few days later, Emelda's brothers (Alex and Ernie) were due to arrive by ship from Manila. We all rose at around 3:00 a.m. to get ready to meet the ship which was due to arrive at 5:00 a.m. A group of about ten of us walked from Emelda's house toward the paved road in nearly complete darkness. Since there were very few motors operating at that early hour, we had to walk for awhile along the paved road before we were picked up. The group weighed down the poor motor as we headed for the dock.

At the dock, I paid everyone's fare and we said hello to Emelda's uncle, a shotgun-carrying guard at the dock's entrance. As we walked toward the dock at about 4:55 a.m., we could see one large cargo ship that had been docked and two passenger ships, one of which was just pulling in We sat down in the waiting area for a few moments before Emelda suggested that she and I venture out onto the dock so that I could get some footage with the video camera that I had brought along. As we passed by one of the passenger ships, we caught the attention of several exiting patrons as well as some dock employees. I turned the video camera on and got a few shots of the harbor and the boats and many shots of my beloved Emelda.

When Ernie emerged from a crowd, he headed right for me, giving me a big hug. He then was enveloped by his many waiting family members. Reunions in The Philippines are cherished opportunities for the participants to remind each other of how much they care about each other. This was in evidence here in spades. Alex was nowhere to be found, so we continued to wait for him. I had failed to get Ernie's appearance on video (because he surprised us), but I would try to capture Alex's if possible.

Awhile later, Alex appeared and I succeeded in getting some footage of him. It was so nice to see Emelda's brothers again. Their handsome faces brought back memories of playing chess with Alex (in fact, I often called him 'Chess Master' because I could never beat him at the game) and shopping in the local meat market with Ernie. They were soon to be my brothers-in-law and I couldn't have been prouder.

After the reunions were complete, we walked over to a nearby shrine of the Virgin Mary where Emelda and I said a few prayers for our marriage. Next, we all piled into a few motors and returned to Emelda's house; the morning sun guiding us home.

A few days later, it was Good Friday. Holy Week is taken very seriously in the mostly Catholic-nation of The Philippines. Many towns hold processions on Good Friday after a special mass. Ozamiz is one of those towns. I asked Emelda if we could watch the procession and she agreed. Many of her family members joined us as we rode a motor into town toward the church.

When we arrived, the mass was already in session. Filipinos are notoriously late and this was no exception. As we entered the packed church, dozens of heads turned and whispers began. We sat down and tried to blend in as the Father read from The Bible. The mass was in Visayan, so I couldn't understand, but since this was my first look at the inside of the church, I took the opportunity to soak in the site of my impending wedding. The church was quite large and impressive. The sides of the sanctuary were open to the outside. There were several large fans battling the Philippine heat. On the altar was a giant crucifix and a shrine to the Virgin Mary. I began to look forward to getting married in such a lovely setting.

After the mass, hundreds of people filed outside into the church's square which sat next to a raised platform where another crucifix stood. After a short break, the Monsignor appeared along with several priests and church officials. Another short mass (which would precede the impending procession) was conducted while we all stood and watched. Again, the event was conducted in Visayan, but from what I could gather, there was an oral retelling of the Easter story.

Another group of rambunctious kids
During the ceremony, there were many people who stole glances at me and there were many comments made as well. There were dozens of children present and several of them couldn't stop themselves from staring and smiling at me. Some of them would find an excuse to walk in front of me and when they thought I wasn't looking, they'd steal a glimpse of me. I made funny faces at a few of them and got some cute smiles back. Since I had brought my video camera, I turned it on after awhile and the kids had fun posing for me and making funny faces of their own. When I would turn around to speak to one of Emelda's family members behind me, I would see many people averting their eyes, so that I would not discover that they had been staring at me. It was still weird to me to be such a curiosity to the locals.

The most interesting observer appeared suddenly and quickly invaded my personal space. As I was watching the action on the stage, a bubbly man popped up right in front of me and hugged me warmly. The man was a chubby Down's Syndrome survivor and had the typical Mongoloid face that goes along with the affliction. In fact, if I had seen him in America, I wouldn't have known that he was Filipino. His smile was infectious and his affection spilled over as he spoke to me in Visayan. Someone said, "He's your long lost brother" and we all chuckled. He wouldn't let go for awhile, but it didn't bother me in the least. He was obviously a happy soul and his happiness touched me. He eventually let go and wandered away after staring at me for a bit while sporting his infectious grin.

After awhile, people were invited to come onto the stage and receive communion. Next, they would pass by the life-sized crucifix and lay their hands on Jesus's feet. This was the beginning of the procession. We watched it for awhile. It was moving rather slowly. After a bit, a carriage with a shrine to the Virgin Mary joined the procession. Later, the people would follow the carriage through the streets and young men would flagellate themselves as they walked behind her. Since it was moving so slowly and since we were very tired from standing, we decided to leave before the procession made it to the street.

We cut through the crowd, causing more attention to be paid to us and headed down the street. We were hoping the Monsignor would not see us and think us rude to be leaving early, so we tried not to draw too much attention to ourselves. We walked down the middle of the street (since there was no traffic). The streets were lined with dozens of people waiting for the procession. Their eyes fell on us as we walked with Emelda's family. After a few moments, Emelda saw that the people lining the streets seemed to think that we were the beginning of the procession! She told me that she heard comments to that effect and we saw a few people fall in behind us, so she began pushing me to the side of the street so as to send the message that we had nothing to do with the parade. We turned down a side street as Emelda chuckled at the mix-up. We then headed toward the public market where the motor drivers hung out.
Emelda's cousin balances her sister

Throughout my visit, many friends and relatives visited Emelda's house to meet me and visit with Emelda and her family. Whenever we had visitors, Emelda and I would be summoned to socialize. We did so gladly. Everyone we encountered in Ozamiz was always friendly and fun to talk to. With every new friend I made, I felt more at home in Ozamiz. It is truly a place filled with wonderful people.

One day, Emelda and I joined the celebration which surrounded the weekly cockfight. The men of the nearby barangays encircled the cockfighting arena while wagering on their favorite roosters. The ladies milled about farther away buying, selling and consuming food and drink. Some of the older men sat with the ladies. Small children ran about here and there. The atmosphere was quite festive.

Emelda and I settled next to her aunt ("The Dancer") who quickly offered me a Sprite. One of the men walked over from the arena and asked me if I wanted to bet on a rooster. I declined since I knew nothing about cockfighting. I was glad that the wagering men obscured my view of the fighting animals. I wasn't particularly fond of the concept of the cockfight.
Mark versus a caribou

Emelda and I joked around with her uncle and some older men who were in the process of getting drunk. At one point, Emelda's uncle tapped another man on the shoulder and persuaded him to show me something. At his urging, the man held up a hand. The man had two thumbs on his left hand! For some reason, I was not shocked. I was at a cockfight in The Philippines. Why should an bonus thumb freak me out? I simply said, "Well, you got an extra one, huh?" He laughed even though he had no idea what I was saying. It was another in a long series of surreal moments.

The day after Easter Sunday (on which we attended an Easter mass), Emelda and I (along with some additional family members) visited some friends of Emelda's family. We were greeted with great enthusiasm by our hostess, Marilyn Gulbe and the rest of the Gulbe clan as we entered their small but cozy house in the Banadero barangay of Ozamiz. Marilyn was excited to meet me and to see Emelda and the gang. In fact, on the numerous occasions I was to encounter Marilyn throughout the trip, she was always bubbling with glee. She had a zest for life that brought smiles to the faces of all who encountered her.

Even though Emelda and I had just eaten only 90 minutes earlier, Marilyn insisted that I eat something. You see, in The Philippines, a good host is expected to offer food to her guests. Marilyn was a great host! I tried to refuse, but Emelda reminded me that my refusal would be considered rude. The last thing that I wanted to be was rude to Marilyn, so I relented and she sent someone to fetch a Philippine delicacy called Lechon Manok (roasted chicken) from a nearby store. In the meantime, I was offered a plate of green bananas. Since the only bananas I had ever eaten were yellow, I asked if these were ripe. I was informed that they were supposed to be green, so I peeled the fruit and started eating it. It was delicious and it was soon accompanied by a lovely Sprite.

The Lechon Manok arrived shortly and was served with steamed rice and a plate full of oranges. It looked delicious, but I wanted none of it. After all, my stomach was completely full. I forced myself to dig in, but ate small bites of the tasty chicken to lessen my stomach ache. I ate slowly while we all chatted and forced Emelda to eat a few bites of everything (except for the green bananas). She didn't want to eat either, but I whispered that it would be rude to turn the food down (turnabout is fair play).
Lourilyn sings in her house

After a bit, I was introduced to Marilyn's daughter Lourilyn, a pretty seventeen-year-old. In a previous conversation, Emelda had mentioned that a friend of hers wanted to sing a song at our wedding. Upon meeting Lourilyn, I was informed that she was the friend who wanted to sing for us. Now, when Emelda first mentioned the singing friend, I agreed to let her sing at the wedding, but I was dubious about the friend's potential talent. I figured that the friend might be able to warble out a tune with a modicum of skill, but that she would most likely be unimpressive.

With all of this in mind, upon being informed that Lourilyn was the singer, I blurted out, "Well, let's have a sample!" After going over a few possible tunes, Lourilyn decided on Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You." I liked that song the first five or six thousand times I had heard it on the radio, but I had grown tired of it at some point. I agreed anyway, since I hadn't heard it in awhile.

As Lourilyn began singing, I realized that all of my assumptions about her had been false. Not only had they been false, they were stunningly false. Lourilyn's voice sent chills down my spine. As a warm feeling of joy enveloped my body, I looked at Emelda with a huge surprised smile on my presumptuous face. I put my arm around her and squeezed her tightly, managing to say, "Wow!" I wanted to jump up and hug Lourilyn while I was at it, but I didn't want to interrupt her song. She brought new life to the Houston song and I was thrilled that this talented young lady would be singing at our wedding.

She sang a few other tunes throughout the afternoon and we discussed which song would be sung at the ceremony. We had previously decided on "The Power Of Love" which was originally sung by British singer Jennifer Rush, but had recently been redone by French-Canadian singer Celine Dion. At the day's end, the song had not been decided upon, but I had decided that I would no longer make assumptions about the talent of people I had not yet met. We left with extremely full stomachs and hearts.

That night, I skipped dinner, much to Emelda and her family's dismay. Feeding me was fun for them. To them, a chubby person (like me) exudes health and success. While I wanted to lose weight, they all wanted to fatten me up. Since I had already ingested three full meals, I figured enough was enough. Emelda and I were tired, so we turned in early. As I laid down on the small bed next to my love, I replayed the day's events and enjoyed the view. Since I had received dozens of mosquito bites in her room, a mosquito net now filtered out the critters as we drifted off to sleep.