My first tattoo
She starts with a stencil. A piece of dried grass dipped in pine soot mixed with water draws the outline of her design. She picks up her tools, two pieces of bamboo. One has a thorn dipped in soot at the end, and the other is a heavier piece. She starts tapping rhythmically along her design. Tracing the lines she had drawn earlier, the thorn embedding the pine soot into my skin with every tap. It hurts, but the pain is manageable. Fang Od is a lot stronger than she looks. She’ll do a couple more passes, to make sure the skin absorbs her design well. Finally, she wipes off the blood and excess soot, revealing her final design. She dabs the tattoo with cold water to relieve some of the pain and soothes the skin with some virgin coconut oil.
Many have criticized people who get Fang Od’s tattoos for not fully understanding the culture or meaning behind the tradition. As someone whose dreams of moving to New York had to be put on hold for frustrating reasons, this tattoo is more than just a souvenir from a trip with friends. This trip gave me a lot of time to reflect and think about my life. It was an incredibly spiritual experience for me. Fang Od gave me a scorpion. A tattoo usually given to warriors to warn their enemies that this person is not to be messed with. The scorpion is also meant to grant the warrior physical and psychological strength. For me this tattoo has a whole different meaning. On our way to Buscalan, I saw a different side to the Philippines. As a diver, I’m really more of a beach bum. I’m used to pristine white beaches, crystal blue waters, and reefs that put the great barrier reef to shame. I never knew our mountain ranges could be just as grand and breathtaking. I rode on top of the bus, no windows to frame my view of the terraces. Nothing between me and sky, breathing in the sweet air, surrounded by rich green trees and colorful birds. This tattoo reminds me that there’s still so much more to see and experience here in the Philippines. It reminds me of why I love this country. It gives me reason to be happy to stay and more importantly, it will give me a reason to come back.
(special thanks to siximpossiblethings for the last photo)