Saturday, November 20, 2010

Censorship bored

A few weeks ago, at the internet shop, I heard for the first time, and many times thereafter, a song which is probably very familiar to young people and to those who listen to their music. (“Their music.” That it! The final confirmation! I’m old.) What struck me was what passed for a chorus and if it did not stick in my mind for its content it certainly did because of seemingly endless repetition. It was, “I wanna be a billionaire so fuckin’ bad…” The lyrics may be very clever but that is all of the song that I noticed enough to remember. It was played, at considerable volume, over speakers, not only in the shop, but in the open area shared by a snack bar, a salon, a tiny general merchandise shop and anyone who happened to be passing by.
The first thing that struck me was ‘billionaire’. ‘Millionaire’ is no longer a sufficient goal for semi-illiterate song-writers; they want to be billionaires.
The second was the free use of the once-shocking word ‘fuck.’ In the distant past, perhaps forty years ago, a comic who specialized in social commentary did a bit about “the words you can’t say on television” (which included ‘hell’ among others) and part of the appeal of his monologue was the frequent repetition of the word ‘fuck’. (I do not understand the coy bowdlerism, popular in newspapers, of ‘f--k’ or similar substitutions for ‘fuck’. How is that less offensive than the word spelled out?) In fact, another comic, Lenny Bruce, a short generation earlier (For comics, ‘generation’ is defined by the brief time that their humor is unique or ground-breaking.) was removed from the stage and arrested for using obscenities in his routine, and chief among them was the word ‘fuck’. Now it’s broadcast for anyone to hear, whether they choose to or not.
I probably wouldn’t have thought to write about it but on Sunday I took the kids to a 7th birthday party for one of Shintaro’s classmates, Zeus, (pronounced Zay Ooos, something like ‘Hey youse’.) First and seventh birthdays are particularly important here. I think it’s a Chinese influence or perhaps it’s common throughout Asia, or even all third-world nations, and I suspect it’s a celebration that the child has survived the first and second most dangerous periods of his life. It’s a big deal. It was held at Jollibee (a MacDonald’s clone and probably more successful here than its role model. Jollibee, the mascot, is more popular here than Santa Claus.) and, as you might have guessed, nestled in the ‘background’ music (‘Background’ in quotes because it was loud enough that you had to raise your voice to be heard above it) I heard, “I wanna be a billionaire….”
A few years ago there was a song which included, again as an endlessly repeated chorus of sorts, the lines, “Lick my legs, my back, my pussy AND my crack…” Aside from the personal nature of the young lady singer’s public expression of her sexual preferences, I was struck by the emphasis on the conjunction ‘and’. It seemed as if the other words were so mundane that even a simple conjunction took precedence. I probably would not recall this otherwise eminently forgettable bit of ‘music’ except that, similar to the situation with the other song, I heard it played during intermission at a theater where I had taken the kids to see a children’s movie.
The Philippines has an organization, which I think is called something like “The Catholic Bishops Censorship Board”, which reviews movies and other media and seems to have the power to prohibit public dissemination of offensive material. I’m wondering what they do. I’m beginning to suspect that they view their primary role as insuring that no one mentions the word ‘contraceptive’.
God bless

©November 18, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Padiriwang ng Buon ng Wika

You may remember my experiences with the National Nutrition Month observances and the fruit and vegetable headdress. I finally lost my cool and sent off a snotty note to a teacher when she sent home a request for school supplies on the evening before they were needed. I enclosed a copy of my headdress experience and asked that the teacher share it with her colleagues so that they could enjoy it as well. Apparently it got some attention because a month before the actual event we got a notice, actually four separate notices, that the kids would need costumes for Pagdiriwang ng Buon ng Wika.
Between my rudimentary Tagalog and a quick reference to my Tagalog-English dictionary I interpreted this as Celebration of Language Month. That means that August was Language Month and they were celebrating it, as it turned out, on August 31. Each notice listed the traditional Filipino clothing that the kids would need. Jhulana needed a kimona and bakya. Bakya are wooden sandals but I wasn’t clear how a Japanese robe got to be a native Filipino costume. Miguel and Shin needed red pajamas and camisa de chino. Camisa is, I think, Spanish for shirt and here refers to an undershirt worn under the barong Tagalog, the traditional transparent shirt worn on formal occasions. (The barong Tagalog is infinitely superior to Western formal wear during hot weather. President Clinton wore one here for some conclave of Asian leaders and my opinion of him dropped even lower, if that were possible, when he didn’t adopt it as the official dress in Washington, D.C. during the terrible heat of August.) I wasn’t sure about the ‘de chino’ part or the red pajamas. The weirdest requirement was for Kyotaro, in kindergarten. He needed a camisa de chino, a pair of black cycling shorts and a bahag. A bahag, I was told, is a loin cloth, and that sounded congruent with native costumes. I was unclear as to how an undershirt became part of native Filipino dress but the black cycling shorts were an absolute enigma.
Each of the kids’ notes included a requirement for kakaing Pinoy, Filipino cooking.
Somehow there appeared one pair of red pants made of some flimsy material and what I was told was a camisa de chino, both in Shintaro’s size. These must have been artifacts of some previous similar ceremony but mercifully I must have been off in the US when that occurred.
I planned to buy the remaining costume components at a department store but after the fiasco with the headdress I wasn’t going to go into this without further information. First, in an effort to avoid the misunderstandings of the previous national month celebration I went to school about two weeks before the event to learn more about these requirements. I left knowing little more than I did when I arrived, despite the efforts of several young ladies to explain what the items were, but with the information that they were available at considerably lower cost at a nearby market, which had its market day on Monday. And, I was told, Monday was a holiday, which would be a perfect time to take the kids to get the costumes properly fitted.
Eventually I learned that the holiday Monday was not the following Monday but Monday the 30th of August, National Heroes Day, the day before the celebration. With my history, I wasn’t about to wait until the day before the event to buy the costumes. We, meaning me and the four kids, drove 40km/25 miles, about an hour each way, to the nearest mall and spent a frustrating number of hours going up and down escalators between various children’s departments and the cultural section. I found the red pajamas, which are red pants made of some flimsy material, exactly as the pair I already had for Shintaro. They all came with a red bandanna sewed to them. A disproportionate amount of time was spent on escalators going from one department to another, looking for a red bandanna to go with Shintaro’s pants. Eventually I had a flash of inspiration and bought another pair of pants just to get the bandanna sewed to it. The bakya were just sandals with wooden soles and Jhulana picked out a little pair in yellow, her favorite color. The kimona, I learned from the extraordinarily patient sales girls in the cultural department, is nothing like a kimono but is, rather, a lacey little transparent piece that goes over the shoulders and bodice of a dress called, I think, a saya. Whatever the dress is called, I bought one of those too.
The bahag or loin cloth, was nothing like I had envisioned. I was thinking of a simple piece of soft cloth about three feet long and a few inches wide. What I was shown was a rough blanket about six or eight feet long and at least two feet wide. I had the sales girl show me how to put it on Kyotaro. Miguel did not help matters by repeatedly referring to it, with an inordinate amount of laughter, as a diaper. Kyo became very quiet when it was in place. It was incredibly bulky in the back where it was looped over to provide some cover for his butt. Which reminds me, the enigma of the cycling shorts was revealed: they were to provide some security for his pride in case the bahag went south during the ceremony. As it turned out, the idea proved to be not without merit. But I’m getting ahead of the story. The final pieces in this collection of fine jewels were the camisa de chino and cycling shorts for Kyotaro. The shorts were no great problem although I wonder how many Filipino four-year-olds wear Spandex when they ride their tricycles. The smallest piece we could find was none too small for him. We finally found a camisa de chino of appropriate size for him in the Infants Clothing department. This only deepened Kyo’s dour attitude toward his costume. I had some reservations myself. We walked out of the store poorer by about P2,500, about $55, not counting the considerable cost of feeding the four of them at KFC.
On Junko’s advice I appropriated the boys’ costumes while Jhulana carefully hung up her saya and kimona on her clothes rack. I did have the kids try on the costumes one last time on Sunday, two days before the celebration. I noticed that when the bahag was being installed, Kyotaro’s normally sunny disposition turned decidedly cloudy, especially when Miguel, despite threats of dire consequences, managed to slip in a couple of “diaper” comments.
Junko saved the day when she returned from Manila on Monday evening with several packages of Filipino sweets to comply with the kakaing Pinoy edict.
The morning of the great event dawned cloudy and blustery, after a rainy night. The costuming went surprisingly well and Miguel, Jhulana and Shintaro were ready when their tricycle arrived at 6:30 AM. The driver was surprised that Kyotaro was not going with them since, he said, Kyo was to be at school at 7:30, half an hour earlier than usual. I told him that I would drop Kyo off on my way in to town to get some chicken feed and visit the internet shop and the three putted off to school with their kakaing Pinoy plus their usual baon, provisions, for snacks.
I managed to get Kyo’s bahag in place with minimal ado, reversing the procedure so that the most prominent outcropping was in front where it would not interfere with his ability to sit down. As it turned out, this was another example of unnecessary preparaton for a non-event.
I led him into his classroom right at 7:30. There were a variety of sizes of children, from the nursery classes up to the kindergarteners, milling about in an equal number of variations on the costumes. Kyo was not reassured by the costumes of the others and I noticed that many of the kids were clinging to their parent and some were patently teary-eyed. I opted to delay my errands until the ceremony began. The kids were instructed to line up with their respective classmates. Parents continued to drift in with their kids in various stages of costuming. After standing in line for about 45 minutes, the little kids filed out back to the basketball court between the elementary and high school buildings. Some parents and kids were still arriving as the kids were filing out. Once on the court, the kids waited for another 45 minutes or so while the rest of the classes took their places. Somewhere in this waiting period I noticed dark thunderheads moving towards us. I wondered briefly about the arrangements for rain because there was no indoor space large enough to accommodate the entire student body. After another 30 minutes the clouds, which had propitiously remained until then, dispersed and the sun suddenly began beating down with its full tropical intensity. Umbrellas immediately sprouted like psychedelic mushrooms after a rain and the little kids were moved closer to the building to huddle in whatever shade it provided. Fortunately there was a breeze, which made the sun tolerable.
All of the students were eventually situated and after an unexplained delay in which nothing seemed to be happening on stage, two high school students, who seemed to function as the Masters of Ceremony made some brief introductory remarks, which was followed by the obligatory interminable prayer, the National Anthem with recorded band music played at maximum distortion volume over the sound system, remarks by some thin lady, vaguely familiar, in a severely tailored jacket and skirt, and remarks by the school principal. Since this was Pagdiriwang ng Buon ng Wika everything was in Filipino so most of the content was lost to me. What a shame. Then there was a longish talk by an older man, who seemed to be talking about the importance of language, a favorite topic of mine but one apparently lost on the students who had been standing in line for the previous two hours.
Eventually the nursery level kids came on stage, the boys in black pants and barong Tagalog and the girls in miniature long gowns called, I think, terno, and did a traditional courting dance which involved the boys kneeling on the floor while the girls walked around. Actually, things are a bit of a blur because there were several groups of young kids who danced or some of whom danced while the others stood picking their noses and looking around between sporadic efforts to follow along. One reason that the dances tended to merge together was that all of the music was very similar, with a definite Italian influence, being primarily mandolin, an instrument I had not previously known to be one of the native Filipino instruments. Some high school kids performed a long skit based, I think, on a Filipino folk tale about an eagle, a fish, a monkey, a snake and a couple of other animals that I can’t recall, each of which had to go through the same procedure , whatever it was, before the moral could be told. One of the less tedious dances, by older grade schoolers, was a native warrior dance performed to contemporary, up-tempo music. One of the more memorable performances involved a young lady, perhaps in her early teens, who had to be led from the stage when she became emotionally distraught after a bad start to her singing. There was one small group of dancers, all young girls, who stood out because they were well rehearsed, moving more or less synchronously in identical costumes.
At some time during all this, Kyotaro had abandoned his classmates and came to be with me. Twice I took him to the toilet, which was an education in the challenges of performing necessary personal hygiene while wearing a bahag. Each time I redid the thing it became less stable and I feared for its durability while Kyo was on stage. Fortunately that became a moot point when there was a sudden, brief, very light smattering of rain and everyone took advantage of the situation and herded the youngest students inside. Kyo immediately found his school bag and ate his snacks. Then we took our cue from the other parents and left, which apparently was the backup provision for rain, which had already stopped.
I’m guessing that I spent about P3,500/$80, a considerable sum here, and at least 10 hours of my time including driving, shopping and ancillary activities plus another 4 hours of waiting at the school. At least some of the parents made the costumes themselves or had them made. I’ll never know how much time the kids spent in preparation for their performances instead of receiving instruction on academics. I’m pretty sure that we spent more than most but I wonder about the total number of man-hours wasted by parents, teachers and students in preparation for the celebration of National Language Month.
In my experience this ceremony was typical of most Filipino celebrations in that it was overly and inappropriately formal, poorly organized and overlong but mostly because it was entirely unjustified, a waste of time, energy and money. Whatever the total of time wasted, it was less than it would have been and I am grateful that the weather gave us an excuse, however transparent, to bolt the ill-conceived ceremony. Perhaps I lack the attitude necessary to be a proper Filipino.
Mindful of Jhulana’s experience with the celebration of National Nutrition Month (Her ‘nutritious snack’ was taffy.) I asked Miguel, the only one who spent that whole day at school, what traditional Filipino food he got. He told me, “hamburgers in banana leaves.”

National Nutrition Month

It started last Thursday morning when Kyotaro came home with a note stapled to his notebook: "Make a headress of fruits and vegetables. Required on Monday, July 26." My first two reactions, more or less simultaneous, were, "In a country where many people are short of food it seems inappropriate to be wasting fruits and vegetables to make a headdress," and "Ironic that they finally planned ahead enough to give us adequate time to prepare a project that will have to be done at the last minute because it's perishable." I added a question under the note, "Are we celebrating Carmen Meranda Day?" even though I knew that this was probably too obscure a reference to be understood, not because of cultural differences but because of age differences. I didn't get a response for several days. So that's how I came to be out in a rainstorm with a fever on Sunday evening, maiming perfectly good fruit trees and ripping up newly planted sweet potato vines.
On Monday afternoon the kids said that Kyo's teacher had laughed at the headdress I made for him and that I had to make another. Jhulana tried to draw a picture to show me what they wanted but I couldn't make sense of it. I spent about two hours unsuccessfully trying to make a wire framework to support a paper mango before I figured out what Jhulana had drawn, which was fortunate because she and Shintaro had informed me that they also needed headdresses. I worked for a couple of hours drawing fruits and vegetables on Oslo paper which, I had learned from past experience, is heavy, thick, bond paper, for Shintaro's headdress. Fortunately Dhay, the Supermaid, knew what they wanted and showed me how to make a headband out of newspaper and then draw a single fruit or vegetable on Oslo paper, cut it out and glue it to the headband. That, apparently, corresponds to the local understanding of the word "headress." Dhay made one for Jhulana and one for Miguel, who remembered when he got home and saw what we were doing that he also needed a headdress. She covered the newspaper with the Oslo paper and then drew and colored vines and leaves around the headband so that the whole thing was very attractive. Then Jhulana didn't like the one Dhay had made for her and insisted that she make another. I wanted to spank her spoiled little butt but Dhay made another (I think she was enjoying it.) while Shin and I were coloring his headdress. I glued Velcro to the Oslo paper instead of trying to make a headband. I also, once I got over the frustration of wasting so much time making the headdress of real fruits and vegetables for Kyotaro, started on a new paper headdress for him.
That was Monday. I got up at 3 AM on Tuesday to finish Kyo's headdress only to discover that it had disappeared overnight, so I made an entirely new one and colored it and attached Velcro fasteners. I finished up just in time for him to take it to school and he was so taken with it that he insisted on wearing it to school.
Tuesday afternoon I got a response from Kyo's teacher to my note: "Nope. We're celebrating National Nutrition Month." This was followed by a new set of instructions on bringing "nutritious snacks" to school on Wednesday to share with a classmate. The other kids came home with similar last-minute instructions. They also informed me that Shintaro's teacher wanted us to make him a new headdress because the one I made for him had "too many fruits and not enough vegetables." I've been devoting every available minute to helping Shin learn how to write his numbers and letters forward instead of backward and some twenty-two year old obsessive-compulsive twit of a teacher insists that I take time to re-do a headdress because it didn't conform to her non-specific expectations! I was going to make one with a cutout of a single large green erect okra, with a border at the base suggestive of the back of a hand with folded fingers, and instruct Shintaro to respond to any question about "Why okra?" with "Because a finger isn't a vegetable." Fortunately Dhay the Supermaid made one with an eggplant and I just spent my time helping Shin with his homework.
The week before all this happened a big bag of Oreos, Chips Ahoy and other sweet snacks reserved for school had mysteriously disappeared. I told the kids that those snacks had been intended to last all this week and I wasn't going to buy more. So I sent them off with peanut butter or cheese sandwiches on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday I sent them all off with carrot sticks. I discovered just before they left that only Kyo was supposed to bring nutritious snacks on Wednesday, while Shin and Jhulana were to bring them on Thursday and Miguel on Friday. It was too late to do anything about it at that point and anyway it emphasized the point about not buying them sweet snacks this week. Kyo brought back his carrot sticks untouched and we ate them for lunch. Jhulana and Miguel also brought theirs home uneaten and I put them in the ref and snacked on them for a couple of days. I found Shin's in his bookbag on Thursday but the heat had done a job on them and I gave them to the chickens. So much for 'nutritious snacks.'
On Wednesday afternoon Junko made a special trip to the grocery store to buy 'nutritious snacks' for the kids to share at school, mostly milk and "NutriBars" which all the kids took to school on Thursday morning. So much for emphasizing the point about not buying sweet snacks this week. Jhulana came home on Thursday with some taffy candies, explaining that all of the snacks had been put on a table, that she was the last to get to pick and the taffies were all that were left. So much, again, for 'nutritious snacks.' Also on Thursday, yesterday, Miguel informed me that his teacher had said, among other things, that the sharing was going to be with her, not with classmates, that she was very specific that she "didn't want anything black or rotten" and that if there were two items, she wanted the biggest. I sent him off this morning with two NutriBars, two cartons of milk and two bananas. Miguel has not established a reputation for honesty or for accurate recounting of facts so I am waiting to hear the outcome of this final saga of "National Nutrition Month." I'm not sure how much respect for nutrition the kids have gained but Dhay the Supermaid has discovered an artistic ability that she never appreciated she had. And I'm making notes for the next parent-teacher conference. I hope I have enough time left after I communicate how much I detest the "science" book they're using. But that's another letter.
God bless

© October 1, 2010

Odd bits

The kids have a T-shirt from Japan which reads in part, “Feelings that want to swim! GO!! SWIM!!

I can’t find real dried beef, which I knew as chipped beef, here. Real in this context means identical to what I had as a child, bland, cooked to a consistency of oatmeal, served on toast in a white sauce with butter, salt and pepper as the only condiments. What I’ve found in looking for real dried beef is Twin Cow, a foil packet about 4 inches square containing a miniscule amount of shredded beef and an equivalent amount of sweet, moderately hot, chili sauce. The label is red on top, yellow on the bottom. “Twin Cow” is printed on the top, in the red section, in shadowed white letters of a rounded font that I can’t name. Below this, still in the red section is “Dried Beef” in yellow capital letters and “It’s hygienically preserved” in white capital letters. In the yellow section in red capital letters are “Ready to eat” and “really appetizing and delectable”. Each of these is in a different font and size. Taking up about half of the label is a circular illustration, bordered by a thick black line, of two cows standing on a patch of dark green in a yellow field with cerulean blue hills in the back ground against a white sky with a patch of light blue that matches the shadows on the white underside of the nearest cow. Despite the name the cow in front is black and white, with blue shadows, with a long snout while the cow standing behind her is yellow and orange with the shorter nose of, say, a Guernsey. With the circular shape of the drawing the view is of looking through a rifle scope without crosshairs, as if just before taking a shot after a long and careful stalking of the prey. Altogether, the label gives an impression of something that started as a family recipe, then spent a period of time being made at home and sold to friends and neighbors before making the leap, somewhat clumsily, into commercial production. It takes about 6 packages to make one serving. It’s really pretty good, sweet and tangy, but I miss real bland, mushy chipped beef on toast.

SuperDhay came back a week after she left, arriving about 6 AM after an all-night ride on an “ordinary” bus, which means without air conditioning (“air con”) but generally comes as a package of bad suspension and hard, thinly padded seats with minimal room for your knees between the edge of your seat and the back of the seat in front of you. Often included is a VCD player and bad TV set at maximum volume to be heard over the rattling. Despite the rigors of her trip she immediately went to work and kept it up until she went to bed at 8.
Dhay brought back with her an assistant or companion, Shirley, thin, dark, of indeterminate age, extremely quiet. Even when she was with us I had a hard time remembering what she looked like. As far as I could see, Dhay still did all the work. Shirley lasted about two weeks and then returned to the familiarity and security of her own family. The only thing I can remember her saying to me directly was “Hello,” on the morning she arrived. She left without leaving a ripple in her wake and I remember her as Shirley, the Invisible Maid.
There’s been no mention of the fellow who “found” Dhay’s carabao.

Shintaro and I were working on his science homework when we encountered a picture of a kiwi. In the course of our conversation I told him that the kiwi was a bird that had no wings. He was quiet for a moment and then said, as if resolving an incongruity in his world view, “He has a parachute?” but it was more a statement than a question. Then, after the briefest pause he said, as if filling in a gap in a logical argument, “In his tummy.”

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Black Thoughts from Black Tuesday

Tuesday was an unusually eventful day, especially for here where nothing usually happens on a daily basis and twice on Sunday. It started early in the morning when two of the dog boys discovered that their fighting cocks had been stolen from their perches just outside the kennel. Shortly after that another of the dog boys reported that someone had thrown salt bread rolls (pan de sal, which would be the national bread if there were one, and perhaps it is) into the big dogs’ kennel which is a few meters behind the main kennel, at the back of the lot. There appeared to be some white granules inserted into the bread and the dog boy, Richard, said that it looked like something that is put into septic tanks and that could be used to make the dogs dizzy and prevent them from barking. Then, shortly after that, several of the Cocker Spaniels in the main kennel began to have seizures within minutes after drinking water. Alerted by the previous anomalies the dog boys immediately pulled all of the water from the cages.
The dogs drink filtered water and because the water runs slowly through the filter, the dog boys let it run into a plastic drum and take the water from there. They discovered that there was a chlorine smell from the water in the plastic drum and I noted that it was not present in the water coming directly from the filter, leading to the reasonable conclusion that something had been put into the water in the drum. Junko got samples of water from both sources plus a bit of the tainted bread. She took these to the veterinarian, along with the one dog who had been most affected. She was advised to take the specimens to the Bureau of Food and Drugs in Manila. On arriving she was told that they did not do lab tests there. She was referred to another place which also did not do lab tests. After wasting most of the day she brought the specimens back to the vet, who took them to another lab in Manila yesterday. They are charging about $100 to run tests but, canny fellows, will not release the results until they have the money in their hands. That is where things stand at the moment.
So it appears that someone came though the back of the property, fed tainted bread to the big dogs to distract them from barking, went around to the front, entered the unlocked kennel and placed something in the water drum, then stole the cocks on his/their way out. Or perhaps someone from the kennel did all this, stealing the cocks to make it look like an outsider. I find myself getting really paranoid in situations like this.
Junko has been receiving obscene and insulting text messages for several years, presumably from an extremely disturbed former rival in the show ring who is a teaching psychiatrist’s dream case, having transferred his hatred of his mother onto Junko as well as projecting onto her his own devious, vicious and unscrupulous behavior. These text messages have become increasingly threatening. We suspect that he is the instigator behind this event and others, although it would be difficult to prove anything in a court of law.
It has more than once occurred to me that it costs less to have someone killed here than we spend on dog food every month. I wish it were more expensive – the cost of hiring a killer, not the dog food - so that I would have more of a deterrence to actually going through with it. As things stand now, it’s too easy. And I wonder at times if a good attorney could make a strong case for self-defense or defense of family in a situation like this, assuming I chose to have the pleasure of euthanizing this pathetic creature, personally taking him out of his miserable life. Of course at this point these are only idle thoughts, fantasies indulged in to ease frustration. (If I had serious thoughts about killing him, would I be writing about it here?) This wretched piece of humanity is more to be pitied than hated. Far more frequent than thoughts of doing him in are the feelings of gratitude that I am not him, living in the world that he has created. He lives in a world that mirrors his own ethics, morals and conduct but he truly believes that what he sees is “out there,” not the reflection of his own thoughts and fears. It must be a kind of Hell without possibility of release.
Although I am not really considering killing anyone, still I am troubled by all this. Under what circumstances would I consider the unthinkable? Mohatma Ghandi said, “There are causes for which I would give my life but there are no causes for which I would take a life.” I’m not Ghandi. From time to time, especially early in the morning when sleep evades me, I have wondered how I would react if the threats continued or increased and now I have this incident. Like most parents and spouses I hope that I would have the courage to give my life to save any of my family or, echoes of Lord Jim, to react instantly and automatically to take the bullet. I am willing to spend the rest of my life in prison to insure their safety. If there were no other way to protect them, would I, could I, actually deliberately kill someone? It’s easy to contemplate in the abstract but if the moment came, with real specifics of place and person, situation and circumstance, would I act? I’m pretty sure that in a moment of rage I could, and that frightens me. But to kill someone deliberately, coldly, by reasoned intent? (Ten years after the event, I still feel remorse over the death of a dog from heat stroke while I was walking him. What makes me think that I could cause the death of a person?) What would it take to push me over the line between idle speculation and actual planning, to bridge the gap between thought and action? These are my thoughts, these specters that haunt the dark hours of the morning and the dark recesses of my mind. So now I will give you something to fill those hours. What would it take to push you over the line?
Even in paradise, it seems, there is a snake in the grass.
God bless

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dhay, the Supermaid

In general our experience with maids has been that what they don’t steal, they break. Keep that in mind as I tell you about Dhay, the Supermaid.
Dhay, the Supermaid, came to us early this year from Bicol, which is the southernmost part of the island of Luzon, where we live. Her real name is Fe, which would be spelled Fay in the U.S. Like so many Filipinos, she has carried her nickname into adulthood. Dhay, which is pronounced as in Princess Di, is short for Inday, which means sweetheart, among other things. I would spell Dhay without the “h” but then all my western friends would be calling her “Day”, like Doris Day. Even worse, the kids call her Ate Day,(ah-te Die, Big Sister Day) which would be read as "eight day", as in "eight-day vacation." So on paper she is Dhay the Supermaid or SuperDhay.
Dhay is probably in her 50’s, maybe a little above 5 feet tall, about 160 cm, stocky but neither fat nor hard, with short grey hair and a round face. Unlike many poorer Filipinos she has good teeth, perhaps because she brushes them after every meal, just like we were told to do, but never did, when we were children. She is placid, smiling, quiet. She never ventures a comment on the ill behavior of the children, or my outbursts when they exhaust my patience, which happens regularly throughout most days. She calls me “Sir” and Junko “Madam” but she is in no way obsequious. She speaks quietly but firmly and if she can be induced to give an opinion, it is always “spot on,” as the Brits say. She does not look after the children, except in life-threatening situations, does not discipline them. She does not enter our bedroom or bathroom.
Dhay keeps the house clean, washes the constant flow of dirty dishes, cooks three meals a day, 7 days a week, for the 6 boys in the kennel and washes the clothes for the six of us, plus her own, by hand. (Our washing machine has broken for more than a year, a legacy from previous maids.) She also cleans up after the dogs, who steadfastly refuse to be house trained, and in fact seem to come in from outside specifically to deposit their body fluids. She is the one who bears the brunt of dealing with the cats’ propensity to urinate on mattresses, sheets, pillows, towels and any of the clothing that is strewn around on the floor. Now that Junko is starting to raise gamecocks, she also helps move some of them in and out of the house every evening and morning, at least until we can get more hen houses built. She starts working at about 5:45 every morning, seven days a week, and generally washes up the dishes around 8 PM before she goes to bed. In her spare time she sweeps up the yard. During the dry season she watered the plants. On occasion she makes headdresses for school projects. She is the one we go to when we can’t find something. She has made a tremendous difference in our life, not just because of all the work that she does, which as you can see is tremendous, but because of the way she manages to organize the chaos and disorder that is a natural outward reflection of Junko’s and my disordered states of mind. You can see the difference she makes by comparing the relatively ordered state of the rest of the house, despite the presence of four undisciplined children, with the clutter and disorder in our bedroom. For all this she receives the princely sum of P4,000, about $90, per month.
I am repeatedly or continually amazed by Dhay’s serenity, placidity, her seemingly unshakable calm. So a couple of months ago I was shocked to see her sobbing uncontrollably. I thought that surely someone in her family had died or been injured but Junko quickly informed me that Dhay’s carabao back in Bicol had been stolen, mother and calf. It was a huge financial loss, almost a year’s wages, and she had saved for years to get the money to buy it. Reports were that the tracks led to a road, where they might have been put on a truck and taken away. It sounded hopeless. After the crying was over, Dhay seemed to straighten her shoulders and informed us that the next day she was going back to Bicol to get her carabao back. The trip to Bicol usually involves a three-hour bus ride north to Manila and then a twelve-hour bus ride south but Dhay got her son, who works somewhere east of here, to take her on his motorcycle, a distance of several hundred kilometers. I thought it was an admirable but pointless trip. I later learned that on the way she stopped at all the markets where carabao are traded and put out the word to all the traders that she would not claim the carabao but only wanted to know who had sold it to them. This apparently was interpreted to mean that the thief was a dead man. She contacted the people at the checkpoint where any trucks would pass and gave them a description of the pair. She contacted the barangay officials, who should have been responsible for investigating the theft but they weren’t interested. It’s possible that she contacted the NPA, the communist rebels who sometimes serve as a de facto police force when officials are bought off or too intimidated to provide justice. We will probably never know about that. What ever she did it worked. Someone finally tipped her off that her carabao were in the field of a neighbor a short distance from her home. He was a shady character, without any visible means of support, and claimed that the carabao had wandered in and he did not know who it belonged to, despite the fact that Dhay had spread the word throughout the barangay. A week after she left, Dhay was back, her carabao and calf safely ensconced in their old pasture. And that is the way things have remained. No prosecution, no retribution. Still, I wouldn’t want to be that neighbor of hers.
A few days ago Dhay informed us that she would go back home on Monday, which was yesterday, to visit her family. I hope she comes back. I've done laundry by hand before and it's not my favorite chore.
And I wonder about that neighbor's life expectancy.