Sleepy little town—that’s how a Davaoeño describes Panabo. If you consider the staggering kindness of strangers (they carry your bag, ply you with food, offer their homes), how most businesses revolve around the marketplace, and how a hefty pork barbecue costs only P10, then perhaps, yes, Panabo is one sleepy little town, never mind its designation as a city of Davao del Norte.
Its noise, however, is another matter.
Here on my side of Panabo, at the Women’s Resource Center, I am in the middle of the market square. While many tricycles have abandoned the streets and most stalls have put up their boards, a videoke, a jukebox, and a set of oversized speakers on a pedicab all fight for airspace with the Bingo game set up in the quadrangle.
The videoke singer relentlessly scrambles after the lyrics of If You Tell Me You Love Me, but not with My Way; he knows his way around that tune. (Yeah, a videoke isn’t a videoke without the obligatory My Way). The pedicab speakers provide the bass: you cannot hear much else beyond it. And the jukebox, well, there must be a surfeit of coins in Panabo; the poor machine has no rest.
Yet nothing beats the Bingo man.
To fill up the wide-open space, the Bingo man doesn’t just call out the numbers. He cups the microphone with both hands—lest some of his words escape further amplification—and singsongs into it, stringing the syllables in a lilting chain, like the ShoeMart salesladies of yore: GEE FORty-seven-forty-seven-forty-seven-forty-seven-forty-seven (pause, wheeze), GEE forty-SEven-forty-seven-forty-seven-forty-seven (pause, wheeze), and then a final triumphant GEE FORty-SEHHHven! He pronounces G the Cebuano way: DJEE. As he jiggles the plastic genie bottle of tiles, he hoists it over his head and brings it down roundhouse in a wide turn—yet another art form—and he cracks jokes, makes some announcements, calls out to passersby. Still in the same singsong.
I am glad for the clamor. Makes me feel safe. In this trip to Panabo for a CIDA book project, I am alone in a nursery of a daycare facility. A lone metal bed has turned it into my makeshift sleeping quarters. I am surrounded by gargantuan comic-book and fairytale characters painted on the walls: Garfield (too orange), Snoopy (pretty good), and Tweety Bird (with a disproportionate, stretched torso).
The surrounding noise stops me from gazing too often at this creepy rendition of Snow White near the foot of my bed.