Things We Lost in the Fire

I have been following the life of Rica Ramasamy — close to two years now. Rica is in her late 60s and a founding member of the Home for the Golden Gays.

I used to live a few blocks from her shanty, in the heart of Pasay in Manila. I moved towards the end of 2016 to a different part of the city but continued to document her life and we remained steady friends. This year has not been a good start for Rica, on the morning of the 18th of February a fire broke on her block — under suspicious circumstances.

At daybreak, Rica rose to sweep the grounds of her neighborhood- and returned home to nothing. Her diminutive house, raised to the ground.

We sat on the steps of the open aired basketball court of a public school- a street up from her house. The floor of the classroom would have to make do for the next two weeks. The property had been barricaded with metal sheets, written in bright white paint read-

“Private property, trespassers will be arrested.”

“Is this final?” Rica said to me. “ Is this how it will all end?” she continued, holding back tears. It took me a few seconds to figure out how to console her.
I was not quick enough.

Rica fixed her hair and started to sing. In between the chorus she asked-
“Do you think you can lend me a gown?”

Shirin Bhandari 
(words and photos)
To help:

Rica lives on the other end of my street in Pasay, Manila. Our fathers originated from India and both chose to make a life in the Philippines. However the cards dealt to us made all the difference- our kismat or fate. Rica was born a man and has known to be gay since he was a child. She sleeps in a dingy shack and works as a community sweeper to earn her keep. 2016
A golden gown hangs outside Rica’s shanty. 2016
Rica brandishes a long white dress as the president of the Golden Gays Organization looks on. 2016
Lola is the Tagalog word for grandmother. It is also a term of endearment for elderly gay men in the Philippines. 2016
The members of the Home for the Golden Gays are all dolled up at a program organized by the Philippine Court of Appeals at a famous chicken restaurant in Manila. A handful of Rica’s friends are homeless and not as fortunate. There is enough stigma and isolation with being elderly, impoverished and gay. 2016
Rica (right) poses with an old time friend at an outreach program hosted by the LGBT community of a top call center in Manila. “Don’t take my picture without my teeth.” We all laughed as Rica put on the heavily beaded crown.
“I returned from sweeping and there was nothing left.” Rica on the afternoon of the fire at an evacuation center. 2017
Rica and her neighbors did not have the chance to save their belongings. Social workers at a public school have allowed them to sleep on the floor of a classroom. They are given two weeks to find a new home. 2017
The property barricaded a day after the fire. 2017

Originally published at on February 21, 2017.