From 1992 to 1994, Jessica Bryan visited the Philippines four times as the guest of Rev. Filomena "Mely" Naces, a faith healer who is now deceased. She was profoundly changed by her experiences with Mely at the Faith in God Spiritual Church in Vacante, Binalonon, and she is writing a book about her interesting adventures. The "working" title of the book is "SOUTH OF THE TROPIC OF CANCER: Psychic Surgery in the Philippines: A Memoir" Jessica hopes for publication in the U.S. and the Philippines in early 2006. This is Ms. Bryant's second excerpt from her work in progress. (See: The Wake)
Ti arac managrabrabac.
Wine creates a jovial atmosphere.
early morning, the man known locally as the "Filipino Elvis
Presley" has been stirring the contents of a large pot over
an open fire, just across the irrigation ditch. He was given
this nickname because of the emotion that pours from his slight,
angular frame when he sings. It is as if every cell of his body
is lamenting "Heartbreak Hotel." Although he is blind
in one eye and has a large gap in the front of his mouth where
When visitors arrive, I am distracted from
thinking about "Elvis." Descending from several jeepneys
parked in front of the church, they are dressed in their Sunday
clothes, the children scrubbed until their faces shine. The adults
are carrying packages bound with twine, including bedding.
Everyone drifts to the back patio, where the packages are piled on a table. The visiting women, who are wearing nylon stockings even in the heat, sit and begin to fan themselves. They resemble a bouquet of drooping flowers as they rest from their journey. Mely welcomes each person individually and, as usual, I do not understand most of the conversation. They are from an isolated, mountain province far to the east and do not speak English. So, I can only observe as Mely and Billie bring out tall glasses of sweet, tepid tea and cookies. After awhile, the women retire to the house to begin cooking and the children disappear in the direction of the basketball court.
My gaze begins to wander once again across the irrigation ditch. Most of the men have gathered in front of Buyat's nipa hut. They are sitting in a large circle, laughing and singing, and appear to be drinking from a shared bottle.
Drawn to their laughter, and to "Elvis" and his pot, I balance myself carefully on the log crossing the ditch the same log the children and Auntie Buyat cross all day long. Inching my way slowly, I arrive at the circle of men. At first, they seem disconcerted by my presence, and it occurs to me perhaps a Filipino woman would never so bold as to join in the camaraderie of men.
But then Joseph smiles. "Jessica, sit here with us,"
he says, motioning to a chair beside him. "I will give you
a taste of basi, sugarcane wine."After pouring some of the
clear liquid into a small glass, he hands it to me. All eyes
are on me, the joking silenced, as I join them in the ancient
ritual of sharing wine. I take a sip and begin choking violently.
Gasping or breath, I nearly fall on the ground because basi is
as strong as straight vodka or tequila. Continuing what feels
like an initiation, I
A cheer and wild applause ensue from my male companions. For them, this is a great joke, and it seems that once again I have provided the entertainment. I imagine it must be better than watching television.As they return to their drinking and gossiping, my attention is drawn back to "Elvis," who is a short distance away, still stirring. Unnoticed by the others, I quietly approach him.
"What are you cooking in your pot?"
"Ah, Jes-se-ka, this is very special. This is soup of the head of the dog."
He says this with great reverence, as I gasp and recoil backwards from him and the pot, my American love of pets standing in stark contradiction to the Filipino habit of eating just about anything - for example, consider balut: fertilized eggs containing the partially-formed bodies of ducks, which are boiled and eaten. Incidentally, balut are also believed to have aphrodisiac qualities.
Unable to come to terms with either the idea of eating the family dog or the mystery of male Filipino virility, I decide it would be better to return to the more reasonable activity of cooking with the other women.
Later in the afternoon, when a feast has
been spread out on long, outdoor tables, everyone comes together
again for food and conversation. Soon night
Jessica Bryan's Blog Address: www.psychicsurgery.wordpress.com