Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Playing house

I’m not a very scrupulous housekeeper. If, at the end of twenty-one months in my little Philippine abode, nothing important has burned down due to my carelessness, I will consider it a victory.

Actually, though, there is very little to burn. I have two pieces of furniture. One is the bed charitably left behind by my landlord. The other is a dirty, thrown-together table that used to sit outside and hold junk. I washed it off (“rinsed” might be a better word) and took it inside to hold my books, stacks of which were beginning to rise in unsteady piles towards the ceiling. The table, I suspect, has termites.

Due to this lack of almost anything inside the house, it’s not too difficult to keep clean: sweep up once in a while, wash dishes promptly, clean the counters. In actuality, I give my house a thorough sweeping once a month, timed to coincide with the visit of my landlord’s mother to collect my rent. This is the one time I put forth a sincere effort to make my house presentable, which mostly consists of cleaning the stuff that’s easy to clean and hiding the stuff that’s not. I know that my landlord’s mother will spread the news about the inept American playing at independent living, and it’s the fear of that which really makes me care at all.

Of course, my sincere effort isn’t really enough. Without fail, as soon as she has collected my rent and walked out the door, I notice the massive spiderwebs in every corner and the vines creeping through the window slats. She’s kind enough to not say too much about the state of things, although once she did make a comment in Ilonggo – a rare instance of sarcasm? – about the “beautiful grass.” I’ve cut said grass once in seven months. And even that one time, which began early in the morning before the earth had time to get too hot, I gave up partway when the tropical sun poked its head over my neighbor’s house and, delighted to see me, gave bountifully of its murdering rays.

I’ve met my landlord exactly once, so it’s hard to form an opinion about her, but I like my landlord’s mother. She’s kind enough to turn down the offer of coffee which I extend every month, perhaps knowing that accepting it would mean staying too long in a house that doesn’t really seem fit for staying in. What if she did accept – what would I tell her? To go sit on my bed while the water boils? Then I’d have to warn her about the bedbugs I believe I have living there. Besides, the quicker she’s out, the less time she has to examine the place. I keep the CR door tightly shut during her visits.

My place does have some charm, but it’s all concentrated in the banana trees in the tiny backyard. Aside from being the coolest kind of tree in existence (some trees here grow leaves at least ten feet long and three wide), they actually do grow bananas: I have a bunch maturing right now. I hate bananas, so I’ll just give them away – assuming I get to them first. They’re kind of hanging over the back fence, so I take it for granted that somebody will come by and pluck them before I can, since I don’t really know when I’m supposed to pick them in the first place. (I asked a coworker about this, prefacing it with my standard “So I have a stupid American question…”, but I still didn’t quite understand the answer.)

There’s also a well with a pump, which sounds picturesque. I bent the metal pump handle the first time I used it, but it doesn’t matter since the only water it brings up is actually mud. I’m hoping it’s just dry, because otherwise that means I’m operating a well incorrectly, and I’d like to hang on to at least a little self-respect.