|Jade, Manang Cel, David, Cas and Auntie Delia, South China Sea. From private collection of L C Lorenzana|
After hitting brick wall after brick wall in trying to get information from Cas's relatives ("So, when's your father's birthday?"..."I don't know."..."You don't know when your parents were born? [incredulously]" ..."No."[As if, 'why the heck would I need to know THAT?!']) I asked Cas's Auntie Delia to take me to the local cemetery. I'd been hearing about it for several days and wanted to get the chance to take pictures so I'd have SOMETHING to go by as I tried to build the maternal side of Cas's family tree.
As with lots of things in the Philippines, the cemetery is quite lovely as you approach:
But then the front looks like this:
Well, I'm not sure how to explain my experience. From the moment I walked into the cemetery, I felt a little disoriented and...pulled in every which direction. Here's why:
Yep, this is what much of the cemetery looks like. As I found out from Auntie Delia, the plots are purchased and it's up to the family to 'manage' them. There's no space in between the plots, and as we found out, if you don't know exactly where someone is buried (i.e., you go there all the time to be able to memorize the maze of crypts, crosses, stones, etc.) well, you're pretty much out of luck. That's right, Auntie Delia had no clue where the family plot was located, so I just started snapping pictures:
More than once I got a warning from both Cas and Auntie Delia not to wander too far; I kept reminding myself I was in a place halfway around the World and that kidnappings are not unheard of (honestly, there wasn't a time that I didn't feel completely safe). But how else was I going to be able to document my trip? We got to the center of the cemetery and found it more...accessible:
Anyway, I was able to locate a number of the names in Cas's family, and then realized that there were relatively few that weren't the names I'd heard. Uh oh...
As it turns out, most of people we were looking for were right on the exterior of the cemetery, along the wall:
Cas's beloved grand aunt Melchora "Charing" Bunoan; she's the one we really wanted to see and pay our respects to (and were so happy to find her in a neat and tidy crypt). As I was to learn, her father, Graciano, was quite the lady's man. Graciano had his first child at the age of 20 and his last at the age of 70. He's a story all his own.
As for the cemetery, I have a catalog of pictures of empty crypts, broken stones, etc. I also have quite a few well tended spots. Auntie Delia told us that on November 1st, everyone comes out and there's a big, annual clean up. There's a picnic and many people pitch in to help make the cemetery look nice. This was a unique opportunity, and I certainly hope to get the chance to go back and spend a bit more time locating our loved ones.
Where's the most interesting cemetery you've been in?