These other veterans are civilians, and they include far greater numbers of women and children than the militaries of the world. They were never trained to wage war, but war is and has been waged around them. War is not something they do; war is something that happens to them, something that decides when and where they go and how much control they have over the integrity of their homes, their families, their bodies, or their minds. Survival skills -- when to flee, when to hunker down, what to take, what to leave behind -- were passed down to these veterans from their elders, or self-taught, through experience and instinct. Although they never know what might burst through the door or the roof in a given moment, they do know that the end can come with no warning.
Like many who have endured long periods of conflict -- be they in Kashmir, say, or South Sudan, or Chechnya, or eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Israel or Palestine or Iraq or Afghanistan -- Mindanaoans like Shirley Mangompia lived through circumstances that are now imprinted on them.
Over time, this has affected their behavior, their landscape, their sense of what opportunities, if any, exist beyond what happened or what is happening in the streets or hills around them. Throughout much of central Mindanao, war shaped a generation that knew no other way of being, people for whom calm (to say nothing of peace) was an occasional interlude between periods of terror.
Days after talking to Mangompia, I was in Pikit, a town in neighboring North Cotabato province. There I met another woman, Sinding Lumayong, who was standing near a fetid, cavernous warehouse in which dozens of families were huddled, hers included, and in front of which one young man stumbled around in a daze, having just been told that his baby had died. "I can't remember how many times we've evacuated," Lumayong said. In her telling, war had become something they anticipated, something they planned for. Evacuating was as much part of their routine as was living at home. People planted crops knowing they might have to flee, again, and sneak back, across front lines and checkpoints, to reach their fields when the harvest arrived.