One of the downsides of volunteering in a close-knit community is that everyone knows your business. Cabiao always seems so much smaller that it actually is because everyone really does know everyone. For example, the lady who runs the coffee shop I go to, is the sister of one of the barangay secretary's I am working with, who is also a second cousin of my host-dad Teddy. Small world you would say? Except this kind of 'coincidence' has become a daily occurrence: everyone is- in someway- related to, or friends with my host-family. So it sometimes seems as if all of Cabiao has become my extended family.
But no family is perfect.
And this one loves to gossip. Of course, being the token 'western girl' I've found myself at the centre of a lot of 'town talk.' Some of it regards my 'abnormal' actions:
"Why is Katie walking again? In this heat!"
"Does she think being tanned is a good thing?"
"Do vegetarians eat chicken? Beef?!?"
I accept this and almost expect it: because I AM different and I bring with me the customs of another culture. Cultural sensitivity has nothing to do with it as the essential facts will always remain unchanged: I am British. I am blonde. I have blue eyes. And I like sunbathing.
I am only frustrated when the gossip becomes unfounded and unfair. Like playground chit-chat, rumours spread and grow...and before you know it everyone thinks you don't wash your clothes enough. (N.B. This rumour made me mad because I loathe doing laundry. Particularly by hand. And yet in Cabiao I have stuck with it. Three times a week.) There are those volunteers who did 'mess up' you might say, with regards to their cultural adaption: for example, wearing short-shorts to work. These actions would quickly become headline news in Cabiao. But in spite of my efforts to blend-in and remain sensitive to the culture, I have still found myself at the centre of some nonsense rumours. I am apparently having an affair with one of the volunteers (who everyone also assumes is my brother because of the blonde hair/blue eyes!) And I also have millions of pounds in my bank account.
Of course, these are all very harmless and quite silly rumours that shouldn't really affect me. Yet at times they do. And I find myself craving for the ignorance and isolation of London- where no one knows your name, let alone cares if you are pregnant or not! (How many times...it's a rice bloat!!)
After a life-time of living in a big-town, just outside london, I think Cabiao not only provided a cultural shock but a 'community' shock. At home, we don't even know our neighbours and yet here, everyone in the compound is welcome in the Messina home. (I'm not even sure who permanently lives there, as we always have different family members sleeping over!)
Don't get me wrong, I think it's wonderful. What a support network to have- literally on your doorstep. I guess I'm just more accustomed to having privacy and what I describe as "me time": Time alone. For me.
From what I've noticed, Filipinos don't place much importance in "me time" because they love to be with the group. For example, my host-family all share a bed- out of choice- because they love the company of others. (The same applies for my counterpart Sophia with her family.) If I'm honest, I can't ever imagine sharing a bed with my Mum, Dad and brother Mike. I think we'd kill each other...
"Stop pulling the cover!"
"Hey!! you're pushing me off!!!"
...Yeah that would never end well. Give me my own bed any day.
But that just about captures the essence of cultural difference. It's not that one way is right or wrong. It's just different.
Photo caption: When the going gets tough in Cabiao, all you need is some fresh boko juice (and a shot of Emperador) to sort you out!