Caveat: Regarding specific cultural differences, I’m just passing on what we have been told. I don’t know how accurate it is.
When we moved into our house my husband had heard several stories about break-ins and theft. He’d also heard an interesting perspective from one person who was directly involved in tracking down and firing the guilty parties in a case of some embezzlement at work- the Filipinos involved had been highly trusted, and were well known by the person who had to fire the them. He was kind of stunned and asked what on earth they were thinking. They said it was his fault, because if he hadn’t wanted his stuff stolen, he should have been more careful with it.
The houses here are usually gated- I am not sure I’ve seen anything beyond a hovel (and I mean this literally) that opens directly to the road. Windows are barred. brick and clay fences are topped with more metal, and then barbed wire. We were told there’s a slightly different view of private property. If you leave part of your property open to the public, the public thinks you meant to, and somebody might come along and set up camp, or open up a roadside stall for market.A Filipino friend told us of having her cell phone stolen out of her hand in a jeepney, and somebody else told us they don’t like to ride in crowded Jeepneys because theft is common. Somebody else (Filipino) who lives in a family compound (very, very common here and not at all scary), brought most of the family over for dinner, but explained one person had to stay home or else the house would be empty, and they don’t like to do that.
And yet, with all the locked gates, barred windows, and walled properties, there is still theft- one friend told us of a helper who set her cell phone down on the counter of their outside kitchen to carry in dishes, and came back out in time to see a pair of bare feet disappearing into the tree on the other side of the fence, and her phone was gone. Somebody else who lives in a second story apartment told my husband her purse had been stolen by somebody who climbed a tree and then used a stick or an umbrella to hook her purse through the narrow space between the bars over the window and steal the money inside.
So, my husband wanted a dog as an additional announcement that we don’t intend our property to be community property. It’s very common- most of the neighbors, in fact, probably all of them, have a dog around. On the day we moved in, probably half a dozen of the men in the neighborhood were sitting in our patio chatting with the carpenter who was strengthening the support for our window aircon. Our gates were open, you see.
One of the men who speaks a very rudimentary English but understands pretty well heard my husband say this, and he said he had a dog he would give us for free. It was a puppy and still too young to leave its mom, but we could have it in a couple weeks. This was great news (other people had offered to sell us a dog, and since puppies are everywhere and every third dog you see is a female nursing a litter, this seemed unnecessary to us)
Now, for this next part of the story, it’s going to be a bit confusing, and I can’t help that. I wasn’t there, so I am getting this second hand, and my husband doesn’t tell the story clearly and also has a very hard time understanding accents and he also has a hard time making himself understood (he insists on speaking in complete and very polite sentences, and when we’re talking through a language barrier, my son and I have found it more effective to focus on nouns and occasional verbs and drop the articles, helping verbs, adjectives, and so on).
At one point, the man who offered us the dog, I think, unless it was another neighbor, took my husband over to see a mother dog with a litter of puppies which were crawling with bugs. My husband was horrified, but he was hesitant to offend the new neighbor, so he went to the pet store and bought all kinds of stuff to wash the new puppy and went to the vet and asked questions and bought more stuff. A few days later, somebody else (I think), but one of the men who had been at the house the day we moved in, brought my husband one of those dogs and gave it him and walked off. My husband washed the dog and fed it and then set it up outside for the night.
Now, to backtrack a bit- I do not want a dog. I made this clear. I said plainly it was Not My Dog and I would have nothing to do with it. My husband insisted I would fall in love with it and end up acting like it was my dog. This is because we have a fundamentally opposed approach to how we think about animal ownership. I like dogs in theory but not in practice. I don’t like the mess and responsibility. But I believe strongly if there is a dog in your household it must be cared for in certain ways which I consider responsible. That means it deserves attention, handling, and if it cries, it should be tended to. I resent that I am tending to it, I do not love it, and I don’t want to be there taking care of it, but I do it because it is the right thing to do. My husband doesn’t mind if a dog cries. He thinks this is how you train it not to cry- by leaving it alone howling. He thinks that if I cannot stand that noise and go tend to the dog, it means I have fallen in love with the dog and now it’s my dog, too. You can see this is a recipe for marital war.
So, of course, the poor dog, probably too young to leave its mother, as soon as it was left outside alone, began to yap and whine and cry pathetically and it was horrible. I waited fifteen minutes and then asked my husband, through gritted teeth, if he was going to tend to his dog. He said no, it didn’t need tending. Then he smirked and asked if I was already falling in love with the dog. I don’t know how to communicate to him in a way he can understand that this is not what is happening when I cannot handle the beast crying. He is not a coldhearted man as a rule. He is tender and compassionate and everybody in the world, including me, generally thinks he is a nicer person than I am. But in this matter, well, I think his attitude is pathologically no different than a psychopath’s and he thinks I am hilarious. I cannot disabuse him of the notion that somehow he has won and proven some obscure point about me loving the beast just because I don’t want any beast to be miserable. He cannot understand in the slightest why I would be taking care of an animal I don’t like, and I cannot understand in the slightest what is so complicated about this, and why he cannot see that his approach is irresponsible pet ownership and just needlessly cruel.
The dog continued to howl and cry and bleat. I was miserable. I realized that we were going to divorce over the dog and return to the states as failed missionaries less than two months after arriving and it would be very hard to explain. I realized if this continued all night we might return home with one of us in a coffin, and it wasn’t going to be me. I realized that my husband and son would be off to school in the morning and I foresaw long and absolutely horrifically miserable days stretching ahead where I would be left at home to endure this wretched noise and this poor, heartbreaking, pathetic and annoying puppy all day and every day and our neighbors would hate us and I would hate us and I was going to end up resentfully caring for the dog and my husband would be smug and imagine he was right about me falling in love with the animal and that would only make me angrier and he would only giggle and then I’d have to kill him. There was simply not another option. I decided in the morning after he left for work I’d either be taking the Cherub to the coffee shop and hanging out there all day or I’d find whoever gave us the dog and return the beast. This was simply untenable. The noise was incredibly stressful. And infuriating.
I put in headphones and turned up my iPod and pulled the sheets over my head and Prayed. I won’t say that sometimes I resorted to praying some of the harsher imprecatory Psalms because that would be bad.
And then, oh, glory. Wonder of wonders. And also weirdness of weirdness- my husband came in and got my attention and said sheepishly, “The dog is gone.” What happened? So weird.
A neighbor lady came to the gate and was very upset. She told my husband that was her dog and she wanted it back. He said somebody gave us the dog. She asked who gave him her dog? HOw could somebody else have given him her dog? Give her back her dog, she demanded. And so he did. He watched, and she did take the dog right back to the house where the dog had come from.
We have no idea what happened. We have asked our Filipino friends, wondering if there was some cultural issue we were not getting, and they are all as baffled as we are. I told our helper I wondered if perhaps the man who gave us the dog was the woman’s husband or a neighbor and he just thought there were too many dogs in that house already (there are a lot). She laughed and laughed, and said she supposed that could be, and it made about as much sense as anything else.
There are a lot of cultural differences to navigate and make sense of here, and we make a lot of mistakes. But sometimes, people are just people and some people do odd things for reasons that have less to do with culture than with whatever family dynamics are going on in their own homes. Like, for instance, I ordinarily would never, ever, even think of praying the imprecatory Psalms in a deeply hostile and personal way about somebody I am related to.
P.S. Later, the man who had originally promised us a dog brought a different dog over- a clean, cute, well socialized and not all noisy young animal. He’s probably not going to bark at any intruders, but I don’t care. He is staying outside and he is not howling and whining and bleating his little heart out. He is friendly, and he occasionally chews a shoe (we leave our shoes on a shelf outside the front door and we cannot use the lower two shelves), but since I am not the one who forgets to put my shoes on the top shelf, I do not care. Yes, I may be a touch vindictive. Y’all can pray for me.
My husband now thinks that possibly when he took my husband over to see that buggy litter of puppies he was trying to explain, “The dog I will give you is not like this, he is clean, you don’t want one of these.” But we don’t know. It’s all guessing.