Early in the week I was heading home from dropping the kids at school. I was listening to a podcast as I gazed out of the window on Rosario, looking for images I could capture. Suddenly this noise filled the car. This dodgy recorded organ music and some warbling of some sort. I turned off my podcast and looked around. I asked my Driver D-Bug ‘what on earth is that noise?’ as my eyes fell on a small makeshift church across the road. A few elderly people sat on plastic chairs in this tiny square, dark space in between all the sari-saris and homes. Through the dark I could see a stark white Virgin Mary statue and Christ on a Cross, standing on a small table, covered in a red cloth. The participants were passing around a microphone, taking turns singing into it.
Oh yes, that’s right, I thought. It is the start of Holy Week, or as the locals call it Mahal na Araw. The most sacred time of year for the religious set, and over here, it is very Catholic and very religious (not that there is anything wrong with that).
What I could hear was the start of the 24 hour prayer cycle that takes place at this time. From the Monday of Holy Week at about eight in the morning, until the Friday morning, this long prayer is sung. Continuously. Separate people come at different intervals and the prayer is on repeat. It isn’t some long rambling week long thing. This prayer is from around the 16th century and is an epic poem about the life of Jesus, from birth to resurrection. That is just one aspect of what goes on during this holiest of weeks for the Catholic Religion.
I was curious about who came to these makeshift shrines and the churches to sing this poem. What kind of devotees. So I asked D-Bug who had a kind of smirk on his face as he said that local people provide
food and beverages to those who participate and that is why a lot of people make the time to do it. For the free food and drinks. We had a chuckle and as we drove away past the warbling I turned my podcast back on and made a mental note to buy some Easter Eggs before the shops all shut.
The Easter Break here in Manila is one of the most significant not just because it is super religious, but also because most people leave town for it. This is one of the only times in the year you will see an empty road. Most of the shops are shut for the four key days and for those of us who stay in town, well there isn’t much to do. I wanted to go on a road trip with a friend on Friday. I was trying to find somewhere we could go with all our kids and just do something wild. I realised we would want to go out of the city, which is where the crowds are so that was pointless.
I actually wanted to go to Antipolo. There is this really…well….okay I will say it….there is this crazy ritual here at Easter. There is this big reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ, and there are actual people who not only flog themselves raw, while people watch, but they also have themselves nailed to a cross. They sit up on a hill near the Antipolo Cathedral. This is big business. I heard that the same people tend to do it so their hands have this big hole in them. The skin just grows over. I don’t know if that is true or not. I wanted to go and see it with my own eyes. You know, to say I had done it. Then I thought about it and I realised two things. First, I actually don’t want to. I think it is gruesome, not to mention my personal feelings on the situation. And two, I have no one to care for the children and clearly that would not be a suitable kiddie activity. So those plans were quickly thrown out the window.
During the week I also developed a chest infection. Here we go again. Back to the doctor for some early intervention in the hopes this does not become a repeat of pneumonia. So after all the heavy thinking I was doing for what adventures I can get up to this Easter, it turns out I’m doing nothing. Nothing at all. I am laying low while my lungs burn like they are on fire and walking up my staircase feels like it might just off me. I might eat the kids Easter Eggs while I spend four days in my pajama pants with no bra and crazy wild red hair flaring out like I am Thing 1 from Dr. Suess.