Memoirs of a Philippine Mongerer
C How they made me chapter 53:
A reunion with long lost Bob.
The trek back to Rosies village was interesting. Okay we weren’t exactly in dense tropical jungle but the vegetation was lush, definitely tropical and the only light we had was moonlight and the occasional spark from lighters that the men carried. The going wasn’t easy and there was a lot of stumbling at least on my behalf and I could still feel the effects of the tuba buzzing my head, but our escort seemed to know the land like the back of their hands and they were sure footed as mountain goats.
It was certainly a weird feeling having these guys armed with rifles and razor sharp bolos escorting us and in some ways I felt like I was in a Vietnam war movie. Of course trekking through the jungle was hot and tiring work and it wasn’t long before I had a lather of sweat over my entire body. The men were mostly silent except to ask one another for a cigarette or to pass some comment which would start a brief conversation and then just as quickly as it had begun it would stop and we were walking in silence again. I was feeling more than a little bit uneasy and wondering why we needed these guys as an escort but whenever I glanced at Rosie she seemed unperturbed so as much as I could I decided to relax and just go with the flow.
After what must have been about two hours walk we arrived back at Rosies village which by this time was fast asleep yet as we entered candle lights began to shine from out of the small windows in the nippa huts and I could see the vague outline of inquisitive young faces as the kids looked on this spectacle wondering what kind of strange procession was this that had arrived at their village in the middle of the night.
As for me I was still feeling uneasy with the armed guards presence and I certainly felt a sense of relief when we finally arrived in Rosies village. This was at least an area that I was a little bit familiar with and its familiarity made me feel a lot more comfortable. I looked at Rosie and said hey girl I am really tired so I’m going to crash out if that’s okay with you and in answer she said “Rosie come you”. Rosie then turned to the group of guys and said something in the local language which they all nodded at then proceeded to walk back to my hut with me. When we got back to the hut I turned to Rosie and asked, “do you want to come inside” but I guess she must have read my mind and she replied maybe tomorrow. Rosie go papa friends make party”. I leaned down and gave Rosie a kiss goodnight and she then looked at me and said, “you give Rosie 300 peso”. “What” I replied “why do I have to give you money” and Rosie gave me another one of those looks that said you foreigners are so dumb and then replied, Rosie pay guards, guards NPA bad people not make angry.
At this stage I had only read a little about the NPA in the guidebook but I could see from the look on Rosies face and hear from the tone of her voice that these were not people to mess around with so I went inside the hut to where I had my money stashed and got her 300 which she snatched from my hand and said, “Rosie see Martin tomorrow”.
With Rosie gone I had a chance to sit back and reflect on the evenings events and as I puffed on a cigarette letting the smoke relax me I thought about Rosalinda and the chance meeting that evening which was then accompanied by that old familiar stirring in my loins. I thought about Rosie and the strange turn of events that had led me here and I thought about how lucky I had been when it came to the armed to the teeth NPA men. Sitting back and reflecting I realized it wouldn’t have taken much for them to kidnap me and hold me hostage in an effort to extort some money from my family. I smiled at how lucky I had been and then for some strange reason visions of Bob entered my head and I found myself wondering how he was and then I made up my mind I was going to make arrangements to visit him as soon as possible. Even though I had caught Bob having sex with Rosie he was still my so called friend and he was certainly the only foreigner I had seen in what seemed like ages. No offence to the Filipinos but sometimes their company just wasn’t enough and I craved the company of people from a similar culture as mine.
That night I had a sound sleep despite the primitive conditions and woke up in the morning full of energy. There was a slight throbbing in my head but overall I was feeling great which I attributed to the exercise of the day before. These days when I wake up after doing exercise the day before I am all aches and pains but back then I was young and physical exertion was as natural as breathing.
After rising and walking to the sea for my morning swim I whipped up a cup of coffee and remembered my resolution to go and see Bob. Knowing that most of these people spoke rudimentary English at best it suddenly dawned on me just how difficult it would be to explain that I wanted a boat so I could visit my friend on some unnamed island that I didn’t even know the location of. Then just as I was about to succumb to the difficulty of the idea Rosie’s smiling face appeared and the idea gained new life. Hi babe I greeted her, listen girl I have been thinking and I realize I haven’t heard from Bob in close on a week and I was wondering if he was okay. Do you think you could arrange a boat so we can visit him. Rosie looked at me in bewilderment then the comprehension slowly dawned on her and she replied “Martin want boat go Bob. Rosie make boat to uncle”. There you go I thought to myself how simple was that. Having completed her rudimentary statement Rosie smiled at me stood up and said, “we go uncle now, uncle good boat”.
We locked up the hut as best we could and then head off hand in hand down the beach. As we strolled down the beach the village people were engaged in their everyday activities and I thought to myself no matter what, life goes on and living this way there was a certain predictability and as such stability. Everywhere I looked people were either cooking or showering in shorts and T/Shirts pouring water over themselves with the ‘tabo’, sifting through each others hair looking for lice, washing clothes by hand or cooking over the open fire. In fact over my years I have never seen any race of people eat like Filipinos. In other countries there seems to be set times to enjoy meals but for the Filipinos it seems to be a constant activity 24/7.
We strolled along the beach for what must have been about half a mile and then we came to a collection of dilapidated fishing boats. These boats had definitely seen better days and I found myself fervently hoping that we weren’t going to get one of these to the island. Rosie stopped at the boats and shouted to a bunch of guys that were sitting in the shade smoking and chatting. One of these guys a little seedy looking bloke with stains all over his singlet and a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth stood up and ambled over towards Rosie said something in Visayan and then glared at me with a look that was a strange mixture of curiosity and dislike.
Rosie seemed to notice her uncles demeanor and she said to me Martin you go there and pointed to a coconut tree beside the boats. Not wishing to cause any problem and having no idea of what was going on I submissively followed Rosies instructions and squatted in the shade of the coconut tree. Rosie talked with the boat driver whom I assumed was her uncle and then he slowly walked over to one of the decrepit looking boats and began to push it towards the sea. Meanwhile Rosie strolled over to where I was sitting and said, “uncle go island now”. I stood up and proceeded over to the boat and throwing my little back pack inside I proceeded to get on the other side of the boat and help push it towards the sea. This simple act seemed to please Rosies uncle and he gave me a big toothless smile with yet another cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. I have often pondered on the relationship between Filipinos and foreigners and mostly I have found that placing yourself on the same level as them works well for me. Some people adopt the I’m the boss attitude or my money puts me in a superior position attitude but I have always found trying to relate to them on the same level has served my purpose well. I have never been one to be afraid of getting down and dirty with the troops so to speak and Rosies uncle certainly seemed to appreciate this.
Together we got the boat to the sea much to the amusement of the group of fishermen who merely stayed sitting under the tree smiling at our exertions. For some reason Rosies uncles friends seemed to find the site of this big foreigner pushing the boat highly amusing and I got the feeling I had provided the moment of their day.
When we got the boat in the water Rosie jumped in and suddenly from out of nowhere a young boy appeared and Rosie motioned for him and myself to get in the boat. I climbed aboard as did the nimble as a cat boy, while Rosie’s uncle continued to push the boat into deeper water. Pretty soon the water was up to Rosie’s uncles waist so he also jumped in said something in Visayan to the boy which sent the boy scrambling into the little engine room and next thing I knew there was a steady chug, chug of the ancient motor and we were on our way.
As I have said this boat was not exactly modern or luxurious however it seemed to float okay and the engine was one of those old diesels that keep on going forever with minimal maintenance. As we chugged out into the open sea Rosie called me from the bow where I always like to sit whenever traveling by small boat and made me sit in the shade provided by a scant, hole ridden tarpaulin that had obviously seen better days. The sea was glassy smooth and as we churned our way through it Rosie sat and held my hand while engaging in conversation with her uncle. While this was going on the young boat boy was staring at me like I was some kind of apparition and when I asked Rosie why she smiled and said “you boy first, he never see like you before”. I wondered what this meant then all of a sudden the penny dropped and I realized this young Filipino boy had never seen a white man before. When Rosie told me this I thought about how I must appear to the boy like some kind of scary alien so I simply smiled gently at him which seemed to put him at ease a little bit but I noticed whenever he got a chance he would stare at me in wonder.
The boat cruised slowly over the glassy waters leaving me free to think my thoughts. Being at sea has always represented a chance in my mind for me to relax and just let my mind wander. I thought about my twisted somewhat bizarre relationship with Rosie, I thought about many of the things I had done in life and how they had led me to this point, I thought about my existence back in Australia and how different it was compared to life in the Philippine provinces and most importantly I thought about all the things that had happened to me in my short stay in the Philippines. I remembered telling my mates back home I would visit the PI for one week just because they had recommended it and now almost six months later here I was cruising on a dilapidated boat with a beautiful girl at my side heading towards an island that I and none of my friends had any previous idea existed.
After about 40 minutes on the water Rosie let out an excited little yelp and pointed to a green island shimmering in the distance. I gathered from her excitement that this must be our destination and I found myself eagerly looking forward to seeing Bob again and being able to have a conversation in English with someone from my own culture.
I am not sure what I was expecting but to be honest the island was a bit of a let down. Maybe it was because I had envisioned this tropical paradise but instead the sight that greeted me was more like a mangrove swamp. The shore line rather than being a sparkling white beach was mud and it was polluted with human rubbish, along its entire length. In my years of living here the Filipinos disregard for their environment has never ceased to amaze me and I think when it comes to the Filipinos the worst thing that mankind ever invented is plastic.
Rosies uncle slowly cruised the boat into the mangrove swamp and when it got to shallow he instructed Rosie and myself to jump out and help push the boat. We jumped out onto the slimy mud and I helped her uncle push the boat to an area where there were a number of other boats tied to the mangrove trees. While Rosie trudged through the slime her uncle tied the boat to a tree then together we followed Rosie through the mud. It was obvious to me that both Rosie and her uncle knew their way around the island and next thing I knew the mangrove swamp gave way to a sandy path which led to the islands interior.
We trudged along the path for about ten minutes and then suddenly it opened up to a communal square. The center piece of this square was a basketball court where a game was underway with houses all around it. Obviously the basketball court was the center of the community and everything else radiated out from there. I looked around wondering how I was going to find Bob when suddenly Rosie grabbed my arm and pointed. Over on the far side of the square was Bob sitting with a bunch of middle aged Filipino guys and it looked like they were passing around a mug of tuba or some other vile alcoholic liquid which was obviously meant to be consumed while watching the game.
With Rosie in the lead we made our way through the crowd to where Bob was and when he saw me approaching he literally jumped for joy and ran towards me to give me a firm hug and while doing so whispered in my ear “fucking great to see ya mate. I’ve got a bit of a problem here, these jokers know I have been rooting one of their daughters and now they reckon she’s up the duff and won’t let me go until I marry her”.