Losing Yourself in Another Philippines

Catigan Road
I was in a place called Catigan, Toril, Davao City. For those that don’t know, that’s in Southeastern Mindanao, the southern island of the archipelago. It’s difficult to try and describe a place when you’re not there anymore. My biggest frustration was not being able to write whilst I was there. Of course, in reality I could write, lack of computer was not really an excuse as I suddenly remembered that possibly, the greatest dramatist of all time, William Shakespeare, actually never had a computer. Yes, I discovered an old fashioned concept and long forgotten technique, pen and paper.

If Willie can do it, so can I. After all I come from a place only 40 miles away from Stratford upon Avon so we’re made of the same stuff surely. OK, maybe I’m not made of the same stuff as Willie as whilst using the old quill and ink, I only kept notes. I was so used to the luxury of editing, cutting, pasting and deleting some of the poorer stuff I had written, I struggled with the idea. It does kind of bring me to the point of this post.

I had gone back to basics. I had become someone who had become totally reliant on the modern world. I have lived in a world with computers; suddenly using a pen is such an ordeal. I had arrived in a place far removed from the relatively easy city life I was accustomed to.

If in need to cook, I turn on the gas; if I need water for drinking, then it’s in a blue bottle that is delivered. When I need to wash, I turn on a tap. I need light, and then I flick a switch. Naturally, it’s what you’re used to and when modern convenience is taken away, only then are you aware that you have gone soft.

Another Kind of Adaption

So let me tell you about what I came to. Firstly, I stayed with a family in a house with no electric; water was a 15-minute walk away downhill and 25-minute return when laden with water uphill coming back.

I’ve lived in many places that was fairly basic but the difference was, this was a different kind of basic, at least as far as my experiences of life go. I had never experienced no electric, best of all, no toilet, no water at hand from a tap, and no gas or electric to cook. Straight away, I realized I have to toughen up and boy, do I need to adjust. I became completely aware that no matter how intrepid I thought I was (not very), I really had become a creature of convenience, a city boy through and through.

It took me back to my early times here and all the awkwardness of not knowing much of anything that is going on around you. Sure, I had adapted to the convenient life in the Philippines, this was adapting all over again. I really felt like a tourist all over again. All eyes were on me and I felt like a buffoon and I was sensing the amusement of the locals watching me puffing and panting down slippery paths just to get home. This was to become a mind and life-altering experience.

There’s A Fat White Man on the Purok

So the big bloke bounced into Catigan, Toril in Davao City. I had come to a beautiful, peaceful and totally different part of the Philippines to what I had experienced. I was to come face to face with some stark realities about myself. I didn’t want to stand out looking awkward that’s for sure, but arriving about 16 lbs overweight suggests I wasn’t helping myself in that regard.

My first visit to Catigan was in early March 2013. It is situated at the foot of Mt. Apo. As you ride the tricycle up the Catigan road, you feel it drop a degree in temperature every 2 or 3 kilometres. By the time you had completed the 8 kilometres uphill from Toril to Catigan, the climate was noticeably cooler. I struggled with my bag down a path to where my hosts lived. I got welcome help from a guy who gave me my first twinge of embarrassment at myself.

There I was struggling to wheel my suitcase down a bumpy path which was just not designed for suitcase wheels, but I still tried. A guy just came up, put my suitcase on his shoulder and strolled up a steep bank with such ease that it made me look and feel really weak and useless. I didn’t like what I had become. I was 54 at the time but it wasn’t age that was giving me difficulties, it was being overweight and unconditioned that was the problem. At this point, I had no idea how I was going to adapt.

I had come to see my twin sons and their mother. The twins were just only 2 years old at this time. I had come to bond and live the life they were living. My sons were a lot tougher than dad that’s for sure.

I arrived at the family home, was greeted by Papa Lolo and Lola Ate and then taken for what to me at the time was a terrifying walk back up the same path, but this time in complete blackness. We were aided by a dim torch on a lighter and I wondered how the hell anyone copes with this. It seemed it was nothing to my hosts whereas I could barely walk for tripping, falling down holes and not seeing where the hell I was stepping.

I was amazed how easy the mother of my twins found it to negotiate the blackness, the terrain and manage to not trip over. In the dark, coming towards us was another dim flashlight. My instinct was who the hell is this especially when it became apparent that the holder of the flashlight was stumbling down the path. I could tell whoever it was couldn’t hold their balance so straight away I deduced it was someone that was drunk.

Should I be wary? I observed my companion and detected not one flicker of concern. As we drew closer, it became apparent it was someone she knew. Overtime, it became obvious she knew everyone; that’s how life is in this close community. I was to experience many lessons about trust; this was my first. In the blackness, we had a friendly encounter with the drunken man who warmly greeted me in English. He became known to me after as the repeating man as he held my hand repeating himself over and over and it was no problem at all.

I spent my first night under the most beautiful sky watching fireflies. Being a few kilometres up the Catigan road seemed to take you nearer the stars. They seemed so close and clear skies meant incredible night skies and you felt you could reach up and touch them. My first night was a mixture of emotions. I felt happiness to be with my sons, but at the same time dreading ever needing to take a crap. I don’t think I recall ever not having a toilet to use. The dread constipated me for a week almost.

So here I was the fat white bloke on the Purok. I had a lot of learning ahead of me and I awaited the morning keenly. At this point, I couldn’t get my head around not having a toilet. That was another bridge to cross when the time comes.

This was my opening night in another Philippines. I knew I had a long way to go, much to learn, a lot of adapting to do but I was up for it. My puffing and panting state had embarrassed me enough and made me aware of how soft I had become. I spent a good two weeks watching and letting people accommodate me.

I suspect that my inability to do something as simple as take a crap without the convenience of a toilet, said volumes about me. I know it’s not exactly compulsive reading, but strange as it may sound, it was a huge psychological hurdle I needed to get over. I did progress, in fact, I made huge strides but at this point, I was pathetic.


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Filed under Culture, Impressions, Philippines, Travel

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