Happy halloween, everyone.
The Kalibo International Airport security personnel looked at the contents of my pockets and asked, "Sir, bakit kayo may ginger?"
I swear I heard him speak Aklanon a few minutes ago while I was queuing for the x-ray machine, so I thought it would be okay to tell the truth.
"Pangontra sa aswang," I said.
He gave a smile so big his chinito eyes disappeared, and said, "Juan dela Cruz lang yan, Sir."
I smiled and laughed with him. "Quot homines tot sententiae", as our office motto says. As many opinions as there are people, and this gentleman is very much entitled to his own.
But why the slices of ginger in my pockets?
It all began in Guimaras.
Oct. 23, Day One. The trip from Iloilo City went without a hitch, and we arrived at our target barangay earlier than expected. The team immediately prepped the homebase -- a simple bamboo cottage owned by the local health officer -- which will be home to 16 of my teammates for the next 15 days.
Our field supervisor, local field anchor, and I immediately went to the barangay hall to interview the Barangay Captain. It was completed just in time for lunch. The reception was positive, and we have green light to kick off the fieldwork.
I went with Fabs and Jo, both Mother Stations' experienced interviewers. In the absence of house and street numbers, we located the household after 30 minutes of walking along a remote dirt road.
The household had a new member, a 2-year old girl, which means we need to get one of our Anthro boys (those in-charge of carrying the equipment for measuring children's height, weight, and arm circumference).
I volunteered to go.
My cellphone rang as I was approaching an intersection. The call was from one of our Anthro boys, asking the location of our household-respondent.
I continued walking as I spoke with him on the phone, momentarily oblivious of my surroundings. Only after I passed the intersection did I stop to look around for landmarks.
That's when I saw her.
She was already about twenty paces behind me. She has stopped walking, and had her head turned towards me.
She was staring at me.
She must have emerged from the ricefields from the other side of the road for me to miss her.
I hung up and decided to walk on. The hairs along my nape were standing at the ends -- she was still staring at me, I can feel it.
By the time I reached the meeting point, I was feeling hot and out of breath. Rather than walking back to our sample household, I decided to hire a motorbike.
The interview took more than two hours, but halfway through I was already having cold sweats, headache, and that sickening nausea that made me want to throw up. My teammates were all aware of this -- they can hear me complaining and mumbling "Shit, nasusuka ako".
I tried throwing up, but nothing came out but bile. It did alleviate the discomfort for a while, and we walked home at around 7:30 p.m.
I was complaining again of humidity and nausea when we got home. I was more determined to get the sickly feeling out of my stomach, so when I found an empty space of grass near the house, I simply bent over...
And out came everything I had since lunch.
Talks about me throwing up were already spreading in the homebase by the time I had a quick shower, and some were poking jokes that maybe I was "napagkursunadahan" because of the way I walk. "Parang may sariling mundo," they said.
Two of my teammates from Capiz and one from Bacolod were not laughing at all. Instead, they asked if I had anything on me. I told them I have my Sto. Nino with me, but when I failed to show it after searching all the pockets in my cargo pants, I realized that I left it in my luggage.
Since I was refreshed and no longer nauseous, I considered the matter over and done with. Maybe it was just a small welcome for me. A reminder to be more careful when walking around.
However, the headache was still there.
The start-off clearing/meeting was scheduled after dinner. While most of the team were taking their showers and cigarette breaks outside, I was preparing my notes and setting up my laptop at the homebase's main table, with a few of the interviewers already settled in for the meeting.
And then it hit me.
Those familiar with the smell of this insect would describe it as "malansa", or "parang may nabubulok". In our hometown in Batan, it's normal to get faint whiffs of this insect in closed spaces. Usually we don't pay much attention to it -- nothing to be worried about.
But this one was far from faint -- it was flooding my nose with the strong, sickening stench.
And we're in a middle of a freakin' farmland, with winds blowing freely through the bamboo windows!
This only meant one thing...
One of us in the homebase was the target.
Vhic, one of our Bacolod teammates, looked at me and asked, "Sir, naamoy nyo?"
When I nodded, all four people seated with me at the table sprung into action, rushing outside to tell everyone else to go inside.
Of the 17 of us in the homebase, only three are non-Region VI residents. People outside of the cottage apparently didn't smell anything (which made it clearer that the target was someone inside), but they need only hear one word when they asked what's going on.
|We smelled and heard them through these windows.|
The scent went away as quickly as it came. I told everyone to get ready for the meeting. The ladies finished their shower at the kitchen, and shortly everyone was present at the main table.
But no one could concentrate on the meeting. The atmosphere was tense, and the air was thick with humidity -- and something else.
Almost everyone looked up from their notes when the sounds came. Two short bursts of it. Very faint, but clear.
"Sir, nandito na," said Vhic, the Bacolodnon who seem to be the most sensitive of the bunch. She was the one seated next to me when the sickening scent came.
"Just act normally, guys," I told everyone. "We'll postpone the meeting for tomorrow, but please continue editing your sheets."
Work-related chatter filled the homebase. Every now and then, Kel, the youngest in our team, would ask what's going on. The ladies would calmly explain the sound they heard, the tik-tik, and what it meant.
Then Vhic said something, and for the first time, I got worried.
"Sir, dalawa sila."
The ladies from Capiz agreed. "Nagsasagutan sila, sir. Pakinggan nyong mabuti."
It was a hot and humid night, but the frogs were croaking outside the house. But there was something weird about the croaking -- slightly higher pitched, and in short, quick succession.
Oh freakin' crap. Korokotok.
"Bag-o nga yanggaw, sir. Pinaka- aggressive," ("Newly converted, sir. The most aggressive") said Vhic.
I've only heard stories about this type of aswang, the one making the korokotok croaks. They are said to be the most aggressive, being newly-transformed and still unable to control themselves.
This was the first time I heard them up close.
"Guys, I'm sorry for all of this," I told everyone. "Hindi ko alam na magiging ganito ang reaksyon nila."
Somebody scraped a knife against the concrete wall, and placed the knife next to my laptop.
Good grief! The aswangs outside don't need any more provocation, and I don't intend to draw a bullseye on my forehead.
Note: The knife-scraping technique only works if you are intent on sustaining the scraping until the aswang leaves the premises. Do it half-heartedly, and you only make them angrier.
And that was exactly what's happening outside -- the croaking increased, and we heard another sound.
Then the roof made a creaking sound.
Vangie handed me a rosary, and Cora a deformed bullet. For protection, they said. I wrapped the rosary in my left wrist, and started praying. Herma, one of the Capiznons, sliced a calamansi and stuffed it inside my pocket.
"Wala tayong luya, sir, kaya ito na lang muna."
|Had I been alone, "they" could easily enter the cottage here.|
What if I was alone in this cottage? I shuddered at the thought. I was only calm and brave because I was with a big group.
"Sir, matulog na lang siguro kayo sa loob ng kwarto. Hindi sila titigil hanggang nakikita ka nila dito."
I didn't argue. It was too early for bedtime, and I already marked a nice, cozy spot by the window sill to be my sleeping area for the night.
But the croaking outside was getting more frequent, and something was definitely moving on the roof -- no way will I let any part of my body be anywhere near the windows.
I laid down on the bed next to Kel, and in twenty minutes, I was snoring. Thank God for fatigue.
Oct. 24, Day Two. At 7:00 am, the team was ready to leave homebase to cover the next sitio -- which, as typical in areas as vast as Guimaras, would take about 20 minutes on single motorbike.
As I was leaving the cottage, I smelled the scent again, and that annoying headache came back.
One of our visitors last night was still there, following me. Vhic nodded when I looked at her. She can smell it, too.
I checked my pocket for the rosary and the bullet. There's no use staying alone in homebase. I should go out, and hope that the motorbike would be fast enough to take me away as quickly as possible.
The moment we entered the next sitio, the headache faded and I felt lighter.
The people in that sitio was so much friendlier. They asked us where we were staying, and offered a little warning: "Mas maraming aswang dyan kesa dito."
We left that sitio at 7:00 p.m. The air was light and cool, and I never felt so energized since I got to Guimaras.
That was such a nice, friendly place.
And that nice feeling lasted the whole night -- my last night in Guimaras.
Oct. 25, Day Three. After one last meeting, I left the Guimaras at 11:30am, and traveled to Aklan. I arrived in Kalibo at 7:00 p.m.
Mom and I briefly dropped by Mother Stations' Aklan homebase to say hi to the team, then we proceeded to Dumaguit to attend the wake of her auntie.
We left the wake at 11:00 p.m., and convoyed to Kalibo, with my Mom and her driver following me a few meters back.
It was already raining when we entered Kalibo. I reduced speed to just 60 kph, minding the slippery road.
As I was passing by the Chinese cemetery near the Capitol crossing, the scent hit me -- right through the helmet.
"Tangina naman o!", I shouted through my helmet, checking the side mirrors for any sign of presence behind me. All I saw were the headlights of my mom's Wrangler, following me closely.
The moment we parked at the apartment, I told everyone what happened. Inday, a family friend and a resident of Guimaras, immediately gave me some sort of oil which I applied on my stomach and at the soles of my feet. Just a counter-measure.
Oct. 27, Day Five. I met with the team in Dumaguit, and went to work for the whole day. I spoke nothing about last night's incident.
But as we were leaving the area at around 7:00 p.m., one of the Aklan team members mentioned something about tanangaw in the homebase.
I told the team I will meet them later tonight at the homebase. I proceeded to meet my mom at the wake.
I was drenched when I got there. As I entered the house, my mom told me, "Anak, kinilabutan ako nung dumating ka. Akala ko si Auntie, pero nung makita ko na ikaw yung dumating, tumayo yung balahibo ko sa braso."
My mom's cousin, Auntie Sara (who doesn't know about my Guimaras story at that time), also commented that she felt something when I arrived.
"Guin pang likidyan ako." (In Tagalog: kinilabutan ako)
That's when I told her about what happened in Guimaras, and last night. I also mentioned what I just heard from my teammates about the scent at the homebase.
"Mami, tingin mo, sinundan ako hanggang dito?"
Maybe, she said. We decided it would be wise to go home early tonight.
On our way home, we stopped by the homebase -- just to confirm something. We spoke with the team, and asked about the tanangaw.
The scent came shortly after I left the homebase yesterday, they said.
Whoever welcomed us in Guimaras has followed me all the way to Aklan, and was searching for me at the homebase.
Mami, whose dissertation was about aswangs, decided that I should already consult a fell-pledged mediko.
This one is powerful, she said. "Hindi enough si Inday para labanan ito."
Oct. 28, Last Day. My flight to Manila was at 12:30 p.m. There was still time to visit the local mediko.
It was 6:30 a.m. when we dropped by the mediko's house. She was already up and sweeping her frontyard when we arrived.
She invited us in, and had me sit next to her. She touched a fresh egg three times on my head -- one at the forehead, and at either temple, and asked me to hold the egg at my stomach while I tell her what happened.
I briefly described what we were doing in Guimaras, how I was speaking on the phone while walking alone, and how sick I felt later.
After that, the first thing the mediko said was, "Mataba siyang babae na maigsi ang buhok, at yung bahay niya ay nasa gilid lang ng kalsada malapit doon sa dinaanan mo."
She's absolutely correct about the woman's description. And when I asked how she knew it, she said, "Nakikita ko ang aura niya. Nahawa lang ang isang ito sa byenan niya. Bago lang siya."
When she cracked the egg on a plate, the yolk was broken, and it formed into something very distinct.
A bat-like figure.
"Wak-wak ang isang ito," said the mediko, pointing at the broken yolk to where the head is, the wings, and the supposedly severed torso. "Kaya niya ring maging paniki, kaya ka nasundan dito."
She won't allow me to take a photo of the yolk, so there's a sketch here of how I best remember the shape was.
She touched another egg on my head, and had me press it against my stomach for another 5 minutes. When she broke it, it was intact.
"Pinapanood ka niya ngayon. Tingnan mo. Ito ang dalawang mata nya."
She flipped the yolk over to reveal two identical wavy lines, perfectly equidistant from each other -- like a road.
She's correct, again.
She made me take a spoonful of bitter-tasting oil, and gave me a small bottle of the same oil and some herbs for the next three nights.
Oh, and I was not allowed to bathe for three days, either.