Chapter 27: Life in Piat

It seems like I should tell you a bit about the Itawes people. After all, we lived and worked with them for 35 years in the Philippines. The Itawes are a lowland people whose lifestyle is like that of the Ilocanos around them. Piat had a population of about 1,500 in the town proper. The people were very friendly, and many of them were well educated. The teachers and others we talked to were very interested in our work, in helping us, and in things we could do to help them. The opportunities were great, and we thanked God for them, and for the guidance and strength He gave to meet them.

Our new home in Piat was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jose Purisima, the region’s letter carrier, and his wife. This house was on the main road of Piat, about half way between the Catholic Church and the elementary school in the Centro.

The Purisimas had three boys: Bernard, John and James, so they became our family in Piat. They were the ones who introduced us to all that was going on in the town and to the people, as well. When there was an occasion connected with their family, we were invited and we went as their guests. They helped us to know what was expected of us in each situation, and it was a real blessing to have such a wonderful family built in.

Their home was our house. They let us have the front part of it while they lived in the back. We worked in the living room or ‘sala,’ and a small room off that one became our bedroom. Another room at the front of the house became our office, and there was good light in there. There was no electricity in the town at that time, so we used a gas lantern, something like a bright Coleman lantern. We later had the inside of the house painted white so it would reflect the light, because we needed as much as we could get to read at night.

The bathroom was at the back of the house, and it had a cemented-in area, or reservoir, which held about fifteen or twenty gallons of water. We would stand beside the reservoir, scoop the water with a pitcher, and pour the water over our bodies as we bathed ourselves. The water then ran out through a drain in the floor. The toilet was built into the floor and was only about an inch above it. In order to use it, one had to squat over it. Since our leg muscles were not geared to squat, Chuck made a little seat which he placed over it when we wanted to use it, and this made it much simpler for us. This was only the first in a long line of repairs and improvements to be made before we felt comfortable and safe in our new home.

Our carpenter, Mr. Miguel, helped very much to take care of two problems. One was the mosquitoes, and he put screens on all the windows and doors which helped to minimize this. The other was the high temperatures, especially in the afternoon hours when the sun was beating down on our corrugated galvanized iron roof, causing the place to become quite an inferno. He put in a masonite ceiling to help insulate the rooms. We immediately noticed a difference of five to ten degrees, which made the difference between livability and suffocation. One more thing we felt we needed was more adequate lighting.

Since there was no electricity, we used pressure lanterns to the best advantage. We painted the walls and ceilings in the office and livingdining room to provide the best reflection of light. The only room that got direct sunlight during the day was the office, and that for only a couple of hours in the morning. There was a tiny spot in the kitchen that got it, too, for a few hours.

The screens were all in, the ceilings were also up and had a beautiful second coat of white paint, and the second coat for the walls was going on. The kitchen was lemon yellow, living room green, and office blue—all delicate ice cream colors which would allow for maximum reflection of light.

We set up our kitchen in the living room which had a separator, and we brought a little three burner stove and had a small oven which fit on top of one burner so we could bake if we wanted to. We had cabinets in which we stored dishes and other things like pots and pans. We had the refrigerator, too, that we had purchased in Bangued.

We had a wooden bed made for us in Aparri so we could put our air mattresses on it instead of a regular mattress. We used two sleeping bags zipped together on the top of that, and it made a very comfortable bed. The bedroom was very small, so just barely held the bed. There was a small space for changing our clothes, and that was about all in that room. At the foot of our bed was a closet in the wall. Its floor was 2 1/2 feet above the floor of the room, and there was only a few inches between it and the foot of the bed, so we used it only for storage.

One day, Chuck went to get a carton out of the closet, and the carton was full of little worm-like creatures that had eaten the carton to shreds. He took it outside and got some matches to burn it. The Purisima’s children gathered around to see what was happening, and when they saw the worms, they murmured the dreaded word, ‘AH’nay’ (termites).

One went and told his mother, and that keyed a flurry of activity. Within a few minutes, we had removed the bedding, mattress, and mosquito net, and were starting to carry out cartons of things that were falling apart as we went, and trying to drop as few termites as possible on the bed and on the floor. There were dozens of tiny holes in one of our sleeping bags, but nothing else of value was damaged, though they were getting close. We thank the Lord for that!

Then the landlord’s oldest son lifted out the badly eaten floor panel, and we saw something we had heard about but had never seen before—the termites had built up mud tunnels on the face of the concrete for a distance of about two feet up to the baseboard. The landlady called for a teakettle of boiling water and poured it on them. Within a short time, they were back, rebuilding their tunnels. After that, we had to sleep in another room (we had to walk across and stand on the bed to get to the closet), and several times each day, we poured boiling water, later adding soap, on the termites. The decreasing numbers, and increasing time intervals before their reappearance, lead us to think we may be winning. Every year, these creatures cause millions of dollars worth of damage, and we can certainly see how.

One evening, we were suddenly startled by a bat flying around inside our house. We were not sure how he got in, but he looked like he was trying to find his way out, and we were just as anxious to have him find it. We tried holding the door open for him, but the ceiling was too high, and he never got low enough to find it. The open door served only as an invitation to the mosquitoes and flies, and we didn’t want them to think the welcome mat was out for them. He landed once in some dark corner, but we couldn’t see him and didn’t know where he was. In a few minutes he was in flight again, and as he darted about, I emitted occasional frantic squeals. Finally, Chuck put a typewriter cover over my head so I would know it wouldn’t get in my hair. That helped quiet me down.

We hadn’t had much experience with the problem of a bat in the house before, so Chuck decided to call in reinforcements. The next time he landed, it was in a place where we could see him, so I went and called the landlord’s two teenage sons. They got a long stick, and within one minute had struck the fatal blow, and peace and tranquility once again settled over the Richards’ household.

We got settled in little by little, and I was busy trying to get home and office ship shape. I was also teaching our Itawes housegirl, Fely, how we Americans like to have things done, and her help was indispensable to me during our time there. Of course, language study was our major activity, and I didn’t have time for all the household duties.

Upon our return to Piat after a short trip to Aparri, we were surprised to see our house being painted outside by the owners. It was done in sky blue on the lower cement section and yellow on the wood—very colorful. They did not want to be outdone by their renters. Ha! With the cement floors waxed and highly polished indoors, orange lacy curtains at the windows, and furniture, pictures, and books in appropriate places in the living room and office, we felt very comfortable and satisfied with a job well done.

Finally, Chuck installed part of a new heating system using heat from the refrigerator to give us hot water for our dish-washing needs. This was the last planned major project pertaining to the house, and we were thankful for that.

Fely was our cook and did our housecleaning for us. She did our washing, ironing, and anything else we needed to have done. It was my task to teach her what to do around the house. If we had certain things we wanted her to cook for us, I had to show her how. At breakfast time, Chuck taught her how to cook various breakfast-type things, but I taught her how to do lunch-type things and supper-type things.

This was owing to the division of labor we had agreed upon right after Jungle Training Camp so we could get along together overseas. At any rate, she was my responsibility except for breakfast time. This made it possible for me to get as much time in as Chuck on the work we went there to do. Since he had the Master’s and Doctorate in Linguistics, he was able to understand what was going on with the new language much more quickly than I was, and he has a mind that can remember/memorize things I have an awful time with.

Also, his dissertation was on a Filipino language, and because he understood how that one language worked, and the rest of the languages in the Philippines follow the same pattern, it was much easier for him to find relationships and understand how the Itawes language worked. He knew what to look for before I knew what was going on. That was a real help to us.

Also, we decided I would be the one to write thank you letters and friendly letters to people who wrote to us. Chuck would write the letters having to do with business affairs, and he also took care of financial things. He wrote to Betty Casebeer, our forwarding agent and his sister, and kept her up on things that we needed to have in the Philippines. She did everything on the US side, and Chuck took care of it all on this side. We kept track, and still do, of every centavo we got and spent, along with the dates. The book in which we keep these records is official.

Thursday was market day in Piat. We both went to market. Going to market was a wonderful day for us—one of learning new words and using old ones. People just couldn’t get over how we could speak in their language, and they would laugh.

Other days, we went to Tuguegarao, the big city, to the market there, where many languages were known and spoken. We were speaking our Piat form of Itawes, and that seemed to be hilarious to them. Imagine the Americanos speaking in “that” dialect of Itawes. We learned that the sub-dialect of Itawes as spoken in Piat was not the most widely accepted one to learn. In fact, it was considered to be the “hillbilly” form of the Itawes language. Only in Piat did they make short cuts in words that no one else made. We realized we should change our place of residence, because the Itawes people would not appreciate having a New Testament written in this form of their language. We couldn’t take the chance of having our translation being turned down for that reason.

This is not said to minimize the significance of Piat by any means. In a religious sense, Piat is really a very special place because it is the home of what is called “Our Lady of Piat.” This is an image (a life-sized statue) of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which resides at the front of the Catholic Church at Piat. At times, it has been said, the image has been known to cry over the sins of the people. When a person wants to dedicate a new jeepney, he goes to Piat to have it prayed for there. When children are going to take an important test in their school, the school rents a bus and takes the children to the church in Piat in order to dedicate their pencils to be able to get the right answers and thereby pass the test.

During the fiesta at Piat, thousands and thousands of people come to get in on the masses held there, and they stay all night in order to see the image brought out of the church to a special place at the Catholic High School in town. They sleep anywhere they can find space. It is considered a real blessing by these folks to have such an opportunity.

In fact, Mrs. Purisima is the one who takes care of changing the dress of the image. It has extremely expensive gowns given by wealthy people who receive a real blessing for doing this. It is a great honor to be able to do this. It is Mrs. Purisima who goes with the image when it is transported to different towns of Cagayan Valley at special times of the year, and this is indeed a great privilege, too.

In July we spent one week in Manila again taking care of business. When we returned, the town fiesta was in progress, and the noise made study impossible, so we spent a week writing letters, a report to the STEP board, and a script to go with slides of our house.

We lived at the top of the hill on which Piat is found. The road that runs in front of the Purisima’s home is the one that comes from the Catholic Church of Piat and goes to the center part of the town. It is along this road that vendors set up their wares to sell to the thousands of people who go back and forth along that road during the fiesta. The vendor who set up his wares in front of the Purisima home dealt in housewares of all kinds. Others along the road sold various items—fabrics, clothing, shoes, nick-knacks, jewelry, dishware, farm utensils, Filipino art and crafts, and many others.

Early in the morning we heard the sound of the band coming from a distance, and as it got closer, it got louder, and then as it passed, it gradually softened in tones and was gone completely. This was about four o’clock in the morning. About an hour later, one might not even have heard it at all because there were so many people already walking back and forth to see the wares that were on display. Prices were quite low, so it was always a good place to buy anything you wanted.

On the last night of the fiesta, we had a surprise visit from some of our fellow missionaries sponsored by the Aparri Bible Seminary. Dennis McKinney and his family and another couple came to see our “new” home. They came and stayed overnight. (Remember that Dennis and family had dinner with us in the States and made some excellent suggestions to us on how to make our missionary home life better.) They were soaked because of a heavy rainstorm they had encountered on their trip here, and with five families already using the water facilities on this property, they just had to remain dirty and could only change their clothes. We were able to feed them, put them up for the night, and tell our stories and hear theirs about their trip from Manila to Piat. They enjoyed seeing our bathroom setup the most, I think, for it brought many laughs, giggles, and guffaws as we showed them how to use it correctly. For our first house in the Itawes area, they thought we had done very nicely, and this meant a lot to us because they were veteran missionaries.

The day after that, we were able to go with them to Aparri. The Philippine Mission Churches of Christ in Northern Luzon was our sponsoring mission in the Philippines, and they also sponsored the McKinneys. We were so blessed to be with Sid and Marge Boudreaux, Ann Tolliver, and Barbara Mangskau, missionaries who were on the field at that time. Imagine ten people coming in all at once like that, but they had places for all of us to sleep, and we enjoyed every minute of the time. We also enjoyed getting in on their Tuesday night Bible study with the missionaries and professors of the Seminary.

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