In this Episode Nicole Goes Home Again, Home Again Jiggity Jig

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Asia » Philippines » Cordillera
June 22nd 2008
Published: June 26th 2008
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I got a chance to go back into Licuan-Baay this past weekend. The Cordillera Day volunteers were all converging back on the municipality to have a final processing with the local leaders about the political forum in April and the ongoing political struggle against Olympus. The community, took this occasion to also hosted a gigantic going away party for the volunteers who have been living with them for the last four months. I went with the volunteers from Baguio in part so that I could get a ground level update from the people about their situation, but also that I could attend the party in Licuan-Baay.

I have been missing the people in Licuan-Baay since my last visit in April. I also have gotten heavily involved in the anti-mining campaign against Olympus in our offices in Baguio. It feels weird thinking about their situation all the time, gathering information from the few sources coming out of Licuan-Baay and trying to draw attention to their issues at home, and not seeing them. I feel so close to them most of the time, and yet so far away and so detached. When I was invited to go with the Baguio volunteers for their desperada (going away party) I was super excited to again see, talk to and hug these people who are so alive in my memory.

Of course, like always, I was jittery on my jeep ride into the area. I always get nervous going into Licuan-Baay that somehow, out of a desire for connections, I have over estimated my relationship with the people in area. Those insecurities always make me worry that the people in the community won't be as excited to see me as I am to see them. I don't know why I worry though. Arriving in the community this time was, like every time, a warm homecoming. I got handshakes and hugs and excited calls of "hey white lady". I might not be able to communicate fluently with most of the people in Licuan-Baay, but that doesn't effect how much I have taken to them and they seem to have taken to me. I feel more at home there then anywhere else in this country. I was even renamed this time by one of the elders. I have to admit that I don't remember my new name, but it was the name of his grandmother who he says was very beautiful with very fair skin.

The party was kick-ass. They set up lights outside of the house in their big open yard and we lit cooking fires and butchered a pig. I have never had time to actually watch the butchering before, so this time I positioned myself and my drink close to the table where they were taking the dead pig apart. It turns out that when they butcher a pig here we actually do eat almost all of it. If I had known that before I probably wouldn't have been as keen to eat the food on the nights we have been treated to fresh baboy (Tagalog for pig). But now that I like the food, I am pretty comfortable eating the internal organs cooked in blood (awkwardly named chocolate pork) and the boiled pork which includes knee joints and bits from closer to the head then I would have ever been comfortable with before. I even got to play biologist with some of the local guys, poking around in the bowl full of warm internal organs (yes, they were still warm from being inside the pig) and disciphering what they all were. We laughed as we came across organs none of us recognized, though I was the only one who felt guilty about smoking after having a look at the pig's pretty, clean, pink lungs. We did eat one interesting "pulutan" (a word that translates specifically as something eaten without rice, but which is used for the snack food you eat while drinking, usually some kind of grilled meat or soup... our equivalent would probably be appetizer) which I will likely never try again. They separated the small intestines from the rest of the internal organs, cleaned it and grilled it over an open fire with some of the other meat. It looked like we were eating inch long pieces of white rubber hose, and had a similar texture, but, unfortunately, an acidic taste that belied its function. The rest of the pig was divided into luckily into a much tastier feast.

We spent our night dancing and dancing. The gongs resounded throughout the yard and between shots of sugar cane gin the community men played the swift beat of the "tadook" (the Abra courtship dance). Although in true Filipino style the pairs were made up of one young dancer and one older dancer, assuring that no real courting would ruin the evening. Although this meant that I got to dance with one of the community leaders I am the most fond of, who was as entertained with the pairing as I was, and chased me around with his malong making me jump and squeel with laughter. I am not very good at the tadook, but I was give the malong (one women elder and one man elder from the community pass out the pieces of cloth which indicate what women and man will have to dance, it is considered rude to refuse the cloth and thus refuse to dance) three times, so I think the community members were as entertained by watching me try to do their dance as I was to make the attempt. Of course, we all know that I am never going to refuse to dance, no matter what kind of dance it is.

When we weren't dancing the community members were giving thank you speeches in honor of the volunteers who have lived with them for so long and helped them get on their political feet. I didn't ask for translation for the speeches, since the people who normally translate for me in the community were the very volunteers who were being spoken to. But from the emotions coming through the speakers voices it was clear that the volunteers had really meant a lot to the community. It is impressive to see the kind of community based organizing that goes on here and to realize how much it means to everyone involved and to realize how significant an element of the movement for social change community organizing is in the Philippines. From time to time my name was mentioned in the speeches.

It is almost embarrassing how little I have done compared to the volunteer team and to still be thanked in the same speech. But I think it proves how important showing international solidarity is to a community like Licuan-Baay. It is so easy in a small town (and Licuan-Baay is about the same size as Nashwaak Bridge, my home town) to feel like you are isolated from the rest of the world and dealing with your problems alone. I can't imagine facing a monolithic enemy like a foreign mining company and feeling like you are all alone in your fight. The volunteer team who helped them prepare for the Cordillera Day celebrations went a long way to show them that they have outside support. It was in their smiles and in their hugs. After everything that have done for me; after taking me in and making me feel at home, after treating me like a normal girl and allowing me to be their friend, I want them to know I am still with them. Of course I am going to stand up for them, they are my family here. And us Canadians, just like Filipinos, take care of our families.

I presented a song instead of a speech, in part because I have already said all that I can think to say to the community about their situation, and because I always present a song for the people in Licuan-Baay. They in fact demand it most of the time, although I am not sure why, since my performances never get any better, and sometimes actually get worse. This time I learned before hand and sang a Gordon Lightfoot rendition of "Dark as a Dungeon Down in the Mine." I want to share the coal mine past of the Maritimes with this community, to show them that we are all not so different after all. My singing, was of course, too high, off key and pretty bad but they gave me 5 synchronized claps after in appreciation (a pretty high number, considering that most people get 3) which I took as more of an indication of how much they like me and not how good my performance was. After me there were many traditional Igorot songs presented, which have the most beautiful, melancholy melody, which was very appropriate for the bittersweet feel of the evening. The musical performances actually ended with one of the oldest men in Licuan-Baay sining "I can't stop loving you" (a kareokee favorite here) and dedicating it to me. It was hilarious and very flattering.

We dilly dallyed around in the next morning, taking pictures and saying last goodbyes. The feelings around the house where we were staying were so thick that they put even a lump in my throat, even though I hadn't lived in the community for 4 months and wasn't the one leaving.

The only damper to our weekend came when we arrived back in the provincial capital to have lunch. Standing beside out jeep, still loaded down with my things, waiting for the local people's organization staffers to unlock their office for us, I saw an old friend out of the corner of my eye. One of the guys from Licuan-Baay who I had formed a real bond with during Cordillera Day was driving a tricycle towards us. I had been quite sad when he hadn't come to the going away party and was thrilled to see him here. I thought at first that he must have moved into the provincial capital after the completion of the Cordillera Day events, and was coming to visit us before we left for Baguio City. But he didn't stop the tricycle at our gate, he stopped it just slightly down the road. And though he gave me a big smile and a wave he didn't come inside the gate to say hello to the rest of the group. And just as quickly as he had driven our way he was gone again. I was confused and disappointed. I asked one of the other volunteers what was going on, and she very calmly explained to me that the group had discovered just before Cordillera Day that this guy, though he was part of the community volunteer team, was actually acting as a community intelligence agent for the military. He has been passing information about the volunteers and the community leaders to the military... the same military whose goal is to crush community opposition to the mining plans through intimidation, harassment and violence. She explained to me that sometimes people in the militarized communities feel that they have no choice but to act as intelligence, because they are so desperate for the small financial compensation community intelligence officers receive. I was devastated. How could he have betrayed his friends and his community all along. I thought about it the rest of the jeep ride home, how sad a situation this country is in when peoples feelings and their relationships are sacrificed because of the struggle to survive.

I am still saddened at the idea of how much I connected with someone who was lying to everyone and hindering the progress towards the protection of Licuan-Baay from Olympus. I am not used to having to face or forgive these sorts of betrayals. I am trying though to see this situation as a learning experience about the reality of a population pushed to the brink of survival by their government, by the economy, by everything. And I am refusing to let it ruin my happy memories of my third visit to Licuan-Baay.

I would like to add as a side note that I would love to post some of the great "family" photos and fun shots we took during the going away party in Licuan-Baay But I am not able to out of security concerns for my friends in Licuan-Baay.


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