THERE WAS no saying no to Ramon. He invited me to his one-room apartment one day in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan. There was no work for a week and most shops were closed during the day. There was nothing to do but watch television. Ramon, a Filipino who had worked in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, was my driver, guide, and friend. He said he wanted to show me something that I would enjoy.
THE QUEZON City apartment, like many others on the same street, has a thick grill gate meant to deter break-ins. Just as I ring the doorbell, about six children, perhaps around the ages of three to seven, surround me, saying, “Sira ang doorbell! Kakatukin na lang namin siIa (The doorbell’s broken. We’ll just knock on the door)!. Before I can muster a response, all the kids squeeze their little heads into tight openings in the grill gate; in less than 3O seconds, they have made it to the front door. “Ate Jo! Kuya Tristan! May bisita kayo (You have visitors)! they yell.
AS THE youngest of the three Leyba children, McLauren gets pampered in the manner all bunso are in a Filipino family, including being able to share bedspace with his parents. And up until three years ago, bedtime meant going through a peculiar ritual to help induce him to sleep: snuggling against his mother and rubbing one of her ears, a soporific massage that she would also give him.
THE SINGLE-windowed post office in the Manara District of Jeddah opens only between ten o’clock in the morning until around three o’clock in the afternoon. That would cover the time of day when the heat from the desert sun is at its fiercest and just standing outside already feels like being inside a furnace. But until a few years ago, there was always a long line of men sweating it out in front of the post office. More often than not, the line would be made up mostly of Filipino workers, literally suffering a slow burn while waiting for their turn to mail letters and voice tapes to their loved ones back home. Mailing letters was probably the only advantage female OFWs had over their male counterparts, since women did not have to fall in line and were allowed to approach the window anytime and drop their letters.
SOME MONTHS ago, a Danish couple living in Australia created a tempest of sorts when they posted this message on the website philippines.com.au, an online forum for Filipinos Down Under:
Danish family is looking for a part time (3 days a week) amah in Jindalee…live out. Must be 100% trust worthy, independent, love our 2 chinese kids / 9 year old retriever and master of cleaning. Prefer non-smoker and QLD drivers licence.
Start late Jan 2005.
Email Sten & Ella
In all, the booming global services industry is providing job opportunities for Filipinos seeking employment overseas not just as health workers but also as caregivers, entertainers, domestic helpers, and chambermaids. The result has been the migration, in droves, of Filipino women who now make up 65 percent of those going abroad to work.
SMACK IN the heart of downtown Manila and around the Professional Regulation Commission can be found the country’s export processing zone for nurses. There, a dozen or so nursing schools and training centers have somehow converged and are thriving, mining the dreams of those aspiring to work overseas.
In one of these schools, students called upon to recite are admonished by the teacher to speak in English. “How can you work abroad if you can’t even answer in English?” the teacher tells them.
LANI, a radiology technologist in a government hospital in Quezon City, remembers the time when she moved among the best in her department. “We used to have good senior nurses here,” she says.
Then, almost suddenly, her co-workers started leaving. “That whole year, I kept seeing resignation papers,” recalls Lani. Even the aides were disappearing, going off to London or the United States or elsewhere for good. Today, out of the 40 staff members that she had originally worked with in the department, only four have stayed behind. But even they—including Lani—have either applied or are planning to apply for work abroad.
THE IMPORTANCE of family to the individual is almost an article of faith in the Philippines. I remember the bewildered look of our respondents in a research project when we posed the question, “Is it important to have a family?” It was as if we had come from another planet, since we asked a question whose answer was obvious: yes. And just in case we did come from another planet, the respondents all zeroed in on the fact that life is simply unimaginable without the family. Whether they are down and out or happy and successful, Filipinos always have their families conveniently nearby.
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