TWILIGHT was falling. The sting of mosquito bites on my arm and the coldness which had began to seep through my thin blouse prompted me to get up from my comfortable perch on a hammock tied between two star apple trees a couple of weeks ago.
About fifty meters away, there was a flurry of activities as the continuous banging on the lid of a kettle announced that dinner was ready. The long line of kids and adults playfully jabbing each other towards the serving tables has began.
I reluctantly left my nook and headed to join the line when I spotted Rob, the American brother-in-law of my first cousin heading in big strides towards my Aunt’s abandoned house about a hundred meters away. Rob was married to my first cousin’s sister (uh-uhhh, tracing confusing ties always make my head spin) and this was his first time to set foot in the Philippines.
Almost all of my relatives from my father’s side convened at the birthplace of my late grandparents for the second family reunion we had a almost three weeks ago. For most of us who had been used to living in the city, everything was a big change.
Although the barangay, which is in Aurora, Zamboanga del Sur is not that far from the main highway, the installation of electricity was still a few kilometers away, meaning we had to use “tingkarol” (a gas lantern) in the evenings, open our eyes wider or grope our way in complete darkness.
Thankfully, my relatives residing there moved heaven and earth to have water system installed.
I glanced at the direction Rob had gone and almost laughed out loud as I realized his control of delaying his ‘pooping business’ must have snapped after eating too much ‘butong’ (young coconuts) that afternoon. Early that morning, Rob had already felt the compelling urge to do his ‘pooping business’ but he tried to divert his attention to other things after discovering that tissues do not exist and no one had thought of bringing a roll.
“Rob, the people here use either pakaw (corn cob), bunot (coconut husk) or grass in lieu of tissues. Maybe you could do the same,” I innocently suggested to him that afternoon. His eyes went round as saucers and his jaw practically dropped as he gauged whether I was serious or just kidding.
A peek at the (dis) comfort room also sent him shaking his head and muttering “oh no, not comfortable” beneath his breath. Being used to the luxury in his home in the States, he must have been wondering how the Filipinos survived in such primitive situations but none of us were having any trouble at all.
My cousin Wil presented Rob with another alternative.
“Rob, you can wait when darkness falls and we have an instant comfort room. You can do your pooping business in total freedom and comfort in the middle of the corn field over there, right under the stars,” he said.
I lost count of the number of no-no-no!’s Rob released. In fact he was shocked at such a suggestion. Poor Rob, used to such comfort and now being subjected to this situation. Wil suddenly remembered that there was an unused CR inside my aunt’s deserted house. Luckily, the water system was still okay, so he told Rob about it, which was why I saw Rob hurrying towards the house. He came back more than half an hour later, the tension erased from his face.
Later that night, he told us that while he was sitting down on the ‘throne’ in my aunt’s abandoned house, the door, with missing locks suddenly opened and he bolted from his seat as the head of a goat poked through the door of the CR.
He hurried with his business while trying to hold the door with his other hand. Before the week was up, Rob was able to adjust to the ‘primitive’ surroundings. I could just imagine the stories he had to tell back home, especially about his throne troubles!