Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Joe Philippines - 7: Blessed by a Smooth Operator

I woke up to the sounds of a hundred half starved dogs barking and one thousand roosters trying to do their best to wake me up. They succeeded but after spending 48 hours flying and driving half way around the world with no sleep, it took me a minute to realize where here was. Finally the cobwebs in my brain started to release their grip and I realized that here, was four stories down in a bunker of a room in Baguio City, Philippines.

The partially renovated house where I was staying consisted of five stories tenaciously clinging to the side of an extremely steep ravine wall high up in the mountains of northern Philippines. The main level had just been completed on the roof of the existing structure (to raise it to the same level as the nearby road) along with an attic beneath a steeply pitched roof. Below the main level stood the gutted remains of the old main level, beneath that was my concrete bunker, and beneath that was yet another level that was rented out to another Filipino family. Climbing from my bunker room up to the main level meant taking a flight of stairs outside the house that had been built into the ravine wall at such an angle, that I could reach out and touch the stairs at head level as I was walking up them. In other words, it was more like a concrete ladder than a staircase.

I greeted my mother-in-law and family and ate a quick breakfast of sauteed hotdogs and cold cereal (much to my wife's embarrassment) because my mother-in-law thought that was what all Americans ate for breakfast. I have to admit they were the best tasting sauteed hotdogs I have ever eaten but not the ethnic local food that I had been looking forward too. They would soon come to learn that I was willing to try about anything and for the rest of my stay, I enjoyed many local foods cooked by my hosts. Being that it was a Sunday in one of the most religious countries on this earth, we were soon walking up the mountain to the local mass and then hurrying right back home for a reason that was yet unknown to me.

Once back home, my hosts immediately started chopping, dicing, cutting, slicing and cooking mountains of food and I doing what anyone would do in a room full of women all armed with knives, tried to stay out of the way. They soon put me to work running a large antique (by American standards) floor polisher that looked brand new out of the box and I polished all the floors of the house. I was able to corner my wife on one of her trips outside the kitchen area without her knife and learned that the reason for all this flurry of activity was not in celebration of my recent arrival as I might of hoped but because the newly completed house renovation (the upper two levels anyway) were going to be blessed by a priest while everyone, specifically my wife from London who provided most of the financing for the renovations, were here to attend.

At noon, the local priest dressed in his vestments and two assistants carrying armfuls of bottled holy water, arrived at the door. Candles were quickly passed out and lit among the witnesses and the priest said a quick prayer. Assistant number one handed him an uncapped bottle of holy water and the priest stepped into the living room area that was lined with us witnesses. I expected the priest to pour some of the water on his hand and touch things he wanted to bless but on hindsight, I should have realized that method would have left vast portions of the house unblessed. Instead, the priest like a racecar driver who was now in victory lane after winning the race, raised the bottle over his head and shook it dousing everything and everyone in the immediate vicinity with holy water. The floors were wet, the ceiling dripping, the walls, books, pictures, people and literally everything were drenched in holy water. The priest traded the empty for another full bottle from one of his two assistants and proceeded through the house with machine gun efficiency drowning everything in his path. If satin had been present, he was no longer. Finally the last bottle of holy water ran out on the lowest level of the house and the machine gun blessing by the priest clicked on a few empty chambers/bottles and the blessing ended.
I looked around the room through my newly blessed glasses still dripping of holy water and saw that all the candles were still miraculously still lit. All the human candleholders were grinning from ear to ear and laughing, including the priest. I began to suspect that maybe this had all been some fabulously executed prank by the priest to see just how wet he could get everything and everyone and still not have them angry at him. As I wiped the holy water off my glass, I was thinking that the priest would have to douse holy water by fire hose if he hoped to make this crowd angry. I got my glasses cleaned and back in place in time to see the priest leading the charge toward the tables heaped with recently blessed food. Dang, this priest was a really smooth operator!

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