Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lost keys, cutting trees, misunderstandings and monkeys

On Tuesday Steve threw out the trash. We keep the food trash in a closed plastic bag in the “bodega” behind the house to avoid attracting flies and other critters. Normally we keep the building locked because we keep tools and other gear there. So Steve had to grab the set of keys, which we keep hanging on a hook on the house, and which holds separate keys for every door in the house in addition to the bodega.

Steve grabbed the keys and the small bag of eggshells. He unlocked the bodega, unfolded an incredibly foul smelling, slimy bag holding garbage from the last two weeks, and placed the egg shell bag into it, then took another clean trash bag and put it over the slimy bag. He then walked across the Middleside parade grounds, crossed the road, and went down the trail to the garbage dump. Once there he tossed the trash bag on a smoldering pile; it rolled off to the side.

A couple of hours later Marcia noticed that the keys were not hanging on the normal hook, so she mentioned it to Steve. He was sure that he must have just set them down in some obvious place, probably on the shelf in the bodega that held the trash. So he went out to look for them. They were not there, so he assumed that he must have set them on the computer desk, but they weren’t there, either. After looking above the fridge where he keeps the car keys, he was starting to get concerned.

So for the next hour we searched the house and the bodega. We looked everywhere, places that were extremely poor candidates, such as inside suitcases that we had just finished emptying that morning. We looked on the computer desk and in its drawers and in the cupboard above the fridge at least twice each, but to no avail. We walked around the house and looked in the grass, but no luck. Finally Marcia asked Steve to retrace his steps and go to the dump.

So Steve walked over the same area, looking for keys that would have made noise if they had fallen out of his pocket. When he got to the dump, which was buzzing with flies and as noisy as a hive full of angry bees, he found the bag and shook it but did not hear the keys. He then took off the outer bag and emptied it out on the ground to no avail. He even shook the small stinky bag but heard no metal sound. So he headed back to the house.

A young man had been mowing the grass around our yard, which is done here with a weed whacker. Steve and Marcia did another walk through of the house and the bodega, and around the house in the grass. Steve then went in the house to look up “lost” and “keys” in Tagalog, in order to have the young man keep an eye out for them. But just then it was 2:00 and his shift must have been over, so he walked away before Steve could say; “nawala susi,” or lost keys. We were beginning to get worried, because even though the island manager has a set of duplicates, we didn’t like the idea of someone else possibly having a set of keys.

Finally Marcia, who has over 36 years experience helping Steve retrace steps to find something he set down in a moment of distraction, said, “Let’s go look in the trash again. They have to be there.” Steve was sure it was a waste of time but didn’t argue. On the way over we pondered whether Marcia may have taken the keys for something without recalling, but that still didn’t answer the basic question of where they were. When we got to the dump, Marcia went through the trash that Steve had strewn on the ground and agreed they were not there. Then Steve grabbed the rotten smelling bag and shook it hard, and there was no sound of keys. Nevertheless Marcia decided to open it, and amid rotten bananas and other fetid materials, there were the keys! How they got in that bag Steve cannot imagine, going over and over it in his mind, which he is apparently losing faster than we thought. So a stinky but happy ending.

On Wednesday Carmello, an experienced groundskeeper, began to clean up an area that once was a butterfly garden. When we first arrived, it was an overgrown area of about 30 by 50 feet which still had the poles in place but no longer had netting. Since it is very close to our house which everyone refers to as the aviary house, we decided to take it upon ourselves to rehabilitate the area once the poles were removed.

About a month ago that work was completed, but not without some damage to the trees and shrubs, which were unavoidably broken by poles that dropped as the welder cut off long sections, and also from the trampling. In addition, a nearby eucalyptus tree which had to be cut to allow the sun to land on our solar panels in the afternoon was leaning over the garden, but the man who cut the tree did a great job of dropping the tree where it did the least damage.

Immediately after the poles were gone, Rollie began the cleanup. Marcia had been very concerned that the two mature papaya trees in the garden be saved if possible, and for the most part they were still intact. Steve made it clear to Rollie not to cut down the papayas during his cleanup. Somehow Rollie must have interpreted this as to cut down everything except the papaya trees, because the next thing Rollie was cutting down a good tree. Steve went over and yelled, “Rollie, stop cutting down the trees!” Rollie, whose English is not the best, seemed to understand, giving Steve a big Filipino smile. But the next minute he was hacking on another tree. Rollie is one of the older workers on the island, having been here since 1964, and is a very nice man who just must not have understood what Steve wanted.

At this point, Steve texted Ronilo and told him to come to the house. He explained to Ron what Rollie was doing, and asked Ron to tell him to stop cutting down the trees. Ron said he would take care of it. He went over to the garden and yelled, in English, mind you, “Rollie, Steve wants you to stop cutting down the trees!” Steve was not sure why having Ron say it got through to Rollie, but he now seemed to understand, and he stopped cutting the trees. The jury is still out one whether one which has hack marks on it will survive, but so far, so good.

Carmello, as we said, is an excellent gardener and a very nice man, but we suspect that he did not study much English. He had previously treated our rattan furniture so that wood bugs would leave it alone, so we knew him already. But communicating with him is another thing. Basically Steve tells him to do something in English, and if Carmello has any questions or wants to tell him something he speaks in Tagalog. Steve understands very little Tagalog, so the result is that they both hope that the other one knows what he said, and everything seems to turn out all right.

Even those whose English is pretty good can be hard to understand. For example, when Carmello was going to treat the rattan, Ron brought him here on his bike and helped act as a translator. Ron was explaining to us the proper mixture of chemical and kerosene. He said, “You mix six cupfuls with a liter of kerosene.” Since we only had a liter of the chemical, and six cups is more than a liter, Steve was confused how this could work out. Ron again said, “Six cupfuls.” Steve was still confused until Ron pointed at the cap of the bottle. Then it occurred to Steve that Ron was saying, “capfuls,” but the a sound in Tagalog is always like the “a as in father,” and the sound of “a as in cat” just isn’t heard. So Steve said to Ron, “capful,” and Ron said, “yes, cupful.” This is why many visitors here have a hard time understanding Filipinos, even those who speak grammatically good English. We are learning Tagalog words and phrases, and our ears are adapting to the accented English, so communication is improving.

One last thing. The monkeys around our house are getting braver. They’re fun to see. On the other hand, they are eating the leaves off of our new papaya trees, and we are afraid to leave things like flip-flops lying around outside since the monkeys will steal them. There have been some attempts to limit their population, but at present there definitely seem to be too many given the island’s size.

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