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Butiki means lizard in Pilipino. Every single Philippine home, big or small, rich or poor, has at least a few of them, you may find big and little lizards scurrying around on ceilings and crawling on walls, they are really everywhere, behind the closets and curtains, on the back and in front of our television, under the bed and next to the refrigerator. These impressive critters unexpectedly jump out of drawers and cupboards, scaring the jeepers out of me. Waking up in the morning and staring directly at this big-eyed lizard's head, that is sticking its slippery tongue out at me, is not a very pleasant experience. When pairing, they have a tendency to sometimes drop off the ceiling they're stuck on, losing their balance and fall on our bed or floor, giving me the shivers all over my spine. I am not really afraid of lizards and I don’t have any resentment against this indigenous vagabond, in any form or variety. I just don't like the idea of one creeping up on me and will limp along all over various parts of my body.
A Butiki spends much of its time high up on ceilings and walls, but a legend goes that every afternoon all Butikis in the country descend to kiss the ground. At exactly six o’clock every night, the Butikis are supposed to come down and make slight ticking sounds like quick kisses. It is believed that the Butikis with its tiny ears could hear an ancient heartbeat and a never-ending lullaby coming from cracks in the soil. A night-time song, sung by a mother’s heart that was ripped out by her own son who was tested by God, deceived, by a beautiful woman and later changed into a lizard, kissing the ground and begging for forgiveness.
Trying to photograph a Butiki is great fun and fascinating, because they are shy and very hard to snap it is a challenging and intensive activity. It felt like an eternity when trying to get a good shot, every time I had the miniature mugger in focus, thinking I had a perfect picture, it turned its back on me and wiggled away, waiving its tail at me. Just like it wanted to say: "sorry mate, not now, better luck next time". It took some time to get the images I wanted, however, I have learned that simply observing these short legged carnivores helped me to understand, respect and appreciate them. By getting closer I realized these critters are more afraid of me than I am for them, so keeping more distance and using another lens on my camera did solve this problem. I discovered the beauty of our small housemates and became interested in their, sometimes funny, behaviour. While in the process of waiting for the ideal image, pushing myself to the limits of my patience, I saw bustling, harmless individuals crawling in their own wayward manner to and from each other, sneaking on their potential prey, many times a careless mosquito, and eating its victim alive after a rapid surprise attack. They truly are amazing busy stalkers, always on the move to get their daily food supply.
I was astounded to see these creeping drifters remarkable ability to defy gravity and attach themselves to smooth surfaces and fascinated by their capacity to walk on walls and upside down on the ceilings. I could not help wondering how the world would look from a lizard’s perspective, most of the time seeing the earth upside down. If one of these die-hards was a little bit too enthousiastic when fooling around with the opposite sex and fell down on the ground, it nearly always made a four-claw landing. But once lying on its back it was incredibly helpless, awfully vulnerable and not being able to return on its paws by itself.
Choosing its personal space close to electric light it made chirping sounds when interacting with other geckos, a kind of noise that is reminiscent of a cricket. I have to be honest and admit that I love to listen to these well-tuned trailblazers, I realize it is a warm and familiar sound that is an inseparable piece of this wonderful place I call home.
Like the iconic Jeepney and the Bahay Kubo, the Butiki is a symbol of the Philippines and an integral part and parcel of every day life. It is a general believe that they bring good fortune to their host family; simply killing them will bring bad luck. The Filipino culture is rich with colourful superstitions about almost everything and anything, passed down through the generations, it is said that if a Butiki falls on your head, it will start raining, when a house lizard makes its sound near a door, it means there will be a visitor very soon, if the sound is coming from a window, you have received mail. If one opens an umbrella inside the house, a lizard will fall from the ceiling and a Butiki indoors will prevent a snake from entering the building. Believe it or not but these ubiquitous nocturnal mosquito killers are, when crispy fried, also considered as medicinal and presumed to be a cure for asthma and cough, some people told me that this unusual and bizarre local delicacy tastes like chicken. I'm not a medical expert or an authority on food, I always like to try any regional home cooking and in fact I have an appetite for the culinary unusual, all the same, I reckon I will definitely pass the opportunity to taste this once-wriggling and tropical treat.
Even though now I passively accept the existence of the dozen or more of these rural dwellers in and around our residence, I do have mixed feelings about them. I can adapt to changes very well, so it is not that hard to acclimatize to the life in this equatorial climate, but that does not mean I will regard my newly acquired scrubby friends as welcome guests. They are indeed, in every sense of the word, wonderful, versatile and useful creatures of Mother Nature; they help us keep the number of stinging insects and aggravating bugs in our house down. I know they do not bite and are not poisonous, I acknowledge the fact that there is absolutely no need to be afraid of these indoor cliff-hangers but it's best to leave them alone and I understand there are much dirtier and more dangerous squirming, strolling and flying intruders roaming around in Mindanao.
However, despite all the good reasons being told to me, regardless their indisputable advantages, notwithstanding the gecko’s significant contribution to the ecological system and nature’s diversity on this charming and exotic islet, I just wish, certainly for my own peace of mind, that these uninvited squatters would stay where they belong, in their natural habitat ...outside!