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Published: July 14th 2008
We were almost always the only foreigners on the jeeps in the bumpy part of the region where we did the exposure.
I was really lucky this month to be asked, almost entirely because everyone else was busy and there wasn't anyone to do it, to facilitate the exposure of another Canadian. I was really nervous about the time we were going to spend traveling alone together, since I have had so many weird interactions with other westerns here so far. But the time I got to spend with this country-mate was actually really wonderful, and I went a long way to stem the homesickness I have been feeling lately.
My time with her started with a fabulous present from home: maple syrup candy and TWO boxes of kraft dinner. She emailed me in advance to see what I was missing the most, and since she didn't think cheddar cheese would make the plane ride those were the items she picked from my list. We gelled pretty quickly, and I was more excited then I can express to talk to someone about things like the National Post and the BC NDP without any explaining, because both of us "know" what those things mean. We even have a friend in common!! "...yes, I know that John from Canada." It also made me super happy to get to celebrate Canada Day with another Canadian. We were in a mining community for July 1st and drank harsh, local beer with the community organizers as we answered all of their questions about our homeland. When the time came for everyone to present a song, as the time always does at parties in the Cordillera, the two of us sang Bryan Adams', "Summer of '69", which we felt was a good expression of Canadian cultural music.
It was nice, as well, to get to share some of my new culture with her. Arriving mid-afternoon from the mining community she admitted to me that she wanted to try dog before leaving the region, but didn't want to go by herself. Laughing, and secretly hoping that there would be something other then dog on the menu, I agreed to meet her at the local dog restaurant for supper. Unfortunately, the only thing on the menu was dog, which is common in the few, special places which specialize in "ascal" (street dogs), but eating dog again was a small price to pay for the exposure I got to give my country-mate to local, Cordilleran culture. In the restaurant we first passed a large group of drunk men who were finished their feast of dog head. My companion was so entertained that they actually ate the head that she took a picture of the picked-clean skull. Upstairs, in the "classier" dining area, we encountered a large group of older women, already onto their second bottle of GSM (sugar cane gin), eating spring rolls they had brought into the restaurant with them. (If I had realized that I could bring in my own food I certainly would have. Luckily these women were good enough to share their spring rolls with me.) The women joined us at our table, chatted with us about where we were from and the benefits of dog meat (or "dog food" as they kept calling it) and tried to convince us to stay and dance with them when the music started. As our dog broth soup and grilled dog meat arrived the music did start: three young men sitting as close as they could to the karaokee machine started pumping it full of 5 peso coins and singing Filipino love songs. I ate as my companion almost fell off her bench laughing at the music, the meal and the old women, only as tall as our sitting hight, who danced a bit tipsily beside our table to their warbles. Though we only got a very small portion of the food into our bellies, she decided she was not too keen on eating dog after all, and we had to go to another restaurant for a real supper, I think the experience in true, local culture was worth four times what we paid for the unfinished dog meat.
Even as she traveled alone a bit around the Cordillera, before heading back to Manila today, I still got entertaining text messages about the things she was experiencing. And today when we met for breakfast before she caught her bus I answered, as best I could, all of the questions she hadn't been able to get strait answers to traveling in the region, and laughed at the stories she accumulated while spending time in this different culture. It was really awesome, in the middle of my time here especially (when I am so close to home and yet really so far away) to spend time with someone who shares my cultural lense, and who can share insights on my new culture with that same cultural lense.
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