For the past 2 years I’ve had the honour and luxury of having a wonderful Filipino maid. I won’t say her name her but lets call her Geraldine.
Geraldine first started working with my wife and I two years ago. I remember her first few days with us. She was very shy and quiet. Sometimes I couldn’t help but feel that she might even be afraid of us but I guess having to live for the first time under a stranger’s roof far far away from home can make anyone scared.
In the first few weeks I often found her in her room looking out the window. When she looked at me I could see the tears in her eyes that would immediately prompt me to ask her what’s wrong. But she always just brushed it off and said nothing.
We thought that perhaps to add to the anxiety of being away from home alone, she probably missed her family too. So my wife and I arranged for her to call home as often as we could. She would give me a phone number with a +63 prefix on it written on a small torn piece of paper with pen.
When I dialed the number I could see her eagerly waiting….. sometimes nobody would pick up the phone on the other side. Then I would see her turn away disappointed.
At the times when someone did pick-up though, I left her with the privacy of my room to talk and I could always hear her excitedly talking to her family in Tagalog. I never knew what she said but I could sense nothing but happiness in her tone. It was like the only thing she looked forward to each day.
Two years passed and things changed.
- We got to know more about Geraldine. How she had 5 kids back in Philippines. The eldest being 17 and the youngest being 4. years old.
- She had gotten a lot more comfortable with us so she talked and joked more with us. She smiled a lot more too and I never saw her again with teary eyes.
- She had discovered other things to look forward to. After dinner she would watch American Idol or The Voice on Astro. Or sometimes she would watch some Filipino drama on TV.
- She had become family… so much that I almost don’t like referring to her as our maid. I prefer the word “babysitter” since she now helps take care of my newborn son.
Then as the two years came to an end, she had a decision to make. She could either go home for good with whatever money she earned, or she could extend her stay with us. She decided to extend her stay… but to go back to the Philippines for a month before she returned to continue work for another two years.
Geraldine returned from her month off yesterday with a new hairstyle and looking happy. I don’t know if it was happy to see my son FIghter or happy to see us again but she was happy nevertheless. I asked her loads of questions. Like what she did at home during her month off (she said she spent most of it doing housework, washing clothes and doing laundry for her family… we joked that even at home she had to work).
One of the stories she told me got me a little teary. When she left the Philippines to work in Malaysia, her youngest daughter was 2 years old. By the time she returned, her daughter was 4.
Geraldine’s daughter didn’t recognize her as her mom but spent a month to get to know her. She would bring her daughter around and her daughter would often call out to her “Hoi hoi… buy me candy”.
Finally the month came to an end and it was time for Geraldine to head back to Malaysia. As she said bye, her 4-year old daughter asked her not to go.
Geraldine said to her 4-year old “I need to go so I can earn money and buy you more candy”.
Her daughter disappeared for a few minutes and then came back with something in her fist. She announced “I have money. Don’t go…”.
Then she opened her fist to reveal a few coins.
This story made me remember the sacrifice that Overseas Filipino Workers (or workers from any country for that matter) make day in and day out. The cost isn’t just being away from their country. It’s being away and not being able to see their kids grow up. Geraldine would never know what her 4 year old daughter was like when she was 3…. and there are many many more overseas workers just like her.
We often talk about how hard we work. The long hours, the stress we face. But compare it to the sacrifice Geraldine and workers like her make and it’s really nothing. Suddenly the fact that I could see my son every day after work was a luxury beyond anything else I could ever ask for.
Society has us admire people who work hard and become successful businessmen or artists or actors or any of these things. But what can be harder than having to leave your kids for two years at a time and miss watching them grow up?
The worst part is that we sometimes forget. Heck we sometimes even forget that our maids or helpers are mothers to some kids some thousands of miles away. So my hope of this article is that whoever reads this is reminded of the people our maids are and the monumental sacrifice they make. And that they are mothers to kids back home who really really miss them