Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Friday, May 16, 2003: Full moon and finals

It's now been a week since I first arrived in the Philippines, but it feels like longer as if I'd been here for several weeks. I'm not sure why. It feels as if things are moving slowly, yet I'm doing so much. Perhaps it's still the jet lag.

Last night the air was heavy and still like the pregnant moon overhead. It was like walking through veils of air with the moisture accumulating on your skin. I took a shower before bed with only the light of the moon entering through the open air window frame. Perhaps it will rain soon.

Today is the last day of Kali. From the initial classes that seemed like forever, the classes whiz by. Today, they are to come up with instances to defend. What if a guy grabs your shirt? What if a guy comes chasing after you? All very practical situations. 5 days is not a long time. One does not become a master in 5 days.

In the past five days, I've emphasized moving and getting out of the way of strikes, stepping to the side. Each day we boy to each other in a circle, then close out by going down the line and shaking the hand of each person in the class to reinforce the bonds we've created in class. They've learned the strikes, some double sticks, arm locks, arm breaks, some kicking.

I review the different techniques and show them how to multiply techniques by doing similar things to the other hand, and to leg kicks. This is overwhelming to them. It's too many to memorize. I tell them it's not about memorizing, it's about understanding the direction of the blow. hmm..have to back track a bit an re-explain. I demonstrate different strikes with and without weapon that come from the same area of the body and use one technique to deflect it. See? Same. They understand now.

They are beginning to find techniques. Right now they are grabbing each other's shirts. They stop for a moment thinking about it, then try something. It doesn't quite work. They try another move. This one is closer. I step in and do the technique they were trying to do and show them the other half. It shows that they are on the right track. They understand the concepts to figure out what might work.

They tell me they are not very smart that they don't have much schooling. Yet they speak 4 maybe 5 different languages. They understand how the body moves. As farmers and fishermen, they are physical people.

I watch them some more. The pairs of people are no longer isolated. They congregate in groups of 4 or 6 and watch other pairs attempt techniques. More and more of them are stopping to assist other students, they are teaching themselves. I am astounded! To teach, to watch someone do a technique and see how it is different from what it should be is a difficult thing, but demonstrates that the person is seeing the technique in more detail. They know what it should look like. They are seeing not just a general movement but the way I lift my arm or turn the fingers or slide in closer. This is important. I do not want them to think that they need me to stay. That there is more to the techniques than just fighting or self defense, this is really about community and being there for each other.

During the break, I head to the Mayor's office. I've asked them to make certificates of completion for the Tanods. If they attend at least 3 days, then they get a certificate. It's one of those things. In the Philippines, there is a certificate, ribbon, or award for just about everything. But I do want to give them something to remember their experience.

I come back and finish up the rest of class.

Then we do a closing ceremony. The Mayor and Vice Mayor are out of town. The Mayor's assistant stands in their place. He is worried that there is no microphone system set up. I tell him that's ok. I'm still not comfortable with the pomp and circumstance of Philippine affairs. We stand in a circle again. He asks for three of them to make comments about the class. No one really wants to speak. They are all fairly shy. The Mayor's Assistant translates for me.

They say they are very grateful to you for teaching for free. And that this was much better than some of the training they have had before. They learned many things and wish you could stay longer. They say the classes were very good.

It is now my turn to speak. I look around the circle. Monday seems far off now. I've become familiar with their faces. I tell them that my grandmaster was not college educated, but he was wise from the life he led. I tell them that although Camiguin has boundless natural beauty and the tourists come here and see the beaches and waterfalls and hot springs, the real treasure of Camiguin are its people. In the way that you look out for each other. I tell them that they do not need me, they have each other and that perhaps when I return they will have developed their own style of martial arts. It has been my honor, I say, to come here and be able to teach and give them this gift. That I have learned as much from them as I have taught.

The Mayor's assistant reads off the certificate and takes attendance from the daily roster confirming 3 day attendance. Abe, the head Tanod, asks the Mayor's office to give me a Certificate of Appreciation that they will all sign. I am touched by the gesture. When we're done, we take a group picture by the stage. I know it will be hard to leave Camiguin in a couple of days.

Tonight my dive instructor Diggy is having a Full Moon Party Despedida with many of the other foreign nationals living on the island. I get there a bit early, there are a handful of people there: Diggy, Barbie, Barbie's uncle Tiger and a couple of Americans just leaving. They had just played beach volleyball. There are snacks, nachos, some puto and popcorn. Diggy and Barbie's youngest son, Paco, LOVES popcorn. He says it's more delicious than delicious!

It's cooler tonight with a lovely breeze right on the beach. Everything is on the beach because the mountains are pretty high. Most everyone lives along the coast. In another hour there are people from Spain, a Britain, a German, a couple of other Americans and a few other Camiguin local Filipinos, like Kim, who is married to the British guy and runs the local gym, she's got a pair of serious biceps. Orange juice mixed with gin and/or vodka is the standard served drink.

Some of them talk about whether they've been able to learn Visayan yet and how awkward it is to sit there not knowing what anyone is saying. A Spanish woman who lives in Butuan talks about the rats in her home. She tells the landlady that something has to be done about the rats. The landlady tells her, "please don't say anything bad about the rats, they might get upset." She replies, "OK I won't say anything bad about them, but I want poison here and here so they will die." She ends, "We also have cats. With the cats and the poison, there's no more rats. It's great! AND they're opening a Pizza Hut down the street from me, I live in the best place in Butuan!"

As I recall, Don had a lot of Butuan rat stories. Tiger, who is from Cagayan de Oro but comes here every weekend, says there's not much to see in Butuan and to not drink the water. I take mental note if I ever stop in Butuan.

To my left sits an American former Peace Corp volunteer, who had been stationed in Camiguin. When the conflict in Mindanao got heated, Peace Corp pulled all it's volunteers in Mindanao. Camiguin, though remote, is technically Mindanao. Peace Corp sent the volunteers to Bohol for "safety" issues. The locals just laugh. There are no rebels in Camiguin. Everyone knows everybody and every thing. But there ARE at least 2 known NPA (New People's Army) factions in Bohol! I've come to learn that Peace Corp though with good intentions, is relatively conservative and really tries to stay out of what's going on locally. Which in general is a good policy, but it also keeps them from really understanding the communities and countries that they serve. Anyway, this guy wasn't going to Bohol, so he quit and has been riding out the last few months here. He's originally from Huntington Beach, CA and is not looking forward to going back.

He laments, "$20 bucks will buy me 2-3 beers at most. $20 bucks here will take us all out for drinks over several days." He's spent the last 27 months and doesn't know how he's ever going to adjust back to life in the U.S. He's going to start out slow, start in Alaska and make his way down.

The moon is full, there's a warm breeze, the ocean beats on shore. I can't imagine being here for over 2 years and have to leave. Camiguin is enchanting this way, a woman with deep secrets, so alluring. Ang sarap! I'm leaving in a couple of days and a part of me doesn't want to leave.

I look at the people around me and wonder if I could ever do what they are doing. Come back and live here. It is tempting. Tiger is a computer guy. His friends tried to get him to go live in the U.S. and earn big money, but then he couldn't come here every weekend. With computers, he just consults from his laptop with CD burner. (He makes mention of this several times trying to encourage people to use it.) I don't blame him. The money is good in the U.S., but in some ways life is hard. I've seen it drive people crazy. I let my mind fantasize about living here. Then I am reminded of what Diggy must do to have his family survive here. It's good if you can find the money. But when you can't go back, the dream life here is over. Certainly, there are choices, either life can be fabulous, either life can be hard. The main question is what life do I want to lead?

I head home early at 11. We have two dives to do tomorrow and a final test. Don't want to get too hung over before a dive.

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