I wanted to share a story I think many of you can relate to. It is taken from the journal I kept while in Bontok between 1976 and 1984. In reading it I realized many people might not understand what I was talking about. The story is from another time and, out of necessity, uses words from the Bontok language. I’m finding it hard to find the balance between traditional references and insuring everyone understands. Bontok has changed so much since then. Even to some of the younger kids in the Philippines it may seem foreign. All the more to our brothers and sisters who are second generation immigrants in other countries.
As an introduction…The Fakat’s are my family. They adopted me, took me in, and gave me more than I could ever hope to repay. In 1981 Bontok was still the only town in the entire province with electricity and that was from a generator that only operated 4 hours a day. Running water was barely introduced and then mostly along the road. People still needed to fetch water and collect firewood. The fire from “saleng”, or pitchwood, was used to light your way along the trail. Our traditional way of life was still very much in play.
January 7, 1981
Karti took his wife to the hospital in Baguio. She has a case of hepatitis and if they took on the financial burden to go all the way to the hospital in Baguio, it must be serious. I told Karti I would help out around the house and watch the kids. I am proud to have the opportunity because for the last few years they have always helped me out. Anytime I was hungry I could go to their house, if I forgot to fetch water I could go to their house, if I ran out of firewood they had some to give me, if I went on a trip they fed my chickens. So now it’s my turn to watch over the family instead of them taking care of me.
The new responsibility reminded me how difficult life really was. I had to insure the family had the basic necessities. This means waking at 11pm every night. That’s the time the “calipo”, the one faucet that serves all the families of Palupo and Fuyayeng, comes on each evening. For the next three hours the women and children lined up by the faucet to fill their containers of water for the next day. Near the faucet was a long line of water vessels in all shapes, sizes and colors…. Plastic buckets, converted cooking oil cans, gasoline tanks, containers made of anything that could hold water. Young children, in their effort to contribute came with small pots or the occasional gourd. After the 3- hour time allotted for this section of the village, the faucet is shut off and another faucet opened which serves the next area of the village.
At 4 am, almost 2 hours before sunrise, it is time to wake up and chop camote leaves for the pigs food. Then start the fires and cook breakfast. The kids help with the dishes and cooking, especially Alice and Bintot. It’s been a few days now and I am getting tired. To save time I’ve been spoiling the kids with food from the market… canned goods, loganiza, food that does not need much preparation. We no longer have any vegetable greens Karti’s wife usually collects when she goes to the fields. The stock of dried beans took a long time to cook and I did not want to run out of firewood. Inside I am hoping Karti will come home soon and I am afraid the pigs will start showing signs of malnutrition from my inadequate efforts. Wow, this is work!
One night I decided to take the whole family out to dinner at a restaurant down the hill by the road. I also invited the elders Ama Fakat, Ama Atiwag and their wives. I told everyone to be ready at 6 pm. I went to work at the Museum in the morning. On the way home I happened upon the birthday party of Gaspar. The mayor, judge and all the “big camotes” were there and the gin was flowing. They invited me in and I joined them, for a little longer than anticipated. It was not until 6:20 that I excused myself and started running home. Damn, I can’t believe I’m late! I was running past the Dangwa and almost passed Yawan’s restaurant (aka Happy Home Inn) when through the dusk I noticed a group of people sitting in a line along the roadside. Sure enough there was my family patiently waiting for me.
You could tell this was a special occasion for them. Ama Fakat and Ama Atiwag both dressed up and wore their good sports jackets. Originating from the time of the American occupation, old clothes were often donated for the missions. Interestingly, hand-me-down suit jackets became coveted by the old men and were now almost status symbols worn on special occasions. Ama Fakat was sitting there in his typical proud pose, back straight, chin up, smoking on his long wooden pipe. His hat was in its usual spot, cocked to one side of his head. The American suit jackets might have clashed with the traditional g-strings but these men appeared classy. Ina Agkama, Fakat’s wife, tried hard to get dressed up but she was still in her usual state of disarray. The agate beads worn in her unbrushed hair drooped to one side of her head and her “tapis” was quickly wrapped around her frail hips. Agkama had the habit of always looking like she just got out of bed. Ama Atiwag claimed his wife did not want to come although I suspect he told her to stay home.
With them were all of Karti’s kids. Alice was holding Patricia and I had to take a long second look. This was the first time I’d ever seen Patricia in clothes of any type! She was proudly dressed in a slip and dress that you could tell was foreign and uncomfortable for her. Danier was wearing pants!! Another first, normally Danier only had a T-shirt. It was always the same t-shirt, faded red, 2 sizes too small so that the bottom of the shirt stretched around his belly but did not cover his navel. Daryo and Bintot had shirts that were freshly washed. Everyone was there except Miller who was apparently at grandma’s house. This was going to be a big night on the town.
So we walked up the stairs to Yawan’s restaurant for dinner. A group of European tourists shot us some glances as we entered but none of my family noticed. They were so involved in sitting at the table. I wondered what the big deal was and I was reminded that none of us had a dining room table at home. Normally we squatted around the fire and ate from communal plates. Patricia kept pointing at the electric light and saying “akew, akew” or ‘sun, sun’. Of course we all laughed and Fakat said ‘Yes, just like the one they have in Patchonga’s house.’ Everyone agreed and I sort of chuckled to myself. (Patchonga, Fakat’s son, worked for Public Works. He had the only house in Palup-o with electricity. One light bulb and one outlet. For that he was sort of a celebrity)
We ordered drinks first, Cokes for the kids and beer for the men. Patricia never drank so much in her life. She sat on Alice’s lap and every time Alice took a sip, Patricia would whine and insist on taking two sips herself. I was sure that if her mother were here she would not be allowed to drink so much soda. Danier kept running around to all the tables with Europeans and yelled “whatz yur name…whatz yur name” to each one. He would then laugh, and before they could answer, run away only to come back again in a few minutes. “whatz yur name, whatz yur name”. Ama Fakat continued to look dignified but amused.
The food came and my initial fear was that we had ordered too much food. Pancit noodles, chop suey, beefsteak, polutan, fried pork, there was a lot of food. But we dug in heartily, not a one of us using silverware but eating with our hands like we did at home. Patricia was soon on my lap and she insisted on feeding me. Yelling until I took each morsel she was offering. I noticed these were usually the carrots that she did not like herself. Every time she picked up a carrot she put it into my mouth. She wanted to try everything, this was great but only a small percentage actually reached her mouth. Her newly-found dress seemed to get more food than her mouth did. Soon I looked around and was surprised, but delighted to see that we had eaten everything.
It was funny but at this time the soup we ordered arrived. Alice asked what it was. Ama Atiwag, obviously repeating something he had learned from the missionaries, proudly said “That’s what they call soup. You’re supposed to drink that first before eating.” What a great time we had.
After sitting back to a smoke we had another beer each and relaxed. Danier made another round to all the tables. “whatz yur name….whatz yur name.” The whole time Atiwag shaking his head, as was his habit, and smiling said “so that’s it huh” (eating in a restaurant) and “Wow I am very full” (In Bontok language of course). Suddenly the restaurant lights went out and I knew that the town’s generator had been shut down. Then it was back to reality with Ama Fakat saying we had better get home… “It was almost time to fetch water.” We lit the piece “saeng” Fakat had hidden in the rocks and the flames guided us up the trail.
About the Author
Patrick McDonough is a former US Peace Corps Volunteer who lived in the Cordilleras from 1976 until 1984. He spent most of his time living in the Bontoc "ili" and working on the establishment of the BontocMuseum with Mother Basille Gekierre. He is married to Marjorie Tudlong of Chakchakan, Bontoc and lives in San Diego, California. He can be reached at: yawan(at)cox.net