Chapter 52: Thanksgiving for Our Permanent Residence Visas

In December, 1990, sixteen years after moving to the Philippines, our Permanent Residence Visas were granted, (though we didn’t hear about it for several months). These gave us the freedom to be in the Philippines permanently. It is like immigrants to the United States having green cards. Each year less than a hundred people were granted this status in the Philippines, so it was a great honor to get ours. We wanted to celebrate this achievement in the biggest way possible, to share our good fortunes with our friends and the leaders of Enrile, but we weren’t sure about how to go about doing that.

We also wanted to share this and much more with Neil Kuns, the minister of one of our main supporting churches, UCC. He was already going to be in the Philippines to speak at the annual get-together of the missionaries of the Churches of Christ and Christian Churches, so he graciously accepted our invitation to come to our celebration. It was April 1991. When I say “much more,” I mean we wanted to show him the Lord’s work being done in the Itawes region, and to make our celebration an event he would never forget, an event that would give him the best possible picture of the Itawes people in the two days he would be there. We thought we wouldn’t have time to take him to far-off barrios where he would have to wade across rivers and hike along the rice terraces to get where we had to go, though that would have been exciting. And we didn’t want to just take him for a ride around Enrile in a horse-drawn calesa. Although he could get an idea about how the people lived, he wouldn’t be able to meet them and to know what charming people they really are.

Therefore, since he only had two days to spend with us, we decided to have a big ‘blowout,’ the word Filipinos use for a special celebration when they have reached a certain point in their lives—like a graduation or special advancement in their jobs, or whatever. Prior to this, Chuck and I had never had a big occasion at our Enrile home. We had gone to many blowouts at the homes of others in the community, but having one ourselves would be completely different.

At the time we made our decision to have the blowout, we happened to be spending most of our time south of Manila working with Felipe, our main translator-helper, who was living there with his sister at the time.

We started gathering as much information as we could to figure out how to arrange a party like the one we wanted. Just then, one of our Itawes preachers came to Manila on business of his own. By Chuck on His New Honda on the way to Felipe’s to Work myself, I made a special trip up to Manila on public transportation to talk to him about how such an occasion should be planned. He explained the various steps they go through to prepare for a blowout, and I realized that we had a lot of work to do.

Then we talked to some ladies who live in our apartment setup, and they told how it would be done in their area in the southern part of the Philippines. After talking to Felipe, too, to get more ideas that were more specific for Enrile, he recommended that I go to Enrile to make the plans there with the people that would actually be doing the work. So, I went up the week before Easter.

The first thing I did was to go next door to our neighbors, the Lunas, and it happened that she and the lady next door again to her were having a little celebration of their own for having completed their harvest of corn. They were having coffee and a sticky rice candy delicacy. All the workers who had helped in the project were there, and they really got excited when I opened up my plan bit by bit and told them what we had in mind.

When one has an occasion like this, the food is very important, and someone must be in charge of the cooking. Usually this is a man who is famous in the town for his cooking. The only man we knew of who could have done a superb job was also one of the men who had helped us in our translation work, and frequently put on such occasions for political people in Tuguegarao because of his good recipes, etc. He had passed away about a year and a half before. Since that time, a twoman team had successfully taken his place, and they had had charge of the cooking for the occasions when our Itawes Aunt Longhina Luna, Uncle Felipe Abbariao, and Uncle Henti Abbariao had passed away. No other names were mentioned in regards to cooking, no matter who I talked to, before or after that, because these two men were the best for the job.

I asked my neighbors how this would work, and they said I would need to ask the cooks to do the job. If they agreed, I would have to tell them how many people we intended to have as guests, and then we would go over the items on the menu together so they would know what they would be doing. Of course, they would have to give me an approximate idea of how much money they needed to purchase all of the ingredients. They would take care of getting people there to help with the various things that would need to be done. They would be in Thanksgiving for Our Permanent Residence Visas charge of getting the pots and pans, large cauldrons, etc., too, and whatever else they needed for doing their job.

Rodger Shewmaker had been in Manila when we were down there, and we had mentioned to him what we wanted to do. Even before I could get back to Enrile, he had gone up there and told the Itawes preachers what we had in mind, and the preacher in Enrile had a meeting with the local congregation the Sunday before I arrived. They were all very excited to be a part of helping us out. At the meeting, they decided what task each person wanted to do. Some would go to the forest and get all the wood needed to cook the food. Some would put up the tarpaulin so there would be a shady place for guests to sit and eat. The women would make the bibingka and inatata, the rice delicacies I had told Rodger I wanted to have for the merienda. They would bring the pans in which to make these things, too. They would also help in serving and washing the dishes, and they would bring dishes, forks and spoons. The dishes they brought were the very best they had as were the silverware utensils. No throw-away plates and plastic ware for this blow-out.

With all of this decided beforehand, it didn’t take a lot of work on my part to get things lined up when I got there. The only thing I changed in their plans was for the two neighbor ladies who live to the south of us to make the chocolate and bibingka for the merienda, because I knew they specialized in this. When the ladies of the church heard what I wanted, they said they would be glad to help them. Of course, they knew much better than I did how much work it takes. Many hands make light work.

The question of how to handle the invitations to such an event arose. The way it works in Enrile is that there is one specific lady in town who is noted for being the person to do the inviting of the guests. She knows everyone in town, and knows intimately the protocol for inviting each person or group. So I called upon her to see if she would do that for us. She consented, and asked for my guest list. Then she told me to whom I would send personal written invitations, and she would visit all the others herself in person.

We had approximately 200 people on that list. I included all the people from the municipal hall, and as many teachers and other important people as I could think of. Fortunately, this lady knew approximately how many we were talking about as I named off the groups of people we wanted to come, and she knew most of the people themselves. The only thing she didn’t know was how many to expect from the two Churches of Christ we have in Enrile.

She would not only invite the people, but she would also have charge of the tables, the ones who brought the dishes and silverware, the servers, the way it was all set up and served, and even the cleanup afterward. She would be the one to invite the people to the buffet tables, a very important job, because even though all are considered as equal, there is a definite order of eating that is observed by the people, and to do it any other way would be a disgrace to all concerned. Overall, this lady was a great addition to our team.

It still remained for us to get our house in the proper condition for a blowout. When I had gone to Enrile before Easter, I noticed that our house was not clean, nor was it very orderly. So I made arrangements for four girls to go and clean everything well—wash down walls, ceilings, windows, the office, and to wash the dirty sheets, the curtains, etc., and to put up our special draperies in the living room which I usually put up at Christmas time. I sent them money to get food for themselves while they were there, and also indicated who would be in charge and second in charge among them. They did all I had asked, and the place looked very nice and clean. When first I entered the house, I looked at how everything had been done, and the place was literally shining. Then I went up to the living room. I had only worked with one of the girls once on putting up the draperies, so they didn’t have them up exactly right. But they were up, and I never said anything to them about it. I was very pleased with their performance, and the prearrangements for the party had all been made. The time for the blowout was fast approaching.

We were ready for Neil Kuns to arrive in the Philippines. We met him at the airport in Manila so we could escort him through the jungle that Manila is to the newcomer. Unbeknownst to us, Esther DeBar, chairman of our “fan club” at University, had sent us some beautiful roses via Neil. He was very careful to see they got to me in excellent condition. The first thing he did when he saw us at the airport was to give me the roses. I could smell them by peeping into the plastic sack, without even opening the inside plastic containing the roses. They were well packaged, and absolutely beautiful. We had never seen such roses over there. They were huge and very fragrant, and it was amazing that they lasted so long.

The next morning, we took Neil by plane to Tuguegarao. We finally got to Enrile that afternoon, and I put the roses into the refrigerator to keep them nice for the big affair on the following day. People were already busy preparing for the big occasion. The ladies of the church and our neighbors were outside making the bibingka, the delicious rice candy, and were in the process of cooking the bibingka which had been mixed previously. They poured the mixture into the kabibingkan (pan for cooking the bibingka), and then put a lid on top which was full of burning coals. Coals were underneath as well. They had at least three or four bibingkas cooking at the same time. When they were poured, it looked sort of like milk in color, but when it was cooked, it turned a beautiful gold color. Then they put grated cheese and raisins on the top a few moments before taking them off the fire. They had already made the inatata, a steamed rice delicacy.

Neil and I went out to watch them and talk to them. Since they could speak English pretty well, Neil was able to talk to them and asked pertinent questions. He seemed to be enjoying everything. I took him around and introduced him to everyone, and they were pleased to meet him.

The men of the church had their own job: to cook the meat. They were under the supervision of the two-man team, and would be up all day and all night cooking pigs, etc. They stretched a tarp between our house and the house next door as a way to provide shade. It was really ragged, but it would do to keep the sun off anyone sitting under it. However, that was not to be. It started to rain in the evening, and all that night it kept on raining. It was a good downpour most of the night, and even though the men were doing the cooking outside, they managed to remain dry if they stayed under the bodega (storehouse built on cement posts to keep the contents dry during the frequent floods) or in the “dirty kitchen” at the back of our house. The kitchen was a dry place, so they kept food stored there and may have done some work there. They strung up lights around the downstairs area, and when the electricity went off at one point, they got a generator and had lights that way, though we used candles inside the house.

You might have thought that the rain would have dampened their spirits, but they were happy to have it because their crops desperately needed it. Even though it was making it muddy for them as they worked, they didn’t seem to mind. The ‘tarp’ didn’t do much good at that point as the ground under it was just as wet as if it hadn’t been there at all. Fortunately, the families to the south of us were all part of our Itawes ‘family,’ and they used their dry places for working, and since they were all involved in the work, that was fine.

We never did ask Neil what he thought of what was going on, however, he seemed to be enjoying everything, and we were, too. We didn’t go downstairs much, except once to see what they were doing in the rain at first and then we went right back upstairs. We had a light supper of soup and sandwiches, just the three of us. We gave Neil our bedroom so he could sleep well, though that was the side of the house where the men were cooking downstairs. In the morning, he said that he slept well, and the noise was no problem to him. We were all worn out anyhow, so we all slept well.

The next day was really busy all morning with many people downstairs preparing the food. I don’t know how many pigs they killed for the occasion, but I heard it was about half a dozen. There were two smaller ones that they roasted over a fire two doors down the line, so we went over to watch that for a while. There were about six guys helping with that, taking turns turning the pig (lechon) over and over. The men seemed to be enjoying themselves, too. By now it wasn’t raining, so that was good.

I never did get all the names of the different things they were cooking. At one point, they were making meat balls, called bola bola, which went in with a pasta dish. They had big metal cauldrons full of the skin and fat of the pigs which had been cut up a certain way and boiled in oil—nice and crisp. They called that ‘lechon karshay,’ and then they had some more lechon called ‘lechon paksiw,’ which was part of the animal around the hoofs maybe, and the legs, and that had meat on it beside skin and fat. We got a big piece of that after the whole thing was over to bring back with us to Muntinlupa, and we enjoyed eating it for several days. We divided it up and put it into little plastic containers that held enough for two people for one meal. I did something that maybe no Itawes would do, though, and removed the skin and fat after slicing it. Then I cut up the skin and fat and doled it out to the stray cats little by little, putting it out for them in the morning and evening. They made a meat loaf of carabao meat and ground pork, and some other food which was diced up and mixed in with it. Having had this before, I knew I enjoyed it very much, so I had asked for it in particular. It was served with red banana catsup. Next door, they were preparing the chop suey. It had some liver, some chicken, and they were frying these in tiny pieces in their dirty kitchen. They already had the vegetables cut up in several piles ready to be put together with the meats in the final cooking.

The lady who was in charge of setting the tables asked where to put them because it was so muddy downstairs. We decided at first to put them in a screened-in room upstairs which has a cement floor. Someone wondered if it would be strong enough to hold all the people who would be going to get their food around the tables. So we sent to ask the man next door, who was the man who built that part of the house, and he suggested that we have the tables be put in our dining room, which would be safer.

That meant moving around some of the furniture, including the cupboards, so there would be room for all the tables. Oops! It had been a long time since we had cleaned behind those cupboards, and the wall had to be scrubbed down at the last minute to look half-way presentable. The lady next door had some lovely new plastic table cloths that we used, and so it looked quite festive.

We felt like we were ready, and soon the guests started arriving. Suddenly, we were scrambling around trying to decide where to put them. They couldn’t sit outside under the tarp because it was too muddy down there. They came into the downstairs front room, but it wasn’t large enough to hold all of them. In Itawes culture, the ‘big’ people had to come first. So to make room and to keep with tradition, we brought the mayor upstairs, the barrio captain and his wife, the former District Supervisor of Elementary Education, the present District Supervisor, former teachers and a former mayor, more retired teachers, and a Major of the Philippine Army from World War II who lived just kittycorner across the street from us. We joined in eating with them, too, because even though it might not be good for the host and hostess to eat with the guests in the Itawes area, it is our American custom that we need to eat with our guests. They seemed to enjoy that.

There were others, too—the folks from the municipal building, which included the mayor’s office, the treasury, post office, clinic, agrarian reform office, social welfare office, etc. There were also the people who came from the church at Alibago where Tirso Ibarra was the minister. There were about 15 of them. Then, after the first round of guests had eaten, designated server ladies picked up the dishes, and gave them to other helpers who took them downstairs to be washed. It was interesting to note that the lady had invited our most illustrious neighbors to serve, because it is an honor to serve at such an occasion. Others can do the carrying of dishes back and forth, wash the dishes, and whatever else.

Of course, our neighbors were almost all in the work crew in one way or another, with some of the ladies serving food, giving out the plates and silver, etc. Then there was a whole crew of ladies from our church who were outside washing the dishes and making sure there were enough to go around each time a new group of guests came to the table. They had their big wash tubs on the ground, and they were all squatting as they did their particular jobs, passing the dishes on to the next one for rinsing or whatever came next. I made sure they used soap because we had been to occasions where they didn’t have soap, and one could pick up an illness by eating from a plate that has the germs of that illness. I got a terrible strep throat one time that way. Clean dishes were delivered upstairs to the buffet table, and the next group of people were given their napkins and invited to come upstairs to eat. The first group just stayed upstairs and sat around talking to each other. This process was repeated until everyone had a chance to eat.

When the lunch was almost over, we had the thanksgiving service for the permanent residence visas. I got the feeling that if we didn’t have the service soon, many of the guests might leave, so even before the ladies downstairs were finished with their dishes, I told them I thought we would go ahead and have it. We would try to have two services so they could get in on one, though it turned out we decided not to do that after all. The people outside who had been working, therefore, were still eating when we started the program upstairs. Chuck led us in some songs that were xeroxed for the folks, and they were songs of praise to the Lord. They were:

Praise Him! Praise Him!
How Great Thou Art
Holy, Holy, Holy!
God Will Take Care of You
I Just Keep Trusting My Lord

They were all in Itawes. I played the autoharp, our only accompaniment for the singing, and that turned out to be just right because I could set the songs so they were better for public singing. (I set them so they were two notes lower than on the page in the song books.)

None of the teachers, or anybody else for that matter, had ever seen an autoharp before, and they really liked it.

Chuck told the story of how we got the Permanent Residence Visas, and he thanked the various ones in the group that had written letters for us to the Commission of Immigration and Deportation (CID). Then he gave the mayor and several others an opportunity to speak to the group. Finally, we had Neil give his greeting from University Christian Church. It was very special to have him be with us, and it was an honor for me to introduce him to our guests. He was a very dignified, gracious person, and we were thankful he could be there. I also had a time to put in my two cents worth. I told what our plans were for the future, about going to the Malaweg people to do a New Testament translation for them. Chuck ended the service with a prayer. At that point, many of the folks went home.

I’m not sure if I announced that we would be having a merienda (snack), but I expected they would understand we would because I had mentioned it in the letters I sent out. At any rate, several said they had to be going now. I confess I was disappointed because they missed out on our merienda. However, the people from the municipal hall come back for the merienda at 3 PM, and we were able to persuade several others to stay. ? And wouldn’t you know it!!!! I FORGOT TO PUT THE ROSES ON THE TABLES!! There they sat in the refrigerator!! It was only after many of the people went home that I remembered them. We brought them downstairs (accompanied by ooohs and aaahs from the crowd), placing them as a centerpiece on the table where we served our merienda—the ‘sukalati,’ ‘bibingka,’ and the ‘inatata.’ The ladies all wanted one to take home. Well, I knew that Mrs. DeBar always freely gave her roses every Sunday she brought some to church, so when it was the right time, I gave a rose to my two next door neighbors who had been in charge of all the snack-type things and a lot more, and also to one of the ladies who helped in serving who had had us at her home for several birthday parties, and one to Celso’s wife. Celso preaches at Enrile Centro Church and had the members all hyped up for this occasion. He was working as hard, if not harder, than anyone else to help make the event memorable.

That was about it. Then the cleanup started. Everyone knew what they had to do, and they did it quickly and efficiently. At the end, after almost everything had been cleaned up, Celso was the one who divided the leftover food with the workers who had helped us. He did it with all of their approval—no griping by anyone that someone else got more. He even asked me to come and get our share. We brought home to Muntinlupa one of the meat loaves and one large shank of the lechon paksiw, which I talked about before. Then the lady next door, who had been in charge of making the bibingka and sukalati, came and brought four whole bibingkas to us the size of large dinner plates, plus five huge balls of the mixture of chocolate that goes into making the sukalati. I gave one bibingka to our main household helper to take home to her family, and we saved some for a missionary get-together we were going to attend in a few days. The rest Chuck divided into smaller pieces and we had it for a snack several times a day, and we had sukalati at breakfast several times a week in Muntinlupa.

By 5 PM, everything was back in place, and we were on our way to the VBS Seminar graduation in Tuguegarao at which Neil was scheduled to speak. We had reserved a large jeepney to take a group of us to the event. Our group included the girls who had helped clean and prepare everything in the house, Celso and his wife, and some other folks from his neighborhood. Neil sat up in front with Chuck and the driver. That’s the place for the special guest and the one who rented the jeepney. I could hear them laughing from time to time. From the very beginning, when we picked up Neil in Manila, I knew it was going to be one of those experiences that would be very special, and we never had a let-down from that. We were just laughing most of the time he was there. He was a very delightful person, and we were sorry he couldn’t have brought his wife along, too.

I might add here that usually, at Itawes functions such as this, there are a lot of gambling games going on. This keeps the guests busy so they don’t mind waiting for all the others to be served, etc. Some people never enter into these games, but many do, and they always give a certain amount of their winnings to the ‘house,’ which would be the ones putting on the occasion, and that would help pay for the expenses of the occasion at the same time. These games are usually played outside the house, but with everything being muddy, they would have used the bedroom or gone next door to use their space. At any rate, none of this was going on at our blowout pursuant to our request that no gambling take place.

Since we did not have any gambling going on or anything for those who had finished eating to do, people were inclined to get tired of waiting. I would have, had I been one of the guests. If we had had something to take the place of the gambling games, I think no one would have wanted to leave directly after the thanksgiving service except those who needed to go back to work.

There was another way in which our blowout was different from most. Instead of serving alcohol, we served soft drinks: Coke, Sprite and Royal Orange. Also, we served no food that was mixed with blood. The Itawes have a special dish which is made of the intestines and blood of the animal that is being eaten. We wanted to follow the Lord in His prohibition of eating blood. (Acts 15:20) This was a point which I brought up at the very first with the men who would be preparing the food so that they would know from the beginning what we expected along that line. It turned out that when the pigs were killed, it was the non-Christians whom the men in charge had brought in to help them, who were given the blood. Since they did not cook the intestines, the same people probably were given the intestines so they could cook them later in their own homes.

A few weeks after the party, the Itawes preachers and their wives came down to the Philippine National Church of Christ Convention, held in the Manila area. We had one of the couples, Tirso Ibarra and Rosie, stay with us, and Tirso told me then that our party was really a success. I asked why, and he said that because of the rain, not as many people came as we had planned on, so there was a lot of food left over. This was given to those who had gotten very tired and each one had plenty to take home afterwards, so they were all very happy.

One thing more, he said, was the fact that we did not serve blood. This raised a lot of questions by those who had never realized that eating blood was not acceptable in the Old and New Testaments. The preachers were able to teach them on this point. Also, he said, at this occasion there was no alcohol served, and the mayor was probably surprised by that because at all Itawes celebrations, alcohol is always served to the top people, even though it may not be served to the lower ones. To think it could be done this way was something most people had never considered.

Despite some of the unusual elements of the blowout, it was considered by all to be a total success. From the mayor down to the servers, everybody left happy and full. We had given Neil Kuns a rare intimate look into the Itawes culture through this special event, in which he was able to take part himself. Coincidentally, we were also able to celebrate the fact of receiving our permanent residence certificates, and we praised God for making all these things possible.

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