Friday, April 01, 2005

Dump the red carpet, a Pinoy house or two is still yours

SQUAT amid a sweep of sand and brine in a dot of Pangasinan's Binmaley coastline is a shoebox of a hovel. In 1986 an artist friend and I stumbled on that place. We badgered its owner - a swarthy woman in her late 30's, mother to a brood of six scrawny kids -- for a bit of bed space. Told her we intend to stay for a week. To shoot the breeze. To chuck off my cohort's bad case of nerves. Without much fuss, she did find ample accommodation for two strays in her abode. We were billeted- put that, aptly tucked among jerry water cans, a firewood pile and a bit of hearth in the open air-conditioned batalan.

We were two extra mouths to feed - it didn't hurt our pockets any to chip in some money for our share in the family food budget. The rice we feasted on daily was the fragrant, a bit of a glutinous sort, of topnotch eating quality. Rounding out such pearl mounds of grain were unceremoniously plain dishes concocted from whatever the children caught in the nearby shoals or carabao wallows (no, they didn't catch carabaos); stewed with scant condiments - usually sun-ripened tomatoes and freshly uprooted ginger or young shallots - and served piping hot in frugal portions. Ah, the sweetish yellow flesh of native catfish culled off those wallows was ambrosial.

The kids didn't mind our presence. A genial lot but they were too busy. Up before daylight, were mostly away on errands; incessantly scouring the length and breadth of the inland shoreline for daily sustenance to share with two strays in their home.

The daily barriotic fare was divine; accommodations were below guerrilla standards. However, the brimming goodwill lavished on us sans trappings was way out of this Third World.

Call that fabulous Filipino hospitality. Dump the red carpet and comfy accommodations- a ramshackle hut, maybe a hobbling hovel or two in the vast Philippine countryside is yours to stumble into. Maybe. Maybe not.

Let's digress. Filipino hospitality may be alive and kicking in the most humble domicile - but they're out there in the more pastoral precincts where dwellers aren't tainted yet by the hogwash and hang-ups cranked out in daily mega-doses by media. A sense of peace and goodwill can thrive and breathe its magic into dwellers in the sweeping stretch of living space - Bavarian mystic and polyglot Karl Haushofer called that space as lebensraum, Pinoy sculptor Jerusalino Araos dubbed it as "Godspace". In a way, anthropologist Loren Eiseley validates such choice of nomenclature: man shapes his landscape and becomes an expression of such landscape.

On the other hand, it takes toughness of spirit to hold on to peaceable goodwill and whatever shred of humanity when the dweller is squeezed into the urban land squalor. The cramped tract of urban land can be hostile and inhuman. Stinks, too. The claustrophobia is so thick it's slathered thoroughly on the land's dwellers. Say, an inch-long goldfish needs a gallon of water to romp in; a gallon less retards its growth - how much more so for human habitation that can nurture inner well-being?

No whit of hospitality or goodwill can be expected in chicken coops - only a desolation of the spirit. There's neither hasty conclusion nor slapdash observation about that.

For some years, I've taken up quarters as paying tenant in the less pricey settlements and homesites in the metropolis. It was akin to plunging into hellish bedlam. The mindless chatter begins each morning, reaches a groveling crescendo at TV primetime as every inhabitant is likely imprinting his/her mindset and life-path with the idiocy spouted off the idiot box. The hubbub of wannabe Gutom Jones, Englebert Humpingdrunks and Crank Sinatras drones on through the small hours. Nasty rumors are cooked up, spleen-gushed like bile fast and thick. Say, by being silent for prolonged periods and spending long hours poring over books and monographs, this writer was ratted by well-meaning neighbors to barangay satraps as a likely (1) terrorist; (2) drug peddler; (3) criminal in hiding; (4) salot or plague; (5) sex maniac or (6) harbinger of kamalasan to the neighborhood. Each day as he sets off for work, the beleaguered tenant passes through a gauntlet of hissed-out jeers and whispered curses for his luck at having - and keeping -- a white collar job. That's gnawing away at 'em. So there's your unwritten rule: when in Rome, do as Romans do; when in a noisome place, do as the nuisances do, whew...

So, this stranger in his strange land gives up on such harassment and sticks to the procedure laid out in the Scriptures to bring a downpour of curses upon those hostile roofs and a torrent of plagues for their denizens. "And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it not be worthy, let your peace return to you." In short, leave 'em be. One easy option is to join the 20% of the populace; they're a skilled lot. They can see the country's trenchant hopelessness; they often find sanity and better-paying jobs in foreign shores.

Now see here. Three bunches of keys in my pocket reassure a feeling that Pinoy hospitality isn't about to kick the bucket.

Each bunch represents a household where I am welcomed, nay treasured, in old-fashioned fellowship and heart-warming hospitality even at odd hours. To be plied with food, drink, a warm bed, a PC to bang out my thoughts plus all the homespun trimmings thrown in. One household run by a pair of comely sisters swamp me with Akira Kurosawa and Charlie Chaplin films on video, rock n' roll tapes, and oodles of food. Another stuffs me with books. The third is a virtual office for telecommute jobs. That simply means saying goodbye to monthly rental fees.

No, they're not even my next of kin, those kindred spirits. They're probably angels in disguise. A lot more bunches of keys have been offered to me but I can't accept 'em to drill holes through my pockets with their generosity. I know, I know, trust goes with each entrusted key...

Ah, it takes toughness and true spiritual mettle to hold on to such old-fangled notions as hospitality and goodwill. Thank goodness, some Filipinos take the pains and take on a tougher spirit to keep the tradition alive.

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