Memoirs of a Philippine Mongerer
C How they made me chapter 45:
Welcome to the probince Mr poreigner.
The trike ride to Rosies village wasn’t nearly as bad as I had been expecting. These trikes were large with enough room to slightly stretch ones legs and since Bob and I both got separate ones and our luggage was on the trike roof there was even room to look out and appreciate the rural countryside. We drove for about forty minutes along a flat meandering coastal road which intertwined with rice paddies, coconut plantations and rustic villages. We passed through a series of villages with what basic housing and verging on subsistence living. Yet despite the poor conditions and the obvious lack of income the residents seemed happy and every village we passed through the word soon went out and we were greeted by a throng of smiling waving kids. In every village there would be a village center and here the kids would stand outside the little hollow block huts with thatched roofs and either gawk in wide eyed amazement at this strange apparition of ghostly white men or burst out in missing teeth smiles.
Since the Vietnam war we in Western countries have been bombarded with images of snotty nosed, brown skinned kids dressed in rags with semi vacant yet somehow curious looks in their eyes. This was certainly the case here except with one big difference, the children here embraced life no matter how hard it was and no matter how squalid their existence. The kids in the Philippines have for me always been magic and despite their harsh living conditions have always managed a smile and exhibited a joyful enthusiasm for life no matter what it brings.
Being the center of attention believe it or not is not something that I relish however trundling through the small villages being chased by a crowd of screaming and cheering kids was kind of fun. I am not sure if they had ever seen a white man before but then again the reason for this reception didn’t really matter, it was just nice to be so popular and receive such a warm welcome. I had experienced something like this traveling to the remote islands of the Maldives archipelago but here in the Philippines the kids were ten times the number and the Philippine kids were a lot more vocal in their welcoming cries than the Maldivian kids.
After traveling through five or six coastal villages and some lush green coastal farm land we finally made it to Rosies village. I cannot remember exactly what my expectations were but I do remember being pleasantly surprised at the condition and location of her village. Unlike the others her village did not depend on the main road passing through the center but more importantly it depended on the fishing boats that dotted the shore line. I think the fact that Rosies village was right on the water front differentiated it from the other places we had traveled through. For some r5eason I have always found myself more comfortable when near the water which is only fitting when you consider my star sign is Aquarius.
Rosises village is best described as quaint in a rustic sort of Filipino way. It was situated right on the shore line and a gentle breeze blew of the ocean 24 7. This breeze was always accompanied by the smell of sun dried fish, dried squid or just salt water but no matter what the accompanying aromas I was more than grateful for its presence. All along the shoreline there were houses which were little more than glorified nippa huts and outside each house would be the Filipina wife washing clothes by hand using a plastic bowl and running around the house would be a tribe of snotty nosed kids playing the Filipino version of catch me if you can. Behind the shoreline the village spread out on the grey sand reaching towards a large jungle covered hill in the distance. Basically the village was composed of a series of huts some of which were sari-sari stores others communal meeting places and the majority being simple housing for the villages inhabitants.
The houses here were rustic to say the least. The average house was a simple 10 meters by ten meters single room abode with a lattice floor. The houses were mostly elevated 2 or 3 feet above the ground. Most houses would have a wall around them and the toilet and bathing area were behind the house in the back yard. There were no taps and the water was carried each day from the deep wells in buckets. Whilst staying here I would often accompany Rosies brothers to the well and help carry back the water to the house and I have to admit it was an arduous job which worked up a good sweat in a mater of seconds. Rosies brother and I had only rudimentary communication at best and yet to this day I still feel as if we had some kind of bond that developed through our physical exertion together.
When we finally arrived at Rosies village Bob and I exited our trikes grabbed our bags then just stood there taking it all in. Rosie took care of paying the trikes which I think cost a whole 10 piso each (a far cry from the extortionist bastards in Angeles) and then joined at us just looking at the village taking it all in. I asked Rosie, “how long has it been since you were last home and in reply she gave me one of her rare tantalizing smiles and softly said “a long time honey”. As we stood there in what seemed to be the equivalent of the community square we were once again surrounded by a throng of half dressed snotty nosed kids with some running around gesticulating wildly as they pointed at us and described to their elders these strange, rather large white men, that had suddenly appeared in their village. Other kids just stood and gaped at us not saying a word whilst others simply hid behind their mothers skirts occasionally risking a sly peak at this scary apparition of large foreign men.
We stood in the village square for what seemed like ages when Rosies cousin who had disappeared unnoticed by Bob and myself suddenly reappeared parting the crowd of spectators that had surrounded us and leading behind him a middle aged Filipino couple. The lady bore a striking resemblance to Rosie but an older version and it was clearly obvious that in her younger days she would have been a real looker. Despite the ravages of child birth and provincial life this lady still maintained a very fit body and she still had that Chinese skin color and Chinese eyes that I found so attractive in Rosie. Rosies mother held herself with a certain grace and calm serenity which when I observed I couldn’t help but ask myself I wonder why Rosie never inherited this aspect of her mothers demeanor. Just as I was pondering this I then noticed Rosie’s father standing beside his wife and my question was answered straight away. Rosie’s father was fairly tall for a provincial Filipino standing about 5 foot 10”, he had a dark leathery complexion from having tolled long hours in the sun whilst fishing for a living and he had a bristling moustache which he jutted out along with his upper lip as he looked at us with a mixture of inquisitiveness and hostility.
As my eyes met those of Rosie’s father I sensed a sort of smoldering resentment but I figured I hadn’t come this far to back down now so I simply dropped my bag on the sand, walked over to Rosie’s father and still looking him in the eyes said, “hello sir my name is Martin it’s nice to meet you”. Rosies father looked me straight in the eyes but ignored my outstretched hand and then I looked down to see that he was carrying a bloody great machete(bolo) in his right hand hence the lack of a hand shake. Right then and there I made a mental note to myself that if I survived this encounter in the future before rushing into a situation I would try to be a little more observant first.
The tension between us was almost palatable and the air between us could have been cut with one swipe of that razor sharp machete but just then I felt Rosie slip her hand on my arm and with a sweet little girls voice she said something to her father in Visayan and the mans face suddenly transformed from a scowl to a big cheesy grin and with great gusto he transferred the machete to his other hand and shook my hand with his. Later on I was to wonder what Rosie had told her father but that’s a story for another time.
With his arm around me Rosie’s father led us through the little village all the time smiling and waving to the people who would come out of their houses to catch a glimpse of this strange procession. Somehow I felt like I was on display and scenes of a pig being led to the slaughter house kept on entering my mind. I looked behind to see Bob and the remainder of Rosie’s family following dutifully and I thought to myself well at least I am not alone if any trouble comes my way. After about ten minutes walking we reached a little house just like every other house in the village and Rosie’s father loosened his grip around my shoulder and said with obvious pride, “my house inside we drink now”.
Rosies house was a small one room affair with a lattice floor and only one small window. In one corner there was a small table with four cane chairs and in the other corner was a thin foam mattress which was obviously where Rosie’s family slept. Upon seeing this I was momentarily panicked and I asked Rosie, hey sweetie where are Bob and I supposed to sleep and she replied you and Bob have mattress we bring from my sisters house no problem”. Okay so this wasn’t exactly luxury accommodation but I figured what the heck why not rough it a little bit because after all this was the province and this was the genuine provincial experience that I had set out to experience in the first place.
Bob and I dumped our bags by the solitary mattress and the Rosie said, “you give papa money because he go buy food and drink”. Upon hearing this I dug through my pocket and came up with 5 hundred piso which he quickly grabbed and scurried away to purchase supplies. Bob and myself sat at the small table while Rosie instructed some young relative to go and buy some Cokes for Bob and myself and of course some ice so we could drink them cold. We sat around the table slowly sipping on the cokes for about 1 hour with a constant stream of kids appearing at the doorway and gawking at us. Some were a little braver than others and would touch us then run away giggling, but overall we didn’t really mind being a spectacle as we figured they would soon get used to us and then we would just be another part of day to day life in this little fishing village.
After a while Rosies father reappeared and presented Rosie and her mother with what looked like chicken and fish then once again he put his arm around me and tried to steer me out of the door. I looked at Rosie inquiringly and she then explained that her father wanted to take me and Bob to the cock fights where we could do some gambling. I asked her how much money I should take and received the answer, “up to you”. Thinking to myself well that’s bloody useful I grabbed another 500 piso note and off I headed to my very first Filipino cock fight.