Villia Jefremovas in Sagada

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Villia JefremovasMay 29, 2006

Villia Jefremovas, PdD.

I'd been writing about Aklay's cooking since I met him in Sagada last year. As good a chef as he is, he does not enjoy a monopoly in Sagada's culinary scene. Meet Villia Jefremovas, PhD. No, the PhD is not for cooking, although it might as well be. She's an anthropologist from Queen's University in Canada and the world's leading expert in Rowandan affairs.

Sagada Regular
I thought Sagada and I go back...since 1983. Villia on the other hand, has been a part of Sagada's landscape since the seventies. As a vibrant 27 year old, she braved the interior of the villages to interact with the elders. Now that most of the elders are gone, and their sons are now the new elders of the community, Villia continues to be a part of Sagada's cultural scene in no small measure.

Love for Life
One thing obvious within the first 30 minutes with Villia is her love for life. Her energy bursts at the seams. She dances, cooks, tells anecdotes (and says it like it is), conversant with global and local affairs, creates pottery, etches, etc. You'd be hard pressed to pigeon-hole her in a box. Her travels have taken her far and wide within the human spectrum. When she's in Sagada, the village comes alive.

House by the Cliff
It's hard to talk about Villia without mentioning her magnificent house by the cliff. It's still a work in progress but most of it is done. The remarkable thing about the house is that it's built on top of rock outcroppings. More remarkably, the rocks were NOT leveled off to make way for the house. The house was built around the existing rocks. The rocks make the surrounding walls of her kitchen and living room. The view of Echo Valley from the dinning area is simply jaw-dropping. The house is being built methodically by the town elder who has been trained by the Japanese. Imagine a house built with the meticulous detailing of fine furniture. The corner joists are dove-tailed to create that seamless fit. It's tough to pull off something as magnificent as this.

No Land for Sale
Since land cannot be purchased in Sagada, she acquired a 50-year lease on the property. This is by no means a simple feat. In Sagada, you earn these things. It's not enough to just show up with the cash. Perhaps more than any other foreigner who stepped foot in Sagada, Villia, in no uncertain terms, has earned her stripes.

Epicurean Slant
Villia's Rowandan expertise is equalled only by her love of the kitchen. It pays to be in her short list because she enjoys cooking and feeding her friends. I could imagine there's a long line to that short list. Dinner at her place makes you forget you're in a remote mountain village - foie gras, gnocchi with wild mushrooms, opera cake, bagels, cream cheese, grav lox, Moroccan bread, cookies (to rival Monsieur Felix and Mr. Norton), cream puff, couscous, etc. - all made with love and made from scratch. Getting all these ingredients is nothing short of pulling rabbits out of a hat - but that's Villia for you.

Ending Thoughts
During this latest visit, Villia is perhaps the most unexpected surprise for me. Given my history with Sagada and Villia's much-earlier involvement with the community, I'm surprised we didn't meet sooner. You find magnificent personalities in the most unexpected places. With Villia, Aklay, Steve, David, Siegrid/Manang Tessie (perhaps two of the most forward-thinking locals), Janet and a whole host of them too many to mention, it is becoming clear to me that Sagada's treasures are the beautiful people she keeps.

--- TheLoneRider

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