After spending one night in Iloilo City, we drove with Jeoffrey and Fatima up to his hometown of San Dionisio (san-din-E-she-o), about 100km north. The trip took over two hours as we passed through countless small villages. We also made several stops along the way, loading up with fresh fruits, vegetables, and even live catfish. We were commended for bringing the good weather with us: the skies were deep blue with big dramatic clouds.
We planned to spend three nights at Jeoffrey’s house, before returning to Iloilo for the Dinagyang Festival. He inherited the pre-war house from his grandparents (his grandmother is still alive and living there), and is slowly in the process of renovating it in the gaps between his seafaring contracts. It’s very much a work in progress. The original wood-framed kitchen had recently been torn down and replaced with a safer, yet still-unfinished concrete structure (walls, ceilings, counters and all). Most of the actual cooking happened outside over an open fire under a bamboo structure. We were invited to come back in 3 years (ok, maybe 5) to see the house when all the renovations should be complete.
In addition to Jeoffrey, Fatima, and his grandmother living there, they also employed a husband and wife with three young children who lived on-site to oversee the day-to-day needs of the house (cooking, cleaning, laundry, maintenance), as well as a late-teen who ran errands. It was a strange juxtaposition, being in a house that had clearly deteriorated over the years, and yet being served on like royalty. I’m not used to having other people cook and clean for me, but it made sense, given how hard it was to do those things without labor-saving devices like washing machines and dishwashers. It seemed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement for both parties, and they were very much treated like part of the family.
For a change, we were the only foreigners around, which though amusing to us, was all the more surprising to the locals, who weren’t used to seeing white people walk in their midst. Dropped jaws and double-takes were common. Schoolkids giggled, waved, and occasionally practiced their English. We had become the talk of the town. Jeoffrey’s mom told us that the people who saw us kept remarking “They’re so young!”, which confused us at first, but essentially meant that of the few Americans they do see, the majority tend to be much older (due in part to the US military bases stationed in the Philippines that were closed in the early 90s). Most people seemed happy to show us around, and I’d like to think it gave them a sense of pride knowing that two outsiders had come all this way just to visit their town.