Filipineses


Self-discovery in Cebu

The tanim-bala scare that had magnified into an obsessive search for the most secure luggage and body wallet for my sister and me, chewed up a third of our travel budget to Cebu last January. Add to that, one with extra space for safe-food packages and emergency pills for allergies, especially from anything ingested. 

How comforting to find out that we didn’t have monopoly of such irrationality—at YVR, our fellow pilgrims also streamed in, pushing gigantic versions of our ultra-streamlined unbreakable medium-sized luggage. All nodding acquaintances of each other at Holy Rosary Cathedral or in our parishes, we high-fived that early evening, flushed with anticipation to attend the 51st (and second in the Philippines) International Eucharistic Congress; except for a few who had gone to the spiritual event held every four years, most of us would be first-timers.

Asked by my sister what to expect in a congress, I hesitated to share what I recall of the few I had attended—possibly ho-hum stretches of talks and plenary sessions. But from the hefty kit handed to us on our arrival, the schedule had seemed daunting instead, with chanted prayers, Holy Masses, catechesis, and witnessing. We had taken on the identity of “delegates” by then, with an ID bracelet to be worn even in sleep, also a laminated tag with our name and country in bold font.

None of my imaginings humored me from hereon: Not the danger-laced daily trek through hot and dusty streets to get to the proceedings—a cop-escorted luxury coach fetched us from and took us back to the hotel; or the staid picture I had of the John Paul II Pavilion—the open-walled congress site, with cloth panels for a ceiling turned out cheery, even roaring and jubilant. In it, swarmed 15,000 delegates daily, possibly more, as well as hundreds of religious, mostly Filipinos, including the Papal Legate Charles Cardinal Bo, bishops, archbishops and cardinals from Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, singing, praising, and applauding.

And soon we relaxed into just being ourselves, focusing cameras, clicking for selfies, crisscrossing aisles to find washrooms, and at lunch on Styrofoam boxes, picnicking, swapping food and life stories, and, yes, texting—all amid impassioned catechesis and homilies, which always extolled the Filipinos’ unabashed “love for the Eucharist.” We had formed a family by Day Two, with our seatmates on both sides, marking in the vastness our space but lost our fellow Vancouverites since.

From Day One, we whirled non-stop with events like visits to the city’s churches, a barrio fiesta, and on to the last three days, which ended physically grueling. Take these: a five-kilometer sunset-to-evening procession of the Eucharist that ballooned to an estimated million, which though, with fat candles, not a strand of hair got singed. Next, a concelebrated Holy Mass on a seething afternoon that sent us up the topmost bleacher seats of the Cebu City Sports Complex, which former Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal officiated for 5,000 first communicants, himself one such at the 1937 congress in Manila.

The concluding rites at Statio Orbis (Stations of the World) way out next door to the humungous SM Seaside, in five of the 25 hectares, where a template of the San Pedro Calungsod Shrine’s altar served the occasion, again got inundated by another estimated 1 million Cebuanos, among whom my sister and I managed to squeeze in, shaded by tall umbrella-bearing women. On only two occasions, two fainted from the heat; all seemed drunk with an inexplicable sense of simply flocking together in response to Christ’s “convocare” for supper, as Luis Cardinal Tagle described it.

The congress would be, for my sister, a burst of self-discovery: herself moaning in grief with every TFC news of disaster, crime, abuse and neglect, causing endless poverty, she finally realized why we, Filipinos, indeed, survive—we do possess an incredible gift, nay, blessing of incorrigible joy, apparently inimitably ours.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, The Market Monitor, Manila, Philippines, April 3, 2016

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A caregiver is: Prepared for this?

April drizzle maybe less gray and likened to baby’s hair, deceitful in lightness, but still seeps to the bones. Fewer layers of inner wear maybe warm enough but with thin cotton outerwear, you could get soaked with yet icy water.

That’s why I imagined she must have been shivering, even if hardly obvious, as we came closer to each other by the garden shop on my way home. The zipped-up pram she pushed looked like that of a baby, while walking with her, a woman hooded for the rain, who had seemed, to me like her Canadian employer, gesturing instructions. Up close, she met my eyes in that wordless supplicating look, recognizably Filipino, framed by her hair now drenched in soft rain.

Warm and dry back home, remorse assailed me as to why I didn’t offer my umbrella—I could have covered my head with my coat’s hood. But ignorant of the truth, it would have been simply impolite. Still I kept wondering if she had come to Canada unprepared not only about the weather but much more of the unexpected—though apparently, there’s less of these with recent changes made in the Live-in Caregiver Program.

Could the baby be the only one in her care, hence, merely a childcare provider? Or does her job include housekeeping, laundry and meal preparation? Wouldn’t that sound like a “domestic” then? Indeed, a typical wanted ad for a fulltime caregiver in the dailies reads like this: “For a family of four but job mainly for our four-year old son from feeding, bathing, taking him to prep school, organizing indoor/outdoor educational activities, such as reading kids’ books, doing craft, also bringing him to libraries, parks, a swimming pool, and wherever he can play with other children.” The ad underscores, “flexible time a must,” and inclusive of household work though Live-out “paid CAD11/hrs with medical insurance and monthly bus pass.”

We’ve known this all along, haven’t we? But even with imaginings of flawless blue Canadian skies, I, for one, have dwelt only on snippets of their stories, especially their dramatized sacrifices to make life possible back in the Philippines, which had virtually be-medalled them. Live-out as a choice, however, has lessened rather horrifying stories since, like that of Cita’s first job—her quarters in a basement had no real flooring, hence, winters had been brutal. For Faye, who left a teaching job and a father’s lingering heartache, loss of freedom or the sense of being “owned” proved quite a struggle to rein in. But pining for home, especially during winter’s early darkness, almost drove Rebecca to just break away like many others during those years when Smartphones and iPhones have not yet had the instant connections now possible. Too, a live-out arrangement has opened possibilities of renting a three-bedroom Recent sightings, indeed, paint brighter frames: it’s easy to spot them with their wards, a few carrying the child a la Nanay—in that heartbeat-leap we cradle a baby close to our breast; picture a little boy’s blond head at rest on his nanny’s shoulder, though most just bundle a baby with toys in a stroller.

Sparks of our ka-artehan, also tend to cheer jaded mornings on the bus as in a little girl, sometime ago—dolled up in a frock with matching ribbons, socks, and even a small purse, who, maybe sensing admiration, would smile back at us while her nanny fussed over the tiniest that might fall out of place.

No matter, my sentiments peaked to melodramatic heights by the time my sister came home; having had more interactions with them, she waved off my suppositions, declaring, not to worry about the Filipina in the rain, who like most caregivers without doubt, carries an inner strength of steel. “I knew of one who fed horses and pastured sheep yet laughed about it,” she closed the subject.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, The Market Monitor, Manila, Philippines April 17, 2016