fter we got settled into Emelda's room, we prepared to go to Ozamiz City Hall where we needed to apply for a marriage license. I had been told that a foreigner wishing to marry a Filipina had to apply for the marriage license ten days in advance of a proposed wedding date, so I wanted to get the chore out of the way immediately. It was March 25th; eleven days prior to our wedding date, so we didn't really have the option to delay. After Emelda and I gathered the requisite paper work (the Legal Capacity form, our birth certificates and my passport), we began walking back toward the paved road.
Two tricycles navigate an Ozamiz street

Instead of hiring the truck driver again, I decided to use a cheaper form of transportation in order to conserve funds. I was finally quoted a price for the previous trek from the airport to Emelda's house (100 pesos) and I gladly paid it. In Ozamiz, there are three ways to get around. There is the most expensive way which is to hire a truck (admittedly a bargain at about 500 pesos per day). The two other ways are much cheaper. You can hire what they call a 'motor' which is a motorcycle that has been outfitted with a very large metal apparatus that is designed to seat four people (four small people). This costs three pesos ($0.12) per person. The cheapest form of transportation is the 'tricycle' which is a large bicycle that has been outfitted with a sidecar that seats two people (again; two small people). This costs two pesos ($0.08) per person for small distances. To go into town from Emelda's barangay, a longer distance, the cost would be higher. Also, the tricycle is extremely slow when compared to the other two transportation options. For the trip to the city hall, I decided to hire a motor.

Now, as I said, the motor is designed to seat four small people (in addition to the driver). Having said that; it was extremely rare for one of these motors to proceed with so few customers. Instead, the drivers tended to jam as many passengers as possible onto the rickety metal seating apparatus. On one trip, I counted thirteen passengers! People would hang off of the side and the back and one or two people would sit on the motorcycle behind the driver. In America, this would garner the driver a severe ticket. Over there, it's perfectly normal. Additionally, since these motors are designed for Filipinos who tend to be smaller than us Americans and since I'm big even for an American, it was sometimes quite a task to force my large frame into the seating apparatus. Often times, one of my legs would be hanging out of the motor's side, drawing attention with my white skin and large sneakers. It was an adventure!

Emelda and I walked to the paved road where the motors cruise by (looking for passengers). As we waited for a motor, Emelda's parents joined us. I was informed that they would have to accompany us in order to give the marriage registrar their parental consent. A few additional relatives also came along for the ride. When a motor arrived, we piled in and headed for Ozamiz proper. The bumpy, loud, dusty ride brought back more memories of my past trip to Ozamiz. I smiled at Emelda who returned a smile of her own, followed by a look she gave me often. She closes her eyes and sticks her tongue out at me in a playful manner which always delights me.
A street in the downtown area

Several people were bustling about outside of the city hall building near the town's center. As I exited the motor, I became the center of attention, receiving the familiar looks of surprise and wonder that Ozamiz always provided me. As is the custom, I paid for everyone who rode along with me.

The looks of surprise continued as we entered the building. In The Philippines, staring is considered impolite, but when it comes to Americans, the people of Ozamiz can't seem to resist. I watched as dozens of heads followed my every move. When we passed by an area where several city employees were working, I could hear the audible gasps and the 'oohs' and 'aahs' in addition to comments in the native dialect (Visayan). Quite often in Ozamiz, the word 'gwapo' would be uttered and I would take comfort in the knowledge that they were saying that I was handsome (I never get that in Los Angeles). Many times, I would hear the phrase, "Hey Joe," a holdover from the days of American military involvement in The Philippines. Me and my entourage ascended the steps to the second floor as the comments rang out.

In the registrar's office we were introduced to Mrs. Rayoso, whom I had spoken to once on the phone from Los Angeles. She was surprised to see an American but then remembered me from our previous conversation. She was quite friendly as she filled out the appropriate paperwork. Emelda's parents filled out another parental consent form and we were asked to go to the desk next to Mrs. Rayoso's where another lady slowly typed up the marriage license application form. Since computers are too expensive for Ozamiz's institutions, everything had to be typed in on a manual typewriter.

This long process allowed us to engage in some genial conversation with the various city employees and a cute couple that were under age, but still trying to get married after having two children out of wedlock (Emelda told me that they would be unsuccessful due to being under the age of eighteen and I was saddened at their predicament). We spent a total of about 30 to 40 minutes, but the time went by quickly. I paid a small fee of 160 pesos ($6.15) and we were informed that we could pick up the license in ten days. As it turned out, that would be the day before our wedding. We were just in time! We would also have to attend a four-hour seminar at the City Health Office before that date. We thanked Mrs. Rayoso, said our good-byes and were on our way.

Our next task, was to go to the local Catholic church where we were planning to be married. There were certain issues that had to be ironed out (since I'm not Catholic and Emelda is) and there were certain requirements that Emelda and I had to meet once the issues were worked out. We spoke to a few church employees who gave us some basic information. Then, we were told to wait for the Monsignor (or was it the Archbishop?).

Emelda and I sat down at a curved couch next to a mangy dog that was huffing and puffing from the Philippine heat and humidity. Emelda seemed very nervous. She really wanted the impending interview with the Monsignor to go well. Not being Catholic, I wasn't nervous. If we had been in a Southern Baptist church, it might've been a different story. I tried to ease Emelda's nerves by making her laugh and talking to the dog. After a few minutes, a church employee came over and attempted to get the dog out of the building. She yelled at the mutt angrily, trying to get his attention. I decided to assist her by nudging the dog with my foot. After a few nudges, he started attacking my foot. His attack didn't last long. He didn't seem to have the energy to really hurt me and the employee had gotten a broom to shoo him away. When we would return to the church at various times over the course of my stay in Ozamiz, the dog was almost always there. After some additional waiting, the Monsignor entered, saying hello to us in a refreshingly casual manner. He walked by us and into his office.

After a few moments, he emerged and invited us in. As we entered, Emelda's nervousness seem to increase. A little nervousness crept up on me too, but I tried to keep an air of calm about me which I hoped would rub off on her. We were invited to sit and I was introduced to the holy man. The corpulent gentleman was quite jovial and I was put completely at ease as he spoke in a friendly manner. He said a prayer to start the meeting off and then, we began discussing the issues at hand.

As it turned out, there weren't too many obstacles in our way. If I had been divorced, there would've been a problem. You see, the Catholic church recognizes Southern Baptist baptisms, which means that if I had been married previously and then divorced, the Catholic church would not have recognized the divorce 'in the eyes of God.' I had gotten a notarized statement from my parents stating that I had never been married (and had never been convicted of any crime). As I mentioned this and began to pull it out of the envelope of papers I had brought with me, he said, "No, no. I don't need to see that." He went on to say that he felt that he was a good judge of character and that he could tell that I was an honorable man. I was quite complimented and Emelda beamed with pride.

The only issue we had to work stemmed from the fact that I'm not Catholic. I was informed that I would have to sign a legal document which declared that I would not prevent, impede or dissuade Emelda from practicing Catholicism and that I would allow any children resulting from our union to be raised as Catholics. Now, when a Catholic marries a Baptist, there's no paperwork to be signed, so I didn't like this tactic, but I had heard about this strange practice before and I was ready for it to come up. Since Emelda wanted to get married in the Catholic church, I decided to make her happy and sign the document.

With that, the interview wound down and the Monsignor said a closing prayer. We all shook hands and parted as friends. Emelda and I headed for the church's office where we had been instructed to speak to the office manager. He told us that we would have to take two seminars before we could qualify to be married in the church. Usually, these seminars are given in Visayan, but the church made special arrangements for them to be administered to us in English. We would have to appear at a satellite church office on the following Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon.

A downtown street leading to the docks
Our next task was to check out hotels for my soon-to-arrive parents, sister and brother-in-law to potentially stay in. Emelda's parents had arranged for our wedding reception to be held at The Asian Hotel, so it was our logical first choice. In fact, I had called the hotel and made reservations for my family from Los Angeles, so we went there first. If it was not suitable, we would proceed to The Plaza Beatriz which was Ozamiz's newest hotel with the best reputation (but also the most expensive).

As we were shown the nicest rooms at The Asian Hotel, my disappointment must have been obvious. While it was not a horrible hotel, it was in my mind, completely unacceptable. The beds weren't much more than cots and the amenities were spartan to say the least. I said, "Okay, okay," to be polite in front of the hotel owner's son, but Emelda caught my vibe and we headed for The Plaza Beatriz.

What a difference! As we entered The Plaza Beatriz's lobby (after a doorman welcomed us in), I knew that victory was at hand. When we were shown a few rooms on the third floor, I was quite happy to make reservations for my family. The rooms would only cost 850 pesos ($32.69) apiece which wasn't much more than the rooms at The Asian Hotel. I was confident that my family would be comfortable there. Also, since I was not permitted to see the bride on the wedding day (prior to the ceremony), I made a reservation for myself for the night before and for both Emelda and me for the wedding night.

Across the street from The Plaza Beatriz is a department store named Gaisano (part of a Filipino chain of department stores). Since Emelda's older sister Arlyn worked there and had not been able to meet us at the airport due to being on duty, I wanted to drop in on her and give her a little surprise visit. Emelda agreed and we crossed the street and entered the store.

The air conditioning enveloped us like a warm hug as we passed by the store's armed guards and headed toward Arlyn's department. As on my previous visit to Ozamiz, when I entered Gaisano, I became the center of attention and the subject of audible conversations. In The Philippines, department stores hire an unbelievably large number of employees. You can barely walk ten feet without finding a new employee to assist you. As Emelda and I traversed the main aisle on our way to the jeans department, dozens of employees turned their attention toward Emelda and I. It was fun for me, but very strange. In America, I feel lucky to capture the attention of one employee at a Fotomat booth.

When I spotted Arlyn, I shouted, "Kumusta ka na, ate?" ("How are you now, older sister?"). This brought even more attention to us and I got a kick out of putting shy Arlyn on the spot. She laughed heartily and greeted us warmly. She asked about our flight and general chit chat ensued. After a short conversation (we didn't want to get her in trouble with her boss), Emelda and I headed for Gaisano's grocery store where I purchased a basket full of food for Emelda's family. After the small shopping spree, we returned to Emelda's house in a motor, satisfied that we had accomplished all of the day's goals.

Dinner that night was a feast. The combination of good food and great company rounded out a terrific day. My heart was as full as my ample stomach as I spent the evening with people I had grown to regard as family. Emelda and I gazed at the stars and talked for a bit before retiring for the night. As I laid down to sleep next to the woman I loved (for the record, sex was not a premarital option for either of us, so there were never any awkward negotiations to go through), I thanked God for blessing me so much. On that first night back in her house, I found it difficult to get to sleep. I was to excited to be back in Ozamiz with the best woman in the world.