Group Shot

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Just another bunch of kids, mugging for the camera after some heavy event they performed, complete with the usual “Certificate of Participation”.

It wasn’t a serious occasion — fund raising for orphans, self improvement, etc.– as you can tell from their expressions. It was just a group of kids who got together to make some activity in front of an audience, just for the fun of it.

In Dumaguete, almost all activities are group activities, especially among the young. You rarely see people alone or in pairs. In the mall, on the streets, groups of at least three are the rule. Solo activity looks strange, eccentric.

When I first came here, years ago, I would often take a walk alone on the boulevard in the late afternoon, when the air had become slightly cool.

People, strangers, would come up to me with curiosity, and ask “Who’s with you? Don’t you have company here?”, as though it were a great hardship for me to be alone even for a short walk in the dusk.

The other usual questions for strangers, met alone on the street: “Who’s your family? Are you married here? Is you wife from here?” It’s hard for people to see you just as you. It’s as though without partners, you are only half alive.

But there’s a paradox here, illustrated by this group of kids in the picture. Whatever this activity was, these people were a tight group, they were all in it together. But the people are actually wildly different from each other.

They are posing for a picture, so their individual expressions are meant to be seen as who they are. The guy holding the “Certificate of Participation” seems like a leader, a serious person. The girl shooting a selfie with her cell phone is clowning, pretending to be horrified at the scene.

On her left, two boys are staring at the screen – one with serious doubt, one with amazed delight. The boy in white teeshirt in the center seems to be vamping, blowing kisses to the audience.

The rest of them are presenting themselves in more conventional terms — at top and bottom as groups of buddies, or as girls with conventional smiles.

The moral seems to be: to really exist, you have to be part of a group; but as part of the group, you can finally be your individual self.

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