The Pilipiñas Packet

Sojourn in The Philippines, 2019-2020

Volume 1.1, Cavite, October 31

I suppose it would be more accurate to call this newsletter the Tagaytay Report, but I love alliteration. 

I’ve just reread the first instalment, and what a jumbled mess that was. Typing, even on an iPad keypad (cf an iPhone) is not kind to me. I’m glad I’ve got my computer in front of me now.

We arrived in The Philippines October 25 after 25 hours of traveling from Ottawa via Montreal, Tokyo and Manila. It’s about the shortest route I’ve yet had but it’s still a long long day. I wonder how I will be able to tolerate this endurance traveling in a few more years?? Fight was uneventful except for the hour long holding pattern over Tokyo through turbulent post typhoon weather. I still have fingernail marks on my arm from Carmen’s clutching fingers.

I’m grateful to Carmen’s son-in-law who met us at the Aquino Airport (Manila) with his big Isuzu van, and shuttled us to our first stop, the thoroughly modern hotel, The Bayleaf, in General Trias, the next town to Trece Martires in Cavite[†] Province (Carmen’s current domicile). Our plan was spend six days there, then visit the old homestead in Samar for four days, and then finally check in to our condo apartment in Tagaytay.

[†]Cavite has played a rich role in the history of The Philippines. The city was named after the Thirteen Martyrs of Cavite, a group of prominent Caviteños who were convicted of rebellion and executed by the Spanish colonial government on September 12, 1896 in the old port city of Cavite during the Philippine Revolution.

I say the next town but this is  a hard thing to determine. Cavite Province is mostly semi-urban sprawl. Shacks and shanties, and tiny tattered storefronts, line the two lane highway continuously, and then traffic, already treacherous for dogs, ‘tricycles’, motorcycles, pedestrians and Jeepneys, slows to a crawl. That’s when you know you are in a more built-up urban centre. You might be surprised to know that for all the traffic congestion there are almost no traffic lights; left turns and through streets are adventures in demolition derby. Yet surprisingly, you rarely see an accident and few damaged vehicles! General Trias is only a 15 minute drive to Trece Martires, but usually takes 30-40 minutes.
The ‘Capital Hills’ subdivision in Trece where Carmen’s tiny house is located, and where three of her five kids (and 5 of her 7 grandchildren) reside, and her sister, and brother-in-law and maybe four of their seven children and their spouses and their kids, plus a few cousins from the extended family (also ‘refugees’ from Samar province) who live in Trece too. I haven’t met them all and can’t even tell you how many in total there are. And also two of Carmen’s former neighbours – her best friends. Carmen’s own family (about 15 of them), joined us at JollyBee on Saturday night in the large modern mall nearby. You can imagine my social capacity was being thoroughly stretched, especially as hardly any of them speak English much better than my Tagalog. I was thanking myself for deciding I couldn’t  live in Trece for five months and was already looking forward to seeing our condo in Tagaytay. Carmen is wise enough not to bring everything upon us at once and spread the extended family encounters out over the whole week: dinners and lunches with just a couple of adults at a time.
We went to Sunday Service in Carmen’s home church and she was warmly welcomed back by the small congregation, mostly comprised of those same family and friends.

I was especially eager to see Carmen’s great niece again, the one I had met the previous December, the one who reminded me of Carmen herself and made me wonder what her life would be like. Her life is still ahead of her but now it includes a baby. One of these women is the infant’s Mother. I’ll let you guess which one.

I had been to this spartan little church last December so I knew what to expect: think Southern Baptist, first half gospel singing, second half sermon, Praise the Lord, two hours in all. It still troubles me to think these people who have very little should be grateful to the Lord for all He has given them. I explained to the minister I was Unitarian, but not that I was agnostic. He didn’t know there was a Unitarian movement in Philippines, (based in Negros, with a small congregation in Manila), or probably what Unitarianism is.
Sunday afternoon Carmen’s best friend Lani, drove us up to Tagaytay to check out the area and the condo. As advertised Tagaytay is about 5 degrees cooler than in Trece, with a good breeze. It felt like Ottawa in May, though it is mostly overcast most of the time. Elevation is only 2100 ft above sea level but that makes a big difference compared to Trece and Manila, and a [often stiff] breeze blows across Lake Taal to the town almost constantly. I decided this might be okay. The condo is small for two bedrooms but will serve our purposes. I rested easier that night knowing that the following week we would be settled. More on the condo in the next newsletter.

Monday brought one of the most amazing experiences I’ve yet had in The Philippines, Baraclan Market. It’s a massive set of warehouses near the airport, crammed with hundreds of small vendors who are selling clothes, shoes, sandals, watches, bags, health care products, you name it, wholesale in bulk to hundreds of small business buyers who will take the goods back to their own neighbourhoods and sell retail to their neighbours. This is basically how the Philippine economy works: thousands and thousands of [very] small businesses selling something to their neighbours and the occasional passersby. 

The most shocking thing for me was when Carmen told me that for >15 years, she came here, by Jeepney bus with one of her kids in tow, to buy and resell stuff just to keep her family alive. I have huge respect for the sacrifices she had to make for her little family, and such a contrast, evidently, to the life of privilege she had before she left her husband. I hope those young adults now realize what she did for them and why she wants to have her own life back now.

By Thursday, Halloween, we checked out of Bayleaf and headed to Tacloban to visit the homestead and the Santa Rita Samar side of the family, including the dead. All Souls Day is a big deal in Catholic Philippines and Carmen wanted to honour her mother. I was in for yet another amazing, culturally challenging experience. More about that in the next newsletter.

Best regards, stay tuned for your next instalment, soon.

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