KimB asks: Were there any night time or bedtime rituals that differed greatly from your rituals at home? If so, how did you feel about the differences?
Typically in the evening at home, I’ll do house chores, like laundry or dishes, before settling in to check Facebook, chat with friends online, or write emails. Close to bedtime, I’ll change into my pjs, brush my teeth, take my meds, set up my CPAP, and settle in to watch BuzzFeed vids with my husband. We’ll talk about our days and plan our schedule together. Evenings in the summer are typically cool in the Northwest, the sun finally setting around 9pm. Sometimes there will be late night convos with my kids or close friends who have come over for dinner and linger. Other times the chores will be more hectic and I’ll flop into bed without opening my computer. Still, the ritual of being with loved ones before sleeping is constant, a comfort when I’m home.
In the Philippines, I was pretty much released from my usual house chores, even laundry given the limit on water usage at the event location. Others cooked. Others washed dishes. Others cleaned bathrooms and took out the trash. Each night I puttered, finding bottled water to brush my teeth and take my night meds, then setting up my CPAP on my bed. I almost left the CPAP at home because it requires electricity and brown outs are common the Philippines. I found a battery pack online which worked fairly well. I slept in a single bed in the corner of a room that slept five when full – the first night I was alone, then Lilac arrived, a woman I didn’t know previously but who became a good friend by the end of the gathering. Later Mini and Leah joined us, taking the bunk bed across the room from me. I learned later that the room had been designated for the priests at one time, and I never figured out where they ended up instead.
All our beds were tented beneath mosquito netting, an object I had little experience with handling, but had a great desire to have around me. I am a mosquito magnet owing to my tasty O-positive blood, the favorite flavor of the tiny carnivores. I’d been warned before leaving of the possibility of both malaria and dengue fever in the area I was traveling to. My body was fortified with antibiotics on the inside and two different kinds of non-DEET bug repellant on the outside, plus I was wearing premethrin-treated clothing nearly all the time. Still, the idea of being trapped /inside/ the netting with mosquitoes who’d been clever enough to follow my haphazard attempt at moving between the exterior and the interior of my sleeping space had me anxious the first few moments before sleeping. Leaving the CPAP on the floor as I do when traveling elsewhere was out of the question; the hose would create too much of a gap in the netting to keep the mosquitoes out. Each night I was cocooned against the critters and I hoped that I’d survive the night bite free.
The evenings were hot, so once I’d confirmed the absence of mosquitoes with me in my tent, I’d lay down and fan myself an old-fashioned paper fan I got at a wedding last year. My wrist moved nearly automatically, long strokes to shift as much air as possible. The windows across the room were always open but it was rare breeze strong enough to get past the layers of mosquito netting that covered Lilac’s nearby bed and my own. There was no ceiling above my bed; the walls of the room ended several feet below the peak of the roof to keep the air circulating around the entire house. There was often a gecko on the ceiling, brown like the plywood sheeting to which he clung. When I was cool enough, I’d text my family about the day’s events, calculating in the 15 hours that separated us. If I timed it right, I could chat a bit before my husband went to work. We’d bought the least expensive international texting plan we could, but we still kept our chats short. In variably, he’d receive my texts more than once, though I only receive his replies once.
Often I was the first to sleep; my roommates tended to stay up later to talk with the others about the day’s events. I would fan myself to sleep after texting my family, and while I waited for sleep to come, a sense of being alone would close in. With no one to hold or cuddle, I became touch-starved. Filipinos are typically reticent to touch each other; hugs are rare and brief. I doubted a cuddle-puddle would be understood let alone welcome among the participants. I’d close my eyes and listen to the sounds around me. The cocks crowing even though it was not dawn. Dogs barking. Murmured conversation from the nearby dining hall. The frogs that sounded like ducks quacking.
At night, I’d miss my family most and my little place on Lummi territory my family calls the Rookery. No dogs there, just two cats, one who lectures me nightly to go to bed. No cocks crowing, just chickens next door who sometimes get loose in our yard. Murmured conversations between my husband and I, definitely, and the creaking croaking of local tree frogs.
In Bunawan, I finally felt a sense of place within my sense of heritage, but the Philippines will never be home for me. I’m a Northwest baby who needs cool nights, creaking frogs, and my family to cuddle.
PAMATI: Listen to the Water and Songs of the Ancestors was a gathering I attended July 1-10, 2015 at Balay Agusan, in the Municipality of Bunawan, Northeastern Mindanao, Southern Philippines. My FB friends have been helping me process my experiences by sending their questions about my recent trip.