Nothing opens the window to a people’s heart or gives a clearer insight into a culture than their children and their rites of passage. I have been fortunate to have been very immersed in children of many cultures, always an enlightening experience. I have also been blessed with being invited, usually the only foreigner to be, to weddings in several countries. There is no more revealing look into any culture than a wedding and no more fun can be had.
We have taken a week to visit Donna’s family during the Fiesta week. Each small village in the Philippines hosts such a fiesta, it is the hallmark of their lives. This village celebrates Saint Ignacio, the patron saint, with a week of fun and merriment. The epicenter of the event is the basketball court/stage/church right next to the Escartin family home. The family is lived in this spot for many generations and are held in high regard. Like most large Filipino families, relatives are abundant. Donna has 27 first cousins on one side. Those that are not related seem to adopt the family so the home is always bustling. I have been welcomed into this home with open arms.
The Fiesta has several events; I have written about the Miss Gay Pageant already. There is dancing nightly, one night for seniors, love dancing with Donna’s 86-year-old granny. There is an Alumni night, one of the most important. Each class from the high school has a table, they decorate and offer food and drinks at each table. I looked for a 1970 table but only found them back to 1985 haha.. We brought Papa a brand new pair of dancing shoes just for this night.
Each day there is a procession, and the biggest one comes from the school. Donna was up early preparing Piam’s attire, every mother was. I have seen that no one on earth loves their children more than the Filipinos and they have a lot of them to love. Families of 6-9 are average, many bigger. Each kid is a treasure and you can see it at the school. I have been picking Piam up most days after school. The kids come out in their neat clean uniforms, smiles beaming to meet all the parents, also gleaming with big grins. All the worries of adult life seem to vanish at this juncture. I would say to all my American adult friends if you ever have a bout with depression, loneliness or the pressures of life pile too high, get on a plane, go to a small Filipino village and hang out as the kids are picked up from school. This will be far more therapeutic than all the shrinks and all the drugs in the land, cheaper too! Oh and an old fat white guy (only one within miles) on a motorcycle watching this all with a tear in his eye is not immediately arrested hahaha. They all seemed to understand.
So kids marched, Ladyboys promenaded, old folks polkaed and the Fiesta went on. This year we had a special treat, attending local wedding, one of Donna’s classmates was the bride. There is nothing bigger in the life of a Filipino than the day they get married. Unlike the Western world they only get one shot at it, here divorce is virtually impossible. Given the economic realities of the area the wedding was opulent, clearly well planned and spectacular. Once again I am the only foreigner and I am welcomed with open arms, one guy in the procession handed me a nice camera so I got to take pictures all day.
It was the look on the faces of the older and youngest of the crowd that spoke to me. An old wrinkled, rugged, eyes of the ages, small framed man was obviously the father of the bride. His tie not quite right and baggy dress suit, and diamond bright loving eyes cut to the soul. He had clearly seen a tough life, raised a big family and was reaping the rewards of his years.
This being a strictly Catholic area the nuptials were held in a new, work in progress Catholic Church. The architecture was classic Catholic/Filipino fusion, cement with sheet metal roof in a classic semicircle with Roman type arches defining the entrances. Inside it was all “the Church” mammoth statue of Christ on the Cross, this time with brown skin and black hair as it should be.
I was told this was to be a simple wedding and guests were limited as was the budget. This caused some stir in the village as the long standing tradition is everyone is invited and all weddings become a community event. Donna’s mama was invited but none of the sisters so she stayed home in protest. Given this dynamic I was a bit apprehensive but I was met with open arms and big smiles. Now limited here does not mean a few friends and a preacher, oh no. There were at least ten bride’s maids and ushers in matching attire, three ring bearers, and a full on choir. I would love to see a wedding without the “limitations”.
Back to the house, preparations for the big day coming and the pig. Each family raises a pig for the fiesta, it is fed well and lives in a nice field, all is good until the fiesta comes. Everyone enjoys the fiesta but the pig, albeit the guest of honor. As much as I want to immerse myself in all things Filipino, I passed on the pig slaughter, ok I’m a wimp. The Pig blood is coveted; Donna often orders a gross soup made of it. To get the blood just right it has to be taken while the pig is alive, more bad news for the pig. The critter of course protests this procedure, loud and long. This day of the pig had a new twist, the power was out and it was raining hard, no power no freezer. All the families waited, good news for the pig. Soon the power came back on and you could hear the pigs screaming all around the village, byby pigs.
Now my many vegan friends would be justifiably appalled by this seemingly barbaric ritual. Even I who like my pork winced. One has to look at the big picture, this pig, who I petted the day before, led a life of peace and happiness, wild spirit. He was not raised in a pig factory, denied daylight or companionship. He was not force fed a ghastly array of chemicals, anti-biotics or hormones. He lived in proverbial hog heaven then went to the real one and I enjoyed the pork adobo. Thanks Mr. Pig.
So Fiesta over and life went back to normal, we packed the bike and headed home. All this leaving me grateful for the experience, beautiful ladyboys, blushing brides, dancing with Grandma, playing patty cake with a dozen kids, all gleaming and screaming “one more time, Tito Brian, one more time”.
Make Your Dream Your Story
Capt. Brian Calvert