Bittersweet Bliss

Name:Ronan Bennett
Location:Cebu City, Philippines.
Aiming for:Silver Award
About the Author:I am a student teacher in my final year. I enjoy working through mediums of art, literature and theatre in expressing ideas, both my own and with children in class. I look forward to using my experience in The Philippines to enrich the learning of children in my class.

Bittersweet Bliss

Being adjoined to the wider world with our wifi back (for how long is unknown), today will be a double blog day!
Yesterday and today have been chaotic in the very best of ways and have provided us with some of the richest and deepest experiences since arriving here over two weeks ago. The Badjao, and indeed the entire Filipino community, seem to be a quiet and shy population so it has taken us this length of time to really get to know them and it has resulted in some in depth and fascinating conversations as well as a lenience towards our presence in their community rituals.

One of these rituals was underway yesterday and all classes and workshops and paintbrushes alike were dropped to join the community in witnessing it. Throngs of people began to swarm about amidst the claps of thunder that have been echoing through our skies for the past 72 hours. Spits of rain did little to dampen the mood which was exciting and electrifying.

The event was a wedding proposal; the initial event of this weekend which will see two young people aged fifteen and twenty be wed within the Badjao tribe. Weddings in this community are a far cry from what we would be familiar with at home. There is no sign of an engagement ring, no reservation in a fancy hotel and no reams of invitations to be sent to people far and near. In fact, it is not even the final decision of bride and groom’s if they shall be married. That decision is made by the elders of the tribe as part of a process of proposal.

Initially, the man’s family will throw a blanket over the girl, laying claim to her which results in big decision having to be made. The man’s family must pay a dowry to the girl’s family and this dowry consists of bread, soft drinks, crafts and about twenty thousand pesos which equals around four hundred euro. This dowry is presented to the girl’s family and a decision is made when the dowry is presented at the proposal.

Seeing this proposal was a treat. There was singing and dancing first in traditional Badjao attire and the ladies of our group were even invited to dance. Men do not dance in the Badjao. Following this, the dowry was paraded to the girl’s house. Here the community’s elders were gathered in a circle on the floor of the tiny house to discuss what I can only guess were terms of the wedding as they spoke only on Badjao. The bride and groom were not present for these discussions. The money was laid on top of the bread in five hundred and one thousand peso notes and eventually, claps and cheers rang out around the house. A wedding is to happen tomorrow, Sunday July 24th. The bread was passed around to the crowd outside as were the bottles of soft drinks which the Badjao only have on special occasions. One of the older members handed me a cola and seemed thrilled with our little exchange. He laughed and smiled and thanked ME for being there. I was really quite touched to be included like that as I am only a visitor in their community. It is testament to their welcoming and kind spirit.

A happy occasion this wedding may be but there is a side to it that causes distress and disappointment. The girl is only fifteen years old and is a student in the high school nearby. She has been a student in the Badjao school and the teachers there have put time and effort into educating her in the hope that she will escape the cycle and reach for heights above that of what is the standard for the Badjao community. Her future is now uncertain as more often than not, married couples do not return to school after they have been wed. There was therefore a bittersweet feeling about the wedding; a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ sort of vibe. Perhaps she will return to school; perhaps she will be like many other women here and begin to have children. It is hard to know.

Changing topic, today was our sports day and it could not have been a better day. My efforts to not get burned were futile however as my shoulders are now glowing a light but stinging red. Nevertheless, the laughing, sportsmanship and general air of lighthearted fun made it all worthwhile. These young people do not often get to play on grass, relax under palm trees or indeed play group sports of any kind. Seeing them engaging with us and each other today brought home to me the joy and happiness we’re bringing to these kids. This was verified by a lovely speech the youth council made at the sports day’s close.

Right now, I’m freshly showered and relaxing in the garden. This evening we have a dinner with Redemptorist priests in training so I’m availing of the relaxation time while I can. As we go into our second weekend off, they weekends are becoming more and more welcome as the work during the week intensifies. Saying that, the thought of leaving The Philippines and the Badjao community behind is painful.

Who knows what the future holds but returning here again would be a privilege and a worthwhile venture.

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