Memoirs of a Philippine Mongerer
C How they made me chapter 46:
Settling into provincial life..
Being raised in a comparatively affluent society in Australia I was a complete stranger to the sport of cock fighting but Rosies father’s enthusiasm was infectious and next thing I knew I found myself being dragged towards a circle of Filipino men all shouting and gesticulating wildly while they watched two cocks fight. Rosies father dragged me into the middle of the group and stood beside me while the guys around me were all shouting and cheering on the cock they had bet on.
The rules of the cock fight were totally beyond me and it seemed to me that just as the animals were engaging in the fight properly the owners would pull them apart and people would start betting again. For me I would have rather of seen the rounds last a prescribed amount of time with the winner being whichever cock wounds or kills the other but that didn’t seem to be the case here. I figured that even if the cock lost it was probably still a valuable possession in this community so better to preserve it’s life so it can fight again another day or be used for a variety of other purposes. For the Filipino man a rooster is money on legs and is serious business.
The fight which we had enetered half way through soon came to an end and the guys would sit around and chat discussing the fight they had just seen and the problems of their little world. Usually this discussion would be accompanied by a plastic cup with ice and a large bottle of beer. The beer is then poured into the plastic cup and swallowed in turn. Normally one guy will take a couple of gulps then the glass is passed back to whomever has the beer bottle where it is refilled and then passed onto the next guy to gulp down.
Rosies father grabbed me by the wrist and led me to the group of guys drinking then as they looked up and comprehension that a foreigner was in their midst slowly dawned on them, they each adopted a big smile and moved around so as to make room for Rosies dad and myself to sit down and join the party. Next thing I knew another two bottles of beer appeared and the plastic cup with ice was making the rounds again. I am not particularly fond of beer at the best of times but when it is being passed around a group of men inside a plastic cup with ice it was not exactly thrilling especially since it seemed they wanted me to have every second gulp almost like they thought it amusing to try and get the foreigner drunk. To be honest this situation was a little unnerving because they insisted on touching me all the time and then they would say something in their own language which caused ripples of laughter amongst the group and the fact that I could not understand them obviously made me uncomfortable which in turn increased their mirth even more.
After about ten minutes of sitting around in the group being forced to gulp down lukewarm beer, the next cock fight was announced and the group slowly dispersed heading towards the fight. Rosie’s father grabbed my hand once again and said, “we look fight now”. With this he yanked me up and once again we joined the throng of men and kids gathered around the cocks. The cock fights which I was truly grateful for because it took the guys attention off me. The two combatants would be held by their owner while a Filipino guy would circulate the crowd with notes rolled up inbetween his fingers and in his hand was a scraggly piece of paper on which he would write down something unintelligible. It didn’t take much to figure out that this was the equivilent to the bookie but I had no idea how his betting system worked.
Throughout the entire evening Rosies father was acting as if he was Mr Important or as my father would always say, “acting like lord muck”. Looking back on it I realize that he had gained some sort of elevated status, albeit only temporary, by bringing the foreigner and therefore the money into their midst. But at the time I was just feeling bemused wondering what all the fuss was about.
The cock fights lasted for about 3 hours and inbetween each fight I would be pulled over to the group and encouraged to drink beer. Each time it seemed like it was Martin taking on the whole group but this didn’t really bother me since I figured this was some kind of initiation test and if outdrinking a bunch of locals was what was required to gain acceptance then so be it.
After the cock fights we were all pretty drunk and I can vaguely remember Bob and myself being led back to Rosies house where we found two small foam mattresses placed on the floor which we unceremoniously plonked ourselves upon and crashed out, completely oblivious of our surroundings.
These days with a few more years under my belt I definitely need my creature comforts but back then sleeping on the floor was no big hassle, especially when I had a head full of booze. I remember making it to the mattress finding the lumpy pillow and then darkness descended. I think the fact that we had been traveling for nearly two days with what amounted to only a few hours proper sleep, contributed to our ability to sleep in the primitive conditions.
Even though I was dead tired I still only managed to get 5 or 6 hours sleep and as the sun came streaming into the hut I awoke to the sound of mosquitoes buzzing in my ear and seemingly a thousand mosquito bites all down my legs, arms and neck. My head was throbbing, I was sweating like a race horse before a piss test, there was a crick in my neck from sleeping on the hard floor with the lumpy pillow and the roosters were crowing their lungs out welcoming the two foreigners. Basically I felt like absolute shit, I looked over at Bob who was still sleeping soundly then at the remainder of the room only to be greeted by a number of bodies all lying on the floor . I took one more look at my situation and soon it was obvious that I wasn’t going anywhere and my only option was to simply lye there and wait for people to wake up before going anywhere or doing anything.
I lay on the floor for what I figured must have been an hour or so willing myself to go back to sleep but without a fan and a softer mattress this was almost impossible and I found myself just lying there sweating. As readers can imagine this was hardly an ideal start to my provincial adventure but there was no denying this was reality. This was exactly how the vast majority of people lived and this was an authentic province experience warts, mosquitoes, bed bugs and all.
I think I must have lain there for about an hour and a half desperately trying to will myself to sleep but to no avail. Under these conditions and with a throbbing head, sleep was just about impossible. Eventually I saw Rosies mother who was lying in the far corner begin to stir and then slowly but surely the rest of the family woke up to face a new day in provincial life. The family had now all roused so I shook Bob who slowly woke up and then loudly announced “ shit Marty watcha doing waking me up mate, I was having a rip snorter dream and now it’s fucking gone”. I apologized profusely for waking him and then pointed out to him our surroundings and said in hushed tones, “don’t know about you mate but I can’t get much sleep in these conditions with all these people so I am going to ask Rosie about some other place to stay”. Bob looked around him and responded with “yeah good on ya mate. See if we can stay somewhere else with a bit more room. Oh by the way did you see Rosies cousin last night, wouldn’t mind having a crack at that”. Despite feeling like death warmed up I couldn’t help but smile at “koripot Bobs continuing addiction to the Filipina no matter where he was or what conditions he was enduring. This man was fanatical and certainly knew what he wanted from his time in the Philippines.
After my conversation with Bob Rosie appeared through the minute entrance that passed as a front door and said Rosie mother make breakfast, you like now?” I looked at Bob he looked at me then just as I was about to ask what we were going to eat I thought better of it and replied yeah sure I am hungry. With this said Rosie left again then came back with a plate piled full of steaming rice some canned sardines and two fried eggs. Not really being in a position to complain and certainly not wanting to be seen as ungrateful, Bob and myself made our way to the kitchen table where there were three tiny seats and tucked into the specially prepared breakfast. While we were eating a mass of kids appeared at the small window and proceeded to stare at us like we were aliens from another planet. I don’t know how many readers have experienced numerous kids gawking at you and giggling while you are trying to eat, but let me tell you, it is a little unnerving to say the least and both Bob and myself had a hard time eating our breakfast.
What goes in must come out and after breakfast both Bob and myself needed to evacuate our bowels but the problem was there was no toilet to be seen so I had to ask Rosie who laughed and said “follow me”. Rosie led us round the back of her little house and there in the backyard was a tiny little hut with a nippa roof . Bob and I looked at each other in disbelief but then simultaneously realized that we didn’t have many options and it was this shit house or out in the street with everybody viewing.
After performing our ablutions I asked Rosie if I could have a little word with her in private and she led me back into the house. When we were alone in the house I started by thanking her very much for putting myself and Bob up but there was a problem because we felt we were intruding on her family and I was wondering if there was any place where Bob and I could stay that was slightly separate from her family and which didn’t have so many people in it and we wouldn’t be so much in the way. After I had finished asking Rosie as nicely as possible trying to disguise my desire to find some place a little more comfortable she just looked at me with a mixture of sadness and anger then all of a sudden tears welled in her eyes and she rushed out the front door straight towards her father who was standing outside, saw his daughter crying, spoke to her in a concerned tone, then proceeded to walk towards me purposefully with the razor sharp bolo swinging on his belt. .