shielarcastillo

Intensity 9

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It is late and I’m finally in the guest room of my sister’s house, sipping hot tea after a warm shower. That the rain is pounding on the roof doesn’t matter. I am safe, healthy, and although alone, is content knowing I am loved by my family and friends.

I consider myself lucky. Not many people are, though. Yet people are still in a much better position than animals who never even experienced a bit of love from birth till the very last day of their life.

As a long time vegetarian before I turned vegan, I thought I was already being a friend to animals. I wish some vegan early on had the audacity to tell it to my face that I so wrong and for me to shift to veganism instead, but nobody did. My favorite quotation then was George Bernard Shaw’s “Animals are my friends and I don’t eat my friends.” I realized much later (but better late than never), that I was still directly contributing to animal cruelty through the violent dairy industry and in other ways like visiting artificial zafaris (not my kind of fun tbh), not being conscientious enough about the products I use (although for a long time have been trying to go natural and organic), and even wearing pearls, to name a few. Now this replaces the GBS quote for me. 20180610_014520.png

So you wouldn’t be surprised that after wanting to be vegan for so long and finally taking the leap, that I would devote a lot of my time to make it up to the animals I’ve hurt. I became a lonely activist. Yes, lonely and alone. With my family vegetarian and many of my friends too, I felt like a lone voice in wilderness. Even my friends in the environmental movement were not yet shifting to veganism. It took me a while before I joined any vegan online community because of hearing some horror stories which later I found out do not represent the movement at all. So I was in my lonesome feeling like a sore thumb standing out with no choice. And the alienation I felt was, to say the least, profound.

I know people around me were perplexed. I was already a vegetarian. Wasn’t it hard enough? Why would I make it even harder for myself? I don’t know if their resistance to my change was out of their concern for me or concern that they couldn’t do it themselves. Maybe it was both. But I have made up my mind and I was unstoppable, and still am.

I made an online petition on the right to vegan food (https://www.bataris.org.ph/petitions/we-have-a-right-to-compassionate-food-give-us-access-to-it). I set up a facebook  group when I couldn’t find one, and continued being active on social media. When I volunteered in Cambodia, I had to do my activism alone. I tried to bring Cambodia-based vegans together but it was only in the last couple of months before I left when I was able to do so. Before I left I met some wonderful people doing amazing things for the animals. I also set up Vision: Vegan World and did my offline activities alone.

But I was doing those after office and on weekends. Now back in the Philippines, I have reunited with vegans who I met at the very first Vegfest in the country, that I attended as a speaker. The movement has grown leaps and bounds since I left, not only on social media presence but also on offline activities with weekly and monthly actions.

Today I had the privilege of joining two actions. Despite the heavy rains I braved it through the flooded streets of the city to join the Metro Manila Animal Save weekly pig vigil. The idea of the Save Movement is to bear witness to the suffering of animals. An animal’s life full of cruelty and torture culminates with their transport to the slughterhouse. Save activists usually intercept the trucks, and request for some moments to provide water, touch the animals, and look them in the eyes to tell them that some people do care about them. At that brief moment, an animal ceases to be a number in the logbook. Rightfully, they are treated as individuals, persons albeit non-humans, who deserve to be seen as such and not as food or merchandise.

It was my first vigil and we had a problem with the slaughterhouse in charge guy. He said the owner seemed to be angry that the name of the slaughterhouse was posted on the net before so he didn’t want us to have a time with the pigs lest he be fired. We tried to explain to him that our action is not against a specific slaughterhouse but against animal cruelty as a whole. The guy finally allowed to let us in the slaughterhouse vicinity on the condition that we wont take photos or videos to which we immediately obliged. Being close to the pigs in the last moments of their lives is far more important than any video or photo we could take. The guy allowed us to offer water to the pigs and make them feel that they are seen, as they haven’t been seen in their entire life. I had the opportunity to be up close and look at them in the eyes, touch them and offer water to them. The pigs looked tired and resigned. They had scratches and wounds and someone actually had a swollen and bleeding behind which must’ve hurt so much. They had beautiful, greenish grey eyes that looked at me as if wanting to tell me something. I thought for a moment I understood.

Then suddenly the gates of the truck opened, and the pigs were forced out. They were slapped and pushed out, and made to fall several feet to the ground. With their heavy frame, I could just imagine how that hurt. Pigs are found to be the 5th most intelligent animal and I proved that with my own eyes. They knew what was coming. They wailed heart-wrenching wails and tried in vain to avoid falling down. One pig held on to dear life, with his weight pulling him down, he struggled to stay up but he was pushed down. All of them tried to dodge the man for as long as they could. But in the end, the man won, with his power over them, slapping them, shouting at them, and pushing them down. We all left with a heavy heart after the truck was emptied. It was a little past three. They would be slaughtered at ten. As I am writing this, all of them would have already been killed, even the bravest, most defiant ones.

It is evident that the one who calls these vigils as ‘social events’ haven’t been to one. It was a particularly intense experience. One that stays with you long after the pigs have died.

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Despite the heavy rains we decided to proceed with the Cube of Truth at the Bonifacio Global City. We packed our tarps, Peta Vegan Starter Kits, and the leftover of vegan food that we shared with passersby during the vigil outreach.

In BGC we shared some snacks, prepared the laptops and had a brief orientation. First time cubers like me were allowed to do it first. We did our formation in front of Susi, a 100% vegan restaurant that generously allowed us to camp in with our stuff. I held the laptop, and followed the instructions not to do any unnecessary movement and not to interact with people as we had outreachers to do that. Doing outreach and standing in the cube are totally different experiences. Standing there holding the screen or placard, totally focusing on the task and not having to move or chit chat was intensely difficult. It looks easy on the outside but it was definitely just a slight inconvenience compared to what animals go through.

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My mistake was to have the sound on in my laptop. For somebody like me who is terribly squeemish, I immediately imagined the images being screened. I asked for the laptop to be muted but it was already too late. My mind was already filled of the images of Earthlings which after ten years of first watching it, I still havent fully finished. I felt heady and nauseaus in the first 15 minutes but was able to control it. Later, I exchanged the laptop with the black placard that simply said TRUTH. Each person I saw doing a double take on the screens had a moment of shock on the images they saw. I felt I was also seeing what they did and it became a bit too much. I felt faint, and while others thought of me swaying to the music (against the rules!), I fell unconscious and woke up on the restaurant floor with a pillow propped under my head. I didnt know I fainted and when they asked me how I was, all I could say was “the images, I was imagining them” and finally let the tears flow down my face. It was  a different kind of hopelessness I felt. So I stayed lying down a bit more, and later thought that the day wouldn’t end without me converting anyone. I eventually sat down, took a bit more rest, and finally went out to do outreach.

Since it was raining, not too many people were out in the streets. But shortly before the Cube folded up, I was able to engage four young people who had all sorts of interesting questions that I gladly answered. They listened intently  to what I said and since we were on the other of the street across the Cube, I was able to convinve them to look briefly at the videos. Four potential vegans! The team had a total count of 12. I was beside myself with joy.

The night ended with a happy note, with lovely dinner and desserts and the awesome company of badass savers and cubers. I thanked them for the opportunity of not having to do activism alone.

But wait, there’s more! On our way home, Edison, Joyce, and I were able to engage six young men at Jenny’s Pasig. They seemed to be genuinely interested and had all candid questions to us. I know those 15 minutes with them was enough to plant seeds of veganism in their hearts. And I will sleep tonight knowing that they would never look at animals in the same way ever again.

 

PS: The person who demeaned these vegan actions as ‘social events’ have obviously never been to one. Clue, the name starts with G. It could be a good question to ask in the difficult category of a vegan trivia contest.

 

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