Memoirs of a Philippine Mongerer
C How they made me chapter 47:
Province life begins in earnest.
Rosie’s father strode up to his little house purposefully with the bolo swinging loosely at his side. I was not looking forward to this confrontation as I had made his daughter cry just by asking if Bob and myself could move somewhere else and her father was acting like this was some kind of mortal insult. I realized later that by asking if we could stay somewhere else I was implying his place wasn’t good enough and secondly his family had automatically gained status in the village having the foreigners stay there. If we were to leave this would be loss of face for him and his family. At the time I was still comparatively new to Filipino culture and all I knew was I had one angry armed Filipino on my hands and I had better do some fast talking.
Rosie’s dad walked in the hut with Rosie close behind and stated, house not good”, which was proceeded with a blathering of Visayan. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out he was pissed because I had requested other accommodation and I kept a careful eye on that bolo. I explained to papa that his house was much appreciated but I felt like I was imposing because it wasn’t big enough for all of us. I tried to explain that I didn’t want to be a burden on the family but I think he only understood about 20% of what I was saying and I could see this situation going from bad to worse, rapidly.
Just then a still tearful Rosie stepped into the room so I approached her slowly, looked at her pleadingly and then a moment of inspiration hit me. Forcing a smile I hugged Rosie and said “hey babe I am sorry I did not mean to insult you or your home, this is fine for me but I am worried about Bob. He is asthmatic and I think it may be dangerous for him having to sleep in a crowded room”. When they heard the word asthmatic it was like a light had switched on in their heads and almost immediately their attitudes were completely different. They conversed together in a huddle reminiscent of a American football huddle and then papa with a big smile replied asthma bad we give cousins place by sea. I looked at him inquiringly and Rosie then explained that her cousin was in Cebu and she was not expected back until next year. Rosie also explained that this house was right on the seashore and he sister would come by as would she to do the cooking and the cleaning. Relieved that I had wiggled out of a potentially inflammatory situation I thanked her and papa profusely and then made to leave because I had to find Bob and get him ready to move.
I wormed my way out of their little house and there was Bob in the front yard talking with some of the kids and showing them some card tricks. Bob was a man of many talents and experience some of which he didn’t want to talk about, but in those rare moments one would get a glimpse of them and on many occasions I would find myself wondering, hey where did this come from, I never knew Bob could do that. I walked slowly out of the house and into the front yard to brief Bob on his asthma and the resultant change of venue all of which he took in his stride and said sounds good enough for me mate, lets pack and go check out our new joint.
Rosie’s cousin house was literally a 15 minute slow amble from Rosie’s place and just as she had promised was right on the seafront. This was not exactly the lap of luxury but compared to Rosies house with every relative under the sun all sharing the same abode this was definitely a step up. Our new shack had a small kitchen and two mattresses on the floor there were two electric fans and a gas cooker. There was even a near decent toilet house out back along with a secluded shower area. The best thing about this house was that it had a little veranda overlooking the sea and there was a constant sea breeze blowing through the hut keeping things a bit cooler and I could tell just by the look on Bob’s face that he was already planning a few sessions on this veranda.
Rosie saw the look on our faces and she knew straight away that this would be a more suitable place for myself and Bob to reside so without further ado she sent her father scurrying home to fetch some female members of the family so as to start the clean up process. In a matter of one hour they had the place spick and span and then Rosie asked me to give her 300 piso so she could go and buy some fish and rice for lunch. I was about to give her the money but then thought better of it and asked her if I could accompany her on the shopping mission. Upon hearing this she looked at me inquisitively then deciding that perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad having a foreigner tag along she nodded her head in ascent and we slowly walked along the beach together.
As we walked along the beach I took the opportunity to take in my surroundings. The beach was grey sand and was slightly littered with plastic bags cigarette packets. The sea was as smooth as a babies bottom and scattered all along the beach were literally hundreds of small fishing boats. Most of the people we ran into were all tanned a dark copper color by the ever present sun, all of them were friendly and after the initial shock of seeing a white man strolling along their beach they would giggle and whisper together then the more bold ones would smile and make eye contact. Sometimes one or two would try to start up a conversation with salutations like “hey Joe” but I was soon to find out this was as far as their limited English went so my steady reply would be “hey pinoy” which is a phrase I still use today whenever confronted with the hey Joe and it always elicits a humorous response. The village was obviously a basic one with a small economy based around products of the sea and the land. There was some small type of market places and it was to one of these that Rosie led me.
Since that time I have seen many fish markets both big and small but this was my first time and to be honest I found it quite fascinating. The market was only small being composed of about ten stalls which were nothing more than a large table with a nippa roof over them. In the stores were a series of fish all being displayed. The old ladies selling the fish would sit on a single wooden stall gently fanning the fish to keep the flies away. The fans were made from little strips of plastic attached to a thin wooden pole, they did nothing to cool one down but they seemed to keep most of the flies away. I noticed as we walked up to the various stalls the old ladies would reach down to a small bucket of water that they kept besides their stool and would then gently sprinkle the water on the fish to make it look fresher or like it had just been caught.
These people seemed genuinely relaxed and happy even though they had very little money and obviously lived a slightly better than subsistence lifestyle. Everywhere we went the older ladies would always greet me with a toothless smile and then would whisper in shocked awe about this strange and rather big white man who had suddenly appeared in their midst. Some of them knew Rosie or at least her family and whenever she did the shopping it was a time consuming exercise as she had to contend with all the questioning and the desire to just swap some news. I felt for Rosie but I also felt for the people living there. I guess they didn’t have much variation in their lives and they were not so splendidly isolated and as a result they were hungry for any scrap of information they could get regarding the outside world.
Rosie bargained like an expert at times becoming seemingly heated but when I asked her about this on the way back she just told me “this is the way we do here hon”. I had been to India and Thailand before and I knew bargaining was in these countries a fine art and I now had a glimpse that told me this was also the case in the Philippines. On the way back we stopped to buy a sack of rice and I asked Rosie why do we need a whole sack to which she replied, “my family like rice”. After we had purchased the rice I went to pick up the sack to carry it back to Rosie’s place but she stopped me and informed me, “boy carry rice, boy job”.
We got back to the hut and Rosie set about cleaning the fish whilst other family members scurried around collecting wood and leaves for the fire. Stupid me had been expecting an electric stove or even a gas burner but why bother when one can have a fire right on the beach. Pretty soon the boys from the rice store arrived carrying the heavy sack of rice and Rosie instructed them to just lay the bag down in the kitchen then she gave them 2 piso notes each and after receiving this they scurried off gleefully obviously intent on spending their new found wealth. Magically some plates appeared along with some mineral water and before we knew it Bob and myself were sitting on some stones on the beach tucking into some perfectly cooked fish and gulping down mineral water.
By the time lunch had finished the lack of sleep was beginning to catch up with me and I could feel myself gently sliding into the open arms of a good afternoon nap. I motioned to Rosie telling her that I was really tired and that I desperately needed to get some sleep to which she replied, “wait, my brother make ready for you”. Rosie said something in Visayan and three young kids rushed inside my new shack only to reappear five minutes later with big smiles on their faces. I looked at Rosie inquiringly and she said “They make your bed nice . Now you have fan and everything. You sleep but not long time because papa and friends they play cards to you tonight”. That just great I thought to myself this is going to be another night of gambling for chump change and slurping down voluminous amounts of cheap alcohol, while all the time listening to gibberish and not comprehending a word of it.
As I headed towards the now very inviting mattress Bob piped up and said hey mate you gonna crash? I replied, “yeah sure am, feeling buggered mate”, to which he said, “cool you have a good one and I will go with Rosie to the store mate and stock up on some stuff we will need. I smiled at him wearily and replied sounds like a plan to me and the next thing I knew I was drifting off to sleep with the sound of children playing on the beach and small waves gently lapping on the shore. All of a sudden the provincial experience was all to real and even though it was not exactly luxurious it was certainly relaxing and I felt a wave of contentment descend on me together with the waves of sleep. Life was basic here and yet somehow delightfully real, there was certainly something to be said for living this rudimentary lifestyle and I wondered what the near future would bring.