Tuesday 21 April 2015
Harvest is done. Corn and rice dried and bagged and sold. Planting has begun. For Sweet Grecy that starts with about a million and a half liters of water and six hundred kilograms of rice seed. Work starts at Oh-Dark-Thirty, long before the sun rises and drives everybody underground. A courteous member of the barrio plays oom-paa-paa waltzes loud on his stereo. It is the Lenzon equivalent of Reveille. Then, the smell of cooking fires fills the air. Breakfast done, people pass the house in ones and twos on their way to the fields, wearing wide brimmed straw sombreros, and carrying improvised water bottles. They work harder than God-All-Mighty. He took a break on Sunday. They do not. Work knocks off about midday. The day is too hot beyond that. Many who do this work live on less than one-hundred dollars a year. Sounds grim, but in many ways, I think they are happier than we who suffer material richness. This is not my idle speculation or airy fairy ‘natural man’ stuff. I see it. Everybody has a rich social life. When work has finished and proper baths are taken (Filipinos are exceptionally clean, often bathing three times a day) they gather for cards or mahjong or bingo, or just to shoot the breeze till late afternoon when the smoke of cooking fires again fills the air. The dialect spoken here is Ibanag. It is full of long vowel sounds that tickle the ear. Drive ten miles and the dialect changes to Ilocano. The national language is Tagalog. Children grow up with two or three languages. I understand a little, but all are difficult for my tongue to articulate. Sweet Grecy speaks several dialects, as well as Tagalog, English, Mandarin Chinese, Dutch, and a little Arabic. That makes life simple for me.
Sometimes, in town, I cross paths with other foreigners. If we share a common language, we will chat a while, and perhaps exchange phone numbers. But, in spite of our promises, we never call. That just seems to be part of our personalities. Probably we are here to avoid those like us. Yeah, that makes sense to me. Otherwise, given the choice, why would we live in such a place where everything, work and play, is done under torturous heat of the sun. Where violent storms come, destroy crops, and destroy lives, and renegade armies prowl the nights looking for tasty morsels. I sleep with a 9mm Glock locked and loaded next to my ear, because it is the sensible thing to do. But when one thinks about it, what sensible white guy would live that way? Maybe the question carries its own answer. But when I reach that point in my thinking, sleep sneaks in the door and I am gone to paradise till tomorrow when the glory of it all starts again.
So, here I am, stuck in California, ruminating about a place I would rather be. Sweet Grecy will call in a couple hours. We will talk till her phone card runs out. Behind our conversation I will hear the laughter of others, I will hear the children at play, and I will know what it is that makes that dirt-poor place so beautiful. Maybe later this year, when some of this physical crap I am dealing with is put behind, I will revisit a place buried deep in my heart, and I will join the laughter and the children at play.
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