowest unemployment rates; while a few companies are laying-off people, others are constructing new office buildings (such as hospitals and insurance firms).
People are friendly. You pass them on the street, they make eye contact, smile, and say hello. When Amer and his family first moved into their house, the next-door neighbor came over with pie.
Iowans take pride in their surroundings, keeping their homes and gardens immaculate. Paint is never peeling, lawns are always mowed, windows do not remain broken.
The front porch of a well-tended Iowa home.
They care for their environment – great expanses of woods are preserved so that deer can come up to Eva’s yard and nibble at her plants and raccoons can run across her lawn, and long stretches of freeway and roads are kept unilluminated to reduce light pollution. At night, you can go out on Amer and Eva’s deck, look up, and see stars sprinkled across an expanse of velvet black.
I have not seen stars in the Manila night sky in over a decade.
The people are so trusting, none of the stores have armed security guards out front like ours do. A store will be manned by only one to two people. Sometimes the storekeeper will go out back to fetch something, leaving you unattended for minutes. Come the corn harvest, farmers leave their sweet and crunchy produce out beside the road, with a sign setting out prices and an open cash box for payment – all also unwatched, unguarded. It could be cords of firewood or baskets of fruit, same thing.
They have a rich sense of history. Grand Avenue in Des Moines is lined with houses dating back a century or more. They are not torn down but sold to people who will preserve them. Old buildings are re-purposed; a Masonic temple lavishly decorated with marble, wood panels, and decorative tile was converted into a performing arts center. Other buildings from the 1800s are now offices. Also from that period are the red-painted covered wooden bridges featured in the film “Bridges of Madison County”, all lovingly maintained. Where now our own architectural gems, such as the Art Deco-style Jai Alai building?
Dr Enriquez on Roseman Bridge.
What is it about their culture that has resulted in their creating such a pleasant community? Honor, honesty, and hard work are among the significant values that guide them, as well as discipline, thrift, and respect for nature. Perhaps the state’s small population also makes it easier for their people to conform to the societal norms that continue to serve them well.
The Capitol building, Des Moines, Iowa. (Edited with Instagram)
Living close to nature, espousing traditional values, defending the environment and preserving history – this is a good way to live.
Amer and Eva have asked me to come back soon for a longer visit. I will try my best to do so, because I have left a wee bit of my heart here in Iowa, in their little patch of paradise. ***
All photos taken May 2012 with an iPhone 4S.