Saturday, August 29, 2009

Part 9: The Nightmare

"Nos perituri mortem salutamos, sola resugit vita" ~ Cat Stevens

"And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove!
for then would I fly away, and be at rest."

~ Psalms 55:6

By 1969 my parents' various projects started showing success and then the pace picked up and their work load really increased. Dedicated workaholics, I can remember Mom and Dad working late into the night on reports, sermons and lectures.

My parents took their mission calling very seriously, especially Mom. When we left Iowa in 1964 they sold their home and at her insistance, donated the proceeds to their church. The poverty in the Philippines really bothered her and they worked hard to make a difference. She continued to provide financial aid for college students, (including tuition, room and board, clothing allowance and a little spending money) always trying to squeeze one more student into our budget. Mom branched out, working with mothers, educating them on birth control, health and nutrition.

If some kid needed clothes to go to school she would have Mrs Hinakay make them. If a family needed food, she would give them groceries from our pantry. Then Mom began funding corrective surgery for children with harelips, sending the mother and child to St. Luke's Hospital in Quezon City to get the needed surgery. She sent dozens of kids off to have the procedure done.

For Dad, I think we kids were always a bit of nuisance, a hindrance to his life and work. He never saw the day to day task of raising children as his responsibility. For Mom, it was escaping first from the controls of her mother and then the control of Dad. She had a purpose, she had a job and for the first time in her life she had a sense of self worth. Having Auring and the students relieved them of the duty of child rearing. So you see, what I am trying to tell you is that my parents were doing good works, but sometimes did or let bad things happen. Keith would later charitably say "they were very good parents when they remembered."

While Dad was busy working with farmers and when Mom was working on the floating clinic sometimes we would only see them once or twice a week. Keith and I were in school, the younger two were home with Auring. Even when they were in town they would be gone most of the day. There were the Monday and Thursday night prayer meetings at our Church. Dad was in the Rotary Club. More and more of our time was spent with Auring and the students, especially Tony.
I was traveling less with Dad, he had became moodier, irritable and even more short tempered. Maybe it was because he was so much busier, maybe it was because we were older now, but he certainly was much less tolerant of our childlike ways. He was a proponent of the old adage: "children should be seen and not heard!" and now added to it: "not seen or heard!".
My parents relationship, always loud and volatile, went into holocaust mode. It was hard to tell who was winning one of their shouting matches. Suppertime now was dreaded. We tried to eat quietly and quickly. Any etiquette errors were dealt with quickly and harshly: failure to handle the silverware properly, or promptly pass the butter or the rolls would result in something Keith called "fists of fury" (for years we flinched every time Dad raised his hand), reaching for the potatoes without asking would result in your hand being pinned to the table by a fork. If we were lucky we could get done before the interrogation started. 20 questions was a game we never could win. It would start innocuously enough, "What did you do today?" but there never was a correct answer and soon the trick questions would begin. Again, if we were lucky we could escape with a berating lecture on why we were knuckleheads, imbeciles and morons. More often than not we were very unlucky.

Crying was forbidden. Offenders of this crime were told
"I'll give you something to cry about!"

Then he would reach for the yardstick.
Like the
Sword of Damocles, it was a constant reminder of our impending doom, the stainless steel yard stick which sat behind Dad's chair, it's sole purpose: our betterment. The heavy steel would leave angry bloody welts on our backs, thighs and calves.

My brother was in perpetual competition for our father's favor, always seeking to be the successor to Dad's throne. This was something that could never be won, I learned long before to stop trying. Dad was incapable of praise, no matter how good you did he would point out your mistakes. The closest he came was in giving back handed compliments, the "but" always overshadowing the accomplishment. Still, Keith kept trying to gain recognition and when that didn't work he tormented, bullied and beat the two youngest brothers whom he saw as a threat. This, coupled with his whining and complaining, so successful when he was the youngest, now garnered him beatings and he most often got the worst of Dad's wrath. The yardstick was not the only weapon in Dad's arsenal, there was the belt, the whip and the axe handle. The dull whump of the heavy wood striking soft flesh echoed in the background of my dreams.

Around that time I began having a recurring nightmare.
I am in a low ceiling stone walled room. It is slowly filling with sand. I am feeling about in the darkness searching for a stone, a keystone. I desperately sift my hands through the sand for that stone. While this is happening I can see faces, they are talking rapidly as if the sound was sped up, but I can still understand what they are saying to me: "You're not good enough. You're stupid. You're a failure. You shame the family." But I can't find the stone. The room fills up. I die.

The first time I had the nightmare I was on a trip with Dad. I awoke screaming
I can't find the stone.

I would have this same nightmare many more times over the next nine months. The last time I had it I was home in Tacloban.

was tired and cranky and like every time he got home from a long trip he started yelling as soon as he walked in the door. We got sent to bed early that night. But this time when I awoke from my nightmare, I found myself knocking on my parent's bedroom door. Dad threw open the door and I groggily held out my hand; I had found the keystone! In the palm of my hand was a smooth river stone the size of a quarter, it had a white swirly mark on it. I didn't die this time.
Look, I found it Dad.
"You don't throw rocks!"
My father grabbed me by the collar of my t-shirt, lifting me off the floor. In rapid succession he punched two, three, four times then threw me to the floor. Then he kicked me twice, the second sending me flying across the dining room, my face leaving a bloody smear as I slid down the wall.

I didn't hear Dad leave that morning, I didn't go to school that day or for three days after that either. I remember Auring washing the blood from my face, gently applying ointment to my swollen ribs, eyes, nose and lips. I remember laying in bed listening to them scrub the blood from the wall, the smell of the bleach. I remember Auring spooning me soup, the whispers, the guarded conversations between her and the students. When my eyes were finally able to open on Wednesday she decided that I should stay home till I looked more presentable. On Friday afternoon, we kids were told "Your father is coming home tomorrow, everyone needs to be on their best behavior". But before he arrived home I was taken to the movies by Tony, the other kids sent to visit some friends. I can still feel the dread as we returned home, the strength of Tony's arm as he pulled me behind him when my father appeared suddenly at the door.
"I want to talk to you"
We sat down in his office, my heart pounding and I tried to hide the bruises on my face.
"When I was a kid I swore that I would never be like my father. I found out that I am just like him."

That would be the only apology I would ever get from him.

From now on, whenever Dad returned home from a trip we were removed from the house "on errands". If there was no one to take us away, Auring would hiss
"quickly now, run!"

I would go and hide in the Calamansi orchard or in a field under the cassava (called kamoteng kahoy) plants where I had dug a trench the length of my body. On bad days I would cover my body with the dirt so only my face was uncovered. There I would lay for hours till it was dark, invisible to the world, staring at the stars, praying to die, waking at the sound of Auring's voice softly calling for me.

Some months after that my parents sat me down at the dining room table and told me they were sending me away to Brent.
What's Brent?
A school, I was told.
Where is it? In Baguio.
Where will I sleep, where will I eat?
At the school. You will live at the school.
Why? Tell me what I did wrong? I will be better.
I cried, I promised I would try harder. I could live with friends, I could sleep in the bodega. They wouldn't know I was there.

My father laughed and said
"This won't kill you. It will make you stronger."

My mother said "Don't worry, you will love it".
Two weeks later Dad and I left for Baguio.
Many years later I learned that it was her idea to send me away, which if I had thought about it, made sense as Dad would never willingly part with any money, let alone on something as frivolous as boarding school. Dad was dead set against it and only after many a heated argument did he relent, on the condition that he would not have to pay for it. So, at great personal expense to her pride, she wrote to her mother and asked to use a portion of my trust fund to pay the portion of the boarding school expenses not covered by the Mission Board.

Why she chose to send just me has been the subject of bitter recrimination on the part of my brother. He blames her for all the misery in his life.
I think she saved my life.

"I think it's because I'm clumsy
I try not to talk too loud
Maybe it's because I'm crazy
I try not to act too proud
They only hit until you cry
And after that you don't ask why
You just don't argue anymore
You just don't argue anymore
You just don't argue anymore"

from the song Luka by Suzanne Vega

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Part 8 : The S and the F words

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."

~ George Bernard Shaw

"Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul."
~ Plato

Although it may not seem possible, I actually did find time to squeeze school in the first five years we were in the Philippines.

I attended a local elementary school in Quezon City and was taking Calvert Home Correspondence courses as well. But I was having a tough time with Tagalog in the grammar and spelling departments. Dad got into it with the teacher which resulted in them failing me even though I was passing all my other classes.

When we got to Tacloban in 1967 I went to a new school and this time my parents insulted the principal and they would not let me return the following year. Not only that but we were black listed from all schools within Tacloban and surrounding towns! That was fine with me, I was still doing the Calvert so I would take the classwork with me when I traveled with Dad.

We really traveled far that year going south to the island of Mindanao, visiting the cities of Cotobato, Davao and Zamboanga. There we visited the vast rubber, pineapple and banana plantations. The amount of waste was shocking. Bananas that were too short or too long were loaded into boxcars and dumped in the river. The river was choked with bananas. We went west to the island of Negros, going to see Dr. Behrens and his veterinary vaccination program at Silliman University in Dumagette City and we went north to see Dick Fagan's Heifer International project at Dasmarinas, Cavite.

In May of 1968 my brother Steve was born so Mom was around to work with me on the home correspondence courses.

When Mom went back to work I ended up going to a little barrio school an hour away. I would head off to school every morning with my little tin
bento box of steamed rice and tuyo ("aromatic" whole small dried fish). After half a day in a hot classroom, opening that bento could really knock you off your feet! I had to get up extra early every morning to catch a public bus or Jeepney and would get home around 6 or 6:30 every night. I learned to carry 10 centavos in my ear for my fare. Some days there was no space to sit inside so I would stand on the back bumper and ride on the outside all the way home. One day I got out of school and waited but no buses passed the school for hours. Soon I was standing in the dark and beginning to panic. Finally a Jeepney came by and I was able to get home by 9:00. Auring of course was waiting for me in the street in front of our home. Mom and Dad were oblivious to the fact that I had not been home for the past 3 hours.

Bethany Hospital had a little canteen where I would go for my afternoon fix of Royal Lem-O-Lime, Royal Tru Orange or Royal Ginger Ale. I would get my candies there too, chocolate Curly Tops, butterscotch White Rabbit and crumbly powdery ChocNut.
Locally made Tamarindo (made from Tamarind) and Polvoron (a powdered milk candy) were some of my favorites too.

I had begun taking piano lessons the year before at the local convent. I had my first piano recital one Friday afternoon, and came home to change into my Sunday best. My parents, just back from work were reading the newspaper.

"you look fine the way you are!"

So they sent me off in my t-shirt and blue school shorts. I walked in and the hall was filled with parents and relatives, everyone was dressed like it was First Communion. I could hear the buzz of whispers and was so embarrassed I tried to sneak out but Sister Clare, for whom I would do anything, smiled her mesmerizing smile at me and said "go on and play, you will do fine". I went out and played my number without mistakes and then hurried home.

"How did it go?" said the voice behind the newspaper.

Everyone was dressed up in Barong Tagalogs and Maria Claras, I was the only one in shorts...

"Ha! That's funny. Imagine that."

Auring, however had made for me an extra special dinner that night to help make up for the lack of interest in my endeavors.

If I haven't mentioned it before, Auring was an excellent cook. Besides Filipino food, she was handy at American style dishes. Her fried chicken was always crispy and not greasy, and served it with mashed potatoes dotted with butter. She also made these wonderful potatoes that were parboiled, then browned in butter and then roasted which she served with roast beef and gravy. Meatloaf served with boiled potatoes tossed with fresh chopped parsley. A potato and hamburger soup with kalamungay leaves in it. Man O man she could cook!

Aah, the Food. The Philippines has its own culinary cuisine unique to Southeast Asia. From beverages to desserts, it was a mixture of Malaysian, Spanish and Chinese styles.

Dad would eat just about anything, while it took quite sometime for Mom to accept and enjoy the local delicacies. As for the kids, we loved the new foods and our stomachs quickly went native.

Although Auring now cooked exclusively, Mom still approved the menu for the week. She tried to make sure that we had a least 3 American style meals a week. I think because food was her link to "Home", when we first got there we ate mostly western style menus 6 or 7 days a week. But slowly Auring began to incorporate Filipino foods into our diet. The one area where Mom put her foot down was desserts. She insisted on cakes and pies, although sometimes she would let the delicious caramel custard called
Flan slip through. Another one was Auring's fried bananas. She would fry whole bananas in oil, then take them out and roll them in sugar. They were so good. But we never had any of the rice desserts like puto or suman. Those we would only get if someone brought some over.

So, fresh fruit like bananas, caimito, guavas, Jackfruit, lansones, mangoes, papayas and pineapples began showing up at all our meals. Then in the mornings we would have pandesal, little rolls, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. With all the students now living with us, rice was now cooked morning, noon and night. It was only put on our table at lunch and supper, but was available for breakfast if someone wanted it. Even when we had potatoes at supper, there was always a steaming pot of rice in the kitchen. Soon I was introduced to the dried fish called tuyo and bulad served with garlic fried rice and fried eggs. Then fresh fish began to be a regular entree, like escabeche, a crispy fried whole fish with a slight tang from vinegar.

We had all kinds of fish, which Auring bought directly from the fisherman the day she cooked it. All of our beef was bought fresh. We raised our own chickens and hogs, so we never bought those at the market. Auring would go early every morning to the open air market to do the days shopping and I would go along. If we were having fish that day we would head over to the wharf side of the market to see what the fishermen brought in. She would go up and down the rows looking at this catch and that, checking the eyes to make sure they were fresh. Eventually they got to know what she liked and would send over a selection to the house for her to pick through. If we were having meat we would head over to meat market where the meat was freshly butchered. She would look everything over then tell the butcher what cut she wanted. He would grab a side of beef and chop off whatever Auring ordered.

One day we got on a jeepney to go to the market. It was half full and we sat down next to a man who was taking up most of one side of the bench seat. He was wearing a long t-shirt pulled down to his knees. Auring slid over to make room for me bumping his legs. He cried out in an agony stricken voice,
"Please Manang, kakatuli ko pa lang.
He had just come from being circumcised and was in great pain!

One of the dishes that Auring made was
Paella. Chicken, shrimp, rice, Chorizo, hard boiled eggs, peas, green pepper, garlic, onion, cooked together. Yowza! I loved the way the flavors blended together.

Another great dish she made was
Pancit Canton. It is a noodle dish with bits of meat and crispy pieces of stir fried vegetables.

Then Auring began serving Adobo. Adobo is a kind of stew which can be made with beef, chicken, pork or seafood and served over rice. The meat is browned in hot oil, then added to a pot with fresh grated ginger, minced garlic & onions, shredded carrot, bay leaf, soy sauce, vinegar and cracked peppercorns. Adobo became a regular part of our diet and her Beef Adobo was my favorite.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Part 7: Life at Bethany Hospital

"It may seem a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a hospital that it should do the sick no harm." ~ Florence Nightingale

"By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive." ~ Albert Schweitzer

Founded by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church and currently administered by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Bethany Hospital had its humble beginnings as a makeshift infirmary under the porch of missionary doctor Warren J. Miller's home in 1913. In 1918, the first hospital building was constructed. In 1925 Dr. & Mrs. J. Andrew Hall were transferred from Iloilo to Tacloban. They struggled with poor accommodations, insufficient staff, inadequate funds, as well as the ignorance and superstitions of the people. But these hardships were gradually overcome with medical skill, Christian love and patience. In 1929 Dr. Hall, through his mobile clinic, embarked on an anti-yaws campaign in the remote towns and barrios of Leyte and Samar, treating thousands of cases free of charge. Dr. Arcadio A. Ortiz, Sr. became physician in charge when Dr. Hall retired in 1936, serving until April 1941 when he resigned. Dr. Julio E. Dolorico joined the medical staff in 1936 and served as physician in charge during the Second World War. Under the Japanese occupation, the hospital was used as headquarters for a Japanese cavalry unit, an army supply depot and finally as a provincial hospital after the liberation in 1944 until 1947. In 1948, the hospital resumed operations as a church related institution, with Dr. McAnlis acting as interim Director up to 1950.In the years that followed the hospital grew steadily, improvements were made on the existing physical plant, acquisition of new facilities and equipment, opening of new services and continuation of the hospital's outreach program, taking care of indigent patients in the coastal areas of Leyte and Samar by way of the "Floating Clinic". Where there used to only one wooden building, there is now a group of six two-story buildings with a 3 story building at the center. The bed capacity increased from 25 to 125 and an additional 25 beds during emergency. The hospital is accredited by the Association of Philippine Medical Colleges as a teaching-training college for nurses and post graduate medical interns. From 1969 up to 1974, the hospital was part of a pastoral education program, training UCCP ministers as hospital chaplains.
-from a History of Bethany Hospital by Elet Superada and Romualdo C. Cabalona

When we arrived in Tacloban in 1967, we were following in the footsteps of many great dedicated missionary doctors. Dr. McAnlis, a Presbyterian physician had come to the Philippines in the early 1930's, establishing a hospital in the Albay region. He had been imprisoned with his family in the Santo Tomas and Los Banos camps during WWII, but after the war returned to Leyte to help rebuild Bethany Hospital.

Initially, I think there were high hopes from Dr. Dolorico and his staff,
we were the first missionaries sent to Tacloban by the UCCP mission board in many years. It must have been a tremendous letdown when they realized who they had got stuck with. Our family was a twisted combination of those TV families, the Munsters, the Addams and the Clampetts. My parents were loud and boisterous like Granny Clampett and Herman Munster. The shouting, the noisy racket, the menagerie of farm animals, the crazy projects really must have dismayed the refined sensibilities of the hospital director and his wife, who unfortunately lived right behind our house. Looking out from their windows I'm sure they were saying "what the hell are those Americans doing now?!"
Mom worked at the hospital as a nurse. Part of Mom's duties included working on the floating clinic which serviced remote areas not easily accessible by road. The boat would anchor off of fishing villages, they would go in to vaccinate or give check ups. Those that needed x-rays would be brought out to the clinic. When she wasn't doing that she also worked in the ER, the OR and she worked in the nursery. There they showed her how to pierce the ears of the newborn baby girls for earrings. One day she was on a roll going down a line of 12 babies piercing ears as she went. When she got to the last one she realized she had pierced the ears of 3 boy babies as well!When I wasn't traveling with Dad I would go hang out around the hospital. I had friends in the office, the laboratory, the pharmacy and I especially liked the kitchen staff who would feed me something whenever I showed up. If I close my eyes I can almost conjure up the smell of the Filipino food being served at the cafeteria. And then of course there were the nurses: little white hats, starched white dresses and white stockings and shoes. Here I am surrounded by nurses at a wedding of one of the office staff.

The hospital raised livestock and grew its own vegetables, had a calamansi orchard and many fruit trees.

The farm foreman gave me my first ride on a carabao. He always had 10 to 20 dogs under his house and they would be different ones month to month. It wasn't till one day we saw him at the meat market selling dogs that we understood why he had so many.

The one place I steered away from was the morgue, it was always very spooky after dark. Auring would tell us horror stories about the dead wandering about looking for bad children. We had a game we played at night where "someone" would have to go and knock on the Morgue door while the rest of us waited a safe distance away. One night the door burst open and an arm reached out and grabbed him! Keith let out a long, high pitched, blood curdling yell and by the time he stopped screaming I was back at home having a snack.
"Where's your brother?!"
Eaten by the Aswang... 

And that is how come I only have three brothers.

(Keith in the meantime made friends with the morgue attendant and soon hung out there all the time)

Mom began helping teenagers go to nursing school and college. Eventually my parents would put over 30 students through college. They would pay the tuition and provide money for textbooks, uniforms and an allowance. Some of these college kids lived with us while others lived with their relatives in Tacloban, the nursing students lived in a dorm on the compound of Bethany Hospital. At our house we had Zenaida, Concepcion, Hermelinda, Tony, Ric and Eddie. There usually were a few more floaters who would stay with us for a while and then move in with other relatives.

All these students needed everyday clothing too, so we acquired a full time seamstress, Mrs. Hinakay. She would show up early Monday morning and stay with us through Friday afternoon, then take the ferry back to Samar for the weekend. She would usually bring one or two of her kids with her for the week, so our working household numbered 14! Mrs. Hinakay would be busy making dresses and blouses, shirts and pants all week long. Mom had relinquished, one by one, the duties and responsibilities of running a household that were typical of an American housewife. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, raising the kids and now she had her own seamstress! Finding clothes that fit Americans was hard in the Philippines, especially so in Tacloban. Mrs. Hinakay provided her with a wide assortment of clothing for every occasion.
(Dad went through a lot of clothes as he was always wearing his dress clothes to work in the garden. Auring would yell at him to change his clothes and make one of the students take out work clothes for him to wear)
All of the funding for these students came out of my parents pockets and at times was a real financial burden. Often the needs of the students came before the needs of us kids. So we lived very simply, few luxuries, no TV, no AC. We kids slept on mats on the floor while the students occupied our beds. This was an utang na lo-ob, a debt of obligation the students were keenly aware of and caused them a lot of emotional discomfort, binding them to us tightly. They loved us, comforted us, protected us. They would help us get dressed in the morning, played with us in the afternoons, bathed us and read to us at night.
We gradually settled into a routine, every Sunday after church we would cram inner-tubes, food and the entire household into our little jeep and go to the hospital's Beach house. In the early days it was just the six of us, but as our household grew this proved to be more difficult. Sometimes Dad or Mom would make two trips, sometimes some of us took a jeepney out to the beach.

The doctors and their families and a bevy of nurses that were not on duty would all be there too, unwinding after a weeks work. There always would be lots of music, food, drinks and dancing. The nurses adored and fawned over us kids, setting us on their laps and feeding us. They would practice their English on us and we would correct them as best we could. I reveled in the attention they showered on us.
Week in, week out, White Beach was our mini retreat. We had the beach and the ocean to ourselves, our own private tropical isle. I soon learned the hard way that for a sanitary swim I would need to walk down the beach a ways and get in the water just past a river that emptied in to the sea. This way I avoided any unpleasant encounters with floating sewage. There I was stung by jelly fish, caught in the undertow and nearly drowned. There after typhoons we would go look at the horseshoe crabs and jelly fish washed up on the beach and collect sea shells. There I saw my first dead person, a man who drowned. He was lying on the beach, buffeted by the waves. One of the doctors ran up to him and began performing CPR. I can remember the water coming out of his mouth and the smell of tuba, the strong alcohol made from palm sap. I remember his lips were so purple, his face so gray.

Every year the hospital hosted a picnic at sea for the for the Floating Clinic staff, crew and their families. One year we went out in to the Surigao Straits and dropped anchor near a sand bar. We just jumped overboard and swam over to the little beach. The water was crystal clear and on one end of the sand bar was the wreck of a landing craft. It was very strange to be on a little spit of sand in the middle of the ocean. It was like being marooned!

Leyte was littered with the detritus of WWII. Everywhere you went were the reminders that a war had been fought here not too long ago. Behind my elementary school along a creek was the wreckage of a Japanese Zero fighter plane. Jeeps and 6x6 trucks converted to civilian use were very common, the faded white stars still visible on the hoods. Sometimes on our trips we would see a shot up tank in the jungle. After every typhoon sunken wrecks would be washed ashore.

The beach house was very close to Red Beach, the site where MacArthur landed. There rusting landing craft and amphibious tanks still rested in the surf. At low tide the pilings of a bombed jetty would appear and start to smoke as the phosphorus from the incendiary bombs would dry out. Soon the water would be covered with a cloud of thick smoke. Then the tide would rise up and the fires would go out. One day Dad waded out with a 5 gallon pail and pried the chunks of phosphorus out of the pilings and placed them in the pail with water. Then one night he arranged the chunks on the concrete wall of our house and we watched as they began to smoke and then burn. Happy New Year! It was fun and exciting! At least it was until the hospital director's wife came over with the fire department to lecture Dad on fire safety!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Part 6: Travels with Father

"Fathers are biological necessities, but social accidents"

~ Margaret Mead

Most kids at some point in their lives are embarrassed by the geekiness of their parents. We learned this at an early age as Dad liked to embarrass us in public regularly. Going out to a restaurant was a tortuous experience. Dad would place a napkin on his head, stick spoons to his nose. We would cover our faces in shame when at the local Chinese restaurant he would stick chopsticks under his upper lip and using his hands pull the skin around his eyes into slits. Then as the waiter approached to take our order he would say

"One oldel flied lice".

Once we had moved in, unpacked and got situated, Dad began going out and meeting with farmers, getting them to try the new rice varieties developed at IRRI, the International Rice Research Institute at Los Banos.

In the beginning there was always a local pastor with him to make the introductions and to translate, but in later years he would often go out on his own.
In those early years I was just along for the ride, someone to keep him company, but even then I was already beginning to step in to a role as backup translator for my father. In Quezon City I had quickly picked up a little Tagalog and some Visayan from Auring. Once in Leyte I began to learn Waray. In reality I was more of a silent observer than a translator. I would sit quietly and listen to the comments they were making, sometimes clarifying words or terms misunderstood, learning to gauge the mood of the crowd. Where ever we went crowds would gather to see the Americanos. Kids would loudly repeat every word he said till finally an adult would make them be quiet.

Leyte and especially Samar were still wild, pristine and undeveloped in those days. Wild boar, monkeys, deer, pythons and giant lizards were still commonly found in the jungles. Over the next four years we crisscrossed the islands of Leyte and Samar. We soon each had our favorite places: Borongan, Burauen, Baybay, Calbayog, Catarman, Catbalogan, Mahaplag, Sogod, St. Bernard, Naval on Biliran Island, Tagbalaran, Bohol and Higatangan.

We made lifelong friends: the Ngoho's, Lito Ang, Pastors Ibalarosa, Joe Sidaya and Rudy Mayol.
Dad loved going to Biliran Island where his industrious friend Lito Ang always had us laughing at his stories. I loved St. Bernard where the warmth of the welcome we received always made me feel like I was coming home to a loving family. To get there we had to drive all the way to the southern tip of Leyte and leave the jeep in the town of Sogod and cross the Magatas river on foot. Pastor Ibalarosa and his entire family would come out to meet us and help us cross the swift moving water. There would be shouts of laughter as Dad inevitably would slip and fall in. Some one would rush to help him up while some small boy would grab his briefcase before it got too far down stream and carry it for him the rest of the way. Dad always marveled at how a kid could wade across the river without falling but he couldn't.

Driving on seldom traveled logging trails, then leaving the jeep and riding on the back of logging trucks, hiking to remote villages accessible only by foot, ours was a life of high jungle adventure. We slept where we could: on the seats of the jeep, on mats on the floors of homes or churches. We ate what our hosts provided: sometimes well (a lechon feast), sometimes exotic (monkey or snake), but most times spartan (rice and dried fish). I remember one morning our host shamefully apologizing he had no sugar or condensada for our breakfast of coffee and pandesal, only some milk his nursing wife expressed into a cup. We humbly and respectfully accepted their gift of life with our coffee and bread. It was then I began to understand the importance of what my father was trying to do.

One of the strangest , most exciting trips occurred that first year. We left Tacloban one morning while it was still dark, driving as far as the roads would take us. That night we slept on the floor of a Church in a small coastal village. Early the next morning we took a "pump boat" up river till the water was too shallow for the prop, then we switched to small bancas that were waiting for us. We paddled on, the silence disturbed sometimes by a splash as crocodiles slid in to the water. Just when it seemed we could follow the river no farther we got out and pulled the bancas on to the bank. Then after something to eat and drink, we began a half day hike through wet, thick and dark jungle, our guides cutting a way for us with their bolos just like in the movies. We could hear monkeys and birds chattering and screeching as we made our way. Sometimes we would see snakes. Towards the end of the day we emerged from the steaming jungle on a strange vista: silhouetted in the setting sun, as far as we could see there were little round cone shaped hills. We hiked towards the only one that had a Nipa hut on it. There our host, the local headman, greeted us and brought us in for merienda before the meeting. Before we sat down to eat he produced a giant conch shell, held it up to his mouth and proceeded to blow into it, making a sound like a ram's horn. About an hour later, flickering in the darkness we could see lights from lanterns and torches coming towards us from every direction. They were his people, answering their leader's call. On a post inside his hut hung a WWII vintage Thompson sub machine gun, on another an M-1 carbine, on the table was a .45 and a couple on hand grenades. It was something out of King Solomon's Mines, Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now. We were Quatermain, Morrow or Kurtz on some exotic adventure. In reality of course it was rather mundane, Dad pulled some papers and samples from his trusty briefcase and gave a talk on the latest IR-8 rice.

When we left the States in 1965, Dad had brought with him a beautiful hand tooled leather briefcase that he had made himself. It had served him at Yale and Cornell, Ateneo and IRRI, but later he used it to carry the necessities of life, medicines, toilet paper, socks and underwear. In the hot humid tropical weather it soon grew homesick for it's temperate climate roots. The leather began to separate from the frame, then turned a funky shade of khaki, as mold took root. Finally, one day when my dad picked it up, it just came apart, papers flying everywhere.

Dad yelled.
(Dad had spent four years in the Korean War and knew lots of interesting words
. The term "cuss like a sailor" applied to him. He was a stickler for correct pronunciation and would yell at me when ever I tried them out)

So Dad and I went downtown to see what could be found in the shops. In the 60's Tacloban was a sleepy provincial port. The big excitement was when an inter-island cargo ship would deliver a load of supplies. The selection in the stores was plain and utilitarian. Still, they carried a cornucopia of household goods for rural life: School supplies, uniforms for Sacred Heart, Divine Word & Leyte Normal, tin pots and pans, plates, cups, kitchen tools and utensils, needles, thread, fabric and notions filled the shelves from floor to ceiling. In the display cases were cheap jewelry, watches, clocks and transistor radios, a record album or two. Some items were strung from heavy gauge wire that zigzagged the store. Long wooden poles with hooks on the end were wielded by nimble clerks, deftly snagging the desired item from the rafters and depositing it on the counter before you. There were few toys or comics, even fewer books. Even during Christmas there was very little to interest a small boy. We went from store to store, searching for that elusive briefcase. One shop had some multi-colored floral fabric suitcases, another a wood and tin trunk.

Then Dad spotted up near the ceiling a lone briefcase, part of a four piece set of Samsonite luggage. He asked to see it. The clerk climbed a ladder and deposited it on the counter.
Heavy duty, strong, just the ticket.

"I'll take it!

"No, just the briefcase"
he said as the clerk protested that it was part of a set.

This exchange went on for sometime between Dad and the clerk. A crowd gathered. Finally, the clerk got the owner who, while disappointed at not selling the whole set, was glad to overcharge him for the single item. I, on the other hand, was only too glad to get out of the store and away from the comments they were making about my father and his new briefcase.
"Hey Joe! Your case is very bayut-ti-ful." (Filipinos like to transform similar sounding English words into humorous words with hidden meaning. Bayut is a Waray word for a Homosexual man)

This was the genesis of my aversion to being in the spotlight. My father was the progenitor for that 50's style sensation: brown dress shoes, black calf high socks, Bermuda shorts and a short sleeve dress shirt. Color coordinating forbidden. Nice. Real Classy. His favorite apparel for all public appearances. Now fashionably accessorized with his new Hot Pink Samsonite Brief Case.

My father had a curious bouncy style of walking. With every step his feet rebounded off the ground. As if he had springs or rubber balls on his heels. Of course, Dad never walked. He never strolled. He STRODE. He used to shake stuff off the table and walls in those little
Nipa huts we visited. I can see him now: crew cut, Bermuda shorts, brown leather shoes and black socks bouncing along the little mud dikes between the rice paddies. Which were never designed for such abuse. Inevitably they would crumble and in he would go, head over heals, that damn pink briefcase spinning through the air and all the time yelling as he fell "@#%!&@#!!", the watching swarm of kids dutifully repeating every word back to him.

I learned to trail as far behind as I could, hoping my black hair and brown eyes would allow me to blend in with the crowd who gathered for the comedic entertainment of a lifetime. When ever I could I would sneak off to a Sari-Sari store, slide ten centavos across the counter and drown my sorrows with a
Royal Lem-O-Lime or Tru Orange. Sometimes two.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Part 5: We Move Again

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
~Mark Twain

"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home." ~James Michener

In January of 1967, with his
IRRI rice propagation courses completed, Dad was finally offered a posting on the island of Leyte. Which was good because we were beginning to wear out our welcome in Quezon City. 
So before the locals came with their pitchforks and torches, we quickly packed up all our stuff and had it shipped off along with our new Toyota FJ4 Landcruiser on an inter-island ship.We took a DC-3 from Manila to the city of Tacloban, the provincial capital of Leyte, but Dad went with our stuff on the boat. It was a long drawn out trip through some of the heaviest rains recorded for the month of January in the Philippines. Dad got so mad because on the last day of the voyage the sun came out and the crew promptly started painting the ship - and got paint all over our new jeep too!

Our first year and a half in the Philippines had been just a warm up for what was to come. Now, far removed from the hustle and bustle of Manila, we were to find ourselves immersed in new dialects and cultures in the jungles of Leyte and Samar.

The island of Leyte was divided into two language groups, the northern half was Waray-Waray and the southern half was Visayan. We were on the North-eastern side along the coast, the Waray side. Just across the straits was the only other Waray speaking area in the Philippines, the islands of Samar and Biliran. This meant that besides the Tagalog we had learned in Manila, we now had to learn Waray-Waray and Visayan too. It was very confusing for all of us except Keith who picked it up quickly. Even Auring, who spoke Taglog and Visayan found that her Visayan was not readily understood by the locals.
Tagalog was being taught in grade schools across the country as the "national" language, but in the rural areas most people spoke their native dialects. Some of the Waray words were similar to the Tagalog words (like the word for "one": isa in Tagalog, usa (oosa) in Waray), some were very different (like the word for "ten": sampu in Tagalog, napulo in Waray). In Tagalog, "why" was bakit. In Waray it was kay-ano (often abbreviated to "kay"). In Tagalog, the phrase "Siya ay maganda" means "She is beautiful", in Waray it is "Mahosay hiya". One of my favorite Waray words was "Ambot" which in English means "I don't know".

We moved into a house on the compound of Bethany Hospital. This would be our house for the next four years. It was a little four bedroom, one bath bungalow with its own water tank on a tower next to the house. There was a long rectangular building out back that housed Dad’s workshop, the laundry room and eventually three to four college students. Across from the house was a large grove of lime trees called Calamansi. In the front yard was an Avocado tree. Dad would eventually plant Papaya and banana trees and dozens of pineapple plants. We never lacked for fresh fruit at that house. From the workshop there was a path that led past the hospital garbage dump to the Hospital's laboratory. You wouldn’t believe all the perfectly cool stuff you could find in the dump. I mean besides rats, snakes and all those diseases and stuff.Dad promptly tilled up a huge garden where we found even more cool stuff from WWII. There were spent munitions of every caliber, a helmet, a mess kit, a Japanese bayonet. Dad found a GI dog tag which he sent in to the US Embassy. I even found a live 50 caliber round when I was digging in the driveway. I promptly took it to the shed and put it in the vise and pulled the bullet out of the shell, poured out the powder on the sidewalk, burnt it, then took a punch and hit the primer with the hammer. BANG! That was the sound of Dad knocking me on the head when he found out about it.

There wasn't much to see or do in Tacloban, no TV reception on our side of Leyte, the only form of entertainment was movies. We went to the movies occasionally when we lived in Quezon City, but the theaters were a long way from our house. Now we were just a few blocks from the movie houses of Tacloban. Sometimes I'd go with my parents, sometimes just with Mom or just with Dad. Mom would take me to see the movies that Dad didn't want to see and vice versa. Going with my Dad was not too much fun, he usually kept a running commentary of what was going on up on the screen. Westerns, War movies and anything science fiction were genres he didn't much care for.
Boy, I'd sure like to have a gun like that! You never have to reload!

It's a good thing those Germans were such lousy shots or we would have never won the War!

I would whisper back, Dad it's just a movie. It's not real. He'd just snort and keep on muttering to himself. I didn't care too much really, I loved going to the movies.

Every Saturday afternoon Auring would take us to the old Republic theater, that ran "B" grade movies and re-releases. It had an extra wide screen built for Cinerama or CinemaScope. It had been a grand theater in it's heyday before WWII, but now was kind of run down on the inside. Sometimes you came home with the marks of bedbugs on your ankles. Sometimes you felt something furry run by your feet. But for fifty centavos the movies were great. They were always double features. Usually it was Westerns, the Japanese Zatoichi Blind Swordsman series, War movies or Comedies.

Sometimes it was old Tarzan movies. Johnny Weissmuller, the perfect Tarzan, Maureen O' Sullivan the very perfect Jane. Every Saturday it would be another one, till one Saturday they had a Tarzan marathon: Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan and his Mate, Tarzan Escapes, Tarzan finds a Son, Tarzan's Secret Treasure and Tarzan in New York. It started at 10:00 a.m. and we didn’t get out till just after midnight. I had a horrible headache, my eyes were bleary, my butt was flat, but it was absolutely wonderful.

After the show we would go home and recreate the movies we had watched. I would be Tarzan and Keith would be Cheetah
(there was no PETA in those days so there was no one to complain to if I harmed an animal, I mean Keith) or maybe he would be a Pygmy Cannibal ...

"Let your brother be Tarzan!"
Dad would yell.Fine. I'll be the cannibal and you be Tarzan. Stand over here while I get some wood and kerosene.
Can I have some matches Dad?

"Sure, what do you need them ... Hey! untie your brother!"

When we played War Dad would yell

Let your brother be the good guy!"


So we would play
Bridge over the River Kwai and Keith was the British Colonel that I locked in the "hot box" (our rice bodega) for the afternoon while I sat on the porch and read my comics and drank grape Julep.
Who locked Keith in the bodega!Or we would play
Back to Bataan and Keith would have to go on the Death March to Cabanatuan while I went inside for a snack (well, he was always wandering off anyways). Being a Hero was hell.


Sometimes we were Ronin warriors. Blind Ronin warriors. We had our wooden swords and we would put them in the belts around our waists, or pretend they were cane swords like Zatoichi, the masseuse. Then with our eyes squeezed shut we would draw our katanas and whale away at each other! After 3 or 4 whacks on the ears and head “someone” would start crying and Dad would yell"Let your brother be Zatoichi!"Fine. OK, I keep my eyes open and you close your eyes and at the count of three start swinging your sword.
Ichi, Ni, San!

After 3 or 4 whacks on the ears and head “someone” would start crying and Dad would yell
“Cut that out!”

Trying to Dad but you won’t let me finish

When we were gunfighters we didn’t always have guns. Dad went back and forth in allowing and then disallowing us to play with toy guns. So when we didn’t have guns we used flip flops. It worked this way. You took off your flip flops and stuck one in each pocket of your shorts. You would hold your hands away from your sides and someone would yell “draw”. Then you’d grab that flip flop and overhand pitch it at your opponent. Head shots preferable. Great fun. “Someone” would start crying and Dad would yell
“knock that off!”

Still trying to Dad!

But the deadliest quick draw of them all was Auring. She really must have been paying attention during all those spaghetti westerns. You could be getting in to trouble across the room and she could have her back to you and in one fluid motion she could turn on one leg, bend the other up behind her, grab her flip flop and fire it across that room into the back of your head.
Pow! Sometimes you would see her reaching for it but before you could dive for cover she took you out. In the early days she still wore the wooden clogs called bakya. When you got hit with one of those you dropped like a log.
Although Keith holds the world’s record by several thousand, I have been the dumbfounded recipient of many a shot right between the eyes.