Welcome to the Philippines

This story is one I keep thinking I’ve told, for some reason. Yet, I check my logs and there isn’t a record of it, nor a post draft.

This story is one of an experience my husband Rhys had during his first time visiting me in the Philippines when we were newly in a relationship. I had visited him in Australia first; it was his gift to me after I graduated from college; and he decided to visit during his university holidays – which, being December, was our Christmas holidays. We were looking forward to having him experience the fun that was a Filipino New Year.

As Rhys’ flight arrived late in the afternoon, my mother decided that to save on space, it would be she and our driver who would pick him up from the airport. Our car – rather, my brother Al’s car – was a small Kia Pride, which was the butt of many jokes as it frequently required repairs. “Al’s Pride is broken again” We didn’t want to chance it breaking down.

Night had fallen by the time they had reached the subdivision where we lived; and it was also raining, which probably added to the delay in getting back.

For this to make sense, imagine a captial H and turn it on its side. This was the layout of the streets in our area, so for a while it looks like someone laid a giant ladder down and decided that’s how the street layout would look like. My house was at the end of one of the horizontal lines of that tipped over H; the alley that ran parallel to that was surrounded by empty lots. At the very end of those roads was a canal, and that canal had a shoulder-height wall that had turned almost black with moss and old lichen and mold.

(Terrible picture, very much not to scale, but I hope it helps!)

Rhys was sitting in the front passenger seat, on the right side. (In the Philippines, our cars are like the ones in the US.) He was gazing out the windshield, and noticed an odd, rearing shape in grey at the end of the street that had no houses. Since his parents own horses, he recognised the shape as a horse wearing a horse coat/blanket, rearing up and a man trying to pull the horse down by the reins, trying to calm the horse down.

Rhys comes from an area of Victoria that has plenty of farmland, orchards and vinyards; and one of the things he and I had bonded over was how we kept chickens as pets. Aware that what normally would be considered farm animals were kept in fairly urbanised areas, he watched the scene with mild interest and didn’t consider it out of the ordinary. The lights from the car illuminated the horse and the man, as well as the raindrops that fell across the beams.

Then the car turned the corner, to the ‘crossbeam’ of the H, and at the end of that road, turned the last corner before parking at the road in front of our house, where he was welcomed by me.

After he had put his suitcase away, we sat in the living room, talking about his trip while cooling down with cold Cola; what did he think of Manila (lots of people) and warning him that we didn’t have hot water for bathing (which was perfectly fine since it was so hot and humid, a cold ‘shower’ would be welcome!) and that he’d have to pour water on his head and body from a bucket and water dipper, or tabo.(Unlike what is mentioned in the linked Wikipedia article, we used toilet paper, and the tabo was used primarily for bathing.)

Then Rhys remembered what he’d seen just before arriving at my family home. “You didn’t mention that you had horses here,” he said.

This puzzled my mother and I. “We don’t have any. Nobody has horses here.”

Rhys told us about what he’d seen, which only made us even more confused. Because of the grey colour he mentioned, we asked him if it might have been a carabao. There had been a native woven baskets and goods seller with a carabao-pulled cart in the area recently, and we had remembered the cart having been parked for a while at the nearby basketball court. Even as we said it, we were unsure a carabao could rear like a horse.

(Note: Image isn’t mine; I found it on Pinterest. Also, that’s a horse-drawn cart; the carabao ones are much bigger, and often have the seller, his wife and children living in it as well.)

Rhys was certain of what he’d seen though. “No, I’m sure it was a horse, wearing a horse coat.”

He says he remembers my Mom and I exchange a meaningful look after he said this.

“No, there’s nobody here in the area who owns a horse.” I looked very apologetic. “I’ll explain later.”

He frowned, and nodded, and set the matter aside so we could have dinner.

When we were alone in my room, where we were going to sleep, I explained that the area we lived in used to be rice paddies, and that perhaps he had seen the ghost of a Spanish-era farmer, or haciendero, or perhaps a horse-back riding soldier. “Welcome to the Philippines! You’ve seen your first ghost!”

Rhys remembers the sight of that horse and it’s owner very clearly to this day.



On a side note, some years later bought a woven cradle from a basket seller for our son. It looked like the one pictured below, only with blue and white cord. Instead of a mattress however, we only laid down some cotton blankets, the corners of which we tied to the frame to keep from tangling him.

image found on google

It was bought with the consideration that Vincent needed a portable sleeping place while he was being minded by my Mom and the nanny, and that the cot would collapse and could be stowed behind the couch when it wasn’t in use. He slept best after having had a long cool bath in a washbasin outside of the house under the mango tree, and the crib would be hung off a hook that was tied to the tree’s very sturdy branches. The breeze would gently rock him, and the tree would keep him shaded. If it was raining, the crib was hung off a hook in the living room, or in the kitchen.

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