This particular morning was no different. A field staff called me from outside my door just as I was making my way to the bathroom. Great timing! I’d be right down, I called back. She asked if I had ordered breakfast. The first thought up my head was, no, just probably bread, which was what I said. We were supposed to be on the road 7:30. I got up from bed 7:09.
Later, she told me that actually the other field staff has instructed her to go up my room to knock “because she sleeps in the shower”. I laughed. Anybody who has roomed in with me will know this. The other field staff was previously my room-mate during an out-of-town meet. I take no offense because that’s probably one or the only personal indulgence that I won’t ever give up so take it or leave it.
We were at the meeting hall 9 AM. We began the focused group discussion 10:30 AM. Activities in these villages begin at around this time mornings because locals hike, as in walk, from their respective places to the venue. In this particular village, Poblacion, trips going in and out were scheduled– four in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening (going in). The distance from the first and second villages to Poblacion was several kilometers through godforsaken but beautifully wild and terraced country following the length of the mighty Chico River on the Bontoc-Kalinga road. Without meeting the natives, you’d know their outstanding qualities to be: hardy, resilient, constant, proud, silent types– just like these mountains.
At Poblacion, the houses were also scattered about the mountains. I wondered if there’s a connection between this spatial distance and the somewhat distant nature of Cordillerans (as compared to the more demonstrative and vivacious Tagalogs and Visayans).
The only disappointment was there was fog that morning which prevented me from having a look at the profile of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ on the Kalinga side of the Cordillera mountain range.
The field staff pointed out to me the locations of the high schools they hiked in order to attend coordination meetings with school principals. We talked about the school children, their daily trudge up and down the mountains. One staff commented, it’s why children here (Cordilleras) are stunted. Daily hike up a mountain by young legs? I agreed.
The field staff asked me, are you not surprised? No, I said. This was familiar territory. This was why I needed to stay longer in the shower. It was preparation to meet my younger self and it asking me after years out the field– well?
But who talks about violence, neglect, exploitation, and abuse of children on a weekend morning? We did. The subject is contentious and potentially divisive (as the participants came from traditionally opposing sectors) but I guess that was why I was the facilitator. I am the outsider (the two field staff were not). Locals are more forgiving of outsiders. But locals who rock the boat are punished by the community, openly or underhandedly. The participants themselves confessed it. I’m not surprised, as that’s the natural behavior of human communities.
The discussion despite it becoming heated at some point ended wonderfully. By this I mean that participants themselves realized without pointing out to them the implications of the discussion: what they’re supposed to do next and committing to work on it. Plus nobody complained that lunch was at 2 PM.
Me, I learned some new native words, my favorite being, faken (fa-kuhn) which sounds like my favorite c word. Only that it means, no, not. I believe I should on my return hang it on my door– Do FAKEN Disturb.