The National Pastime

A number of children ran past me and raced down the dirt path ahead. I decided to follow as their enthusiasm suggested something exciting was about to occur. The trail eventually opened up into a clearing of concrete rubble, rusted reinforcement bars, and other debris associated with failed development.

A couple hundred motorbikes and tricycles were parked neatly around a makeshift cockfighting arena. A plastic tarp covered the fighting grounds from the elements. Spectators, gamblers and odds-makers cooped together, side by side, on fences made of bamboo and scrap wood. Women congregated away from the action; they were more concerned with the gossip of the day. Young boys stood by the sidelines, silently observing, waiting for their day to enter the ring.

This was more than a cockfighting match. It was a local affair, a community event no different than the high school basketball games I would participate in back in my youth.

My tricycle driver suggested we hit up the Saturday derby. We puttered down the main road and slalomed in and out of single lane traffic until we reached the faded white arena.

Everything about this event was more official than my previous encounter with cockfighting. Entrance tickets needed to be purchased. Bright spotlights lined the ceiling of the grounds. Advertisements decorated any available surface in an attempt to persuade spectators and participants that their brand of chicken feed would produce the strongest cock.

I wasn’t very keen on the blood sport itself. It was the participants that provided the greater spectacle. The interplay between the odds makers and gamblers during the brief interludes between the matches was both frightening and thrilling. Spectators threw their wagers – crumpled up peso bills and coins wrapped in cigarette box plastic – at bookies who were screaming out their odds and winners. It was strange to observe the sense of order and organization that existed amidst the chaos of screams, sweat and cigarette smoke.

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