Maris asked when I was coming over. She is seven, held my hand the night before when Efrena was practicing a traditional Philippine dance to prepare for the upcoming winter festival. We sat together at the basketball benches watching the mayor’s wife bellow instructions at the dancers, telling them to lift their arms higher or emote more. Maris’s house is next door’s to Efrena’s, and in fact Maris is related to her. Third or fourth removed cousins. I had to correct Maris gently. “You know, I’m coming over to see your momma, Maribel, too. And you..” My smile was tender and encouraging. She’s a willowy girl, loves the color pink and will grow to be a beauty. Her hair hangs long, close to mid-back and reminds me of buns fresh from the oven – golden brown. I looked forward to knowing Maris and her family. After gobbling a breakfast of eggs and rice at Efrena’s, I lifted that juggernaut that is my backpack and opened the creaky fence for the last time. Smoke from stove fires carried in the air. It was 9 a.m. and already the orange disc in the sky blazed, causing a tiny bit of sweat to form on my skin. I maneuvered down the dirt path, noting how lovely the colorful parols were, gleaming against the sunshine. They were rainbows captured in stars. An obscene amount of cocks cawed at the back end of Efrena’s house, held by nets constructed from bamboo. The nets were shaped like rounded colanders, in this case to capture a preened animal used for God knows what, not slippery pasta, steaming and piping from the stove. A tautly muscled young man was their minder, at times […]
It was a concrete A-frame bungalow covered with a corrugated metal roof. A well-manicured, yet small lawn bloomed with aloe vera and potted flowers – their luscious, red petals open to the sky. Despite its modest scale, it was still pleasing to the eye. The wooden gate buckled under the pressure of my fingers as I worked the latch to gain entrance. Sun warmed my back –I could hear roosters clucking and the buzzing of insects. Two wonderstruck children hovered by the fence, clad in tees, shorts and flip flops cataloguing my every movement. This small, Asian woman – saddled down with a burgundy pack – it’s length dwarfing her from head to hip stepped at the front door and knocked. It opened with a creak. A stout woman in a flowery shirt and knee-length madras shorts smiled widely. “Jeannie! So glad you here.. Come in, come in!” A flood of welcome warmed my cheeks. My hostess’s name is Efrena. She pulled back the door to allow room for my pack to fit through the frame. I stepped into a room with a concrete floor that looked stained by charcoal. The walls were of the same material. Paint hadn’t been applied to mask the state of an unfinished house. A glass table with plastic chairs was flanked by a television heaped with trinkets found in markets. It was playful and childlike. A shelving unit held a tuner, a disc player for a karaoke setup and a DVD player. Her center of worship was evident where a lone, glass case stood. Inside it were ceramic figures of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus – a picture of the adult Jesus was tacked to the outside.
“15 pigs , that was my order.” The only evidence that anything occurred were the successive rows of gray ash smudged into the roasting pit. Joachim was talking about lechón, a traditional dish of roasted pig that’s served for special occasions. December 8 in Bohol marks the fiesta of the Immaculate Conception. This kind of fiesta is not of the Spanish variety. The names may be similar, but the rituals have distinct differences. Credit goes to the Spanish for introducing Catholicism to the Philippines from the moment of colonial rule from 1521 to 1898. The Philippines has the largest Catholic worshippers in Southeast Aisa, alongside East Timor. On December 8, households in Bohol decorate their sitting rooms, set up large dining tables and cook all night to mark the Virgin Mary’s ascent from original sin. I found myself outside Joachim’s home by invitation only. The unending benefits of staying with my friend, Anna are precisely opportunities like this. It’s doubtful a hostel stay would have produced a fiesta on my lap. Joachim’s was the last house on the fiesta rounds.