C How They Made Me! Chapter 52

Memoirs of a Philippine Mongerer

C How they made me chapter 52:

The center of attention.

Rosalinda scampered away giggling, leaving Zaldie to grab my arm and say “we go back Rosie now”. We walked back along the single street with huts either side, that seemed to compose the entirety of the little village, and ended up back at the clearing, which was obviously going to be the scene of the celebrations. I looked around for Rosie and finally spied her with a group of Filipino guys and girls sitting in the corner drinking tuba, so I started to make my way over to join them but Zaldie stopped me and motioned me towards a rusty metal chair, that had obviously seen better days. I tried to shrug Zaldie off by telling him I wanted to go and be with Rosie but he was most insistent, and with quite a firm grip he pushed me into the chair.

I sat in the chair feeling like an idiot while seemingly the entire village gawked at me like I was some kind of alien, then eventually Zaldie reappeared with a bottle of coke which he proffered to me like it was some sort of precious gift. The distribution of products like Coke has always amazed me, during my years on this earth I have been to some pretty remote places but always there has been a bottle or can of coke available, in fact it got to the stage where my definition of remote was, if there wasn’t any coke available.

So there I was stuck on this rusty old chair surrounded by people jabbering away in a foreign language, (in between gawks at me), nursing my bottle of warm coke, thinking to myself, this is not exactly what I call fun, when Rosie and her friends suddenly surrounded me with big smiles lighting up their faces. Next thing I knew an antiquated loud speaker was put in the center of the clearing along with a middle aged lady who in the local language, together with a smattering of English which was obviously for my benefit, proceeded to bestow upon the crowd the privilege of hearing her loudly distorted voice. The lady’s amplified speech lasted about 3 minutes and then at the end she announced “and a warm welcome to Mr Martin who visits us from New Zealand” to which everybody clapped, while Rosie slipped her hand into mine and gave me a little kiss on the cheek.
Obviously Rosie had known this was coming because as everybody welcomed me, I could literally see and feel her pride. As my name was announced and people turned to look at me and she was literally beaming with pride and squeezed my hand tightly. My moment of fame was just that, a moment, and no sooner had it begun then it was over. Whilst this fleeting moment of attention made me feel uncomfortable, it seemed to please Rosie immensely, and it was then that I understood what people meant when they referred to feeling like a trophy foreigner. It is a weird feeling being the center of attention and even weirder having someone take pride in it on your behalf. During most of my life I was far from what would be considered a good catch or a trophy, but in the rustic little province in the Philippines, I was obviously something special.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I have stayed so long because in the Philippines most people accept me for what I am and there is no need for pretense. I remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable being the center of attention but then again this must have had some sort of positive subconscious effect because I am just a man, and in my experience all men are susceptible to a little ego stroking and flattery.

After the lady had finished making her speech she departed the makeshift podium and two Filipinos scrimmaged in a little compartment beneath the podium to suddenly produce a portable cassette/cd player which they mounted on the podium and began to play some meaningless bubble gum pop song from the mid nineteen eighties. This was obviously the signal to dance and the men from age 6 to 60 caroused the crowd looking for a dance partner.

Several of the girls were eyeing me off, giving me furtive glances as if they wanted to dance, but perhaps luckily for them, when it comes to dancing I have two left feet and I wasn’t about to get in the middle of everybody and start dancing with some young lady, with her father and brothers sitting there watching, staring daggers at the hapless foreigner. I think Rosie must have sensed something because her grip on my hand became stronger, and next thing I knew, she was pulling me out of my seat and out onto the makeshift dance floor.

We must have danced for three slow songs and I remember thinking, ‘okay I feel really awkward’, but looking at things on the bright side, I was very grateful they were playing slow songs, because it meant I could kind of stand there and shuffle. I also remember thinking how shabby I must have looked because all the local guys and gals had donned their Sunday best and were looking sharp, whereas, I was looking decidedly shabby in my jeans, t/shirt and sandshoes.

I have noticed this in several countries, even though they may have extremely limited funds, when it comes to day to day existence, if the occasion arises, they can always find a good set of clothing and because they are generally smaller boned, they look absolutely fabulous. In later years, when I was living and working in Manila, my way to work would often take me past the squatter areas early in the morning, and I would see these ravishing looking women, all done up and looking a million dollars, emerging from the squalid little squatter shacks. The incongruity of this always bemused me, but then again it is the same all over Asia, and I definitely realized there is nothing I can do about it, and secondly I realized how grateful I was for my seemingly luxurious upbringing, where everything was handed to me on a plate. Don’t get me wrong, I did not come from a super rich family, but we were certainly upper middle class, and compared to the people I saw eking out an existence in the squalid slums of Manila, my life in Australia seemed like it had been heaven blessed.

I managed to shuffle my way through 3 songs, then when something with a little more speed came along, I whispered in Rosie’s ear that I was a little bit hungry, so we headed off the dance floor, and she led me to a little area by the side where they had two freshly slaughtered pigs on a spit. Beneath the pig was a small fire and on either side was a young Filipino guy rotating a wheel that in turn rotated the pig. By the time we got there one of the pigs was half demolished already but there was still more than enough for myself and Rosie to gorge ourselves on.

There was already a line of Filipinos all standing by the pig waiting for their serving but Rosie just walked straight up to the guys in charge of cooking the pig, said something in Visayan, and suddenly a banana tree leaf was produced, and slabs of barbequed pig loaded onto it. This was then presented to me, while Rosie poured some sort of gravy all over it. I looked around for knives or forks but there was no eating utensils to be seen anywhere so I asked Rosie, “what do I use to eat this hon”, to which she replied, “we use hands Filipino style”. Okay now I had it, all I had to do now was find somewhere to place the food so I could eat it properly. Even though the Filipinos had no problem balancing the meat and gravy covered leaves on their laps, I wasn’t about to try this as I could see the food going everywhere, and covering my already grubby clothing. Rosie saw me standing there with a banana leaf full of meat as if I was stuck in some kind of slow motion movie, then she let out a little giggle and scampered away, only to return with another old chair which I could sit on while I balanced the meal on the other chair.

After finishing the pork a plastic flagon of some vile coconut wine was produced by Rosie’s father, who together with his friends, had suddenly appeared from out of nowhere. This was then poured into a cup which was offered to me. I looked at Rosie then who simply nodded as if to say ,‘hey don’t ask me’, and I realized then and there, this was going to be an interesting night. Now I have never been known as one to shirk a drink but this was tuba and I was already familiar with the vile taste of this crap, so I was understandably a little hesitant. The trouble was, with Rosies father’s lack of English, and my total lack of Visayan, how could I explain that the I wasn’t afraid of getting drunk, but rather I just abhorred the taste. With the beat up old cup in my hand and the group of guys all looking at me expectantly I realized there was no way out of this, so I put the cup to my lips and gulped down the tuba in one shot. When I did this and managed to keep the vile concoction down it was almost like I had achieved some remarkable feat, and all the guys smiled at me, and patted me on the back.

I am not sure how long we sat and drank the tuba because the time seemed to fly by, and I was actually enjoying my new found friendship with Rosie’s dad and his friends. By me drinking the tuba it was almost as if I had passed some sort of initiation test and had now gained entry into their social circle. We could only communicate in the most rudimentary way, yet somehow we seemed to know exactly what each was saying, and our communication became even more easy, the more tuba we consumed.

Pretty soon our little group had finished the flagon of tuba and Rosie announced it was time to head home. Feeling no pain by this time I quickly rose to my feet ready to trek back to her village, when from out of nowhere, 4 guys all carrying rifles and livid looking machetes appeared and stood beside me. It’s amazing how fast one can sober up when surrounded by hostile looking armed men and I looked at Rosie with a look that said, ‘who the fuck are these guys’ but she only smiled and said, “these my fathers friends, they make escort back to village”.

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