Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hazards big and small, Ya got to be careful

For foreigners here, I can tell you that despite all precautions, there are pitfalls and hazards big and small waiting to trip us up. Usually the consequences are trivial and inconsequential, but not always; and that’s true no matter how careful you might like to think you are. Like me for instance, I don’t do much besides going to the office for a few hours a day, except for taking in a little physical therapy at the gym afterwards. I really thought that as long as I kept my head down and my profile low that that would be enough to stay out of trouble. I guess not.

Not long after moving my bedroom to the back of my little rented house to get away from the trike and motorcycle noises coming at all hours from the street, I was awoken one morning by loud repetitive scratching sounds. It was one of the neighbor ladies sweeping her back yard concrete. The first time it happened we ignored it, but on the third day in a row Divine peeked over the fence and asked the woman if she couldn’t wait until after 7:30 to do her sweeping, telling her that her asawa (me) was being disturbed out of his morning sleep. The woman did not seem pleased with that simple request, but she complied.

Months went by and everything stayed quiet. Then, one morning a puppy began a plaintive continuous yapping. I wrote about what happened next and didn’t think too much about it afterwards. A few more weeks went by.

Then, early this past March, a rooster began to crow, which is not exactly unusual for this country, but in this case it certainly seemed unusual, especially as close to my bedroom that this one apparently was. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was located, but it sounded as if it was just outside my window; no wait, it sounded like it was under my danged bed! If you’ve ever been around chickens then you’ll know how piercingly loud a rooster can be, especially when they are within a few feet.

Filipinos don’t seem bothered by barking dogs, crowing roosters or over-loud off-key screeching karaoke. For the life of me, I wish I could be like that, but alas, cursed with being an over-sensitive foreigner, I’m not at all tolerant to the cacophony that saturates much of this nation. The rooster began its incessant cockle-doodle-dooing at about 5 am. By 5:45 I was already driven nuts by it.

I begged Divine to call the subdivision security people but she refused, saying we’d just have to wait until the office opened on Monday morning. I suffered through the weekend counting the seconds till Monday. I coped by keeping my MP3 on loud enough to drown out most of the rooster noise, or by playing the TV at full volume. I did this even through Sunday night and into Monday morning. Apparently, roosters don’t just crow at the break of dawn, they crow continuously; well, this one did anyway.

Having gone mostly sleepless since early Saturday morning, I was out of bed by 6am Monday and in the office two hours early. At 10 am I got a text from Divine telling me that the subdivision secretary was very sorry but there was nothing she could do. I called Divine on the landline and she gave me the whole story:

It seems that back when we had asked for some relief from the yapping puppy the secretary had been told by our neighbors that if I ever complained about anything ever again that they would see that I was deported, and that I’d also be subject to an “investigation” by the police. Not wanting to alarm us and probably embarrassed by the whole turn of events, the secretary did a very Filipino thing and simply avoided telling us about the blustering threat. She probably had hoped that the whole thing would just fade away.

At the news I turned pale with anger; sweat suddenly pouring down my forehead and stinging my eyes. Wiping it off with my ever present swath of terry cloth I told Divine to go ahead and make the complaint. She refused. She said that if I wasn’t concerned about my wellbeing then I at least should be concerned about her and her family’s. My naturally feisty sense of Scottish and Irish indignation notwithstanding I realized that there was nothing to be done except to move.

I felt sick to my stomach, like I’d been kicked in the guts. I couldn’t understand this immediate tendency to give in, despite having done nothing wrong. To me it was simple; the park rules clearly state that pigs, goats, and chickens, all farm animals in fact, are not allowed. Ah well, rules in general, why even bother to have them? It was a rude awakening, seeing this unpleasant difference between how folks react to adversity here as compared to what I’m used to. Folks here generally operate under a sense of powerless acceptance.

I won’t go into too much detail as to why these people have so much clout, but it turns out that a high ranking law official was involved. It seems that having positions of authority in some countries gives them carte blanche over those without it. The trick to successful living in these sorts of countries is to avoid those people, and when necessary, give way when unpleasant interactions cannot be avoided. And listen carefully, I’m not even complaining or saying that this sort of thing should be changed here; that would be nothing but a display of arrogance on my part. I speak of this thing only to describe one of the events that led to my present bout of depression and to offer it as a “lesson learned” for any other foreigner who might land in a similar situation.

Bottom line: avoid, don’t fight, accept, and move on. Always remember, this is NOT your country; thus, it’s not yours to try to change—don’t even try; that means don’t try to tell folks from here how things ought to be here. Your suggestions and recommendations are not welcome, no matter how many polite nods and smiles your “helpful” comments might seem to elicit. Obviously, the way things are is exactly the way the people native to here prefer it. You are a visitor and even if you are here for 50 years you always will be a foreigner. If things become more than you can stomach, either go back home, or find another place in-country that is more suitable. This is a huge place with more variety of people, geography and sub-culture than most can imagine—get out and find that more “perfect place.”

Anyway, by the fourth day the rooster was gone, except for a brief period about a month later when it mysteriously returned for about a day and a half. I can only presume that they got it to teach me a lesson or maybe they were “rooster sitting.” Who knows? I don’t really care. I do know that that was the final straw. By next year at this time I hope to be living in a different province on a large parcel of land with a view of the water as my brother-in-law and I “build as we go” a big old house right smack dab in the middle of it, as far away as we can construct it from crowing roosters, yapping dogs, and mind numbing bad karaoke.

Some good things: The puppy has accepted its fate and barks only on rare occasions and never for long. And happily, as I already said, all the crowing roosters around here now reside at least three homes away, so that's no longer a problem. And finally, now that I know about the "status" of my neighbor, I know now to avoid making them upset. Live and learn on my part--my bad.

At about this same time in early March a second calamity befell me. It was a HUGELY persistent pain, the kind of continuous agony that drives one to despair. It was a pain in my jaw that became a pain in the butt!

4 comments:

Ed Abbey said...

I know EXACTLY what you mean about the roosters, dogs and bad karoke. I too have never gotten used to the constant din of noise.

How would you go about buying land? I was under the belief that foreigners couldn't buy land in the Philippines.

What province are you thinking about? I've never been in any other one other the Luzon but I've heard there is lots of really beautiful stuff further south.

Opass said...

Ed, I'm surprised you haven't been to anyplace off of Luzon island. But then again I'm probably the odd one since I'm cursed with curiosity and a gipsy spirit. Some folks really do enjoy staying close to home. But if you ever decide to travel why not try Southern Leyte Province. I was there last month and it's untapped tourist potential is amazing. Most of the coastline faces beautiful Sogod Bay and Limasawa Island. No flights there however. You'd have to fly into Tacloban and bus south, or fly or ferry into Cebu, then another ferry to Leyte. Maybe that's why it's untapped--because it's hard to get to.

PhilippinesPhil said...

I'd probably not buy it myself; I'd help my eventual wife (fiancee) buy it or something. We'd definitely have to try to get a lawyer involved since some parcels of land in this country can have 4, 5 or 6 different claims on it stacked up in the land office. An outsider buying land here, trying to have a business as a foreigner, it's almost impossible to do so in a foolproof manner. I could make a place really nice and someone might decide that they want to reactivate an old claim and I'd be almost defenseless in court. But, there are beautiful plots all over these islands, but as Opass points out much of it is hard to access. I'll be taking my time as I look for that perfect spot.

Amadeo said...

Yes, Leyte. I am quite familiar with it. My maternal grandfather came from Palompon and I currently have relatives in Baybay.

Recently met on-line an ex-pat from California who used to lived in No. Mindanao, close to the old hometown. He moved to the island of Biliran, off the northern coast of Leyte. And he only has praises for his new digs.

One's route to civilization is via Cebu which has daily (I believe) SuperCat (fast catamarans) trips to Leyte's Ormoc City. Then land route to most parts of the island.

Though in the typhon belt, it is shielded somewhat by Samar island on the right. Tacloban city faces that way.