The sun is already fierce at 10 in the morning as I make my way through narrow winding roads up the hills on a little Vespa-lookalike motorbike. On my left, in the distance, the turquoise sea stretches away, oblivious to my quest. After an hour, I wipe the sweat from my brow, remove my helmet, and bring my bike to a stop in front of a ramshackle little shop. The man sitting in front smiles expectantly and asks, “What can I do for you?” My answer is a question. The question I have been carrying with me, afraid to ask because the answer eludes me.
“Where can I find a faith healer?”
I am in the town of San Antonio, on the mystical island of Siquijor in the Philippines. A short ferry ride from the quaint little city of Dumaguete has brought me here on a quest. A quest that shaped itself in my head when I read the Lonely Planet’s description of Siquijor, which stated eloquently that for most Filipinos, “Siquijor is a mysterious other-world of witchcraft and the unknown.” I was beguiled. I was enticed. The year of 2015 has made me lose faith. The world seems to revolve around darkness. From a crumbling edifice of trust, I want to seek out a tiny seed of faith. A few days amid mystic folk healers seems like a good start to restore my faith. And turquoise green seas would help too, along with gentle green hills. So there, I was. Seeking. Yet to find.
“You need faith healer? For what?” asks the man.
“I need to heal,” I say, equally nonchalantly.
He nods, unperturbed by the vagueness of my answer. Or was it the correct answer? I would never know. “Go to the Ponces,” he says. “Further up the road and turn left.” It seems simple, these directions, but as with all simple things, I am hopelessly lost. Everyone I ask just point to further up the road. And the road doesn’t seem to end. A cloud gathers, obscuring the sun as I stop in front of a house where a woman is working in the garden. “Ponce’s house?” I ask. “Ah yes, up the road,” she says. Oh come on! No more “up the road!” Did I say it aloud? Because here she is, on the bike, guiding me to the Ponces. This is the Philippines. These are its people. I am lost no more. It wasn’t far once someone was there to show me the way. And it really is up the road. Annie and Ando Ponce, faith healers, the board claims.
The house itself is fairly nondescript. A group of men are playing cards outside. Children of all ages swarm in and out. I wait outside as Annie is in a session. Teresa sits with me, giving me company. “How many days you stay in Siquijor?” she asks. Three or maybe four, I venture. “Too short,” she laughs. “You need more time. You just come. You go. You here. You there. That’s why you are always tired, you know.” My life diagnosis.
The other session ends and we enter the hut. The living room, if I can call it that, is even sparser than the outside. A shrine adorns the walls, Jesus peering down at me. Amulets ring the walls. Shelves are lined with mysterious potions. I take a close look at one. Fittingly, it is called Love Potion. Bracelets line a table. Annie gestures me to sit down on a chair in the middle of the room. She is young, perhaps in her 30s. A crucifix dangles from her neck. She takes my hand, and reads my pulse, her thin fingers barely touching my wrist. Teresa translates for me. “Oh, you too much tired. Stress.” Right, I know that. Yes, I am tired. I am stressed. But isn’t everybody? Teresa looks at Annie, who says something in Tagalog. “You think too much. That’s your stress.” I blink, stunned into silence. That isn’t everybody. That is very me. Annie then lays a blanket over me. From behind, I hear Annie intone while gentle white smoke wafts over my eyes. She rubs oil on my forehead and gives my shoulders a gentle massage. The whole “session” takes less than 15 minutes. I sip herbal tea after, and Ann tells me that she is part of a generation of faith healers, having inherited the ‘gift’ from her father. I look at her, trying to find signs of…power, authority, divinity. I don’t know what I am searching for. And then I know it. I am searching for cynicism while professing to search for faith.