In 1990 I married my Filipina bride, a woman I met in, of all places, rural Maine where I had gone to “find myself” – I found my Sweetie instead. Life was good and eventually the time came for me to accompany her on her annual visit to her family in the Philippines. Except for Hawaii, I had never traveled in the Pacific.
I am, however, no stranger to foreign travel, having in my careless youth explored the seedy waterfront bars in several Mediterranean and Caribbean ports of call, courtesy of the U.S. Navy. But full cultural immersion without a net was something I had not experienced – especially in a “developing” country. It sounded like an adventure.
So, in 1993 we went. It was everything I had expected. It was remote, it was primitive, it seemed alien. But my wife spoke the language and knew the people. (“This could be fun,” he said with the naïve innocence of a child.)
After that first thirty-day trip, which I am happy to report did not inflict any permanent damage, we returned each year, extending our visits to four and five months and, eventually deciding to become half-year residents. We stay in the Province of Cagayan, in the tiny Barrio of Simayung, the birthplace of my Sweetie, in the far northern reaches of Luzon, Ilocano territory.
Over the next two decades we built a house – two houses in fact – a small sari-sari store, a garage and a bodega. We bought a tractor, a water buffalo, a tricycle and, eventually a car. We attended baptisms, funerals, weddings and graduations. We survived dog bites and traffic accidents. We were always fed well and sometimes fed up. But through it all, my philosophy has always been, if I may paraphrase Nietzsche, That which does not kill me makes me laugh.
This journal is a first hand, as-it-happened account of my encounter with the mysterious ways of the Philippine barrio and the not-quite-Eastern, not-quite-Western Philippine people, a record of my experiences as I stumble through the complicated brier patch that is Philippine culture.
But no culture is perfect, and though I am by nature a cheerful, glass-half-full kind of guy, I do not hesitate to express my frustration with some of the less attractive aspects of life in these islands. But I try to be fair. Despite my occasional criticisms, I have come to think of the Philippines as my second home.
I assure you the facts presented here are absolutely true – except where I have exaggerated shamelessly for effect, and to keep you from dozing off. The names in some instances have been changed as a courtesy to some of my slow-witted friends, relatives and neighbors who, in their own bumbling way, make my visits to the Barrio so interesting. Without their goofiness, this blog would not have been possible.