When I left off on my last article of this series, we had just arrived in General Santos City, Mindanao. We were heading to Feyma’s family home in Barangay Lagao. Traveling a dirt highway on the back of a flatbed truck. It was a little bit of a different experience than I was used to having!
As we pulled into the area where the family home was, there were lots of people following us on foot, chasing the truck. The sight of a foreigner coming into the neighborhood was a really uncommon thing back then. You know what was funny? When I first went to General Santos City (this was in 1990) a lot of people there would call me “Father” because they thought I was a Catholic Priest. For the most part, the only foreigners who went there back in those days were Priests who were assigned there. These days, things have changed, and people don’t really blink an eye when they see a foreigner, we are so common now.
Anyway, we had arrived in General Santos City with some gifts for the family. These gifts that you bring while traveling are called “Pasalubong” and are a big part of the culture of the Philippines. If you are a nice person you will bring Pasalubong for the people who are important to you at your destination location. So, we were coming from Cebu City, a much larger city than General Santos. Cebu had a vast availability of items compared to GenSan. We brought some Dunkin Donuts and some Pizza. As I recall the Pizza was from Shakey’s. Neither of these items was available in GenSan, and they were much desired.
When we arrived at the family home, it was very simple. Back in those days, the home was constructed out of wood and bamboo. Now, it has been renovated and is made with cinder blocks, but not back then. We went inside, offered our Pasalubong gifts and sat down. I was introduced to all of the family, and we talked. It did not take long, and they were serving me pizza and donuts. Hmm… I thought we brought these things as gifts for the family, now they were serving the gifts to me! Well, that is how things work in the Philippines. If a guest is present at the house, only the best of what is available is served to them.
After being at the house for about 10 minutes or so, I noticed something that had been in front of me all of the time but had not been noticed. I looked up at the windows in the house and saw literally hundreds of eyes outside peering through the windows. They were all looking at me. As I said, seeing a foreigner was so, well… foreign to them back then! It was a real event in the neighborhood for me to be there. It was a strange feeling that I had never experienced before.
We had arrived in General Santos around 4 PM. It gets dark in the Philippines around 6 PM every day of the year. Since the country is very close to the equator, the days are fairly consistent in length throughout the year. Anyway, Papa (Feyma’s father) told her that it was about to get dark outside, and I should go to the hotel immediately. Back in those days, General Santos was kind of the “wild west” and you really did not want to be out on the streets after dark, especially if you were a foreigner.
The best hotel in General Santos in those days was a place called the Tierra Verde. There were actually only two hotels in town. So, a few family members and I headed to the Tierra Verde Hotel so I could check in and have safe quarters for the night.
The next day was a bit tough, I’ll tell you about that next time I write!