This past month alone, I’ve taken about 5 overnight trips to various communities in our diocese. They’ve all been enlightening and engaging and I want to tell you about one in particular.
Two weeks ago, my co-worker Aldwin and I drove up to Balatoc for their annual barangay fiesta, or neighborhood party. Surrounding communities that may seem far away are actually still part of the neighborhood and are invited for the 4 day extravaganza. This community is basically on the top of a mountain. How does one get to a community on top of a mountain you may ask? You cross a swaying hanging bridge over a rushing river and then hike at a steep 45 degree angle for an hour, thats’s how!
Needless to say, by the time I reached the top of the hike to enter the community, my face was as red as my hair as only a ginger’s can be and I was completely exhausted. The trail ends at the school and community center and the houses are a few minutes hike more up the mountain. Lucky for me, the entire community and all of their visitors were at the school watching a basketball game when I appeared. Definitely got a few looks of concern. After chugging the rest of my water and drinking a brisk cup of coffee though, I was fine and happy to have made it. The weather for the hike was pleasant and cool so we couldn’t have asked for better conditions. I also can’t complain when these are the views you get on the hike.
After watching the basketball game for a little while, we climbed up to the junior warden’s house where we were staying. Every time we visit a community, members graciously open up their homes to us. The communities are far away enough that we have to stay somewhere overnight and hotels are typically not an option. We are often offered the one bed in the house and are welcome to stay as long as needed. While we appreciate their hospitality, we generally try to minimize our stay so as not to burden the family. If it wasn’t a fiesta with so much food already, I’m sure a pig would have been butchered because our presence, which is normally a treat and expensive! Our intended one night stay turned into two when it was too dark to leave on the second day.
The first night, I was invited to join the St. Andrew’s dance team for the cultural competition between the neighboring communities. St. Andrew’s is the parish in Balatoc. My natural response in my head was “What? I can’t dance. You don’t want me to dance” but the words that came out of my mouth were “Yes of course I would love to!
I can’t dance. I definitely can’t dance the native dance of Kalinga. The competition was in 3 hours. Oh well- let’s go!
So after dinner, I went with Meriette, the junior warden’s wife, to practice with the team. The steps are actually pretty straightforward. In this particular dance, the men play gongs and the women dance to accompany them. The steps of the women usually mirror the men’s and the lines of men and women walk parallel to each other. You have to pick up your feet to the steady beat of the gongs, hold your arms up at shoulder height, and gently push out your arms almost like the wings of a bird (My description doesn’t compare to actually seeing the dance and I mostly followed the women in front of me by the way). This dance happens at every major event here, whether a wedding, ordination, fiesta, etc. So next time it happens, I’ll be sure to get a video so you’ll have more than my description!
The competition asked each parish to choreograph their own version of this dance. I learned the basic steps and St. Andrew’s own version of it. I had so much fun!!! I was by no means the most graceful dancer in the room. I just had the best time. They lent me one of their traditional skirts to wear and shirts they had ordered from Target (you really can’t escape Target). The men wear bottoms made out of the same pattern as the skirts and are shirtless (not always, but traditionally and for this competition, they were). I loved seeing the other parishes dances as well.
Although we didn’t win, dancing in front of the community prepared me for the next night of more gongs and dancing. The second day, we had two breakfasts and two lunches, since members are excited to have us there and want to demonstrate that excitement with food! Our hosts suggested we eat only a little at each meal so we can eat more at the inevitable later meals. Sound advice, my friends. I was stuffed.
Bishop Hilary, our diocesan bishop, was also visiting so that he could consecrate the church and confirm members of the congregation. There were probably around 50 people confirmed, since the bishop’s visits aren’t frequent because of the communities remote location.
After the service, the senior warden of the church took me to the basketball games that were continued from the day before. The court doesn’t have enough lights, so when night falls, the games stop. Basketball is definitely the most popular sport here. I see NBA jerseys everywhere and even saw a Chapel Hill Michael Jordan jersey once. I think seeing a Wake Forest jersey is just way too much to ask for and I’m not even sure what I would do if I saw someone here wearing one. Scream? Hug them? Only time will tell. So I’ll somewhat willingly take the UNC jersey.
Another night of dancing followed dinner that night. Now that I was supposedly an expert, I was encouraged to dance every time someone picked up the gongs. Dancing made the night so enjoyable and brought me closer to the community. Participating in one of their traditions meant that Balatoc welcomed me and my co-workers as a part of their community, which is the Filipino way. It meant so much to me that they invited me to experience one of their dearly held traditions. I’m so thankful for their warmth and generosity, which I have found in every partner community so far.
I’ll leave you with some more of my favorite pictures from the last few weeks:
PS: On our way out, women were cleaning up from the fiesta and climbing up and down the arduous trail to carry poles and such. Living in Balatoc their whole lives, this is a standard climb. Women were carrying 6 feet poles on their heads across the bridge and back up to the community. Never been more impressed considering I barely made the climb.