Sometimes it seems like everyone and everything is out to get you.
I received a knock on the door that could only mean one thing- an unwelcome guest. I stood up out of bed in my in my cramped, steamy hotel room in Cagayon de Oro and walked to the door. I thought about just not opening it, but with the second knock, it was unavoidable.
I pulled the door open and was met with the broad grin of a pudgy Filipino man in his mid thirties. He wore ridiculously tight spandex pants in the style of the American flag and stood with his wrists pinned effeminately to his hips.
“Hi!” he greeted me as I opened the door.
My mind flashed back to our brief conversation on the bus as I had headed back from Marawi that morning, when this man had asked what hotel I was staying at and I hadn’t had the foresight to evade the question or come up with a lie. I stood in the door silently, wondering what the man had in mind.
“Are you going to let me in…?” he continued coquettishly.
I was young and somewhat less than worldly, but I had already witnessed incredible hospitality in the Philippines. I was very reluctant to commit a cultural offense, and was still grappling with where to draw the line between being rude and following my better instincts. As he stepped toward me, however, I moved back trying to reestablish my personal space and he entered the room, sitting down on my bed and looking around disappointedly.
“Where’s your bathroom?” he asked.
“In the hall,” I answered succinctly, hopeful that he would leave.
He huffed at this, and ran his wrist over his forehead as if to indicate that he was hot. I kept my hand on the door and waited awkwardly, silently; my mind racing trying to figure out how to get this man out of my room without doing anything offensive in a vastly foreign culture that I honestly sought to understand and adapt to.
He eyed me lasciviously for a moment and then smiled.
“So… do you want to have some fun…?” he asked.
“Jesus, you’ve gotta get out of here. Go,” I demanded as I pulled open the door, my head feeling suddenly light and my stomach twisting.
He said nothing, and only looked at me once more with something like childish anger, and stormed out of my room. I shut and locked the door behind him and retreated to lie in my bed, my mind reeling.
I suddenly felt that I could trust no one, that having a normal friend in the Philippines was impossible and that everyone had an ulterior motive, be it money, sex, or whatever. I grappled with a culture shock deeper than I could have imagined, and wondered where in the conversation on the bus I had made him think that I was gay. I felt revolt in my mind as the fundamental concepts of my bible-belt upbringing were scorched on the norms and standards of a strange foreign culture, and I resolved at that moment that I would have to close myself off to society.
Finally, I stood up out of bed and walked down the hall to the reception desk. A young Filipino raised his head abruptly as I neared, as I was probably the only foreigner and almost certainly the only westerner in the hotel.
“Listen,” I said, “I don’t want anyone else coming to visit me, alright? Don’t give my room number out to anyone.”
“Yes, sir!” he replied eagarly.
I returned to my sweaty mattress and became enveloped in thought for the next few hours, trying to sort out the utter confusion and solitude that were becoming the hallmarks of my first extended journey alone far away from home.
Finally, as the sun was setting, I decided to head back out into the street to get something to eat. As I left the hotel, horrid, bloodcurdling English language karaoke music blared from speakers set up along the street, and my lungs revolted from the choking purple exhaust of a hundred jeepneys. I trudged down the road bitterly, contemptuous of Filipino culture, food, and music, and wished that I could be anywhere else on the planet.
One group of young Filipino men moved toward me, but I was in no mood to step aside or change my rate of motion. I collided with one of the larger men (though he was still quite smaller than me) and pushed him out of my way with the weight of my linebacker’s shoulder.
He turned on me in fiery rage, and I suddenly realized how foolish I was being. In reality, the aggressiveness of my motion had been involuntary and subconscious. I held my hands up in a remorseful, peaceful gesture and apologized, at which he continued walking away.
I wandered around the streets for awhile trying to wash my thoughts and get to grips with my anger and confusion. Eventually, I came to a large street market that seemed preferable to the ubiquitous KFC or McDonald’s that otherwise constituted my substandard diet in the Philippines.
There were several BBQ’s fired up, and I stepped up to one with a particularly pleasant smell and a strange form of meat that twisted around a kebab, looking something like I delicate, string-like sausage.
“What is that?” I asked the street vendor.
“Chicken,” she told me.
“Ok, I’ll have two.”
She handed them to me as I paid, and I took a large bite of the strange substance. It had the sweet taste of the Filipino BBQ sauce, but a weird, gritty texture unlike anything else that I had ever eaten. She smiled at me as I chewed it, and mentioned something to her friend. As I took another bite, it became clear that what I was eating was not any form of sausage but rather an organ. It didn’t require much imagination to realize that it was probably the intestine. I smiled at the ladies and finished the first kebab; I was not in the habit of throwing away food.
I munched on the second as I continued wandering the streets, continually assaulted by pollution, humidity and chaos. Retched Filipino Christmas music still rang out at odd intervals, though it was the 30th of December, and groups of beggar-children roamed the streets singing awkward choruses in the hopes of getting a few pesos. I was perceived by them as an excellent target, but I had recently stopped giving money to beggars. Eventually, I retreated to the hotel, and made my bed early for the night.
When I awoke the following morning I felt that I was near death. My stomach reeled and revolted and I lacked the strength to stand up. I crawled out of bed toward the hallway, somehow managing to lock the door behind me, and made my way to the toilet down the corridor from my room, where I spent the rest of the morning with explosive diarrhea and body-shattering cold chills. I moaned in agony as my stomach repeatedly convulsed and seemed to swallow itself, and I became panicked in my feverish mind that I would soon be dead if I did not get help.
I sat on the toilet for hours, and became increasingly dehydrated, but lacked the strength to move. When I would try to leave the bathroom, my stomach would invariably tighten and threaten to explode and I would find myself again locked to the toilet and certain of my own imminent demise.
After several hours, I found myself better able to cope, my stomach completely empty, yet I had become dangerously dehydrated. I stumbled out of the bathroom, barely managing the strength to walk down the hall. When I reached the hallway that led to the front desk, I let out a miserable, pathetic cry.
“Help…! Please… help!” I begged.
The receptionist soon after came running down the hall with an unmistakable look of horror on his face. I must have been a pathetic sight, leaning weakly against the wall, my face a sickly pallid white and my body reeking and soiled.
“Water, please, I need water.”
“Big bottle?” he asked nervously.
“Yes, for Christ’s sake two big bottles,” I demanded, suddenly feeling a sharp painful cramp in my stomach that sent me fleeing to the bathroom for another half an hour, retched cold chills leaving me nearly in tears.
When I finally emerged, I had the strength to reach my room, and the receptionist brought me the water. I lay there the rest of the day, trying to sleep and force water down, while I purged nearly every half hour. Weird feverish dreams mixed with horrid reality throughout the day, and beyond receiving the blessed water I was left entirely alone to try to fend for myself. By evening I was becoming more certain that I would survive, and managed to sleep for some hours.
I awoke to the sound of explosions in the street. For the first time, I had the strength to stand and walk more freely, and managed to leave my hotel room and walk out to the reception area, which was dark and empty. I wandered down the narrow stairs to the street, and watched as dozens of Filipinos ran laughing and screaming through the street shooting bottle rockets. The power surged and went out a few times, before finally burning completely out, leaving the streets dark except for the lights from the fireworks. One bottle rocket whizzed past me and slammed into the hotel hallway, convincing me that I wanted nothing more to do with Filipino New Year’s celebrations. I slunk weakly back to my room through the dark corridors and crawled shivering into bed.