My Municipality is believed to have gotten it’s name because the townspeople kept their young men and women in hiding to prevent them from being abused by the Spaniards. Therefore, to an outsider, the town appeared to be comprised of only old people. When Americans eventually came to the town they asked for it’s name. The townspeople couldn’t understand what they were saying and assumed they were asking why no young people lived in the town.
The people responded ‘kasi gurang’ (direct translation would be ‘because old’).
The Americans thought they were responding to their question, and left believing the town’s name was Kasi-gurang. Today as the Gymnasium filled with almost every student ages 6-16 in the municipality, I recalled this story and thought how it must look ‘Kasi gurang’ outside.
5,300 students excitedly awaited ‘Pamaskong Handog Para Sa Mga Kaakian 2016’ (Christmas Gifts for the Children) to begin. The Honorable Mayor stood in the center of the gym, as Christmas music poured out of the speakers. The crowd of children jittered in their seats so excitedly, it made even the sizeable speakers sound like a pair of headphones. The air was thick with humidity (of course), but also with that special feeling that only appears this time of year, known to most as Christmas spirit. As I watched the Mayor start ‘the wave’ around the gymnasium several times, and the kids squeal as he began to interact with the crowd, I was in awe of the energy that enveloped the room. It was as if I had stepped off the Polar Express on Christmas Eve and Santa was greeting his crowd of elves. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here.
For the next 3 hours (yes, you read that right) the Mayor entertained the children by raffling off christmas gifts. As he began to call the lucky numbers, each kid sat clutching their pink raffle ticket until the ink had begun to flake off and the paper was falling apart in their hands. The grand prize was 50,000 pesos, and every kid was eager to bring it home to their families.
To put this in perspective the average salary of the Philippines according to the International Labor Organization, is Php 13,901.18 per month. Meaning this grand prize was over 3 and a half months worth of salary for the average Filipino.
The average monthly salary in the United States is $3,263 (~$40,000/year), so for my american readers, at this pay scale the grand prize is the equivalent to winning just shy of $12,000.
Again this is an average, the Philippines Statistics Authority reported the poverty rate (those whose income falls below the means necessary to provide food, housing, health and education) to be at 21.5% for the year of 2015, meaning that 50,000 pesos goes a lot further than 3.5 months for many of these children’s families.
Upon the arrival of the grand prize announcement I couldn’t hear myself think above the cheering of the crowds. They yelled so loud and stretched their arms up with their colorful signs painted with different phrases wishing the Mayor and his family a Merry Christmas. All of them standing on their tip toes, with their shoulders drawn up to their ears, hoping that maybe if he saw their well wishes, he would somehow purposefully choose their number from the tumbling cage of 5,300 small clips of paper. Upon reading the first number, no one claimed the prize.
‘Wara?’ called the mayor to the crowd.
To which they shouted back ‘Wara!’ and shook their hands in the air which is a common sign for ‘nothing’.
A second number is called….
Finally a third number is called and the lucky winner runs down to the stage. She’s a small girl of 11 years old and she doesn’t quite know what she’s just won. She counts out the bills and is carted home to share her luck with her family.
All in all, between intermission numbers and Apple-Pen-Pineapple-Pen dance breaks, the mayor gives out over 100 gifts including cellphones, rice cookers, and various denominations of money. All of the kids leave with a consolation prize of chichirria, and 20 pesos. As everyone drains out of the gymnasium, some kids are carrying their winnings proudly, some are grumpy having lost, and most are running to spend their 20 pesos on more chichirria from the vendors outside. They pile back onto the jeepneys to return to their perspective barangays and I return to work with my ears still ringing. There is no doubt, the season of giving has arrived here in the Philippines. Pasko na!