Lolo, my father-in-law, has a problem. A girlfriend. A sweetie that he can only see. A significant other that he can only converse with. It’s Easter Sunday in Guimaras, home of sweet mangoes, beautiful beaches and pretty pinays. The “intervention crew,” which consists of my asawa, Cousin Emma, Cousin Roberto and I, are zooming along the road to visit a sorhano, folk healer in the Philippines. Cousin Roberto knows one that lives near Nueva Valencia, the beach resort area of this province. We’re all piled into a tricycle on another hot summer day in the Philippines.
We stop at a local sari sari store along the way (see photo above.) Cousin Emma said we needed some fresh ginger for the sorhano. It would be needed for the healing rite.
As an American expat living in the Philippines for close to four years, I’ve heard of the locals that practice alternative medicine but have never visited one. I didn’t know what to expect. Would I see shrunken heads nailed to the bamboo walls? Huge bubbling cauldrons with nasty sulfurous smells wafting from them? It was a new adventure in paradise.
The road to the medicine man was a hot, dusty one. Rainy season in the Philippines won’t start until June. Current conditions are hot and dry as evidenced by the photo above taken along the way. A long stretch of grass and trees had been hit by a recent fire and had burned out of control in this deserted area. Didn’t see any homes or signs of human activity nearby.
About 45 minutes we reached a small enclave of bamboo huts. There, underneath a canopy, was a group of people sitting on a large table eating their Easter Sunday feast. It was 12:20 pm. We had reached the healer but had interrupted his holiday feast. We climbed out of the trike. Our driver would wait.
It was casual dress day for the folk healer this Easter Sunday. He took Lolo’s hand and uttered a series of prayers. This continued for a few minutes. Next, he took a piece of ginger and rubbed it on grandpa’s head. After that, he touched the arms and legs of my father-in-law with the ginger as he uttered incantations in Ilonggo that I did not understand.
Next the sorhano took a bottle of his special anointing oil which smelled exactly like a bottle of methyl salicylate camphor menthol my asawa has at home. The healer instructed my asawa to take the oil and rub her father’s head with it. My spouse took it and liberally spread it throughout her tatay’s hair as instructed.
After that, the folk healer pulled out a jar of generic Vicks Vapo Rub. I excitedly announced to everyone that I knew what this was! My Mom had used this on my two brothers and I when we were kids. Who could ever forget that smell? My English was translated to the medicine man who nodded towards me. My spouse was to slather the rub on her tatay’s forehead and neck, which she did.
A few more words were spoken over lolo. The final instructions from the sorhano were to purchase a lemon. Roast the peel of the lemon and rub it on my father-in-law’s head. Take the juice of the lemon and mix it with red sugar and have tatay drink it. Everyone in the “intervention crew,” save for my asawa, were asking each other “What’s a lemon?” My wife, who spent nine years in the United States with me before moving back to the Philippines, explained.
After the healer graciously allowed my picture to be taken with him (“he’s an American, he’s an American,” my relatives explained), we prepared to leave. My spouse had paid P200, about 5 US Dollars, to the sorhano for his services and thanked him. We hopped back on the tricycle and headed home.
Our nephew, Sherwen, was sent to search the local markets in Guimaras for the lemon. None to be found. My asawa was going to have our nephew return to Iloilo with us and bring a lemon back to the mango province. We knew we could buy one at the SM City Supermarket.
But we had a change of plans. My wife’s sister Alida was part of the original intervention team, but she had to be rushed to the local provincial hospital. She had a fever the last couple of days and it had worsened. My asawa and I would head back to Guimaras later the next day, Monday, and my spouse would return with the lemon and take the night watch since her sister was in the hospital. No need to bring our nephew Sherwen with us now.
Watching over lolo in his present condition would require the presence of a responsible adult. Alida’s husband, Joery, would be staying overnight in the hospital with his wife, so my spouse would spend Easter Sunday sleeping on the bamboo floor in the nipa hut where her tatay would be staying. My asawa had to make sure he did not try to wander off into the night.
I settled into the couch in the sala, living room, of “The Compound.” Our nieces and nephew were in the next room watching television. Mosquitoes buzzed around my head. The children had the only fan. It was hot. Only took 30 seconds for me to be drenched in sweat.
I could hear our nearly deaf lolo loudly talking to my asawa in the nipa hut. It was 10 pm. Having gotten up at 3:30 am that Easter Sunday, I was tired, but couldn’t sleep. After 45 minutes he stopped talking. But then he began loudly to recite his nightly prayers. It was going to be a long night in Guimaras.
(to be continued)