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I spent part of this morning reading some of my old blog postings. I know, I know – spending time reading my old scribblings proves I have a thrilling life! My readings included a piece called, Meet the Parents. Feel free to go back and read it; it’s a good ‘un.
I described the first time I met Janet’s family and her fear of my reaction to the home she grew up in, her “old” parents (who were younger than me). She also warned me about the lack of indoor plumbing in their home, and here I’ll quote what I wrote a couple years ago about the experience. “Of course there was no indoor plumbing and I was told by Janet to avoid using the outhouse. Thanks goodness that at my advanced age bladder retention is still – well, retained.”
I found, as I described in that previous blog, that her modest home was perfectly nice and her parents were not old looking or acting, or at least not as geriatric as the guy she was going to marry 🙂
But I avoided the “outhouse” and continued to avoid it for years and the many times I visited the family home. And Janet continued to mention over the years that I should avoid the bathroom. This led to a curious, though effective scheduling scenario every time we went to their home based on the fact that I was confident that bladder retention could be retained for perhaps half a day. So, if a late afternoon dinner was planned, we might arrive in the early afternoon and leave in the early evening, just in time for me to get back to our hotel, the famous BBB (Bodos Bamboo Bar) so that I could do my best imitation of Tom Hanks in the Green Mile.
I suppose that if asked I would admit that I was afraid of what I might find or what I might smell in that large concrete structure. Honestly, images of the kid hiding in the outhouse in Schindler’s List came to mind. And no, I will not post a video of that scene; no need to thank me. That image kept me far away from the bathroom. It also kept me from drinking too many San Miguels at Janet’s ancestral home, which disappointed the men in the family, who might have wanted to see the kano get hammered.
But over the years I had my doubts. After all, I was now married to Janet and knew her to be a very meticulous, cleanly person. I had been around her sisters enough to know that they were the same way. So how, I wondered, could they stand it? Poverty forces difficult sacrifices, I told myself as I forced the Schindler’s List image out of my mind for the hundredth time.
This past April, we spent a week in Alcoy. The last day lunch was scheduled at the ancestral home with the required lechon. I had always expressed a desire to see how they did it and Janet asked if I wanted to go early and see what the lechon guy did. So, we arrived around 10:30 and watched the lechon guy perform his magic. You can see a video of that and some other Alcoy fun here. By 12:00 the happy barangay was being fed.
After lunch, I proceeded to consume 3 glasses of Red Horse with my father in law and Lolo; a bit more than would normally be prudent, but it was my last day in Alcoy. Games happened, talk happened. 4:00 arrived and Janet and I actually took a mini nap. Upon awakening at 4:30 I knew I was in trouble and woke up Janet quickly and said “we have to go.” Janet awoke and slowly complied but of course, since this was our last day in Alcoy we had to say our goodbyes – to everyone. I felt embarrassed by how quickly I was saying goodbye to the family.
Now you might be wondering, this being the Philippines, and deep in the provinces, why I didn’t just head off and find a place to do my business. I mean that’s certainly culturally appropriate in the Philippines.
The reason is that my mother in law and everyone else in the family keeps an eye on me like a hawk. Just the day before I was going to go back to the BBB and Janet was going to stay for dinner. I got up to leave. My MIL insisted that I have the kids accompany me to the main road where I would get a trike. I assured her that I knew the way and had been successfully walking on my own since my 30s. No dice. Ten kids accompanied me.
So I knew I could not just sneak off to find a place to pee. I rushed Janet, we quickly said our goodbyes, hit the trail toward the main road, accompanied by the kids, and grabbed a trike. A little bit after 5:00 I was back at the BBB again pulling my Tom Hanks impression. OK, “pulling” is a bit inappropriate 🙂
But Janet was upset. “Why did you have to rush us,” she demanded to know.
“Because I had to pee – badly!” I said.
“So why didn’t you just use the bathroom?”
“What!” I yelled. “Because you’ve told me for years that I should never never use it – that it was awful.”
“It’s perfectly fine,” she shot back, surprised.
“It doesn’t stink?”
“It’s not like, you know – Schindler’s List?” I asked.
So, first I insisted that Janet acknowledge that she in fact had repeatedly told me over the years that I should never use it. She finally laughed and admitted she had said that. I then screwed up my courage and asked her to describe the environment.
Turns out my image of splintery planks with crude holes in them was not quite accurate. In fact there were standard toilets and no smell. The only adjustment you’d have to make is that, as in many places in the Philippines, including a couple of hotel rooms we’ve stayed in, a bucket of water and a ladle sits next to the toilet and that’s what’s used to get it to flush.
There was no sense in busting Janet too much for her deception. I understood that just as she had described her home as poor and terrible and her parents as old and poor, this was her way to protect me from the reality of her upbringing.
Next time I go to Alcoy I’m going to overdo the San Miguel and do my best Tom Hanks impression right there. Just don’t expect a video 🙂