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10 - To the Barrio

Journey 9


The first thing after my shower I go to the Mercury Drugstore just across the road for some Imodium for my stomach.
They sell tablets individually - not everyone can afford to buy complete packets - so I bought four - and some fresh milk. I noticed as I was weaving through the traffic crossing the road that Mayen, with a towel wrapped around her head, was peeping out of the hotel window at me to see if I was safe - I waved at her. Had a cigarette outside the hotel soaking up the hubbub of the hot morning.

We checked out of the hotel.
I thought that our original plan was to get a cab to the bus terminal and find a bus that would take us as far as Mayen's province - but all the dialect going on in the cab was Mayen negotiating with Ado to drive us all the way - and she had arranged for him to come and pick us up and return us to the airport on the Thursday. So we loaded our bags into Ado's cab and he drove us off to the Tacloban branch of McDonalds - McDoh as they call it - for breakfast.

Still rather cautious of how my stomach was feeling I ordered something safe - rice, egg, Longganisa (or something vaguely meaty) and coffee.

We purchased some oranges and Fuji apples outside on the steps - drove off to visit a grocery store for water and provisions for our stay.

After this we headed off for the very south of the Island - first taking a slight detour to see the San Juanico bridge - a very long structure that joins the island of Samar to the island of Leyte.

The journey to Pintuyan takes us about three hours with stops for photos. We wind through the small villages and communities scattered about the mountainous terrain, travelling south - always lush with some stunning scenery.

We eventually cross the small Wawa bridge connecting mainland Southern Leyte to Panaon Island - a small island of only four municipalities: Lilo-an, Pintuyan, San Ricardo and San Fransisco.
The island suffered dreadfully in recent years with whole barrios being swept away by severe landslides with great loss of life.
There is now a new road that sweeps over the bridge and continues down the island - almost finished - but ever improvising - the hot white concrete surface is already used to dry coconuts for the copra trade - every so often we had to drive around a great swathe of drying coconut halves.

The view from Wawa bridge, named after the serious whirlpools that occur in the channel between - Panaon Island on the left - Southern Leyte on the right.

Mayen on the Wawa bridge - behind her is Southern Leyte. There are no taxis here on the island - hardly any cars - the transport is motorcycle - or habal-habal - a motorcycle with an extended rear seat. Our first port of call is at Mayen's sister's house where we will be staying.

We are greeted by Susana, Mayen's mother - I notice the local greeting - bringing the offered hand up to touch the forehead - and the many members of Mayen's close and extended family - though not all - some are at the baringay - we are in the municipality of Pintuyan at the moment - some are travelling from other islands to arrive later - and one brother, I learn, is still missing at sea - now for 3 or 4 years - he failed to return home after a storm as he was out fishing on his own at night - leaving behind a wife and two children - both girls, who live in the baringay in Mayen's family house together with two other brothers, one who is "bakla" - gay - and walks around the house with a padded bra [I think] and a dress - it is just accepted here that some are born to be "bakla" - Mayen tells me she was the first to notice this when he would always prefer to play with her dolls - altogether, a confusing multitude of people - I will take a long time to learn who is who and even longer to become familiar with their names.
I am quizzed briefly by Mayen's mother about my intentions for her daughter - have I any children? - she is eventually happy, satisfying herself that I am a good man - I am to stay good.

Once we had settled in, said adios to Ado, we were driven 3 up on a motorcycle to the barangay - to the family house, where I met Mayen's father, we were joined by his only brother, Mayen's uncle, the widow of the lost brother, another brother and Mayen's sister in law and a variety of children, suckling babies, a bewildering assortment of family members.

I am being stared at constantly - veiwed as an oddity, a celebrity even - & worryingly - a source of money. They are so poor here but have peace, abundant food - coconuts, papayas, mangos, bananas, fish - a veritable harvest from the ocean - and a way of life, uncomplicated and unchanged for many years - apart from superficially.

We visit another house, a few doors along the road, where Mayen's grandmother lives and then we take ourselves off for a walk down through coconut groves to the sea as it starts to rain gently.

We bring with us a fan from the house and eventually find shelter in a hollow underneath the roots of a coconut tree on the shore. Mayen, concerned that I get my shorts dirty on the rock I was about to sit on, as it was covered in ash from a recent fire that someone had lit there, placed the fan down for me to sit on. Of course, we left it behind when we went back to the house.

We talk and talk about our future - Mayen is noticeably happier now she's back at home.

Returning to the family house for the evening meal, I am shocked - considering I had been asked to pay for the feast - that I was only served a meagre chicken wing and a small spoonful of rice - while the others piled in - mostly eating with their hands - to helping after helping - I was frightened by the spectre of the golden goose again - later rationalising that I had just been offered a taster, in case I found it disagreeable. I awaited an invitation for more - as my rapidly emptied plate was signalling a very obvious message - but none came. I soon got the hang of things at meal times - just piling into the food - it was delicious - it was a celebration - a wonderful happy gathering of the tribe, the clan.

A thunderous storm was breaking - the most torrential rain and the loudest booming I had ever heard echoing around the hills.
There is an electronic keyboard tucked up against the wall in the room - really the house is just the one main room - kitchen at one end, dining space in the middle and lounge seating at the entrance by the front door. Other small rooms all adjoin this one, with just a curtain for privacy. The windows have no glass and electric fans try their hardest to cool us.

I decide to ask if I can play the keyboard and discover that Mayen's sister in law is a singer - she used to sing in bars in Manila - so we got going with one or two songs - he, he. I think Mayen was impressed - she likes to sing as well. Oh my goodness how I love that girl.

The storm passes in time for our motorbike ride back to where we are staying - and a mercifully refreshing ride it is, to be blasted and buffeted by the air as we are driven along through the night - dogs asleep on the still warm road surface don't flinch or move out of the way.

We shower before we retire - outside the house I enquire of Mayen if we are sharing the same bed - yes is the answer - but we must keep silent with our passions.
The shower was an open plastic dustbin filled with water at those times of day when it's available - a small plastic saucepan with which to dowse oneself - simple but effective - I notice no toilet paper is available - so it's dowsing all round then - I'll soon get the hang of this.

I help Mayen's mother erect the mosquito net around our bed "Only in the Philippines" she said repeatedly - in an amused tone - we chuckled together. I think that generally there was a feeling of embarrassment, for their skills at speaking English, for the unfinished build quality of their homes and by an overall concern that I would be comparing it all to the "luxurious" standards of the western world.
Well, to be quite honest, we are spoilt rotten - we don't know half the hardships these people have, we take things so much for granted - all our amenities and facilities and we still are so ready to complain.
This is a really refreshing change - the sort of feeling you get when camping - making do, making the most out of things - they're only superficial things after all - life is about happiness, babies and food - only in the Philippines. Mayen and I get tearful in bed - contemplating that final hour when we have to say goodbye - it is too unbearable - we refuse to think about it - it will just happen in its own present - bahala na.

I hold a fragile cup in trembling hands,
Its content, this life's greatest treasure,
Fearful lest one drop be spilled,
The loving cup, once passed, demands
Of care and trust, beyond all measure,
Until each thirsting heart is filled.

Click the flags to read about all the alarm bells.


Tim Cumperhttp://www.bebo.com/Ellumbra

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