The past week has been somewhat of a flurry of activity – I’ve accompanied my kids to a song and dance competition, a children’s rights activity day (for Children’s Month, October), a Halloween party at my center, and a little celebration for my birthday on November 1.
I’ve seen dozens and dozens of dance performances since I’ve been here, and I’ll see countless more before my time is up. This one was slightly different, however – rather than bog-standard hip-hop performances, this one showcased traditional dances And by traditional, I mean “highly influenced by and on occasion taken directly from the Americans and Spanish.” My own kids performed an intricate dance involving the synchronized movements of dancers between moving bamboo logs. There’s a name for the dance but I can’t recall it at the moment. It’s very impressive when done right.
Later I asked my coworker a question about the performance. I knew the dance was from pre-colonial times; “So why, if the dance is supposed to be traditional,” I asked, “do the dancers use makeup to whiten their skin?”
She couldn’t answer. Another coworker pointed out another incongruity: the Iloilo Dinagyang festival is supposed to celebrate the Philippines’ native history, but they also use the occasion to venerate Catholic saints. This kind of cultural mixing is everywhere in this country, and more often then not no attempt is made to reconcile or even explain it. Many Filipinos, despite professing a devotion to Christianity, also believe in mystic healing and supernatural beings. (Their “aswang” are particularly grotesque; Filipinos often call them “witches", but they’re a far cry from the wart-nosed old ladies of the Western imagination. They have the form of beautiful women, but from the waist down they have no bodies, just entrails streaming along as they fly. They have long tongues which they extend down the throats of pregnant women to eat their babies, which, if you pass by the anatomical impossibilities here, is pretty spooky. Other popular creatures include kapri, which are tree-like beings, and “white ladies,” who – well, actually I don’t know what the white ladies are supposed to do. I think they just make token appearances outside windows late at night.)
Moving on. The Children’s Month activity was long, long, long, but kids from my center got a chance to perform for kids from other places, which is always good. Our youth band was mostly a miss thanks to faulty sound equipment, but nobody seemed to particularly care.
Our Halloween party, which was actually the day before Halloween, was loud and crowded, and I left early because I was dead tired and sick of people screaming at me over the music to take their picture. As soon as I take out my camera here, the clamoring begins. It’s constant, as if your ears are being buzzed by something loud, shrill and obnoxious, like The B-52s.
On Halloween I went to the city and blew a week’s worth of food money to buy candy for my kids, all hundred-plus of them. I barely made it to my center before bedtime; I was waylaid by an extravagantly drunk neighbor who insisted I come over for a drink and chicken slathered in ketchup.
On my birthday – my sixth straight, I realized, away from home – I was surprised by a little celebration my kids and a coworker had arranged. It was nice, mostly because it involved no dance numbers, no speeches, and no surprise announcements that I would be responsible for providing entertainment. We spent the afternoon eating, taking pictures and playing games. One of my girls drew a portrait of me as a gift and several others wrote me letters. They contain such nuggets of wisdom and half-English as the following:
- “Always remember that times cannot erase the friendship that your heart recorded.”
- “We hope that you do not change your attitude because I like to be fun with you. Sorry if my writing is so ugly.”
- “Many learnings I’ve learned to you because I like American People.”
- “Thank you 4 being one of my arch enemy. Hehehe”