Volcano Child - A YA Novel in Progress by Candy Gourlay
Two weeks ago, Mouse decided to dig his way to London.

26 November 2006

Going on a Witch Hunt: interviewing the Santo Niňo

Resurrection wasted no time launching a campaign to save Miracle’s white eye. She lit candles at the church; attended church services everyday and fried up a side of belly pork for Father Bert the parish priest so that he would include Miracle in his prayers. She wholeheartedly believed that prayer would have the power to heal the white eye.

Excerpt from Volcano Child

In Catholic Philippines, the image of the Santo Niňo, as the Christ Child is lovingly known, is more ardently venerated than any other religious icon.

And here’s a claim to fame you won’t hear anywhere else: I am probably the only journalist in the world who has ever conducted an interview with the Santo Niňo face to face.

Ate Vecing – the Christ Child’s miracle workerIn the first installment of my witch hunt adventure, I described how my photographer friend Mandy Navasero and I observed and interviewed psychic surgeon Alex Orbito who performed bloody operations with his bare hands. Our next subject was Ate Vecing, a woman who performed miracles with the aid of the Santo Niňo.

The Santo Nino and Ate Vecing’s Chapel’Santo Niňo and Ate Vecing’s Chapel’ was an unassuming breeze block building with a large sign above the gate, here pictured with one of Ate Vecing's acolytes.

When our ancient Volkswagen Brasilia rattled to a stop in front of the gate, a woman came to greet us, dressed in white with a blue sash around her waist, blue rosary beads around her neck.

“Excuse us, we came to see Ate Vecing,” I said, politely explaining that we were journalists and wanted to write a story about her.

Mandy feeling for a pulse when Ate Vecing collapses

To our shock, no sooner had I finished speaking than the woman collapsed at our feet. Another woman in white with owlish spectacles rushed to gather her up.

“This is the Ate Vecing you are looking for!” she declared, rather imperiously.

“Is she all right?” Mandy asked, her voice anxious despite the fact that she was clicking away furiously with her camera.

To which the unconscious woman suddenly stiffened. “I am the Santo Niňo, I am the King of the World!” she cried in a high-pitched voice.

I didn’t quite know what to do. But Ate Vecing’s assistant seemed unfazed by the peculiar moment. She helped Ate Vecing back up to her feet – eyes still closed – and walked her into the chapel. On an altar, covered with a red plastic table cloth stood a large collection of Santo Niňo images. Rising above them was a crucified Christ and the figure of Maria Dolorosa – the sad Virgin.

“I am the Santo Niňo!” Ate Vecing piped up again.

Ate Vecing’s helper smiled encouragingly at me.

“Uh, what should I do now?” I said stupidly.

“Go ahead,” the helpful lady said. “Interview the Santo Niňo.”

All my years of journalism had not prepared me for this one. What was the etiquette when confronted with a divine interviewee?

I swallowed … and interviewed the Santo Niňo – who it turns out was pretty media savvy, opinionated about the state of the world, and given to speaking in verse.

Later, when Ate Vecing had emerged from her trance and the Santo Niňo had taken his leave, she told us her story.

Ate Vecing had a husband who beat her but she stuck by him because she was a woman of no education and they had eight children to feed. During one of his rages, he tied her to a chair and stabbed her several times with a knife. She survived and spent much time in Church begging God for an answer to her problems.

It was while she was praying at church that the Santo Niňo inhabited her for the first time. She found herself speaking in languages that she didn’t understand, speaking with wisdom and confidence that she didn't know she had.

Amazed supplicants watch Ate Vecing become the Santo NinoThe townspeople were amazed and word of her transformations spread quickly. People came from far and wide to beg her intercession with the Christ Child and the Virgin Mary. They donated sums that helped her build a home for her children and allowed her to live independently from her violent husband.

Most importantly, the group of believers that constantly surround her keep her safe from his attentions. Pictured is the small crowd that gathered while we were interviewing Ate Vecing.

Ate Vecing speaking as the Christ ChildThe Santo Niňo did more than just change Ate Vecing's fortune. He gave her peace.

Each of the Santo Niňo figures on the altar had a different facial expression. “See,” Ate Vecing explained to us. “Since the Santo Niňo came to me, I haven’t had to feel any pain in my heart. When I’m sad, the sad Santo Niňo speaks through me. When I’m angry, the angry Santo Niňo comes.”

Ate Vecing's collection of images covered a gamut of emotions and moods – even a flirtatious Santo Niňo.

Ate Vecing is truly blessed. The Santo Niňo has set her free ... in more ways than one.

Photographs © Candy Gourlay.


22 November 2006

Our Fathers

At the beginning, it was Father who was going to leave; it was Father we were going to miss. It was Father who was going to earn plenty of foreign money to fill our bellies and put shoes on our feet.

Like the characters in Volcano Child, my father went overseas to work because foreign money paid so much more than Philippine pesos. That was in the early eighties.

Orland Quimpo and family in 1986, shortly after he returned from working in North Africa. Photo by Mandy Navasero.

The week before he left he taught me how to drive the old Renault16 that he’d patched up from scrap. While he was gone, it was going to be my job to drive my little brothers to and from school (that's my family pictured above, soon after Dad came back from overseas. That's me second from left).

I remember how impossible it had seemed. How were we going to cope without Dad? What was Mom going to do on her own with six kids? How was I going to drive that car?

We did cope. Just. And I crashed the car twice in that first week that he left. But I did get better eventually.

Still, it was the loneliest time in the world.

Years later I discovered that there were hundreds of other young people like me in the Philippines who had experienced that same loneliness. Ask any Filipino, we don't have to try very hard to name someone close who left to work abroad.

When one thinks about it, the Philippines must have some of the loneliest young people in the world.

Portrait of my Dad, Orlando Quimpo, as a young manLast July, Dad died. He was 73.

To be really honest, I was relieved. He’d been dying for a long time, his last four years spent in a bed, unable to eat except for a tube into his stomach, unable to breathe if it hadn’t been for a tube down his throat, and unable to speak.

Dad had always been a brave, uncomplaining sort; my mother used to say that there was something heroic about him, that Dad was something of a superman, someone who could make things happen, you know the type. But nobody deserved to die like that.

After all we’d been through, my family saw Dad’s death as an end to a long and harrowing period. And so we were taken aback by the number of well-wishers who came to condole at his wake. People he had helped. People who had looked up to him. People whom he had cared for.

Orland Quimpo as a boy with one of his model airplanesPutting together an album of old photographs for the wake, we found images of a sparkling young man, obsessed with building model airplanes (that really flew!), an artist who was forever sketching, a tinkerer and gadget lover who could take a junk car and bring it back to life, a prize-winning inventor, a father who, confronted by children to entertain, could build a tank out of tin cans or a Christmas tree out of newspapers.

The fact was, we had forgotten that before he became a bed-bound patient, Dad had a life. And it was a life to be celebrated.

We won't forget you, Dad.

Orlando L. Quimpo died in July 2006 in Cubao, Quezon City, Philippines