My first few weeks in my new setting was to reveal much about myself as well as opening up my understanding about the Philippines. I have lived in provinces before but it was always in a town setting. I had not experienced this side of the Philippines. My abilities to adapt were being tested. I needed to get over my first big hurdle, yes I’m back to the unpleasant subject of having a crap as nature intended. It weighed on my mind heavily but time came after walking around for close on a week with my bum cheeks tightly clenched, that nature had to take its course.
Why do I keep returning to this issue, I hear you ask? Well, for the simple reason that it brings it home to us by relating this simple fundamental need to how much we have become spoilt in our convenient world, yet for possibly millions of Filipinos, this is everyday life.
It is a crude basic I know but it brings home to many of us how difficult life is for others. I will also add that most people there do have toilet facilities and it was only my first month that I had to endure not having that luxury.
I shall spare you the details so let’s just say I managed. As quiet and peaceful as it was, I still couldn’t get my head around the lack of privacy. I set off with a large metal digging tool, a bucket of water and soap and it took me an age to select my spot. I kept having visions of someone walking past. I actually had trouble adjusting to squatting; (I don’t mean the illegal occupation of private land). It was difficult keeping my balance. Not only that, I was told all about the Philippine Cobra which resides in these parts. Naturally, I was a little paranoid about that especially when some of the best spots to perform my business were in cobra territory.
You’re used to what you’re used to and I hated it and wanted to give up food to relieve myself from the stress of being a reluctant nature boy. However, I crossed that bridge as I had no choice other than to get used to it. It got easier but I was never really comfortable with it.
Hiding behind my fatness
I spent far too long not contributing in helping with the everyday chores. I left the people I was staying with to get on with all that and was all too aware what poor physical shape I was in.
Every day, water needed to be carried back from the spring for drinking and washing. I knew it was going to be hard so I shirked the tasks. Same goes for chopping wood for the cooking. I simply came from a world where I’d never really needed to do it. However, shame caught up with me and after a few weeks, I started contributing towards helping with these everyday important chores which are essential when living in a place like Catigan.
That was the start of a voyage of self discovery. I was fat, unfit and basically dumb as to some very basic things. I was aware I could be likely to stand out like a big colonial sore thumb. I grabbed the water container so after I had washed at the spring, I could bring back valuable water for drinking. It was one hell of a long walk uphill, and I puffed and panted whilst praying nobody would come past to hear me wheezing. I never really got used to being the human fertilizer spreader, but the rest was to come a little easier, eventually anyway.
I spent my evenings watching the stars and wincing at the videoke machine that was destroying the peace. It seemed so sad that they saw fit to have to sing in such a quiet and peaceful place. I would look up and even Mount Apo was wincing. It will take a visitor about 36 hours to realize that the many Filipinos are obsessed with videoke. It was certainly no different here. That was the hot spot of this part of Catigan, a sari-sari store/videoke bar with a pool table. On occasion, the pigs being tied up and taken to market sounded better, but that’s Filipinos and videoke. For such a shy people as they often are, they lose all inhibition when given a microphone; Catigan people are no different.
Still the videoke wasn’t ruining the peace all the time, and it was heaven sat out in the dark watching fireflies under beautiful starry nights and most of all the peace. Five o’clock in the morning, Catigan would start to come to life. At first light, you would see people go to the muddy ponds where the carabaos were left to bathe or untied from a stake where they had been happily chomping on the vegetation that was everywhere.
I had little idea about how the place functioned, exactly how they made a living and whether they were working for themselves or others. My first visit I just watched taking in this completely different way of life, I wasn’t ready to ask questions.
Quieter daytime moments were taking gentle walks amongst some of the most incredible breathtaking scenery and above all, slowing myself down. You don’t realize how much city life makes you rush and how living at a faster speed makes you impatient and anxious. Here, you instinctively slow down as there simply is no rush, which was a good feeling.