Kids in the Philippines. Well, when you get right down to it kids are pretty much the same everywhere. Playing all day and getting into some sort of mischief. I remember when I myself was a (younger) kid.. jumping the neighbor’s fence at my cousin’s house to get peaches. Ironic thing is.. we had peaches in my cousin’s yard. But to get the peaches from the neighbor’s yard, we had to get past both the dog..
Now as fate would have it, my tambis tree is right on the path the kids take to school. Plus my tambis tree has branches that hang over the fence. When I first moved in the tree was packed with fruit, about six or seven dozen of these pink/red ‘Rose Apples’ dangled from just about everywhere on the tree. I tried a few to see what the big deal was. People were always commenting on how lucky I am to have this tree. I bit into one and it’s.. okay. Kinda tastes like a pear without much sugar in it. It’s got a clean taste to it, kinda cleans the palate, sorta refreshing. But I’m not crazy about them. I eat maybe one or two a month out of either repeated curiosity or boredom.
But these neighbor kids are just nuts for this fruit. And therein begins this tale. At night I normally put a lock and chain on the gate. It’s a fairly safe community here, but you never know who might pass by and think, “Oh.. some firewood, he’s not using it. I think I’ll borrow it.” So, to keep out any borrowers while I’m in town I usually have the gate locked, even when I’m home unless someone happens to stop by. Which is maybe once a week and that’s on a busy week when the lady comes to check the electric meter. Usually my only visitors are the chickens from next door and a turkey who is absolutely the dumbest of all turkeys on this planet. He gets into the yard and then can’t figure out how to get out. I gave him three days once, thinking he’d figure it out.. but nope. I had to chase him out of the open gate with a broom. Forget Zumba.. repeatedly chasing this dumb as a red brick turkey out of the yard as he constantly runs right past the open gate in the high humidity is enough workout for me.
My first interaction with the local kids began before things went kinda haywire. I had noticed quite a bit of discarded plastic bags, clothes, CDs and paper that people had strewn all along the outside of my fence along the path. I could have taken about 20 or 30 minutes to clean it all up. But in this heat, even at the end of the day when it cools off a bit.. I simply was not motivated to deal with it. So I went up the path to where a few of the neighbor kids were hanging out playing some games. Two of the girls had made a make-shift ‘kitchen’ outdoors out of some bricks and paper plates while the other kids were playing with some new puppies that had arrived a while ago.
So I approached them and announced; “Who’s interested in earning some money right now?” All I got was some blank stares. So I re-phrased; “Who wants to earn some money so they can buy candy at the sari-sari store?” Okay.. NOW I had their attention. I told them to follow me and there I had a tall box outside my gate. As I walked the entire distance of the bamboo gate outside my place I explained to them the campaign we were about to undertake. And by ‘we’.. I mean, I was going to point and they were going to clean.
I told them all the trash within view needed to go into the box from one corner of the property to the other. Once, upon inspection, the job was declared completed.. we would all go to the sari-sari store down the street for candy. Wow.. these kids understood that and started running back and forth grabbing paper and plastic like it was an easter-egg hunt. “Do we have to throw away all the bushes, too?“, one of the little ones asked. I thought about it for a second and said, “Ehh.. no. No plants. Just stuff that’s not plants.”
I snapped off a few photos as they worked and within ten minutes the place was ready for inspection. Aside from raising my own four kids, I worked a summer as a kid’s counselor at a camp in the mountains of Idyllwild one summer, so wrangling kids was not new to me. I did my inspection, put away the collected trash and off we went to the sari-sari store down the path. We got there and Nin, the older lady who runs the place, was pretty happy to have such an eager group of customers. After seeing her selection of goods, the kids all decided on five bags of peanuts and some hard candy for their labors. I got a Cobra energy drink for myself because.. after all, supervising is taxing work.
When I first moved in there was all this fruit waiting to be eaten. So I invited the neighbor kids over along with their Mom to pick all the fruit they could take in a plastic bag. And there was still fruit. A few days later some kids were passing by and I noticed they were grabbing the fruit hanging over the fence, so I let them in to get some of the tambis. They were pretty thrilled with that since usually the old guy at the sari-sari store just chases them away. Then, with still more fruit budding every week came the day I noticed about eleven kids with a long stick whacking the tree from over the fence. One of them climbed the fence to get some fruit so I grabbed my camera and snapped off the image you see above.
Now, these kids were not quite as.. uhm, behaved and seemed to be just roaming around constantly without supervision. Basically, a gang of kids in ages from 7 to 9. I unlocked the gate and asked them to not smack the tree because it was breaking the branches and they didn’t seem to know a word of English. But when I gestured for them to come in and get some fruit with my permission.. they ran like ants up into the tree and started harvesting it like locusts. I’m not kidding. This dozen or so kids were all in the tree at the same time and they picked the entire tree clean of 90% of the fruit. Only the fruit out of reach was left and finally they filed out the gate with tambis loaded up in their shirts, hands and pockets. One of them, the oldest, stopped to say, ‘Salamat’ (thank you) on behalf of the the gang and off they went like mini-pirates with their load of treasure down the road.
So after that the tree was empty for about two weeks and things calmed down. But with the steady rain we get here every few days it wasn’t long before new buds of fruit began appearing all over the tree again. Pretty soon the tree was dotted with pink and red fruit again. And that’s when things started getting out of control.
I came home one day from the mall and found not only a few sticks of bamboo lying next to the fence.. but the branches were all banged up and the fruit gone. No kids were around now so I tossed the bamboo into the tall grass and went about my business. A few days later I’m typing away at the laptop which has a window view to the yard in front of me. I had the gate locked, as usual, and the next thing I know a bunch of kids are out there whacking at the tree again. By now I figured, well.. if they kill off the overhanging branches there will be no more fruit and that will solve the problem. But.. no.
The next thing I see is one kid climbing over the fence and jumping into my yard. He goes into the tree and starts pulling up more kids over the fence into the tree. Again with the harvesting. Only now it’s without my permission. So I went out and explained to them, firmly but calmly, that jumping the fence was not allowed. If they wanted fruit they needed to knock on the gate. Well, that was a waste of time since they either didn’t understand English or they had the same desire for forbidden fruit I had over at my cousin’s house for their neighbor’s peaches. Again I opened the gate and allowed them in, trying to teach them a proper mode of protocol. But it was all in vain. They got their fruit and off they went.
The next incident came later and now things were escalating. No longer content with climbing over the fence while I was away in town, now they had pulled off two of the bamboo slats off of my gate to use for whacking the tree once again. Now I had a gate missing two slats. At this rate I won’t have a gate left much longer. I’m planning to overlay it with heavy wire mesh soon. But now I’m getting just a bit discontented about the digression this scenario is taking.
Sure, I could just open the gate every morning and let them take fruit whenever they feel like it. But that presents two new problems. For one, back to the ‘borrowers’ who will just wander into the yard if they see something of perceived value. And for another, the liability the day one of these kids falls out of the tree and breaks his arm. I can see it now.. it’s all MY fault. Some kid falls out of the tree, gets injured and now.. these parents who never seem to be anywhere for miles to supervise these kids are suddenly outraged that I let this happen on my property. I’ve dealt with this sort of weirdness in the village of Bogo back when our caretaker passed away from a heart condition on the piggy farm. Immediately the widow figured she was going to inherit the farm because her husband died on the farm property. And the entire barangay agreed with her that somehow that was a valid claim. That’s how weird things get out here in the jungle. Add to it that I’m “the rich Kano/foreigner” and next thing you know I’ve got a lynch mob outside my partly dismantled gate.
And all this because of a fruit tree.
So now I’m working on a multi-fold plan to preempt any madness or need for torches and pitchforks. First, gonna put the wire-mesh on the gate. Second, trim back the branches so they aren’t hanging over the fence grabbing every passing kid’s attention. I don’t want to put barb-wire on the fence (although many neighbors here do, I think it’s tacky looking). It’s a bamboo fence, so I can’t put shards of glass like people do here also on the tops of brick fences. Eventually, later down the road, I’d much prefer to put up some nice wrought-iron fencing.. decorative, yet protective. But that’s a project for down the road.
The third avenue of my plan is to simply take down the fruit as it ripens and give it away to the neighbors. With no fruit on the tree I’m hoping that will diminish the incentive to deconstruct my gate or go climbing into the tree until some accident occurs. I wish life could be simple where you don’t need a gate, or a fence. It would be nice if you could leave items like rakes and potted plants in your yard and still find them there in the morning. But not even in this apparent Eden is that a possibility.
Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, the kids will give up on messing with the tree.. I’ll earn a little bit of goodwill with the neighbors providing them with fruit on a regular basis and I can focus on either my writing or napping in the hammock in peace.
Now.. if I can just get this stupid turkey to stop jumping into the yard and crying all day.
Henry “Reekay” V.
About Me.. In 2011 I made the decision to move to the Philippines within a year. Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat. (Mactan, Bohol, Panglao, Moalboal, Dumaguete, Bacong, Boracay, Cebu) I recently spent the year living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
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