Class cancelled on account of demons

Posted on November 20th, 2006 by Aaron.
Categories: Culture-shock, PeaceCorps.

This week I taught for the first time.

The first year’s algebra teacher asked me on Monday if I could sub for her. She had to attend to arrangements for the big sports provincial meet over in the next municipality. All of Palawan will be here next week and its sucking the oxygen out of everything else. The teachers are expected to do all sorts of student sports training and preparations in addition to their normal responsibilities. Guess what gets left out?

Anyway, the first day was pretty cool. I gave them more homework than I think they’re used to (that is, any), and I was appalled at their math skills (5 minus 6 does not equal 11), but it was surprisingly fun. They were excited to have “sir” there, and laughed at my poorly pronouned Tagalog and Cuyonin.

As for the second day… Well.

I was in the middle of my second class (out of four) when a girl started screaming.

Everyone ran to the window. “Umupo! Umupo kayo! Sit down!”, I said, but no one listened, so eventually even I went over to the window. You could see a crowd gathering around the windows of another classroom where the noise was coming from. Kids started darting out of my room to go see.

I just figured it was a fight. At the high school I went to, the only reason anyone would ever gather into big crowds like that would be for a fight. The girl screams just confirmed my suspicion– clearly, some girls were duking it out in there.

I gave up trying to teach and went to the office to sit around until the next period came up, when it was time for my third class. Going to the next classroom, I realized that it was the same room where the screaming had been coming from. All was quiet now, but there was still a residual crowd milling around, probably watching to see if there would be a rematch.

I walked into the crowd, peering into the room to see if there was anything going on. “Ano’ng nangyari? What happened?”, I asked several kids. No answer.

I went in the room, put down my bag, and looked around. The kids were all kind of hanging around, expectant. I made a shooing motion toward the windows, “Umalis! Umalis kayo! Leave! Go to class!” and some of the kids ran off, laughing. Then I tried to start class.

One of the front-row boys hesitated, then came up to me. “Sir… Sir, we are having an exorcism.” He gestured to the back of the class, where a girl was sitting facing the rear wall. Another girl had her hand on the sitting girl’s head and her lips were moving. All the kids were watching them.

Normally, I take things out here in stride. No electricity? Fine, I’ll wait for it to come back on. Broken computers? Fine, I’ll wait for a donation. An excorcism–?

The idea of there being an exorcism taking place (with no teachers present!) seemed so preposterous that I seriously thought they were messing with me just to get out of having class. I lost my patience, my cultural sensitivity burning away. “Well, why don’t we take the ‘exorcism’ over to the office so we can have class in here??”

The kids just stared at me.

“Fine!”, I said, storming back to the computer lab/teacher’s lounge. “I don’t know how to ask this without sounding insensitive”, I announced to the room, “but…how are you supposed to have class when the kids say they’re having an exorcism??”

“Sir, don’t feel bad. There’s nothing you can do. They were playing spirit-of-the-coin and this is what happens.”

Apparently, the teachers knew all about what was going on. Why weren’t any of them taking care of this??

Spirit-of-the-coin (sometimes called spirit-of-the-glass), is a pinoy version of a ouija board. Its a piece of paper with the alphabet, numbers, ‘yes’, and ‘no’ written on it. Two people control the movement of a coin/glass on the board. Supposedly, the players invite a spirit into the coin/glass, which will then answer questions. A well-known side-effect of this game is, of course, possession.

As I listened to the explanation, my patience came back and I started getting really curious. If I don’t have class I may as well go watch, I thought.

Standing in the crowd of kids outside the classroom, it didn’t take long for things to get interesting. The girl decided to get up. When she came out the door, the crowd scattered like birds, kids running and screaming everywhere. The girl stalked around the campus for a while, at one point making for the front gate. Her walk was slow and deliberate, her arms slack at her sides, her head level and not turning. Her face was blank and serious, with a kind of anger beneath the surface. I don’t know how to describe her eyes.

Her friend seemed the only one brave enough to venture near her, and would try to grab her arm and bring her back, but the girl would wrench her arm away. The crowd of kids swirled around the girl at a safe distance, everyone jumping back whenver the girl would change direction.

Eventually, she made her way through the buildings to the back of the school, suddenly breaking into a run and sprinting off into the forest. The students went nuts, everyone running after her.

Two older male students brought her back, one on each arm, the girl struggling wildly against them. Out of nowhere, Mam Noble appeared, an old lady who teaches social studies. “Someone bring me holy water! I need holy water and a crucifix!” As the girl struggled between the two men, Mam Noble kept trying to put a rosary around her neck, which made the girl completely freak out. She started yelling and growling, baring her teeth and trying to bite them, shaking her head wildly.

The men wrestled her onto a nearby bench, where the girl kept trying to scratch and kick them. Mam Noble would mumble Hail Mary’s and the Lord’s Prayer, sometimes shouting, “In Jesus’ name!”. She would make cross signs with her thumb on the girl’s forehead. They held the girl’s hands tightly, forcing the fingers out straight so they couldn’t form a fist.

All through this, the girl’s eyes were closed. She would try to bite the rosary around her neck, or her clothes, or the hands of her exorcisers. She would shake her head around and bare her teeth. Sometimes she would growl in frustration. She never spoke.

This went on for maybe twenty or thirty minutes.

Slowly, slowly, the girl calmed down. The head thrashing got slower, the growls less frequent. Eventually she passed out. When one of the students carried her to a trike for delivery to the health center, she was completely limp.

The next day when I entered that same classroom, the girl was there as if nothing had happened. She looked a bit tired, maybe, but that was it.

Consider me culture-shocked.



Comment on November 21st, 2006.

Wow. I have no response to that.


Comment on November 20th, 2006.

I was unable to capture any of this on film because, of course, my camera has been broken for nearly two months. In an amazing stroke of luck, one of the students at the school used his cellphone to film a video of almost the entire episode.

However, I hesitate to post the video because it is rather disturbing. And, also, I don’t want it to seem exploitative.

On the other hand, it’s hard for Westerners to believe that this sort of thing actually happens (I’d had no idea). My description of it seems rather inadequate.

So I’ll post the video, but keep this in mind: this phenonmenon deserves our respect, whether you think it is actually supernatural or not:



Comment on November 27th, 2006.

Aaron, I really enjoyed the story, keep them coming. I guess you will have lots of experiences like this before you are finished. Love Paw Paw


Comment on November 27th, 2006.

Good gravy! I mean, I’ve seen some funny ways to get out of math class, especially when the questions are hard. But this is a first. Seriously though, you wanna talk about supernatural, what could possibly be the answer to five minus six?! It’s mad I tell you, MAAAAAD!
You know Aaron, when a spirit leaves one body it may travel into another host, human or otherwise. Be on the lookout for haunted areas or artifacts around the school now. The possessor may not be done trying to exist in this world.
Good luck…5 minus 6…I just can’t get over it:)