Sunday, July 15, 2007

Waking The Dead with Videoke


Every month, at least, I cross a wake in progress during my late afternoon jogs. Tell-tale signs: a tarp draped from one side of the street to the other, folding chairs placed directly in the middle of the street, the smell of lechon (roasted pig), rice and pancit (rice noodles and vegetables); a rolling cart t.v. with a microphone (videoke) plugged into an endless extension cord and a door ajar where inside the open casket lies for morners to pay their last respects to the departed and close family.

All who even remotely knew the person are encouraged to drop by. It is often a way for the community to offer their support to the morners.

Funerals are very expensive and many people can’t afford to bury their dead even though most family plots merely require burying the bodies right on top of each other in the family graves. And some families play bingo during the wake to try and raise money for the funeral.

All graves are above ground due to constant flooding in the area, so they require not only a plot and a coffin but a fenced in room above the ground where the body can be sealed within. One volunteer told me that if people cannot pay the “rent” for their family member’s grave the body is unearthed and tossed above ground. This totally turned my stomach until my former host mother assured me that it is illegal to leave a human body exposed to the elements until it has reach a certain level of decay that would prevent the remains from being a health hazard. How horrible?! Can you imagine being already in debt because of funeral expenses and than having to worry on top of that as to whether you can keep your family members’ remains underground. How embarrassing would it be to have this happen and how sad for the person whose remains it may happen to….It seems so inhumane and un-Filipino to let peoples’ pains be dredged up in such a physical way again just because they don’t have the money. But this is a country struggling to get by so I suppose there is only so much funeral services can do to help poor families without endangering their own with complete impoverishment, tamat (correct)?)

Although I read recently in book called “Holy Cow, that a group of Indians who follow the … faith believe it is better to leave the human body to the elements……)

I went to my first wake in mid June. The mother of my host father’s employee had passed away.

Beneath the awning people sitting in plastic chairs staring at the videoke machine as a child of about seven sings, “I Believe I can Fly” in an endearing half-singing and half-talking way. Older uncles and cousins sit encouraging the youngster with their good-natured smiles and low chuckles, partly laughing at him but mostly laughing with him.

There is a record book set on a podium outside the door for guests and mourners to sign. Just behind the book is a clear plastic box full of mass cards with the image of an austere, Virgin Mary holding a huge bouquet of roses in her arms.

The house is dimly lit. An open casket sits against the far wall on a rolling cart with gold-leafed joints, flanked by two huge wreaths of purple, yellow, orange orchids bearing glittery sashes saying things like “Nanay, we love you”. Leaning against the coffin one a recent picture of “nanay” as an elderly woman in a flowered sleeveless house dress smiling gently, quietly and directly next to it is a black and white photo of a 20-something girl sporting a long bob and a demur smile, the curl in her lips revealing her high expectations for the future, maybe even one outside her small hometown wher she was born and died.

Many people inside are sitting around the living room and dining room, leaning close, talking quietly to each other while a house servant walks around again and again with trays pineapple juice and ?, a congeled rice and brown sugar wrapped in banana leaves.

In the kitchen, the mood is lighter. There is a group of young adults standing around talking about life in Manila where one girl, a recent college graduate is living. We discuss the places to go and things to do in Manila. She knows little about the city other than the bar scene. We have a spirited conversation about what is considered slang and what is considered common terms in English. I ask the same about Filipino but they mostly try to get me to repeat curse words that bring peals of laughter to the group.

American Pie
The students in one of the classes I observed this week talked me into singing a song. I sang the first two stanzas of American Pie. Not the wisest choice but it was the only thing I could think of off the top of my head. (“brough my Chevy to the levy…./good old’ boys drinkin’ and whiskey and rye” in a high school classroom hopefully won’t get me in trouble”.) It was highly embarrassing. They wanted me to show them how Americans dance too. There’s only so much I will do for my country. (Joke lang.)

lFriends Find Me

I decided to take a different route to school today and find myself trailed by eyes and a river of chatter that grows louder the farther I move down the street. I can see women and men holding their children to them with a palm pressing them towards their parents knees. They are peering out at me from behind the 4X4 screen of their sari-sari storefront. I walk by, exchanging smiles and “magandang umaga” adults standing in their doorways, behind the 4X4 screened in window of their store front-style sari-sari. I smile, greet them and make eye contact with as many people as I can.

As I reach the gray river smelling of rotting fish and human feces (throwing dirty diapers in the river is still a bad habit my neighbors haven’t overcome, yet), I hear the ticker-tap of 10 pairs of plastic flips flops (tsinelas) pounding on the pocked and muddy asphalt. There is breathless giggling behind me and then the inevitable question, “What is your name” in English. I yell my name and then the responding question, “Ano pangalan mo?” I stop at the corner, watch them catch up to me and then race past them in the opposite direction, they chase me, I turn back around and run in the other direction. Their laughter becomes breathless and apostrophed with high-pitched squeals and “hoyis”, an expression used to get someone’s attention. I talk to them a little and then run back to the house. I finally feel at home in Siniloan.

Meet (06/19/06) Leen Choi, a Korean volunteer it is a relief to compare notes about my experience in Siniloan with someone who has lived here…especially after working on a Saturday..not my favorite thing to do especially when I’m mostly just sitting at my desk studying Tagalog and occasionally observing class.

On the way home, I surrounded by kids in the neighborhood who are jumping off a pile of old asphalt on the side of the road. They chase after me yelling at again and again, “Moria, what is your name! What is your name!” Parents and adults standing in their doorways or in front of sari-saris talking to neighbors start laughing. I keep turning and waving to the group until I can’t see the barkada (group of close friends) of little hands moving in the air anymore.

The internet is still down and expecting as much, I had brought my sketch pad with me. I walk further down L. de Leon Street until there is only one two roomed shack between me and the palayan (rice fields). I sit there planning to sketch the purple mountain range of Sierra Madres and the rice fields but find the faces peeping out of the shack more intriguing. Before I known it, I am intrenched and fascinated by the beauty and care with which this home is pulled together. The faces, dark eyes peer out at me with curiousity and defensiveness. I am drawn to their faces and the look in their eyes that feels so familiar. The young daughter sits on the lawn and I attempt to draw her as she looks over her shoulder curiously pretending to look at a postcard. Her hair falls past her butt. And she has the fullest dark sad eyes. They remind of a line someone sent to me in an email
the weight of the world
The weight of the world is love”.

Alan Steinfeld


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