Over the years, I have come to realise that Filipinos are very big on superstition. Things like “don’t transfer seats once you’ve started eating because you might switch partners” or “don’t cut your nails at night because something bad might happen to your parents”. I really really don’t understand the reasoning behind them, or even how they came about. I do believe in praying for my well being and doing spiritual healing, so I choose to NOT believe in those superstitions.
An expression I have encountered many times since I started working in the baby photography industry is “pwera usog”. I never understood what that meant until I had my own child and was subject to the practice of pwera usog, much to my dismay.
To those of you who don’t know what it means, usog is a Filipino superstition wherein it is believed that when a stranger greets a baby, the child becomes susceptible to illness. If the child develops a fever after that stranger’s greeting, or to avoid the child developing fever, the stranger places his/her saliva on the child’s forehead and says, “pwera usog” (excluding usog).
I’ve heard of people practicing that without my truly understanding what it meant. But one afternoon, while we were having merienda (afternoon snack) at the mall, another child wandered over to where my little girl was sitting and started playing with her. Personally, I don’t mind at all when other kids I don’t know play with her. I allow my little girl to play with other kids under my supervision. I think it’s cute and teaches them to be friendly.
The child’s father followed and saw my little girl and said that she was cute. After which, he licked his thumb and was about to put it on my little girl’s forehead. Thankfully, my yaya (nanny) had fast reflexes and pulled my daughter away. I must have given a look of horror because he immediately said, “Pwera usog!”, and followed it up with, “Sorry, akala ko naniniwala kayo (Sorry, I thought you believe in it).”
At that moment, I didn’t care if we offended him. I believe in excellent, not just good, personal hygiene and the practice of pwera usog doesn’t fall into that category. I honestly feel that the act of putting saliva on a child’s forehead may be the one to cause her sickness rather than the greeting. My husband and I teach our daughter to wash her hands before she eats. When our relatives are sick, we tell them not to kiss her. We also tell them not to touch her face if their hands are not clean. We ourselves refrain from kissing her when we are sick or have just come from a place that exposed us to germs. So a stranger putting his saliva anywhere near my daughter is just plain unhygienic.
It was awkward after that incident, but I told the other child’s father, “Sorry, hindi ako naniniwala. Ok lang na maglaro sila, basta huwag hawakan yung mukha niya.” (Sorry, I don’t believe in that. It’s ok with me if they play, just don’t touch her face.) And that was that.
I honestly don’t know how else I could have handled that incident. Thankfully, we haven’t had any more encounters with pwera usog.