As most of you know, I came home from a recent trip to Norway with a fractured right ankle. When the incident happened, I was at a loss as to how to manage getting around despite the ankle cast and a pair of crutches. Fortunately, my AirBnB host, Guang, took it upon herself to help out a stranger in need. She instantly became a friend of mine and was a perfect example of why I prefer to stay in AirBnBs rather than in hotels or inns. I also spent the rest of my vacation with some friends of family who made me feel very comfortable. My big thanks to the Tonseth family for their generosity and kindness. I hope to visit them again under auspicious circumstances.
Once back in the US, I found myself having to depend on Robert to do things for me. Being a nurse, I’m used to performing tasks for my patients and I know how trying things can be. I was concerned about becoming a burden but thankfully, my mother offered to stay with us to keep me company and help me out. As my support system, they both made this ordeal bearable. If not, I would have been wishing to be back in the Philippines where I would be able to hire some help. As much as I claim to have a fierce sense of independence, I would be thankful for the reprieve such service can provide under these conditions.
As I contemplated on the benefits if I were privileged enough to hire a housemaid, it dawned unto me that it will only really work as a temporary arrangement. As it is, it truly makes me ill at ease whenever someone have to cater to my needs and whims. Although I appreciate being occasionally pampered at spas or salons, I get this guilty feeling that I’m making someone feel subservient towards me. That is an all-too-familiar feeling as I am sometimes on the receiving end of this treatment.
In my line of work, it is ungratifying when people don’t seem to care even if you are breaking your back and running around like a headless chicken whilst trying to provide the best care you could possibly give. It’s demoralizing when patients and their families treat you like a glorified help. There’s nothing much you can do but bite your tongue even when your patience is running thin and your restraint is stretched to its limit. I guess this is why I have so much empathy for the hired help and recognize how undervalued they are in the Philippine society.
The house help has always been a part of a Filipino’s life. In its original context, the Tagalog word for servant means helper (katulong). Today, the house help is referred to as a maid (in vulgar appellation, atsay); the masters of the house in turn are “ma’am” and “sir”. Traditionally, it used to be a practice of tenant farmers to offer their young daughters or boys as servants to their landlords to whom they had incurred large debts, as a means of working off some of the payment. Even without debts, some will solicit house help positions for their children with the understanding that they will be sent to school. The traditional practice was also for the house help to work and send money back to their family; it was the role of a good daughter or son. In some circumstances, the house help would serve a household for years, even for life. These days, the maid sees her job as transitory, a stepping stone towards a job as a salesgirl, or waitress or until she marries and start a family of her own. Those who are truly ambitious and diligent might even achieve a high school or college education and will go on to achieve their goals in life.
Filipinos often lament about their financial hardships in the Philippines. They claim that people abroad are more fortunate and have a better lifestyle. Yet, I find it ironic that they are the ones who have maids, nannies, cooks, drivers and gardeners. In contrast, we expatriates have to prepare our own meals, drive ourselves to work, and put in extra hours or work on part-time jobs so we can send some money home. On top of that, we have to do our own housekeeping and laundry and then pay the bills as well.
I don’t deny that being on a “greener pasture” has provided a lot of us opportunities that otherwise might not be available back in our home country. Being here enables us to be self-sufficient, unfettered by the social limitations as long as we are willing to toil in the trenches. But then again, if given the chance and ability, would you hire a full time house help for yourself? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.