Fertile times still for the childless, old couples, and locked down romantics
The small town of Obando in Bulacan, in less than a month, is supposed to hold its widely known fertility festival. People from all walks of life remember this small town of ours every May, especially during our festival season, which runs from May 17 to 19.
The three-day festival honors three saints: San Pascual Baylon, Santa Clara and Nuestra Señora de Salambao.
Whenever I introduce my hometown to a new acquaintance, I often say it’s the place where believers go to if they’re having difficulties in conceiving a child. Those who have already been graced with children also return to our province to give thanks for the gift of life they’ve received.
“Obando, ‘yung nasa ‘Noli Me Tangere’ ni Rizal! ‘Di mo maalala? Andun ‘yun!” I would sometimes say. “Doon nagpunta si Pia Alba para isayaw ang pagbubuntis kay Maria Clara.”
Every year, when the festival starts, Obando’s usual barren streets transform into an array of colors and music. Bazaars fill up the sidewalks with trinkets, religious relics and “fiesta food” such as multi-colored rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves, crispy fish crackers, fragrant roasted cashews, and more.
Rainbow flaglets sway above these streets. Brass marching bands play the tune “Santa Clara Pinong-pino”. Men and women dressed in matching barong and baro’t saya lead the fertility dance, while each saint’s float begins its procession from outside the church, all the way around our barangays.
Visiting devotees, curious tourists and locals alike bump shoulder to shoulder on the streets under the gleaming sun, as they dance a version of the fandango right behind the saints’ carriages. For the majority of the townsfolk, the fiesta is as much a joyous occasion as Christmas, maybe even more joyous.
But at a time when the term “social distancing” is used as a buzzword, connoting the need to keep one’s life away from harm, the congregation’s celebration of life itself seems like an impossibility.
Today, while in quarantine, I asked my mother who has been living in Obando for more than five decades now, if she thinks the festival would still push through this year, despite the threat of COVID-19 in the country. She merely shrugged, unsure of what the next few days will bring, and said, “That’s the way it is.”
After almost 30 years of marriage, I never asked my mother if she ever danced in the parade to find the love of her life, as some believers also do that – offer their dance to find a partner, prerequisite of course to conceiving a child.
Also, it might be unknown to some that aside from the usual dance for fertility, each of the three patron saints is approached by devotees for various specific reasons. It was my grandmother who explained to me that devotees can offer their dance for San Pascual, for example, if they are searching for their lifelong partner.
Back in my teens, my friends and I used to dance behind San Pascual’s carriage or during his feast day for this very reason. Santa Clara is our main patron for fertility while the Virgin Mary — who is Nuestra Señora de Salambao — is believed to grace people with good fortune.
Because I have never ever asked, I may never know if the dance was what granted mother and father the grace of meeting each other. Besides, in my twenty-two years of existence, I never even considered my parents as the embodiment of true love, probably because they are never very expressive. But what I do see often is a kind of steady love that weathers difficult times, over and over, through the years.
My mother, a government employee, is almost at her retirement age, while my father has been staying home since last year, after he turned 65. Usually, my mom works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., then proceeds to visiting my sick grandmother, who lives just one barangay away from us. She’ll be home by dinner, cooking for my father and brother, and the cycle goes on.
I’ve been away from our Obando home for several years, living within the metropolis to study, and now, for work. It’s only during this current quarantine period that I am able to be with them again for anything longer than one weekend.
During this time, when staying at home has become part of the “new normal,” I wonder if it’s actually in the name of social distancing that my father and mother refuse to sleep on the same bed in their own room.
After the enhanced community quarantine’s first extension from April 13 to April 30, I noticed that my mother has been staying in the living room after dinner more often.
Normally, after everything’s settled from supper time, she and my father stay in their room until they fall asleep. Lately though, my mom sits on the couch while the television creates white noise in the background. She plays games in her phone until sleepiness overcomes her and she retires to their room.
A while back, I asked my mom and dad over breakfast if they were getting bored from the quarantine. They both answered, “No.” Dad said that he has been used to staying at home eversince he retired. He busies himself by tinkering with anything he can get his hands on, from broken lights to faulty doorknobs. He also manages a budding vegetable garden in our yard.
Mom said she doesn’t mind staying at home too, especially since she spends the majority of her hours back in the office alone. She said that at least, when she’s staying at the house, she gets to play her trivia puzzle quizzes with someone else, slightly nudging my dad while she was explaining.
But maybe, sometimes, absence (or in this case even a little distance) does make the heart grow fonder.
Which is why maybe longtime couples also need the extra moments of silence that an empty but peaceful living room can offer. Maybe a few paces between the living room and the master’s bedroom is necessary for harmonious living.
My mother and father rarely talk about their misunderstandings with us, their children. But since we get to share the same space, for better or for worse, and particularly now, I’ve learned to identify whenever there is something unsettling or different in the usual atmosphere.
And though I may not know about whatever problem just transpired, I get to understand exactly when the small annoyances have been resolved, and most of those are usually resolved by simply breaking the prolonged silence.
This morning, my mother casually asked my father over at the table if he already wants breakfast – a moment that suddenly appeared miles away from when they were ignoring each other over dinner, just the night before.
Necessary silences. Trivia puzzles. A nudge. A word. Maybe these are the little secrets to reaching thirty years of marriage, all the way through a quarantine.
In less than a month, K. might be sent off to Laoag for a job assignment. When he broke the news to me last night, I responded by breaking down in tears.
The future looks blurry, especially when you have to look at it through a pixelated video call in your smartphone, through hot tears streaming out of your eyes.
Social distancing to some extent is the new curse for new lovers like us, who loved nothing more than criss-crossing cities just to see each other before the lockdown.
Ever since the borders closed, K. has been staying in Metro Manila, while I’m here in Bulacan.
As of writing, the municipality where I live is still under a total lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus. Our mayor said that we needed to close our borders to our neighboring cities and towns because they have confirmed cases of COVID-19.
When K. explained his upcoming departure, he gave me an apologetic look in the screen and said, “Wala eh, duty calls.”
Our last meeting has been way over a month ago, right before the lockdown. It was also a less-than-ideal manner of parting – I had to go with him to the hospital where he had to be checked, if he would be classified as a PUM (person under monitoring) for the new coronavirus. This was because he had a cold in February and his office advised him to get it checked last month as a precaution.
For two weeks, he was under house quarantine after being misadvised to go to a COVID-19 tent at the hospital. Later on, his cold was identified as an allergy, but he still got exposed to a COVID-19 facility, which required him to self-quarantine.
A week after I saw K., I also became ill with a slight fever, stomach pains and diarrhea, a few of the symptoms manifested by COVID-19 patients. For several days, I was bedridden at home, had to be isolated, in self-quarantine in my room. Whenever I was conscious, K. would call me and check how I was.
I couldn’t help but shed a few tears immediately whenever I say goodbye to K. in our daily video calls. I was terrified of what my illness could turn out to be. The lack of healthcare providers or even a single hospital in our small town also became a glaring disadvantage.
Thankfully, eventually, I got better. I was grateful to the heavens that it all turned out to be just a bad case of stomach flu. Back in the city, K. was also cleared by the hospital after his two-week quarantine. Soon, he was able to go back on duty as an essential worker.
Since then, we have been trying to make up for the lack of physical dates with virtual messages, hours upon hours of video calls, and playing games in our gaming consoles.
Hugs are replaced with GIFs of cute animals embracing each other, and kisses have become nothing more than a few red lipstick marks on a screen, made with the use of emoji.
The days pass in a blur as I mark and unmark new dates for when I’m able to go outside and see him again.
I used to say “10 more days” or “last two weeks,” but recently, I just stopped counting. Making plans when the situation outside continues to progress at a rate of its own, beyond anyone’s control, is an exhausting endeavor. I know the world has far greater concerns, and that from now on, part of our collective “new normal” shall be discussing pressing issues and planning our future based on the country and the world’s response to the virus.
Right now, all I know is that when I finally get the chance to see K. again, it would be like no time has passed between us. Perhaps the same perception of time occurs to those who participate in our town’s festivities and have been finally granted their prayers.
The devotee couple’s miracle baby is presented in public. These new parents recall their own story and the difficulties they overcame to conceive. Afterwards, the town cheers for them. All the time poured into waiting and longing recedes in the background, outshined by what was hoped for, finally given birth.
Cha Lino describes herself as “just a writer who loves her warm cup of green tea and walking her dogs every morning.” Amid the COVID-19 crisis, she is “still with the same boy who can’t write his own letters, but loves me and every work I dedicate to him.”
There's no better time of year to send us your love stories! #LoveLife Transform those letters unsent into an essay of 800 to 2000 words (English or Tagalog), fill up our online form here: http://inq.news/love-life-form
Posted by INQUIRER.net on Wednesday, February 13, 2019
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