The Family Girl Blogs
(aka "The New Working Girl Blogs")
Blog #38: Holiday Blues (1 of 3): The Pew MafiaTo see all of Bobbie's Family Girl Blogs, click on this link:
It's Maundy Thursday today here in Manila, the Thursday before Easter, and it's almost 11PM as I sit in front of the computer typing all this.
I attended church services earlier this afternoon. Pretty lonely, though - I was in a foreign country surrounded by strangers. Not as bad as it could have been, really, as everyone knew how to speak English, and the mass I attended was in English. But I won't bore you with a lot of stuff only familiar to Catholics, except to say it's a holiday here, as well as tomorrow (I knew being Catholic would pay off someday heehee. Four-day weekend! Whee!).
Manila feels like a ghost town. Most days, it's like wall-to-wall cars and buses. Now... well, the city must be lighter by several megatons. Manny drove me around the city tonight, with no specific destination, and I saw the city in a different way.
Most places were empty and there were precious few places that were open for business. Stupid me, I thought it was an opportunity to shop some more. The city, actually the whole of Metro Manila seems denuded of people. Manila and the surrounding towns and cities are collectively called Metro Manila - a huge commercial, residential, business, cultural and manufacturing mega-hub that houses fifteen percent of the people in the twelfth most populous country in the world. And with maybe eighty percent of its residents currently out of town visiting relatives in the provinces or taking vacations outside of the country, it really is a ghost town in many ways.
So, no wonder I feel lonely and out-of-place.
In church today, I felt a lot of attention being given me by many of the parishioners. I suppose because I look a little different from the locals and that I seemed to be overdressed for church. (Seems I've been getting a lot of that, including yesterday, but I'll reserve that funny story for a little later). My driver-guard, Manny, didn't help much. Although he was trying to be unobtrusive, he was clearly my bodyguard. And it's hard to not be imposing if you're a big 6'4" guy in a country whose population is predominantly in the 5'5" range. It's hard not to be noticed with him around.
No one bothered me, and most were friendly. but many of the people in the front pews, especially the women, were a little... stand-offish. Actually, I thought they were snooty. Most of the people there, all pretty well-dressed, didn't seem to want me there and I sorta felt like they were crowding me out. Was this how visitors were treated?
Anyway, after being overly jostled and bumped, I whispered to Manny if we could find another pew to sit in. Manny stood, spotted a bench near the middle that wasn't too crowded, and escorted me there. I had this suspicion that the front-pew mafia didn't like it that I left, but then was I supposed to stay and be crowded out? I guess I was missing some cues, which is par for the course in a foreign country.
But when they realized that Manny was my guard, they sorta did a double-take. (Manny later said that they probably thought I was some celebrity or a person of some importance since I was relatively well-dressed, looked a bit caucasian/European, spoke English well and had a personal bodyguard.)
Anyway, in our new spot, I felt more out of my element, and even more overdressed as I stayed in the "economy section." But the people were loads friendlier, especially the teenage kids. I said hello and they greeted me as well. A gentleman to my right, with his family beside him, handed me a missalette so I could follow the service, and we had a little bit of chit-chat (where was I from and how did I like the weather and like that) as we waited for the service to start. So... Is this how visitors are treated here?
A kid from "first class" came over, ignored the man and his family, and invited me to their pew (as if he wasn't just crowding me out of there a few moments ago). I politely said no, thank you, I didn't want to sit with them. He didn't want to take no for an answer and insisted loudly until Manny stood up, stood against him, his chest against the kid's nose, and quietly said to stop bothering us. He slunk off, and a few minutes later, the service started.
I guess I really didn't understand it.
The service was longer than a usual one, with lots of other stuff just for today, that are probably not familiar to you, and I won't explain them now and risk boring you.
After the service and the other stuff, I did my praying there so I wouldn't need to do the traditional church visits (Again, I will skip explaining that as well). Anyway, after I finished, the pew mafia was there, surrounding me. They offered to take me to dinner, to apologize. And they didn't even know me. I smiled sweetly, thanked them but I said I didn't want to. I then walked outside. Manny hammed it up a bit and blocked them from following.
I walked to our car, waited for Manny, and we got in together. I asked him to drive by the front entrance, and we saw the nice family who sat with me. When we pulled up, I went to the father, said thanks, wished them well, and gave him a couple of thousand pesos, telling him to take them to dinner on me. It wasn't much really, and I had my per diem.
People were people, anywhere you go, and everyone's essentially the same, everyone's got the same hassles. It's just that the economy magnifies things. Who was rich andwho was poor always made a difference. But in a poor country, the differences are magnified, even up to something as petty as preferred seats in church. Quarrels about territoriality, social classes... Pretty familiar. Just a little more exaggerated here and in a different form, that's all.
Anyway, after my ride around Ghost-Town, we bought MoeMoe a takeout large thin crust pizza from Shakeys (yep, Shakeys. I thnk I need to tell Ma), and Fish and Chips for me.
Somehow, I don't feel so out-of-place now.
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