Monday, December 20, 2010

Part 42: Holiday Road

The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart,
When the full river of feeling overflows;--
The happy days unclouded to their close;
The sudden joys that out of darkness start
As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;--a fairy tale
Of some enchanted land we know not where,
But lovely as a landscape in a dream.
- "Holidays" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

While lowlanders considered Baguio the vacation destination, we who lived in the city on the other hand usually went somewhere else for our holidays. We got about a week at Thanksgiving and another at Easter, but the longest holiday was Christmas break, lasting close to three weeks. In my first years at Brent I spent the shorter holidays in Baguio with whatever missionary families my parents could pawn me off on. Sometimes I got to spend it at Camp John Hay at a classmate's home. Later, Jaime and I more often than not spent the shorter vacations together with his family in Baguio or at his house in Solano.

I was still nursing crushes on Leeanne and Lulie, but the former had a boyfriend in a band in Manila and Lulie was dating Jaime. But we were still friends and this year we took several trips together down to the lowlands where we'd spend a long weekend at Linda Schwartzendruber's home in Forbes Park or at Lulie Lawry's home on Clark Air Force Base.

Named after William Cameron Forbes (who in 1904 at the age of 34 became the Commissioner of Commerce and Police in the Philippines; 5 years later he was appointed Governor General), Forbes Park was a gated community founded in 1940's. The wealthiest families had homes there; Manila Country Club and the Polo Club were within its boundaries.

Besides the armed guards at the main gate, Linda's home had its own guards at their gate too. Situated right next to the Polo stables, I could see the riders practicing from the upstairs window. The house was enormous, the entry more like a hotel lobby, with a Chinese Rickshaw from Hong Kong under the curved stairway, an antique elephant chair from India and a huge Siberian Tiger skin on the floor. Our whole house in Tacloban could fit into the living room area (really a series of 5 living rooms)! The large dining room was circular and the table in it was too. and there were three kitchens back to back. Despite all the trappings that surrounded them, the Schwartzendrubers were a warm and down to earth couple. He was tall, looked kind of like Cary Grant but spoke more like Gregory Peck. She was dark haired and petite, she reminded me of Harriet Nelson from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

When we went to Manila we would stop and pick up a dozen roses to bring to Mrs. Schwartzendruber. Our afternoons were spent shopping in Makati, sometimes we would catch a movie at the Rizal Theater. Leeanne and I saw Young Frankenstein and Earthquake there. In the evenings we'd meet up with other Brent students, congregating together at someplace like Italian Village or Shakey's for pizza and beer. Afterwards, we might go to a schoolmate's home. A few times it was back to Linda's home to swim in her pool, play billiards and take advantage of one of the many fully stocked bars.

Going to Clark was a totally different experience. It was like being stateside, albeit a tropical U.S.A. American cars and trucks, stores and shops, even the neighborhoods looked American.

Founded in 1902 as a US Cavalry post called Fort Stotsenburg, it originally was home of the 26th Cavalry and the 86th and 88th Field Artillery regiments. Eventually the Army Air Corps established an airfield there and Clark Field was born. A bustling air base at the height of the Vietnam War, Clark Air Base was at that time the largest overseas U.S. Military base in the world, covering 156,204 acres. While in the early days most of it was uncultivated grasslands and jungle, the base grew up and around the old army post, a small city surrounded by tall, magnificent trees. The 13th Air Force Headquarters occupied buildings that went back to the early 1900's. The base was an odd mix of American Colonial bungalows and modern track housing.
The Officers' Club surrounded by the graceful old homes with large verandas, was a stark contrast to the modern rectangular block housing of the single enlisted men. There were shopping centers, bowling alleys, movie theaters, restaurants, clubs and schools. In the late 60's and early 70's there were around 8,000 American kids in the base's school system.

Lulie's mother Chloe met us in front of the house with hugs and kisses. A beautiful southern belle, she took a real shine to me and showered me with attention, which kind of annoyed Jaime because he was Lulie's boyfriend after all. But maybe she knew I was the odd man out and was compensating for the agony I was going through. She took me by the elbow and walked me into the house, completely ignoring Jaime. She asked me what I'd like to eat while I was there, she would fix whatever I was hungry for. So we had roast beef, ham, turkey and mashed potatoes, hamburgers and steaks, German chocolate cake, pecan and cherry pies, peach cobbler and ice cream. I was in 7th Heaven. On my second visit to their home she met me at the door with a big pitcher of screwdrivers calling out "Marky, look what I've got!".

One night well after midnight we were sitting around listening to music and talking when Lulie's dad came out in his uniform strapping his side arm to his waist and grabbing his automatic rifle from the closet. "We're on full alert. You kids stay inside till I find out what's going on" he told us. The next morning he called to say we could go outside but we had to stay on the base. Later that morning Lulie got her mom's car and we drove over to the Hobby Store to pick up some leather crafting supplies. She drove around the base to see if we could see what might be going on. The Main Gate was closed and they had big trucks blocking the entrance. The fighter jets were out of the hangers and they were all being armed. Base security trucks with .50 caliber machine guns in the back were driving the perimeter and even patrolling through the residential areas. Lulie and I were out sunning ourselves in the drive way when a jeep drove by slowing down to see if we were OK. It was pretty exciting but I never did find out what was going on.

It was at Clark that I had my first taste of good Irish Whiskey. One night Lulie's parents were having a dinner party for some of their friends and we were helping out in the kitchen. After the meal, it was time for coffee and dessert and Lulie's mom was making Irish Coffee. She carried a tray of cups into the living room but soon returned bearing a single mug. "Mark, taste this, it doesn't seem quite right." It looked delicious, whipped cream floating there with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top. I took a big swallow and choked, my eyes watering, the liquid burning it's way down my throat and into my stomach.
"Uhmm, There's no coffee in it" I sputtered and coughed, Jaime pounding my back.
"Whoops! I knew I forgot something!"

We went to the movies, sometimes to the Bobbit, other times to the Collin Kelly. One weekend we went over to the high school football field called the Bamboo Bowl, to see Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in "Papillon". We sat on the field watching the movie; I was painfully aware of the couple snuggling on the blanket next to me and vainly tried to ignore them. But they were in love and their happiness and contentedness spilled over, enveloping me in the warmth.




Thursday, November 18, 2010

Part 41: The Tempest

"These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air... We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with sleep."
from The Tempest by William Shakespeare


I'm sure there were school activities those first few months of school, some field trips maybe; my friends Leigh, Lulie and Leeanne had lead roles in Alice in Wonderland, but I can't really tell you much about the first part of the semester, because I was preoccupied, I had a girlfriend. For some reason it seemed to take up all my free time and I was neglecting my friends. I think they were sort of happy for me although they often appeared concerned. OK, so things got a little tempestuous at times. It was turning out to be an on again off again relationship. We would break up and then a few days or a week or two later we would get back together again. Things would be great at first, but then they would slowly start to fall apart and neither of us seemed to know why.

Mirroring my life, the 1974 Typhoon Season was a busy one, there were 35 typhoons or tropical storms between January and December that year. Not all the storms impacted the mountain provinces, but we had more than our share. Baguio had an early warning system, a siren located near City Hall which could be clearly heard around the city.
It consisted of a single or a series of siren wails; the Mayor would determine the number of signals depending on what the weather bureau (PAGASA) would announce:

Typhoon Signal #1 - some elementary schools had the option NOT to go to school, or if during the day, have parents pick them up.

Typhoon Signal #2 - elementary and high school kids go home, universities and government still at work. Heavy rain coming within the next 4 to 8 hours.

Typhoon Signal #3 - no work, no nothing, get home. Emergency/disaster groups and utilities get ready. Heavy rain, strong winds expected within the next 4 hours.

Typhoon Signal #4 - Typhoon is here, don't go out, very dangerous conditions.

Brent didn't recognize the first two signals, it was only when the third signal would commence that school would be let out. I never actually heard #4, by then the wind and rain were so strong that the sirens could not be heard.

There were a few minor storms and typhoons the first few months of school, but nothing that caused the school to close. This all changed when Typhoon
Susang hit Baguio one Thursday afternoon in October. I was in English class when we heard the first siren go off, no big deal we heard these often enough; then the second siren sounded and we all sat there pretending to be paying attention while listening with a cocked ear for the third siren. There it was! School was out! Susang struck Baguio on the 10th of October, bringing 30.8 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. A week later and we heard the sirens again, waiting with baited breath for that third siren. That typhoon was Tering and it was followed by Uding 6 days later. This was getting kind of old, it seemed my clothes were always damp. Typhoon Wening hit four days after that. On the first of November, Yaning blew through and Aning hit us a week after that. Each time now you could hear the classes around Ogilby counting out the sirens: one... two... three! The roar of cheers and the boarders would go running back to the dorms to fill the wood boxes with firewood, then to the canteen to stock up on snacks. The rain would start, then came the winds, eventually the power would go out; usually shut down by the power company to avoid injuries. We ate dinner by candlelight, later that night two raincoat clad houseboys would show up, one bearing a petromax lantern in one hand and a thermos of coffee and another of hot chocolate in the other; the other houseboy gingerly carried the inevitable tray of jelly rolls (we had the same snack every night for five years!).

Weekends during these typhoons were spent at Hamilton Hall (although the girls did surprise us a few times by showing up at the boys dorm), playing cards, eating snacks and listening to someone play the guitar while singing along. We would make the trek up the hill, leaning into the wind and by the time we arrived we would be completely soaked. There was always a roaring fire going and the girls would give us clothes to change into; we would line up our shoes on the hearth, hang our socks, shirts and jeans over the fireplace screen and watch the steam rise from our drying clothes.

Late one night during a typhoon we got a call from Hamilton Hall, Mr Pettitt needed some help boarding up a window that had broken in the storm. Jaime and I went over and on the way we picked up a piece of corrugated roofing that had come off the covered walkway. It was really tough trying to hang on to that tin sheet in the strong wind! When we got there we carried it up to the "4 L's" sala and helped Mr. Pettitt nail it over the window. While we were doing this Linda went to use the restroom, but came out a few minutes later screaming! There was a rat in the toilet! When she went to flush she noticed something wet and furry looking up at her from the bowl! Jaime grabbed the fireplace poker and I the tongs and while I held it down Jaime killed it! I was totally disgusted. From that day forward I always look in the toilet first...

Jaime and I were still in our sopping wet clothes, so the girls offered the use of their blazing fire to dry them out. We took off our clothes and I eventually found myself trying to get warm, huddled under a blanket with a pretty classmate in her room. How I got there or where the dorm master was I couldn't tell you. I was vaguely aware that we were both in our underwear (I can't tell you why she was because I never asked), but it never occurred to me that this might be an opportunity for hanky panky! Or at least it didn't occur to me till the next day when Jaime said something about it!

After
Typhoon Aning we had a break in the weather and Mr Asiatico decided he had better take advantage of the situation and make his annual trip to 100 Islands. We got to the coast and it was still a bit overcast and the water was choppy as we headed out to sea. About half way out we heard a shout from the bow and Mr Asiatico was pointing out to a pair of dorsal fins a hundred feet or so from our boat! This was the first time I had seen sharks other than the dead ones brought in by fishermen. Two of my classmates and fellow boarders, Tommy Lowman and Michael Kendrick were with me, Tommy had brought along his scuba gear and two extra pairs of swim fins and masks. He had brought along so much gear that Michael and I had to help him get it all in the boat. That first night after supper, we helped him get geared up and he tested out his new underwater flashlight. I was swimming along side using a snorkel when Tommy poked a bunch of sea cucumbers which suddenly expelled their innards! This was totally unexpected and with muffled shouts we swam quickly back to the beach. I guess they were as startled as we were!

Later that night Tommy and I snuck out to swim over to an island that was a few hundred feet from the one we were on. There had been a concrete bridge connecting the two, but Typhoon Susang had destroyed it. Now there were just the supports sticking out of the water. We were about half way there when churning waves threw us against the the busted up bridge. I felt a burning pain on my thighs where I scraped against rebar and broken concrete. We climbed on to one of the supports and Tommy shined his flashlight on my legs, they were covered in blood! He had a bad gash on his hand and we looked at each other and said
"SHARKS".
We couldn't stay there, so we once again swam as fast as we could back to shore. When we got back to camp, our classmate Marie cleaned our wounds and anointed us with iodine. Most of the scratches were not too deep, but my legs were a little stiff and sore the next morning. After breakfast we began collecting our samples and answering our worksheets. The sky was clear, it was warm and sunny and the water was calm. A couple of sea urchin fishermen showed up on a bamboo raft, they had long poles with a steel spike attached to the end. They would go along till they spotted a cluster of sea urchins, then used their poles to skewer them and bring them up. I was watching them from the edge of the water when I felt a sharp pain in the bottom of my foot. Thinking I had stepped on a thorn or a piece of glass I went up the beach and sat down in the sand to examine my foot. I was surprised to see a fish attached to my foot! I yanked it off and it left a little bloody hole in the sole. It turned out it was some small species of Remora, about 4 inches long, that used a sucker on the top of its head to hang on to sharks and would feed off the remains of whatever the shark was eating. A great specimen for our science class, but I was not happy that it had been collected at my expense.

We still had not learned our lesson about safe swimming practices because that afternoon while snorkeling alone on the backside of the island we suddenly felt ourselves in a strong current and were being pulled out to sea. After some desperate hard swimming we managed to catch hold of a coral reef. After several attempts at trying to cross the sharp antler coral barefoot, we ended up having to walk backwards in our swim fins.

Nights on the islands were a strange thing. There was no electricity, the only artificial light at night came from our camp fires and lanterns. When it was overcast it was pitch black, but when the skies were clear you could see fairly well. We kept waking up, thinking it was almost sunrise only to find out that it was one or two o'clock in the morning. On our last night I woke up knowing it must be hours till sunrise, but decided to walk down to the beach and watch the waves. I was sitting there, pondering my life, my relationship with my girlfriend that I knew was coming to a final end, when I heard someone come up behind me. I turned to look and it was a wondrous sight. Clad in a bikini, her waist length blond hair glowing silver in the starlight she came and sat close beside me, smelling of lavender and apricots and she was most beautiful. Jaime once said of her that she was the kind of girl his mother warned him about and accordingly gave her wide berth. I didn't see it, she was young and fresh, vivacious and alive. But I followed a code; I had a girlfriend back at Brent and this girl had a boyfriend there too and I felt honor bound not to break "the rules".

We didn't talk much, we shared a cigarette or two and she put her head on my shoulder. We sat and first watched the waves, then the sun rising up out of the water till we heard the voices of our waking classmates. Rising to her knees she kissed me lightly and went back to camp.

A lot has been written about living a life without regrets, but maybe you really haven't lived if you don't regret something. As I rode the bus back to Brent I know I was regretting my inaction, when my girlfriend broke up with me a few days later I really regretted it. Although mutually agreed upon, it didn't end well. Then, as if to put a final period (or maybe an exclamation point) to the end of our relationship, Typhoon Bidang slammed into
Baguio the following Thursday, the 28th of November, knocking down trees around the city and on our campus.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Part 40: Routines, Rituals and Traditions



As per my annual routine I returned to Baguio a week before school started. Arriving at Brent things were comfortably the same. Crossing Neutral to Binstead, I peeked in the lounge to see if anyone might be there. It was empty, but it was a friendly expectant emptiness, as if the room was waiting for us to return and bring it back to life.

Yet to say that school was unchanged from the previous year was not true. Like every other year since I started going to Brent, the 1974-75 school year brought big changes. When I got to the dorm one of the first things I discovered was that I was now on the top floor on the east side of the dorm (as a sophomore I had expected to be on the second floor again).
This was comforting in its own way, I had woken each day my first two years at Brent with the sun rise, from my high vantage point I could see the tree covered mountains in the distance. I went and collected my trunk and other belongings and then went to select mattresses for my room. My queen size from last year was no where to be found so I assumed some teacher had got to it first. After digging through a dozen or more I was able to find two kapok stuffed mattresses that were plump, firm and at the same time soft. I spent the rest of the day arranging, then rearranging my room. That night I lay in bed watching the lightning flashes on the distant mountains. It was good to be home.

The next morning I decided to take a shower and then head downtown to do some shopping. Knowing the dorm was empty I just threw my towel over my shoulder, picked up my shower kit and walked out the bathroom door only to discover another change. We had new dorm parents, the O'Neils, and there was Mrs O'Neil walking up the steps to introduce herself! Whoops! There I was doing the Full Monty! I think she was more embarrassed than I was, all she said was
"oh, my...". I skidded to a stop and did an abrupt about face (in case she wanted a rear view) and went back into the bathroom and wrapped my towel around my waist. After a few minutes I decided the coast was clear and made my way to my room to get dressed. At dinner that night she turned bright red as I was laughingly introduced to them by my former dorm mother Mrs Pettitt. The Pettitts were now dorm parents of the girls dorm. After having them as dorm parents for two years I kind of thought of Mrs Pettitt as my surrogate mom and I wasn't too sure I liked this change.

The next few days were quiet ones, I replicated my yearly routine of collecting my school books from the book store, getting a head start on my required reading, going to the library, making a trip downtown for siopao or shopping. Along with a slew of other kids, Jaime showed up the Friday before school started; he had the room across the hall from mine. Jaime and his family had just got back from short furlough in the U.S. and I was eager to hear of his adventures. One of the things he brought back was a pair of brown leather work boots which he called "shitkickers". I really liked them and so we went to town to see if we could find me a pair in the "army surplus" section of the market. This section of the market was mostly black market goods that somehow made it from the bases at Clark or Subic to the stalls of the Baguio market. There you could find American candy, cigarettes, Army, Air Force and Navy apparel. After a hour of searching I found a pair of brand new black Navy steel toed deck boots with vibram soles and they fit perfectly. Jaime picked up some brown shoe polish and a bar of saddle soap and then we headed over to the Rose Bowl for some chicken fried rice. I tell you of these mundane facts because these items became part of our routine. If we happened to be in the dorm when the dinner gong sounded, Jaime would come to collect me saying "let's go Kid" and off we would march side by side, our boots beating out the time on the pavement, then drumming on the wooden part of the sidewalk of Binstead, our feet hitting the swinging doors to the dining hall at the same moment which would burst open with a crash, a half second pause at the top of the landing, then Jaime would step to the right and I to the left,
ka thump, thump down the two steps, our grande entree!

The next day we went back into town again with Leeanne and Lulie to catch a movie and go to a used clothing store we had heard of, the forerunner of the
ukay-ukay shops that are so prevalent in Baguio today. I picked up a black cable-knit sweater and an olive green zip up jacket like the one Clint Eastwood wore in "Kelly's Heroes". At the urging of the girls Jaime and I also purchased matching pairs of striped bell bottom Levi brand hip huggers. Now we were stylin!

There were a lot of new kids in the dorms this year, Michael and Susan Kendrick from Australia, Juli Tin, Margie Geronimo, Chris Fassnacht, Donna Stackhouse, Cathy Blowers from Africa, Cindy Hill from Saigon, Marianne Salvo from Laos, Paul Bowman, James Jensen from Liberia, the Lipka brothers from Indonesia, Chuck Wheeler and Joan Barber who came from Saipan, Tommy and Mary Lowman out of Vietnam, and a bunch of Canadians, much to the delight of Leeanne Colvin. There was Dana Busse, Pierre Sabourin, Garth Patterson, Cindy and Kelly Low. Garth came to the dorms with his hockey sticks, I am not sure where he thought he would be playing. I think this was our most culturally diverse year, with the Canadians, four British kids, three Australians added to our normal Filipino and American mix.
The Brent student population really swelled that year, my class which in previous years bounced between 11 and 14 students, now numbered 22. Besides the high school students we also had that year for the first (and last) time Junior College students!

The first few weeks went by quickly, class and student council elections; the new Senior class president Norman Van Vactor quickly gaining huge popularity by securing Rug's old room off the dining hall as a private "Seniors Only" lounge. With all these new students, the annual Senior class fundraiser "Slave Day" was a huge success. The auction which normally ran about 30 to 40 minutes from beginning to end, dragged out to an hour and half. Relationships seemed to form quickly that year too, by the time Slave Day rolled around most of the "available" girls had boyfriends. Somehow I found myself with a girlfriend too.



Rituals. We all have them, the little things we do when we get up in the morning, when we go to bed at night. Humans are creatures of habit, we tend to like doing things in a certain order, step by step instructions, bullet points, map directions, the laundry lists of our lives. There is comfort in the sequence, a sense of accomplishment after completing a step. It is an unspoken acknowledgment: we can't control what is happening out there but we can control this. For some of us it is something more. The ritual of my annual return to Baguio and Brent is something I have written about many times; I am writing about it again to emphasize how much it meant to me. I could leave Baguio any way I liked, plane, car or bus. But I had to return exactly the same way each time now. I think subconsciously I was afraid to break my routine, as if it might jinx my new life. So I followed my routine: plane to Manila, taxi to the PNR bus station, bus to Baguio, closing my eyes and waiting for the scent of pine and the coolness on my cheek before opening them again. But there was something else I haven't mentioned before. When I stepped off the bus I experienced this emotional release; like the sensation a child experiences when they think they are lost and beginning to panic when suddenly they catch sight of their parents: the heart drops to the pit of the stomach and rebounds equally fast, pulling with it all the pent up fear and agony, the hiccup before the torrent of tears comes exploding forth with relief at being safe again. This is what I felt each time I returned, this is how much it meant to me.

"I'm back" I would silently whisper, wrapped in their warm embrace.

"... And like he told me, when she holds me, she enfolds me in her world."
from the song "Corey's Coming" by Harry Chapin



Friday, October 29, 2010

Part 39: Reap the Wild Wind

Mindanao has a rich and colorful history, the Moro natives there as different from other Filipinos across the archipelago as the natives of Kiangan or Bontoc in the mountains of Luzon were unique to their region. Upon the arrival of Magellan in 1521, Mindanao was Muslim (as was most of the Philippines) or "Moro" as the Spanish called them. The Spanish were only able to gain footholds here and there along the coast, building stone fortresses to protect them from the natives who fiercely resisted the Spanish rule. By the time the Americans arrived 377 years later they still had no control of the island. The Moros transferred their war from the old master to the new. From 1898 through 1913 the US Army fought the Moros with 4,234 US troops killed.

Then in 1915, Dr Frank Laubach arrived in the Philippines. Initially trying to work in the Lanao Del Sur region, it wasn't till 1929 that the US Army felt it was safe enough for an American missionary to take up residence in the Maranao area of Mindanao. With Camp Overton in Iligan and Camp Keithly in Marawi and a small floatilla of gun boats on Lake Lanao it was felt that they could balance the disruption that a Christian missionary would bring.

The word
Maranao, means "People of the Lake", referring to the indigenous people who inhabited the lands around Lake Lanao whose principal town is Marawi. They are famous for their artwork, sophisticated weaving, wood and metal craft, and their epic literature. Realizing that he had to fundamentally change his western views of the Maranao and other Moro tribes he wrote:

"..I must confront these Maranaos with a divine love that will speak Christ to them, though I never use his name. They must see God in me and I must see God in them. What right then have I or any other person to come here and change the name of these people from Muslim to Christian, unless I lead them to a life fuller of God then they have now? Clearly, clearly, my job here is not to go to the town plaza and make proselytes, it is to live wrapped in God, trembling to His thoughts, burning with His passion."

Over the years he opened a school for Maranaos and he developed the "Each One Teach One" literacy program. It has been used to teach an estimated 60 million people to read in their own language. He was deeply concerned about poverty, injustice and illiteracy, and considered them barriers to peace in the world.
Laubach is the only American missionary to be honored on a US postage stamp.
(For a brief history of the Moro Wars: http://www.morolandhistory.com/00.Text%20Document/brief_history_of_america_and_moros.01.htm)

Summer Vacation. Again. In contrast to previous summers I was really looking forward to this one. Norman Van Vactor, a fellow boarder at Brent, had unexpectedly invited me to spend the summer with him. I had known Norman since my first day at Brent; our parents worked for the same mission board and my father had been to their home before. I had visited Mindanao several times, had been to the cities of Zamboanga, Davao, Cagayan and even Cotobato before but I had never been to Marawi.

Marawi was situated on the shores of Lake Lanao. The Van Vactors were old hand missionaries, Norman's folks having first arrived in the Philippines in 1948. They lived in Cagayan de Oro from 1954 through 1967, then they were reassigned to Marawi where Dr Van Vactor served as president of Dansalan College.(Established in 1950, Dansalan College was opened to provide an opportunity for the Muslim young people to gain a higher education. At the time there was only one other secondary school in the area, a trade school.)


So after sweating it out for a week or two back home in Tacloban, I was packed and ready to go when we received a telegram. Norman's mother Maisie had become quite ill and my trip to Marawi would have to be canceled. I had been struggling to maintain my sanity and composure, but now the thought having to spend the rest of the summer at home seemed impossible. Then a week later I got a second telegram telling me to come on down!

So I boarded a plane from Tacloban to Cebu, spent most of the day waiting in the airport for my flight to depart for Iligan, which like Baguio's airport was notorious for getting socked in by fog and bad weather. Unlike Tacloban's tiny provincial airport, Cebu's Mactan Airport was large, sleek and modern. They even had TV monitors scattered around the waiting area and I watched "The Man called Flintstone" while waiting. We didn't even get any television reception in Tacloban, so I thought it was great! Finally, my flight was called and I was on my way! Norman met me at the airport at Iligan which was about the size of Tacloban.

The first thing we did after being met at the airport was to head to a barber shop. Norman told me that the locals took a real dim view of long haired hippies and he didn't want to attract any more attention than was necessary. I wasn't sure if he meant the PC (Philippine Constabulary) or the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), but at this point I was so relieved to be there I would have gotten a military style buzz cut and was telling the barber to do so when Norman said No, that wasn't necessary. Funny how I steadfastly refused to give my father his wish and at the drop of a hat I was more than willing to shave my head at the askance of a friend. So this is the cut I got. I felt like Samson after Delilah had his hair cut, as if my hair had been my strength.

From there we headed up the mountain to Norman's home. Marawi is nestled on plateau, 27oo feet above sea level. It was a long drive up winding roads and over rolling hills surrounded by tall Cogongrass. Norman nonchantly mentioned as we were driving that on this very same road the previous week a PC convoy had been ambushed by the MNLF. It was a perfect place for an ambush and it brought home the fact that the civil unrest so far removed from my life in Baguio and Tacloban was alive and well here on Mindanao. Norman explained that as long as we were off the road well before dusk we would be fine. We had some autonomy of movement because of the services and good works Dansalan College provided and the way the Van Vactors and the Laubachs before them dealt with the Manranao people. Still, it was more than prudent to be careful. Norman's summer job was running errands and picking up supplies for the college, so we would be driving this road weekly. (On one such trip we headed back home late in the day when we were stopped by a column of PC. They ordered us to haul them back to the army camp in Marawi. I was pretty nervous, as were the soldiers in the back of the truck, keeping their eyes peeled for MNLF soldiers)

Maise Van Vactor was propped up with pillows and wrapped in a blanket when we walked in the door, but she greeted me warmly. A beautiful woman, she had sparkling mischievous eyes and a matching smile. She held out her arms and gave me a vigorous hug. I knew right then that I was going to have great time there. There was the sound of rapid scampering feet and here came their dachshund Willy at full speed sliding around the corner. He may have been 14 years old but he still had a lot of energy! Norman showed me to his room where I could stow my bag and pointed out the bullet hole in the wall above his bed, a recent addition. He had been reading in his room and his mother was hanging up some clothes in his closet when it happened. That night we were on the veranda and I saw flashes of light on the horizon. "Look," I said "there is a big thunderstorm over there".
No, that is artillery fire.
Another grim reminder of the conflict, for the first time I realized that there was a "real" war going on here.


We spent the weekdays plying between Iligan and Marawi, picking up lumber, building materials, groceries and other supplies for the college. Weekends we toured the town and its markets: shiny brass urns, pots, platters and gongs, wavy bladed kris swords, hand woven and dyed fabrics; I picked up some cotton batik for my mom. I thought about buying a Malong. Here most men and women wore malongs, a traditional "tube skirt" like the sarong worn by peoples in Indonesia and Malaysia. The most beautiful are made by Maranao, Maguindanau and T'boli weavers. They can function as a skirt for both men and women, a dress, a blanket, a sunshade, a bedsheet, a hammock; most of my friends used them to sleep in.

There were around 20 waterfalls in the Iligan area, I don't remember which ones we went to but I do know we went to Maria Christina falls, where we swam in the cold water. We also boated and swam in Lake Lanao. When Norman and his family moved to Marawi in 1968 he had to leave his beloved banca (outrigger canoe) behind. So he found plans for a English style punt in Popular Mechanics and the maintenance shop of the college built it for him. It was 18 ft boat powered by a Johnson 4 horse engine, great for the calm waters of Lake Lanao. I was in the water swimming when Norman crawled back in the boat and started up the engine, and took off across the lake. He was just a speck on the other side and I was beginning to wonder how long I could keep treading water when he began heading back towards me. I was pretty tuckered out by the time he got back to pick me up.

Besides the truck, we also drove his families Toyota Crown. Crown was Toyota's top of line luxury model, it came in coupes, sedans and station wagons. In Japan the sedans were used for limousines but for some reason Toyota never really tried to market the Crown very strongly in the US. The Van Vactor's Crown was only a lowly station wagon, but underneath the unassuming hood was a souped up hot rod! Due to the increasing violence in the area it had been decided that, in case of an emergency, the already large engine should be modified for quick get-aways. A Hurst speed shifter and a Holley 4 barrel double carburetor had been installed and that wagon could fly! We would drive the "old family wagon" when ever we could. Norman would depress the accelerator and you could hear the click of the Holley kicking in. It was quite a sight to see a plain old station wagon burnin' rubber! The 26 mile drive from Marawi to Iligan that normally took us around an hour or so in the truck could be be cut down to 20 minutes if there was no traffic! Norman really loved to put the wagon through her paces. He had been given some evasive driving lessons (including controlled braking and 180 degree spins) and was eager for any excuse to practice. Decades before the term Tokyo Drift came into common usage, Norman was busy on the mountain roads honing his shifting and braking skills. One night we flew down the mountain, reaching speeds up to 124 miles an hour! I swear I could feel the front end lifting off the road!

One of the services the College provided was a clinic. Part of Norman's job included driving the nurse to villages in the area. One night Norman, his brother Ross and I were parked in front of a Datu's (Chief headman) house, waiting for the nurse to finish her work, it was getting late and we were eager to get back home. It got darker and then I heard Norman hiss:
Whatever you do, don't make any sudden moves, keep your eyes straight ahead!

Then a dozen or so heavily armed men came filing by on either side of the car. We kept still and pretended they didn't exist. They went into the house and we continued to wait. Finally, Norman said I guess we had better go see what is going on. I had strong misgivings about getting out of the car but didn't want to sit in it alone either so followed him into the house. We were greeted and welcomed into the Datu's living area and were offered refreshments. As the servant went through a door way that was blocked off by a large batik curtain I saw an astounding sight: dozens of shiny new M-16s, a 50. caliber machine gun, rocket propelled grenades and box after box of ammunition. I quickly averted my eyes thinking to myself, "We're all gonna die", but half a hour later, we finished our snacks and were on our way home. I gained a lot of empathy for these people whom I now saw were just farmers trying to hang on to their land and way of life from the ever encroaching land grabbers and speculators. This did not necessarily make me feel any safer, but at least I was able to begin to see their point of view.

Then it was time to head back to Tacloban.
It had been a wonderful summer, the best in so many years and I was so grateful to the Van Vactors for letting me come in spite of her illness and told them so repeatedly, but I was surprised to see tears in her eyes when Mrs Van Vactor hugged me goodbye.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Part 38: Mourning Becomes Electra

With conclusion of "Joseph", work began on Everyman, a medieval morality play, to be performed once again at Brent's St Nicholas Chapel. Rug surprised everyone by promoting Gordon Strachan from his role of archbishop (in the play Murder in the Cathedral) to the role of God in Everyman! This was definitely not a case of typecasting! Jaime got the role of Death, Elmer was the Messenger. There were new faces to our theater group as well: Paul Becker got the lead, his brother Mark was Fellowship, Fred Thomas was Kindred, Robert Rivera was Good Deeds, Norman Van Vactor got the role of Knowledge (Everyman I will go with thee and be thy guide); and as for me, well I was relegated to lying under the front pew, holding a flashlight to provide extra lighting at key moments during the play. But at least I got a front row view!

This play turned out to be a real crowd pleaser and was another feather in Rug's cap! And he didn't slow down; right after the last performance of Everyman, he caught a flight to Italy so he could direct "
The Most Important Man" by Pulitzer prize winner Gian Carlo Menotti. He returned three weeks later with autographed postcards from the theater signed by Mr Menotti for us!

Time was moving swiftly. The mile posts that signaled the final days of the school year came and went:
Senior Skip Day, the Science Fair, PRISAA Nationals, Field Day and the Junior-Senior Prom. Even at Brent, where a single school year could hold an eternity of lifetimes, another year was all too quickly coming to an end. Teachers and students, people we had loved, laughed and lived with, would be leaving. Most we would never see again. Growing up with a transient lifestyle I knew this and comprehended it. But I wanted an end to the constant changes and movement. I wanted permanence. I tried to extract the most out of each moment, sucking up words, memories and mementos, storing them away, as if that could somehow slow the march of time.

I wasn't the only one who felt this way, the little farewells were taking place. Cathy McAlister had just been reunited with her boyfriend Nathan and now they would be separated again when she left for college. Daily now, faculty and staff would approach and hug graduating seniors like Jean Clark, Ginger Hamilton and Michelle Woods, some they had known their entire lives; now they were about to enter universities in the United States, a country they barely knew.
Then one day before graduation, Peg appeared with a
pasiking on her back. Peg Hamil. Always quick to put me in my place, to correct my mistakes, pointing out errors in my judgment and thought process. More than any other friend she molded and shaped me. Typical anti-establishment Peg, she was leaving, not waiting around for graduation day. Her friends gathered around for hugs and goodbyes and she turned to go. Beth started sobbing and turned away, but Renee and I walked with her to the gate. She gave us some last words of advice and a whack on the head for good measure. We watched her figure growing smaller as she walked down Brent Road; I turned to say something philosophical to Renee (whose eyes were streaming) and she slugged me. Renee hit harder than most guys, her punches always left huge bruises. It was just her way of telling me to shut up.

The Jenista's were moving on. Mrs Jenista full of life and laughter; standing me up and singing in the dining hall impromptu! Mr Jenista brought history to life for me. Connections, he would say, it was all about connections. Random acts strung together precipitating monumental events. He showed us how the actions of individuals and governments could affect events decades or centuries later. He taught me to soberly reflect and review, not to be so caught up in the emotions of the moment. I wondered how it would be to grow up in the Philippines, to graduate from and then come back and teach at Brent, then have to leave again. Was it what he thought it would be, was the experience diminished by the changes at Brent?

And Rug was leaving us too. We had a going away party for him one night, Leigh and I went to town and picked up a bottle of wine as his going away present and we made him a card put together from the programs of the different plays he had directed. Later that night, after the throng had left, there remained those closest to him: Leigh, Elmer, Jaime and myself. He shared the wine, shared some advice, shed some tears. Of all my teachers he affected me the most. Not so much with his constant strive towards excellence and perfection, but in showing me that before one can stand firmly behind ones convictions first he must reflect upon his own character, its weaknesses and flaws before passing judgment on others. This has always been hard for me because it runs contrary to my upbringing. But I strive for it everyday.
Then, just as suddenly as he came into our lives, Rug was gone.



"...And that's the end. He passes away under a cloud, inscrutable at heart, forgotten, unforgiven and excessively romantic. Not in the wildest days of his boyish visions could he have seen the alluring shape of such an extraordinary success. For it may very well be that in the short moment of his last proud and unflinching glance he had beheld the face of that opportunity, which like an Eastern bride had come veiled to his side. But we can see him an obscure conqueror of fame tearing himself out of the arms of a jealous love at the sign, at the call of his exalted egoism. Is he satisfied quite now, I wonder? We ought to know. He is one of us and have I not stood up once like an evoked ghost to answer for his eternal constancy? Now he is no more, there are days when the reality of his existence comes to me with an immense, with an overwhelming force and yet upon my honour there are moments too when he passes from my eyes like a disembodied spirit astray amongst the passions of this earth, ready to surrender himself faithfully to the claim of his own world of shades..." from Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Part 37: Visitors




We were rehearsing twice a day now and Rug was pulling out what remained of his hair, trying to get us to properly enunciate the lyrics for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. We finally got it down fairly well, but I think he just gave up hoping we would get it perfect. Besides, we were going hoarse from all the singing and the kitchen was now supplying hot tea steeped with ginger root to sooth our sore throats. It was a little awkward performing in the narrow Amos assembly hall, there wasn't enough room for the chorus and the band to join the actors on the same stage, so we were positioned about halfway down the room while the band was off to one side of the stage. We were facing the audience so we couldn't see the action on stage, focusing our attention on Rug, just where he wanted it to be! Jaime and Elmer really got in to their roles and we picked up on their energy and sang with gusto!

Between theater productions our Junior Varsity team got the opportunity to play soccer on the Varsity team. We were playing an
exhibition game with PMA (the Philippine Military Academy) at Brent and they were killing us. They were physically so much bigger than the players on our high school team and injuries were taking their toll. The varsity coach (Mr Jenista) was even playing trying to keep us from looking too bad. Early in the game the Coach Allegre passed the word for the JV team to suit up and I ran back to the dorm to grab my uniform. He was going to rotate us in as filler to give the Varsity players a chance to rest. As I stepped off of the Neutral on to the asphalt my cleats slipped on the pavement and I landed on my ass! Right in front of the girlfriend. Ah, the humiliation! But I didn't look back to see if Trini was laughing at me and headed gingerly down to the field. Just as I got to the top of the steps I saw Mark Becker trying to steal the ball from one of the PMA forwards. They both kicked at the ball at the same time and Mark Becker fell over. He tried to stand up but fell over again. The ref stopped the game and Coach Allegre ran over to see if he was OK. By the time I got to our bench he was helping Mark off the field. A broken leg!
"you're in Walter" ... uh, that would be me.
My stomach was in knots as I ran out on to the field. These PMA guys were huge! Well, maybe our guys can keep the ball on the opposite end I thought. It didn't last long and soon this human tank of a player came barreling down the field towards me and I bravely raced forward to meet him. My foot connected with the ball, his shoulder hit mine and then the world got funny. I was flipping
horizontally in the air, I saw the sky three times before landing on my back with the wind knocked out of me. I struggled to my feet trying to divine the location of the ball and hoped he wouldn't score. Our goalie managed to save the ball and once again I prayed that the ball would stay on the other side of the field. No such luck. Here came the tank again and when he spied me he got this big grin on his face. This time he just ran right over me. Literally. I saw stars and felt my teeth rattle as he stepped on my head, then heard the referee's whistle and felt someone lifting me up, the field out of focus; there wasn't any part of my body that didn't hurt.
"Walter you're out!" ...Thank You Jesus.

On the first of March the International Club (
Pilipino, French and Spanish classes) took a field trip to the old colonial Spanish town of Vigan. We left Brent around 5:30 one morning and stopped in Bauang for breakfast provided by the parents of my classmate Bessie Manaois. When we got to Vigan a few hours later we headed over to St. Paul's Cathedral with it's free standing octagonal bell tower for a tour of the church and the Archbishop's palace all dating back to the late 17oo's. We then toured the Mestizo district with it's old Spanish homes, considered to be the best preserved colonial Spanish town in Asia. It was a city steeped in Philippine history: home to Father Jose Burgos, one of three priests executed in the early 1800's during a rebellion against Spanish rule; a hundred years later it was the headquarters for General Emilio Aguinaldo (first president of the Philippines) who fought against the Spanish and then the Americans. Then the Governor of Ilocos Sur invited our group over for a lavish barbecue luncheon at his ranch. The meal was more Spanish than Filipino in style, pit cooked beef, pork and goat served on sword-like skewers, Spanish appetizers called tapas, big platters of paella, meat filled empanadas and leche flan for desert. There was San Miguel beer and icy cold pitchers of Sangria, which unfortunately we were not able to taste. Well, at least not when any of the teachers were looking! Afterwards, stuffed and sleepy, we went back to town to shop in the open air markets and stores. Then, to top off a most excellent outing, on the way back to Baguio we stopped at the beach to swim before returning to Brent.

A few days later our dorm mother Mrs. Pettitt gave birth to a baby boy! We were excited to have another addition to our dorm. All was well with the world. Then one day all my sense of well being vanished. I received a letter from Mom telling me that my Aunt and Uncle were coming from Japan and that her and Dad were going to bring them up to Baguio for a visit. At the bottom of the letter she wrote
"your father wants you to make sure you cut your hair..."

We had been reading
My Name is Asher Lev in Rug's English Literature class, the story of a boy with an artistic talent, a gift his parents, relatives and neighbors cannot relate to and do not understand. I saw my life mirrored in those pages, strong domineering father often absent from home, parents wrapped in work and academia with little time or patience for their son. While I found solace in the words, I found no solutions or answers. Only the directive to be true to ones self. So, of course I didn't get my hair cut. As the day of their visit neared, I grew more agitated, this was not going to be a good thing I predicted. My friends grew concerned about me, so much so that they approached some of my teachers and broached the subject. I guess they were concerned too because on the day they arrived I got called to the office and was told my family was at the gate, but to wait at the office. Then Mr Jenista went down to the gate to escort my parents on to campus. I could see him talking with my parents before they began the walk up the hill.

The tension was palpable as we walked towards each other but before my Dad could say anything my Aunt said
"Paul his hair isn't that long! The way you talked I thought it must be down to his knees! My son's hair is about as long as his!" This simple statement endeared her to me for life. It not only altered the way my parents viewed me, it toned down the way Dad spoke to me. Well, a little bit anyway. Mr Jenista gave my family a tour of the Brent campus while I went back to class. Later that afternoon I changed into some nicer clothes and met them for dinner at Mario's. I'd like to say we had a pleasant visit but you can see from the expressions on everyone's faces that no one is too happy.

I didn't see too much of them the rest of their stay in Baguio (the first and only time my parents came to the campus to see me), they toured the city and the markets, visited some other Lutheran missionaries and then they were gone.



Below are excerpts from the program for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.



Thursday, September 9, 2010

Part 36: The Great Escape



"All the best stories in the world are but one story in reality - the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times..."
~ Walter Bagehot



"Ah, Herr Bartlett. And Herr MacDonald. We are together again. You're going to wish you had never put us to so much trouble..."



I adhered to my ritual when I returned to school: plane to Manila, taxi to bus station, bus to Baguio, taxi to Brent, two or three days with the campus to myself. Freedom. On the bus I would close my eyes in silent benediction, waiting for the first wafts of cool angel's wings to brush my cheeks, the scent of pine trees holy incense, then lifting my lids in supplication. Salvation. Like a returning soldier or a man released from prison, I wanted to fall to my knees and kiss the ground; sometimes I did. Zion.

Jaime showed up the next day, his family was spending a few days at the United Methodist Mission cabins. He invited me over and we went down to Jean Clark's house to hang out. The Clark's had a tire swing on a long rope and there were a bunch of kids already there climbing to the top of a platform and jumping off. First one kid would drag the tire up to the top of the platform and start it swinging, when it returned they would climb on and then another kid would leap on the next time it came back. This would continue, with each cycle the tire getting further away from the platform, the rope twisting and spinning, kids on the tire making way for the next jumper. This was a rough game, there was no telling where the jumpers head, elbows, knees or feet would strike and sometimes the jumper would miss completely and belly flop in the dirt below. We did this for hours and were all pretty scraped and bruised up when Michelle Woods leaped from the platform and missed the rope. She managed to get one hand on the tire and another on someone's belt but was drug beneath the tire for several feet before letting go. This was a mistake because when the tire came back it struck her in the head. We all quickly piled off to see how she was doing. She had a bloody lip and bruised face; there were some tears and some first aid, then back to the swing!

That first Sunday back we had a new student at our table, Linda Schwartzendruber. Like Leigh, she had moved to the Philippines from Hong Kong and Leigh was tickled pink to have someone to talk to about it. Now there were
4 "L's" at our table: Leeanne, Lulie, Leigh and Linda. Intelligent, sharp, witty and cunning, they were to become a cardinal force never to be crossed. We were fortunate to be on their good side for the most part. Except on one occasion, when we were invited to join the girls for dinner off campus. Jaime and I had our "SPs" (special permits), were dressed and heading to the gate and as we passed the canteen below the kitchen we could smell supper cooking. Tapa. Our favorite. Tapa is a marinated then cured beef dish that the cooks at Brent made especially well, although not particularly beloved by those with western palates. Neither Jaime or I said anything but our pace slowed and when we reached the covered walkway we stopped. Then without ever saying a word we directed our feet up the hill to the dining hall. Boy, were they pissed that we stood them up! But they were serving tapa! I tried to explain.

The second half of the school year started out with the same flurry of activity as the first. First was the Science Fair, then Rug held auditions and began rehearsals for
Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This was a joint effort between the upper and lower schools with some help from teachers, parents and some students from St. Louis University. The lower school was going to act out the story while the upper school was going to do the singing. Jaime got the part of the Narrator, Mr Pettitt was singing the part of Joseph and Elmer Strasser was Pharoah.

There were field trips, beach trips and dances: the anthropology class headed up into the mountains, the Explorer Scouts went to Bobok, the Art Department went to Crystal Cave and then dug some clay to experiment with. I tried to kiss Cecily Drury on the way back from the beach but Terrence Spencer, a perennial thorn in my side, kept turning around and grinning at us, chanting
Mark and Cecily sitting in a tree... and that is as far as that went. Brent had a Valentine's Day dance at the Mile Hi Club on John Hay where Kathy Duncan was voted Queen, with Cindy Johnson and my classmate Marie Strasser (voted Princesses) placing second and third.

Madame Chan, the proprietor of the
Old Pagoda came and gave a lecture on Li Po, Chinese poetry and art. She got a big laugh and lots of applause when she said if we didn't know who Li Po was we were not getting a good education.

And then Lulie wrote an article for the school paper about the quality of food in the dining hall which culminated in the "Great Escape". The food was getting a little
iffy. There was a lot of grumbling amongst the boarders, some kids regularly filled up on Freddie's burgers before supper or visited the dorm canteens after hours. Sometimes Domingo, our waiter, would put the platter on the table, poke at it with the serving spoon and sniff disparagingly. The cooks were doing the best they could with the budget, menu and recipes provided and they knew when they had produced something questionable. Part of the problem was that a lot of the kids were used to better fare, few were familiar with the Filipino dishes that occasionally frequented our tables and none were used to institutional type meals that now graced our plates.

I don't know where or when the idea originated, but soon the topic of skipping off campus to eat somewhere was being whispered everywhere. The Seniors and Juniors formulated the plans, issued strict instructions, picked a date, made reservations and alerted our friends in the kitchen not to expect the usual number of victims. The basic plan was we were to abide by school rules (other than sneaking off campus!), stick together (no side excursions) and return to the campus
en masse. We snuck off campus in twos or threes one Friday night, each group picking different locations to jump the fence and headed to Mario's for supper. Mario's was a great little Italian restaurant owned by the Benitez family and a favorite haunt of ours. All the Benitez kids went or had gone to Brent, so it was a little tricky because we were known, but it all worked out and the faculty never suspected a thing. Before we began eating Norman tapped his glass with a spoon, we stood up and said our school dinner prayer.
Bless us O Lord, this food for our use and us to Thy service, make us ever mindful of the needs of others, through Christ our Lord, Amen.


After supper, the bill paid and tips left, we walked back to campus, singing songs, laughing till we got in sight of the Brent gate, where it all died out.

There waiting for us were Mr Pettitt and Mr Jenista and they did not look happy. They divided up the girls and the guys and marched us back to the dorms. We got a lecture when we got back to the dorm about breaking the rules and respecting the feelings of the dietitian and the cooking staff, we were informed that the entire dorm (
sans the cowards who didn't go) were campused for the rest of the weekend and Mr Pettitt hinted there would be additional punishments as well. Then we were sent off to bed.

The additional punishments began bright and early the next morning when we were all awakened and told to get up, get dressed in work clothes and go eat breakfast. Domingo and the other waiters pretended to be angry with us, frowning and wagging their fingers at us. A few of the cooks stuck their heads out of the kitchen and grinned to see so many tired faces, the biggest turnout for a Saturday breakfast yet!

After we ate Mr Pettitt and Mr Jenista announced that we would be forming work details. The boys dorm was led down to the pig pens, we were handed shovels and wheelbarrows and told that we would be digging pits for cesspools and emptying the old ones. The new ones were dug by early afternoon, but it was the emptying of the full pits that was giving us trouble. The contents had the color and consistency of stiff chocolate pudding , but there just was no easy way to remove it without getting filthy. A wooden plank was placed over the pit and we took turns walking it and shoveling it out. The smell was overwhelming. It was a wretched, dirty mess. Every so often someone would yell
"Who's shit is this?" and the rest of us would shout in reply "Pettitt's!" or "Jenista's!".
They just laughed, we were doing the dirty work.

As the day progressed the plank grew slippery with manure. I was on the plank and turned to empty my shovel full into a wheel barrow when I slipped off the board. Up to my chest in pig manure! I struggled to get out because no one really wanted to give me a hand! I stripped out of my reeking clothes and there were leaches on my arms and legs, fortunately none in my underwear! Someone used a cigarette to get them off me and then I headed back to the dorm to take a shower. At least I got out of digging!


Monday, August 30, 2010

Part 35: Christmas in Manila



"She asked him why:
Why I'm a hairy guy?
I'm hairy noon and nighty-night night
My hair is a fright
I'm hairy high and low
Don't ask me why
Cause he don't know
It's not for lack of bread
Like the Grateful Dead
Darling

Gimme a head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming,
Streaming, flaxen, waxen

Give me down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair"
~ The Cowsills



My hair had grown quite long; I hadn't had a haircut for sometime now and I was beginning to be a little apprehensive about the upcoming Christmas holidays. I let my hair go partly because it set me apart from everyone else, partly because it made me feel cool, but mostly because the girls liked it. Because of this I was more than willing to face my father's wrath. After lunch I'd sit on the Neutral and one or more girls would comb, brush, braid and style it. As it grew longer they would eventually give me a long braided pony tail or maybe a French Twist, using chop sticks, barrettes, hair clips and bobby pins. Sometimes I'd leave it for the rest of the day and sometimes a teacher would yell at me to take it out. I got teased occasionally but I didn't care, mostly it was because they were jealous.

Peg Hamil, Cathy McAllister and sometimes Kathy Duncan would spend hours after school talking and working on my hair. For Cathy McAllister it was therapeutic, her boyfriend had been "detained" by the PC. One day he never made it home from school. No one knew where he was or what happened to him. Then two or three weeks later his parents found out he was being held at Camp Crame, headquarters for the Philippine Constabulary and one of many detention centers for "dissidents". So, we tried to keep her mind off of it, keeping her company, telling stories, going to movies and working on my coiffure.

I was over at Hamilton Hall helping clean up the day after a dance and the girls started working on me, clips in my hair, a little make up and a crepe paper skirt. Mrs Jenista wanted a picture so here I am posing, with Elmer Strasser down on one knee in mock proposal.





Brent was participating in a citywide Christmas festival and we were organized to be in a parade and then some folk dancing down at Burnham park. Peg, Cathy, the Duncan sisters and I were at the back of the line.

Here we are waiting for the parade to start, notice I am pulling a bottle of Mateus from under my jacket. Hmm, the Duncan sisters seem a little too jolly.



This is as far as we ever got, because as soon as the parade started we ditched and first went over to Madame Chan's to do a little Christmas shopping.
The Old Pagoda Shop was one of my two favorite places to shop for gifts, the other was the Pied Piper. The Old Pagoda was filled to the rafters with things to buy. Some were genuine antiques and artifacts, others artful fakes, all of it very interesting. I picked out some incense, a few things for my mother and special friends, then we headed over to the Rose Bowl for some fried rice. It was vaguely disconcerting to see these slightly tipsy, normally straight laced, follow-the-rules kind of girls nervously clutching their bottles of San Miguel, Beth laughing uproariously with her booming laugh at the slightest joke.

What with the plays and parades I forgot to make my airline reservations to get home that Christmas. No, really, I forgot. So, when school let out for the holidays and I got to Manila I was stuck at the Guest House. First available flight out was December 27th. Not too bad a place to spend Christmas I thought, they had a fairly good selection of books and there were plenty of shops and department stores within a few blocks. It was fun to shop and browse those first few days, but then my parents decided I needed to spend Christmas with a "family", so they telegraphed some missionaries they knew and I ended up spending a few days at "Sydney's" home. I hadn't seen her since the Christmas before and she still was as cute as ever and her volumes had gotten bigger too. Her Dad was painfully aware of this and kept a close eye on us whenever he could. She was used to him playing watchdog and devised all manner of evasions that would give her a minute or two alone with me. But most of the time we hung out in the kitchen with her Mom, baking cookies and other treats for Christmas. Sydney had some peculiar habits and tastes one of which was dill pickles dipped in
Elmer's glue. I'm not kidding and she kept trying to get me to try it. I thought of all the nasty stuff glue is supposed to be made from and would put her off. But girls are real good at getting boys to do things and she turned her feminine wiles on full blast. Not the worst thing I have ever tasted, but not the best either. I was surprised, but pleased when on Christmas day they had presents for me too, thinking that at least I would be getting something for Christmas. It was interesting to see how other missionaries lived, especially those in the cities with access to imported American products. Their lifestyle was so different from ours in the boondocks where even getting comics or magazines in English was tough.

I did make it home for about a week that year, though it hardly seemed worth the effort. It started with the usual
"My prodigal daughter returns" and ended with "My prodigal daughter returns to school". Mom really tried hard to make it a good Christmas for everyone, she had even asked me what I wanted and tried to get them for me, although when I said I wanted an "ELO" or "The Beatles" album I meant Electric Light Orchestra not Enoch Light and his Orchestra play the Beatles. She also gave me some cash and a bundle of Enid Blyton paperbacks, really out of my age range but they were real gifts this time and she was trying to pay attention to the three boys, kissing and hugging us, playing the piano and singing. She brought Mrs Hinakay over from Samar exclusively to make me some shirts and Mom and I went to buy some fabric where I picked out some off white muslin and assorted cotton pastels. Auring didn't really approve of my hair either, but she still made my favorites: beef adobo, fried chicken, roast beef and browned potatoes. Of course I had tuyo and bulad every day.