Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Beauty of the Village - Badjao, Bohol, Philippines

I’m sitting outside a cluster of little homes in Badjao Village. Our fixer, Marifare lives here with her relatives. The Director, Cameraman and Soundman are down at the compressor fisherman’s house filming. I lounge on the steps of Marifare’s mother’s house while enjoying the cool sea breeze, which smells of smouldering soot, fish, urine and occasionally cigarettes. It’s a charming smell which I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to. There is a little garden that the family has set up. Potted plants line a bench under a single tree. There aren’t enough pots, so the family uses paint cans, milo tins and cut-up bottles as replacements.
It is a Saturday, which means that the entire village is at home, including the men who take the weekends off fishing. Some of them are scurrying around the rocky paths, made slippery by the rains the night before, carrying tools and materials to fix their boats and fishing equipment. I hear music coming through the thin weaved walls of the various houses. Some lady is singing along to Paul Baloche and Don Moen, popular Christian music artistes. Not all the villagers are Christian though. There are Islams (a variant of Muslims) and Catholics as well. Roosters cry out even though it is close to noon. Scraggly dogs mark their territory on the pillars of these raised homes. Cats slink about. A little boy wearing nothing but a t-shirt pees out of the entrance of his house. The warm golden stream splashes on the stepladder to the doorway. It puddles proudly on the ground beneath the first step. It is peaceful here.
The slippery paths lead to the sea, the shallow water is putrid and coated with junk. The lit houses that litter the shoreline tiptoe on stilts as if trying to escape the filth below, as if reaching for the heavens. The houses are connected to land and to each other only by rotting planks and broken bamboo raised two to three metres above the water. The locals navigate these bridges as easily as paved walkways. Children sprint across the rickety boards without care for the stench below. They grew up here; their feet are sure. They wonder why we trek so slowly. They urge us along with their eyes as if hinting that speed makes the journey easier.
There is a wedding tonight. Marifare invites us to attend. There will be a party she says. Hundreds of villages cram into their village hall to celebrate the union. The girls shyly sway their hips; a cultural dance to remind the men to look at them. All of a sudden, the bride diffuses through the crowded doorway, wearing a sleek, purple dress and a frown. It is customary not to smile till after they are wed. She looks convincingly miserable as she takes to the dance floor while the villagers rush to stuff Pesos in between her fingers; she gets to keep as much that sticks. Soon the bills envelop her hands like pom-poms. The guests cheer her on while we quietly take our leave.

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