Surprise Visit

IMG_0938It’s early morning in your sleepy, tropical village.  The sun rises and glints off the tops of the nearby mountains.  It will be a hot day, but it isn’t yet.

Smoke from your cook fire is winding its way up through the slats of the rough wood wall of your house, finding its way to the sky above.  All around the neighbors are all waking up, too, starting their fires, drinking sugary homegrown coffee, chatting with each other, making plans for the day.

Your family is planning to work in the corn field today.  Since the weather has been so dry this is the perfect time to get lots of work done.  The harvested, threshed, dried and sacked corn will be taken to town.  Hopefully there will be a profit this year.  Hopefully the rains don’t come before it’s done.

The weather is unpredictable.  This is the way it’s always been, as long as you remember.  You’ve lived in this town your whole life, and now that you’re getting older, the younger people are taking over the harder work of the fields.  You still go though, to  help watch the babies, do some of the lighter work, and cook for the rest of the workers.

Today is Saturday, a good day for working.  You gaze out over the road that runs through town.  A few people are getting their motorbikes ready.  Maybe they are going  out to the city.  It will take them a few hours to get there on these dusty roads, but at least it isn’t muddy.  Other gather supplies to go to the field.  The children are playing, the dogs are busily searching for scraps.

Suddenly the dogs start barking.  You know that bark; it means someone new is coming.  What is this?  Two foreign ladies, walking into your village!  They look hot, like they’ve been walking for awhile.

You’ve heard that there are a couple foreign families who have settled into a nearby village, 45 minutes away.  You’re not quite sure why.  You’ve even met the men of the families and caught glimpses of their wives and children at some weddings and funerals.  One of the wives helped you when you were sick but you don’t see her here, just the wife of the other family and a companion.   What can they be doing?  They are so far from home.  They’ve never done this before.

A neighbor calls out to them, “Where are you going?”  They reply, “Just there and now to our home.”  You’re confused.  Why are they going the wrong direction?

Everyone comes out to the road to watch these ladies.  They walk along, talking to each other and laughing.  Other neighbors ask them, “Where are you going?” and some say, “Come have coffee!” They keep answering that it’s ok, they are just going home, but it is obvious that they are going the wrong way.  Have they come to visit someone?  You wonder how long it will take before they figure out that their home is not that way.  They move out of sight.

A few minutes later the dogs start barking again.  You look up to see the two ladies coming back up the road.  Ah, they must have figured it out.  They are laughing but one of them has a bright pink face.  It is strange how pink their faces can get.

You go out to the road to intercept the strange ladies.  “Where are you going?” You greet them this way even though you already know what happened.  They are laughing as they greet you too.  You reach out your hand in greeting and air kiss the lady’s pink cheek.  You feel sorry for them that they got lost, but you still can’t figure out why they are all they way out here, so far from home!

They explain that they made a mistake, that they were walking and had thought this road would lead them home.  To you it is so obvious that this doesn’t go the right direction, but you suppose that for them it isn’t very clear.  You mention that your neighbor will be taking their motorbike through their village if they want to follow them.  They take off, heading in the right direction this time.  You chuckle to yourself.  Hopefully they make it home!  At your age you thought you’d seen it all, but life is full of surprises!


Getting Married

Imagine that you are an 18 year old girl and you met the love of your life at a New Years party. You decide to get married and meet with your families to pick a date. You decide on a Wednesday, April 12. This is a good time for everyone involved and since a bunch of family and friends will already be in town for another wedding two days before, why not? You send out word for people to come.
Everyone asks you if there will be a party the night before. You’re not sure, but you keep telling everyone that the event is on Wednesday morning and will only be very simple. You don’t want to get their hopes up, although you know they’d love to party if you have one.
The day before your wedding things are starting to get so exciting around your home. A huge group of people come and help set up a temporary shelter and seating area outside your home in your garden. The ceremony will take place across the street at the local church, but the reception will be at home. Your family hosts a lunch for the group of workers, rice with main dishes of bat and squash.
You still aren’t sure if there will be a party or not, but word has it that your two live pigs and cases of beer you’ve ordered are on the way from town. The pigs and beer finally do arrive, so your family quickly decides it’s time to set up the loudspeaker system and get this party started. It’s 11pm, but who cares! Everybody loves a good party and if they don’t want to crawl back out of bed to come that’s okay, they can just listen from their homes. Someone makes sure to turn up the loudspeakers and keyboard so that no one feels left out, and the party begins!

You decide that sleep isn’t as important as this. Everybody stays all night and at 6:30am they are still going strong. It’s going to be a good day. Ceremony is at 10am so at some point you drag yourself away from the people who are still singing into the mic and start getting ready.  You’re getting married today!!

Funeral Food

It’s dark, and you’re attending the wake of a lady who has passed away along with a couple hundred other people who plan to stay up all night. You’re sitting on a rough bench made of two planks set on top of two cross boards. You can smell the cooking fires and know that there will be food served soon.

They start bringing out the food and placing it on a table in the middle of the large crowd. From a distance you can see that there are large baskets of steaming rice and other dishes, as well as the boiled pork pieces, of course. You know that’s always there.

The question is, will you get to serve your own plate of food, or will someone hand an already filled plate to you? You’re not sure, but you can see a pile of something white and glistening on the table and you wonder what it is, and if you’ll have to taste it. Soon you realize that the food will come to you, preselected. A lady hands you a plate, piled with rice, a piece of pork bone, and two meat dishes. It’s dark, so you start to dig in. No need of a fork, you just pick up the rice with your fingers and drop it in your mouth.

You put your fingers into a meat dish. It’s something tasty, sort of like a really, really thick piece of bacon with a chewy rind in a sweet sauce. You stick your fingers back in another shadowy area of your plate. Ahh, this is the one that will require some creativity. This is the dish that is made with all the leftover parts. There’s an art to discretely flicking it off the side of your plate without looking like you’re doing it.  Make sure the dogs don’t give you away!

The fine art of losing a sale

Yesterday I went to visit my friend who is a vendor on the street outside where we used to live.  She sells banana-Q, a yummy banana fried in oil and brown sugar and served on a stick.  We were happily catching up on the latest happenings in life since I hadn’t seen her since our return from Canada.
A rather well-dressed man with slicked down hair appeared out of nowhere and flashed a toothy smile at us.  Judging by the stack of glossy pamphlets in his hand I had a feeling we were in for a sales pitch.  I was right.
“Good morning, Ma’am, I am speaking to you on behalf of so-and-so Fancy Spa Company,” Slick Street Sales Guy began in flawless, yet somehow slightly awkward, English.  He pulled out one of the pamphlets and laid it on my friend’s vendor cart.
I exchanged a look with my friend who raised her eyebrows at me slightly.  I could tell she wasn’t going to help me out.  “I’m not interested, sir.  But thank you,” I declined politely.
He pushed it.  “Oh Ma’am, we have five main and easily accessible locations as you can see listed here in our brochure.  Please may I tell you about a special deal we have for you, today only, ma’am.”  He paused briefly then plunged bravely on. 
“We have a special deal, ma’am, and free services worth thousands of pesos, all for the low, low price of 460 pesos if you would just fill out your name and number here in the space provided.  Let me tell you about the services you may avail of, ma’am.”
I glanced at my friend again.  She wasn’t even listening anymore and was quietly having a conversation with another friend nearby.  Sighing, I turned my attention back to Slick.
“First, ma’am, your free offer that I may draw your attention to is a free diamond peel service worth 1600 pesos.  This ma’am is yours for free, no questions asked.”  He looked at my face.  I tried to look pleasant but was failing to find value in what clearly sounded like a painful procedure.
“Next, ma’am, may I direct your attention here to the second free offer at our spa.”  I could tell he felt was on a roll.  “A free session of skin whitening, ma’am!”  He triumphantly pointed to the offer on the pamphlet. 
At this point I’m wondering if he is thinking about his potential client (me) at all.  I looked at him with round eyes and protested in shock, “Skin whitening?  Like a ghost?”  I was hoping that he would crack a smile.  Ok, I was actually hoping he’d stop the sales pitch.  But after one humorless chuckle he quickly recovered, “Perhaps you may give that part to a friend.”
Moving quickly on he said, “Perhaps you would like to avail yourself of other services at the spa then, ma’am.”  His eyes quickly scanned me up and down.  I knew where this was heading.
“Here, ma’am!”  He pointed to a list printed on the brochure.  “Did you know that we provide many services for your beautification, like for example, if you want to become sexy?”
I feel the need to interrupt here because I’m treading on some ground I haven’t yet covered on my blog:  Filipinos and their use of the word ‘sexy.’  I was shocked when I first came to the Philippines and heard this word used so often.  Like Inigo Montoya’s quote in the movie, “The Princess Bride,” I often feel the urge to say, “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.” 
I’m actually not completely sure what the word means to them, but my first clue that it wasn’t defined the way I thought was when my four year old daughter was called sexy.  Umm, ok…?  Somehow the word is linked to beauty in a way that is well, nonsexual.  (Really hoping I haven’t lost any sensitive readers at this point- it’s the culture here, folks, I’m just telling it like it is.)
It is also perfectly acceptable in this culture to discuss another’s weight and body image.  Imagine my shock when a stranger at the market declared that her vegetables from her stall would further me on my journey to “being sexy” (oh, that really endears me to you, thank you very much).  After attempting to discretely inquire among friends about the subject and beauty perceptions here I was told repeatedly that discussion of weight, even with a total stranger, is totally acceptable and doesn’t carry with it the connotations of judgment that we in our culture so quickly associate with the subject.  Indeed, it seems to be true- the topic is not taboo and thus we all must develop a very thick skin in order to survive here.
So having that clarification hopefully you have been able to pick your jaw up off the floor and we can continue the story with some understanding.
“Did you know,” he said, “that we provide many services for your beautification, like for example, if you want to become sexy?”  I knew where this was headed and steeled myself for some typical (or should I say ‘blunt’ by my culture’s standards) remarks on the subject.
“Hmmm,” I murmured, trying to warn him with a half-smile and a raised eyebrow that he was treading on dangerous ground.
“You know, ma’am, let’s say for example that you wanted to become smaller in your, um…” he eyed my torso, “your…” his hands skimmed the air in a curve, “you know, ma’am, in your abdomen.  To become slimmer.”  He paused.  “We have services for that, ma’am.”  His finger rested on the list of services.
I looked Slick straight in the eyes.  “Sir, buntis ako,” I stated flatly.  He ignored me and continued to mutter things about slimming and services.  “Sir!,” I interrupted more clearly, “Buntis ako!  I’m pregnant!”
After staring at me for a few moments he vainly attempted to continue but all I heard was unintelligible gurgles.  Recovery from that faux pas was apparently insurmountable even for Slick.  He finally gave a nod and a quick, “Ok ma’am; if you’re sure, ma’am,” conceding defeat.  He ambled away, presumably to find a more fitting candidate for his spa. 

Perhaps he needed a better training course on knowing his target demographic.  Rule number one: don’t offer slimming services to a pregnant woman.

Get used to disappointment…

I had two things I wanted to do this week while Dennis is up north checking out our home in the village.  Dentist visits for the girls, and a doctor’s appointment for me.

Dennis and I have this joke.  He says that if I lower my expectations until they are already met then I won’t ever be disappointed.  Sounds like a phlegmatic thing to say, doesn’t it?  It works, but it is also boring.

However, I’m considering taking Dennis’ advice again.

Twice now I’ve tried to get my kids in to the dentist and have failed.  I started by going to the office to figure out the procedure for getting in.  I was told the dentist’s hours start at 10:30 am every day, but they only take walk-ins.  Ok.  Sure.

So, two days ago, at 10 am we showed up. “Sorry, the dentist won’t be here until 1 pm, ma’am.  But normally the dentist arrives at 10:30 every day.”  Having kids that were tired and hungry, I decided to just go home.

This morning I was smart and called ahead at 10 am, just to be sure.  “Yes ma’am.  We don’t make appointments, but the dentist might come at 11:30.  You must come to the office at 11 because it is first come, first serve.  Today, ma’am, maybe the dentist will get here by 1 pm.  But if you come at 11 then you will be first on the list.”

Two hours early just so I hopefully will be first in the queue?  There’s got to be a better way.

Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment, just for me.  I had called ahead on Monday and scheduled it.  “Yes, we have you down for 2:30 on Wed.”

I get my kids watched so that I can go.  In a taxi at 1:30, fighting heavy traffic the whole way there, I arrive at 2:15 at the doctor’s office.  “Oh!  Valerie Easton!  I’m so sorry, but the doctor is at a convention today.”  At least I could enjoy the air conditioning in the taxis there and back again.

So, if I followed Dennis’ advice I guess I would just never make an appointment, or maybe just expect that it won’t happen the way I want it to?

Things I love about the Philippines, #11

Last night Dennis and I went out on a date and I remembered something else that I love about the Philippines.  No, I haven’t run out of material, I’ve just been super busy lately.  🙂

First, we went to Dairy Queen and got a little treat.  The fact that there is Dairy Queen here at all is a pretty cool thing about the Philippines, but the best part is yet to come!

Then, we walked down to the movie theater and bought our movie tickets.

Then, we went INTO the movie WITH the food we bought outside of the theater!  Yes!  It’s true!  At many theaters here it is A-OK to buy whatever you want and bring it in with you.

You want a burger?  Why not?  A grocery bag full of chocolate?  Sure!  Steak and salad?  Go for it!  But they may draw the line at a rolling buffet, I don’t know.

Things I like about the Philippines, #9

Filipinos are generally wonderfully creative and artistic.  One of my favorite things about living here is their love of music and their lack of inhibitions when it comes to singing.

There are two sides to this coin (think karaoke at midnight) but the part that I love and would like to emphasize is that it is perfectly acceptable to sing out loud almost anywhere.  One time I was riding along on a jeepney when suddenly the guy sitting across from me burst out into song.  Loudly.  I was the only one who looked twice.  
Many times I’ve been shopping in a store and a sales person in the same aisle as me suddenly chimes in with the music playing on the loud speaker system.  They have no qualms about that at all. 
I decided to experiment with this.  I was curious what people would do if a foreigner, who already sticks out like a sore thumb, burst out into song in the grocery store.  The answer?  Nothing!  They didn’t even look twice.  I love that!  Now I don’t have to feel weird about humming along to the radio or singing a song of my own.  
Now, isn’t that refreshing?  Who cares what other people think?  Enjoy life a little!  If your heart feels like singing, then sing!  We should all learn a lesson from the Filipinos on this one.
You may be wondering what happens if the person who is singing along can’t carry a tune.  Nothing.  They are welcome to sing too (think karaoke at midnight).  😀