What if I told you I met The Strokes? Pretty impressive, right? What if I said The Strokes came to my center and had a meet ‘n’ greet with my adoring kids, and afterwards I hung out in their guest house, directing the official documentarians for the event – who happened to be my photography students? Well, replace “The Strokes” with “Sponge Cola” and all of that is true.
Granted, nobody outside of the Philippines is likely to have heard of Sponge Cola, but within the country they’re apparently a big deal. Last week they played a concert in Aklan, followed by another in Bacolod. In-between times they had a sleep at my workplace, which seems baffling unless you understand that my center is always on the lookout for big-name endorsers.
Unfortunately their visit was actually pretty tepid. They arrived late and tired, having endured an oh-so-exhausting four-hour trip from Aklan in a private van, no doubt with all the booze, blow and Choco Mucho they could desire. My kids met them at the entrance and led them to our stage, where they didn’t do much except sit while people took photos. I think everyone was hoping they’d be willing to give a little private concert, but no go.
Afterwards they retired to our guest house, where they had a (only slightly) more dignified reception from staff and a youth representative. This was the best part, because while a crowd of kids crowded around the door trying desperately to catch a glimpse of the godlike beings, I smoothly ushered my photography students inside so they could record the blessed evening. (One of the lessons I’m trying to pass on to them is that a nice camera and conviction will get you a backstage pass to any event in this country.)
Then ol’ Sponge Cola ordered some alcohol, which is forbidden at my center except apparently for VIPs, and we left them alone. They left early the next morning to little fanfare. As they pulled away I gave them a salute which I hoped looked ironical.
And the reason I happened to be around so early that morning is that I was preparing to attend a baptism of a little girl named Carla, to whom I was going to be a ninong, a godfather. Carla is the daughter of one of my coworkers. She’s chubby and blows impressive spit bubbles.
The way I found out I was going to be a godfather was the same way I find out most things here - from a third party. A few of my other coworkers informed me about four days earlier that the mother wanted to ask me but was too shy to make the request directly, so they did it for her. I like this coworker so I accepted, although I was well aware that the main reasons for the request were my nationality and white skin. Many Peace Corps volunteers get the same privilege.
It was a mass baptism, both in terms of procedure and numbers: Carla’s nametag proclaimed her baby #68. The two priests each treated their half of the church as a one-man assembly line, making four passes down the aisles to do various crossings, blessings and waterings.
Wisely, the baptismal mass had been scheduled for the same day as the local fiesta, and afterwards we gorged ourselves at my coworker’s house. Some of my kids accompanied us and we whiled away a long afternoon with discussions about why Philippine mangoes are better than the ones we get in the US, arguments about gender-specific English adjectives, and a brief history lesson on the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Business as usual.