A few minutes before eight on a cool and cloudy Friday morning, I stepped into the faculty office. The room, like the campus, was quiet, sleepy. Half a dozen faculty members, clustered familially on two couches, lounged, chatted, texted, or dozed in the Monet blue of the morning.
“Maupay nga aga!” I waved. I ambled to the couches. High-fived Ma’am Divine. Winked at Ma’am Billa. Situated myself on the arm of the nearest couch.
“Nag-enjoy ka kagab-i, Sir Mark?” asked Divine. Did you enjoy last night?”
“O-o! Marisyo hin duro!” Yes! It was very fun!
“Ano nga oras umuli ka na?” asked Ma’am Lena. What time did you get home?
“Mga ala una.” Around one o’clock.
The previous night had culminated the weeklong Foundation Days 2011, an occasion marking the 104th anniversary of the Eastern Visayas State University, on the island of Leyte, Philippines. On Monday there had been contests galore: extemporaneous speaking, oratory, a Rizal quiz show, on the spot essay writing, poster making, even a “Basketball Gays” game which involved effeminate males fumbling about the court to the hoots and hollers of bystanders. Beside the organized events, the campus was littered with booths selling food, drink, souvenirs, videoke, and henna tattoos. Monday night had ended with a Valentine’s Disco dance. Tuesday began with students parading through the streets of Tacloban in traditional Filipino attire, followed by a folk dance contest between the school’s colleges, an acrobatic show, an acoustic music competition, a battle of the bands, and a chess tournament (in which I competed and lost, miserably, but enjoyably).
Wednesday featured more basketball, more singing, a skateboarding competition, a faculty folk dance contest, a Flip Tops competition, and a cultural show put on by the school’s dance troupe and choir. Thursday had yet more basketball, a native food cooking contest, a coconut wine contest, loyalty awards for faculty, and finally, the “Pagkaurusa ngan Karisyuhan ha EVSU 2011,” a catered dinner for faculty and administration, at which attendees would entertain, yet again, with folk dances, a pageant, and a newly-written drama in the local dialect, of which I was a part (my role: “ulitawo sinko,” or bachelor number five).
The faculty of the College of Education had spent much of the week preparing for this drama. We had dubbed the speaking parts, along with sound effects and musical interludes, to make the performance smooth and audible. We did run-through after run-through, a process dragged out enjoyably by frequent bouts of laughter: we were educators, not actors. The play, written by my co-teacher, Ma’am Cora Regine Morales, nimbly weaved a spectrum of Filipino culture.
Set during a fictional town’s fiesta, it featured a solemn church service punctured by gossiping churchgoers. It showcased the traditional, if now rarely practiced, “harana,” or courtship by competing groups of bachelors (in the drama, the maiden would prefer the first group, who were simple and sincere Filipinos, but her father would choose the second because it had an American–me). It of course included a tagay-tagay drinking session. And it culminated in a flowery, bathetic, drawn-out speech by the local community leader, followed by the traditional kuratsa dance and cha-cha.
I had borrowed a barong, the traditional formal outfit of Filipino males, from a faculty member’s brother for the drama. Its near-translucent fabric was made of pineapple fibers, and it featured a Mandarin-style collar. The most junior member of the faculty, Faith, dressed in a traditional dress she had also borrowed, spent a good half-hour ironing the barong in the faculty lounge, using a sheet of bond paper to protect the fibers from the heat. Faith had been assigned to play the “daraga” maiden who was to be courted during the drama. She performed both tasks with characteristic willingness and dedication.
In addition to serving as a costume for the drama, my borrowed barong also won me the coveted “Most Traditional Filipiniana Attire for a Male” award that night. Dancing followed–cha-cha, boogie, and of course more kuratsa–which drenched my award-winning barong in patches of sweat.
The evening wrapped up a little after eleven. We congregated in our domicile, the faculty office, changing out of our costumes and chatting about the evening until I finally found myself sharing a pedicab home with Ma’am Billa at almost one in the morning.
“What time will you come to school tomorrow?” I asked Billa.
“I am supposed to be at campus at eight.”
“Yeah,” I winked. “But what time’ll you show up?”
“Eight o’clock,” Billa blinked.
“But there aren’t classes Friday, are there?”
“No. But I must still arrive at eight.” Billa sighed. “That is the problem with our system.”
I said nothing. The pedicab drove on.
The previous year, the university had installed a biometric authentication system at the campus gate. A fingerprint reader. Each morning, each lunch break, each evening, Monday through Saturday, instead of signing timecards, faculty now walked to the gate and pressed their thumbs against a glowing green rectangle which responded with a prompt and cheerful “Verified.” Billa’s contract stipulated that she had to greet the glowing green rectangle at eight every morning and five every afternoon. Less senior faculty members had different hours. Faith had to be at campus by seven, whether classes were in session or not. Tuesdays and Fridays, she stayed till eight. The previous Friday night, she and I had worked until seven-thirty in the faculty office. Both of us were tired, and although I left when our work was finished, Faith stayed for another half hour. If she didn’t, there could be disciplinary action. Even the deans timed in and out. On Saturdays, in fact, I would often cross paths with the dean of the College of Education on our way to the glowing green rectangle.
Yes, I timed in and out, too. On my first day on campus the previous November my supervisor had cheerfully enrolled me in the biometric authentication service. “You are part of the faculty now,” he had said.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, I was required to teach 20 hours of classes each week. I could use the rest of my time to lesson plan with co-teachers and pursue secondary projects–book acquisitions, scholarship funding, textbook corrections, curriculum design. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I could come and go from campus freely. As a Peace Corps volunteer, if I didn’t show up at campus at eight, there would be no disciplinary action.
That night, as I rode home with Billa in the pedicab, the words of my supervisor echoed. You are a part of the faculty now.
I had once asked Sir Jun, a science teacher and the husband of Divine, if he thought the fingerprint system was good or bad for the faculty. I told him that other Peace Corps volunteers serving at high schools in far-flung areas said faculty were frequently late, even absent. Forged timecards were de rigeur.
“In my feeling, no,” Jun had said. “In my feeling, this is bad for the faculty. Because even if there is not a biometric system, faculty will be teaching classes.”
I didn’t know for certain whether the fingerprint system had made faculty more accountable at EVSU, but having witnessed the dedication of my co-teachers, I believed Jun’s words.
And thus, at a few minutes before eight, on that cool Monet blue morning, I arrived at the faculty office and greeted my smiling co-faculty, already assembled.
That day, Ma’am Billa worked her way through a pile of grades. Sir Jun put the finishing touches on his Masteral thesis. Ma’am Jovelyn prepared a Powerpoint presentation. I studied Waray and chatted with my co-faculty and asked Sir Benny to teach me a few new cha-cha moves. At lunchtime we strolled to the gate, pressed our fingers against the glowing green rectangle, and lunched on rice and barbeque at the College of Education food booth. In the afternoon the Monet blue changed to yellow and, back in the faculty office, with a Tagalog film playing in the background, the female faculty members tried on their dresses for the upcoming J.S. Prom, Jun worked on his Masteral thesis, and Divine and I planned to plan for classes the following week.
There had been no classes. No more than a hundred students had been on campus. In a way, it had been a wasted day. There had been no reason to come to campus. And yet, that slow, empty Friday was marisyo hin duro duro-an.