Friday, October 26, 2007

The Ingenieros -- My Second Host Family in Navotas

After four days with our first host families, it was arranged that each of us tertians would move on to be hosted by another family. My second host family was the Ingenieros. Mariquit, the wife and mother, is a woman of gentle and natural beauty. Her slim and fit figure belies the fact that she has born no fewer than nine children. She and her eldest daughter, Ana, were there to walk me through the busy and noisy streets to another barangay (“neighborhood”) in Navotas where their family lives.

The Ingeniero family live in a much simpler home than my first family’s home. The lower half of the house is hollow brick, while the upper half is a patchwork of wood and metal scraps. A battered wooden window cover swings limp from a wire hinge. The front door, which never seemed to be closed throughout my 5-day stay with them, shows signs of termite infestation. The front room (about 9’ X 6”) is crowded by a small kitchen table and two chairs, a baby play pen, a weathered plastic patio loveseat, and an old chest of drawers with overstuffed drawers that serves as a common storage for all of the children’s clothing. This cramped front room serves as dining room, family room, and play area for the children – not much space for much else! Scattered on the walls and on various shelves were framed but faded photos of past Jesuit tertian guests, posing with Mariquit and some of the children, that the Ingeniero family has hosted. “We have had many Jesuit visitors, Father. We are glad to have Jesuit guests,” Lydio proudly professed to me on my arrival. Off the front room is a small kitchen, fitted with a propane stove and sink – no refrigerator, no oven. A single cabinet served as a pantry, filled mostly with assorted canned goods. Pots and pans and cooking utensils lie scattered on the shelf below the stove. Off the kitchen is the water closet – literally a closet with no light or adequate ventilation. Old scraps of linoleum and flattened cardboard cartons served as the floor. Only a toilet and water barrel for bathing. Because I was unable to see for lack of light, I chose take my daily baths just outside the front door where another water barrel stands. The children laughed at me when I first washed up just outside the entryway of the house, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how they manage to bathe themselves in the dark, stuffy water closet off the kitchen!

Mariquit and her husband Lydio married in their late teens and promptly started having children: Ana (22), Andrea (20), Margiely (19), Johnmar (17), Joemar (15), Joseph (12), Angela (7), Hannalee (5), and Micaela (8 months). When I expressed how impressed I was at the size of their family, Lydio smiled broadly as Mariquit announced to me, “Father, I want three more – for an even dozen!” How they would manage three more mouths to feed, I haven’t a clue, but from Mariquit’s confident tone, that is the plan!

Mariquit and Lydio, along with most of the children, sleep on the floor of a tiny bedroom, no more than 7’ x 7’, just off the front room. The three boys sleep on the floor of the front room whose floor, like the water closet, is covered with a patchwork of old linoleum scraps. Mariquit and Lydio insisted that I sleep on the only bed, which is situated against the far wall, under a mosquito net. Though the bed lacked a mattress and was tilted, making getting to sleep a real effort, I was grateful and humbled by their hospitality. “We hope it’s all right for you, Father,” Mariquit and Lydio kept saying. “It is the best we have, and we want you to have it while you are here with us.”
While a single fan struggled against the closeness of the crowded bedroom through the hot, humid nights, I was humbled by their graciousness.

The days of the Ingeniero family are filled with many comings and goings. Lydio leaves for the factory at the crack of dawn. While the two older boys have dropped out of school, they leave early, too, to do odd jobs around Navotas, like driving tricycles (pedaled taxis for 1-2 passengers) to help support the family. Most of the children attend the afternoon session of their grade school, which begins at 1pm and finishes at 7:30pm. (Morning sessions at most Filipino schools begin around 5am and finish at noon. Multiple shifts at grade schools and some high schools are common, due to the high volume of students attending.) Mariquit and the older daughters tend to the care of the younger children, washing clothes (by hand, of course), ironing the children’s school uniforms, cooking and feeding the young ones, and marketing, and upkeep of the household. I marveled at the care they showed to one another in their day-to-day lives. As with any family, small skirmishes would erupt from time to time, but nothing long-lasting. Too much to be done to carry on conflicts for too long.

The days were unusually hot, and electricity went off in the Ingeniero household beginning around 9am and wouldn’t be restored until around 7pm. I found out later that the electricity current flowing to the Ingeniero household was “pirated,” like that flowing to many other Navotas households. Thus, the daily “brownouts.” On one particular morning, as I was eating breakfast, the electricity went out, knocking out the only fan in the house. When Mariquit saw the sweat beading on my forehead through sips of coffee, she said something whispered something to Angela, her third youngest daughter, who ran to fetch an old woven hand fan and promptly began to pump it in my direction. When I protested that it wasn’t necessary for Angela to fan me, Mariquit replied, “But, Father, look! She likes fanning you.” And there was Angela, a toothless grin covering her face, giggling as she double-fisted her fanning. On still another hot afternoon, Mariquit gathered her third oldest daughter, Margiely, and her youngest daughter, Micaela. “Come,” she said. Expecting to follow them to the market, we all jumped into a jeepney when Mariquit announced, “Father, we’re taking you to the mall, where you can get cool.” The mall was about 15 minutes away from Navotas, and was meager by American retail standards. But there we were, in the coolness of air conditioning, looking into the shop windows and getting reprieve from the unforgiving heat and humidity of the tropics. After I bought them ice cream cones, we found a penny arcade that featured karaoke stalls. Filipinos, rich and poor, LOVE karaoke! Margieley chose to sing a lovesong from a Disney movie, while I took the mic and blasted away with Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” Great fun! I won’t soon forget that afternoon, an afternoon that cooled my body temp but warmed my heart.

I often wonder if indeed Mariquit and Lydio will indeed bring three more Ingenieros into the world. Perhaps when they host yet another Jesuit tertian in future years, there might just be another baby in the playpen. But I’ve no doubt that the next Jesuit tertian will come to see that however short the Ingenieros might be on creature comforts, there home holds an abundance of love. And I’m honored to be the richer for it!


bkelley said...

Wonderful descriptions of the time you spent with your host family, Ray. Wish I could have heard your "New York, New York" rendition!

Bill K.

Ant said...

Your account of Navotas brings back memories of my time there last year. I got my Filipino nickname - Father Halo Halo - as a result of preaching at a Sunday Mass in the main parish church near the end of my time there! I hope your time of tertianship is as blessed as mine was. Best wishes My name is Anthony Egan, Jesuit from South Africa.