“Chelsea, chelsea look! The pig!”
My Ate called me from my washing to watch as two men carried a massive pig (soon to become lechon) across coco logs to a house that was nestled between muddy fields of rice. Tied by its legs to a thick piece wood, the pig balanced on the shoulders of two men. Three more pigs would pass by in the same manner, “May Kasal sa aga” (They have a wedding tomorrow) my Ate said.
Over lunch I asked more about the wedding. My Ate explained that traditionally the wedding is held in the bride’s hometown and that it was the groom’s family we had seen earlier bringing the pigs and other food to the house.
She also told me she was the bride’s ‘Ninang’ (Godmother) but she couldn’t go all the way to the Municipyo the next morning for the ceremony.
“Do you want to go?” She asked.
My Peace Corps brain triggered an enthusiastic: “Sure! Why not!”
“Okay, Ninang si Chelsea! You will be the Ninang!” She laughs.
Wait What? I quickly realized my mistake.
“Wait, wait, I just want to go to watch! I can’t be the Ninang!”
I tried to wiggle my way out but my host family was too excited about the idea already.
“No it’s okay! You will be the Ninang! You will wear a dress to work tomorrow!”
While cross cultural interactions are fantastic, they also involve a certain amount of anxiety. Weddings in the United States are generally not open invitation, and the titles like ‘Godmother’ are non-transferrable. So you can imagine my concern when I was told I would be the Godmother at a wedding, the night before.
The next morning, I put on a dress and climbed into the tryke like usual. When I arrived at work EVERYONE made sure I knew I was wearing a dress. ‘Chelsea magayon! You’re wearing a dress!’ I could feel the heat of embarrassment creeping across my face, as a thousand eyes pointed out that I was indeed wearing a dress.
As soon as the family of the bride and groom walked in they scooped me into their little entourage. My blush subsided and I slowly forgot why I was so nervous in the first place.
I was told, and continue to be told, how hospitable Filipinos are. But to me, hospitality is making one comfortable. Filipinos far exceed mere comfort. They incorporate you into their family so immediately, and genuinely, without any degree of hesitation. It’s the feeling I’ve experienced in the US with my best friend’s family. In the United States those ties and emotions take time, but here, time is not a factor.
At the end of the ceremony the Godparents are supposed to give advice to the newlyweds. My Vice-Mayor looked at me: “Ninang Chelsea, you have never been married but what advice do you have for the newlyweds” the room chuckled as he said this “Bicol! Bicol Lang!” He quickly added.
I choppily responded: “Magminuotan kamo hangang saindon pag-gurang”
Translation: You will love each other until you are old (S/O to Kuya Bilyo for that line).
As the ceremony came to a close my nerves settled just in time to be piled onto the family’s tryke. We headed back to our Situ where the loud music could be heard from the highway. Everyone passing would know “May Kasal niyan” (there is a wedding today).
The wedding entourage and I took off our shoes and walked across the balance beams of coco log stuck in the mud of the rice fields to get to the house just on the other side.
The music blasted away, and the tables were filled with all sorts of Filipino pagkaon. As I was sat down and fed immediately, I noticed the familiar faces of my neighborhood and the warm feeling of being a part of it.
Next began the Pantomina de Sorsogon. This is a traditional Bicol dance that is meant to mimic the mating dance of the salampati or the dove. Family and friends join in the dance to pin money to the clothes of the newlyweds.
As I left the wedding festivities a Kuya came out of his tagay circle to say goodbye to my Ate Helen and I. As I slipped off my shoes to once again cross the muddy rice fields he looked to me and said
“An experience, huh Ate?”
As I tested my balance with my belly full of lechon and rice, and my brow sweaty from dancing Pantomina, I smiled back and agreed; ‘Iyo, quite an experience.’