It’s been a year since Marawi was declared liberated and peace was restored, but the heart of my city is still in chaos. From afar, it makes creepy sounds like a hurting mother about to give birth. The wind carries the disturbing echoes of rolling plastics and scrap metals scattered in the middle of the road like souvenirs of the war that glide along the empty highways, moving towards its center. For an outsider, it seems the end for Marawi City. It looks dead. But not for the Meranaw. Ground Zero is very much alive, pulsating with our memories, dreams, and prayers.

The people of Marawi are not known to laugh out loud in public. That would be taboo. But they are cheerful at all times. The smile they offer when they welcome guests speaks of their joy. They visit each other from time to time, that’s how they portrayed kinship and hospitality. That is why they big build houses, so they could provide comfort to their guests.

Marawi City is the torogan of the Meranaw. It was founded and designed to welcome guests with good cheer. Banggolo, the rendezvous of the old city, was as noisy and busy as a bee colony: carefree kids playing roller skates at Plaza Cabili; competing colors of multicabs and disturbing sounds of pedicabs on the narrow streets; the popular C & D building – tall and eye-catching – filled with diners, shoppers, and bystanders. Relatives bumped into each other in the Padian, and chatting in the middle of road without regard to the traffic mess they had caused, updating each other of news amg gossips, of relatives getting married, and how much dowry was paid, or about ongoing rido in Tugaya. It was a never-ending beso-beso everywhere. But all that are gone now. The twenty four barangays known as downtown are reduced into a hurting label: Ground Zero. Today, Banggolo is a pile of war debris. The roller skating kids are now jam-packed in cramped evacuation tents. Mu-lticabs and pedicabs rust in abandoned dumps, crumpled and burned. Colorful houses are punctuated with bullets holes like out-of-fashion polka dots.

And the cheerful smiles of the Meranaw are turned into tears and suffering. No one would have thought that tears can flow for one whole year. But for many men and women of Marawi, that was their experience, as if their tears are enough to overflow the Agus river that used to cheer them up.

But beyond the Ground Zero is the majestic Lake Lanao – constant, enduring, unfathomable, like the spirit of the Meranaw people.

Marawi is from an old local word that means “the place where the waves bend”, the water breaks and splashes to the shore, and then return to the lake where they belong. The Meranaw spirit is alive in every man, woman, and child. They soon shall rise.

More than 30,000 families are still displaced now – trying to survive in the homes of relatives, in evacuation centers, or in foreign places, like a fierce warriors in diaspora. Some 50,000 families have returned to safe barangays. The Task Force Bangon Marawi called it Kambalingan, or coming home. There is no home to return to for those coming from the Most Affected Area (MAA).

The government has yet to reveal its rehabilitation plan for Marawi. They have been postponing it for several months now. Billions of pesos are required to transform

Ground Zero into the government’s idea of a new Marawi – a metropolis like Dubai. The designs look grand. Majestic even. But that is not Marawi. We smile, but we know that is not what we want.

While the Meranaw people are tired, we are not quitters. We call it Maratabat, our inner pride and strength that drives our people to be resilient at all times, like a wave that only bends but goes back to the lake where it belongs.

”Maabilidad. BMW! Basta Meranao Wais.” This was how human rights lawyer Atty. Sittie Raifa Pamaloy-Hassan described us with a bright smile on her face. Meranaw women are the only IDPs who line up for relief with faces fully made up and wearing bright satin dresses and chiffon hijab. “They receive aid with pride and elegance. And they were asking for lipstick!” But the lipstick was just a sign that they are ready to stand up and reclaim their dignity.

Maratabat defines the Meranaw itself. “Gya Meranaw na kwa inga sa maratabat ka myada. Daa bali o Meranaw.” Deedath Pangandaman, an IDP said. If the pride of the Meranaw vanished, Meranaw are nothing.

My people will rebuild our homecity one house at a time, one building at a time, one multicab at a time, one roller skate at a time. Soon, the beso-beso will return, and the traffic will stop because two old ladies will stand in the middle of the road, exchanging news about how one’s daughter received half a million dowry from a handsome son of a Sultan. The noise of Ground Zero will soon come back. I can hear them now.

(Written by: FA Ibra, Dalit Kalinaw Graduate)