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Archive for June, 2008

Tinay (Part IV)

You might want to read previous parts of the story first: Part I, Part II, Part III

Love the second time

Tinay’s marriage could not last long. She was sensible enough to realize that there is no hope nor a future for them. For as long as her husband prioritized gambling and the easy “single life” over their family, it was doomed to fail no matter the amount of hope she held in her heart.

Besides, in a society so supportive of single mothers or abused women, Tinay was predictably going to ditch her husband anyway – and she did. She knew she could survive given support from government, employers and her personal circle of friends. It was a low and difficult phase of her coloured life. She has been through a lot of suffering and hardships from which she emerged unscathed. This phase was no different. In no time, she was bouncing back – and how!

Shortly after the separation, Tinay’s life got charmed again. Her friend who introduced her to the Englishman who had cold feet whom Tinay met before getting married, set them up to get re-acquainted. This time, true to Tinay’s go-getter attitude, she made sure that he knew how she felt. She did not give him any room to doubt they had a future. In simple terms, he had no way of denying they could have a future together.

The famous Filipino saying “Sa hinaba-haba man ng prusisyon, sa simbahan din ang tuloy,” can’t be more appropriate. But they did not end up literally in marriage but in each other’s arms, nevertheless. Having been badly hurt by her first marriage, Tinay had second thoughts about committing herself in that way again. Well, the guy did have plans to marry her, but how she ended up having her way is yet another sub-plot in this story.

Right after she moved into her boyfriend’s house, she immediately set about to put her own trademark on the whole place. In her own words, the place was “ugly”, which must be an exaggeration or just an effect of living in opulent royal houses back in Jordan. Besides, what can one expect from a bachelor’s place, anyway?

She asked him to finance a renovation. Tinay wanted a nice, re-fitted kitchen to be built to her own specifications, which does not come cheap, by the way. So she was given a choice between a brand new kitchen and a wedding. Tinay the ever practical girl, chose the former. This pleased her partner, who commented, “ At least you are not after me”. The man must have realized that Tinay is not after legally binding him to her to have her hands on his money or property. She wanted to make a nice home for the three of them, even if it means leaving her with no legal hold on any that the man owned. The man was pleased, I suppose.

Now, the house clearly exudes a home atmosphere, no doubt due to Tinay’s relentless efforts.

I am happy for Tinay, who has found the love of her life, at last. I know their relationship is for keeps, having found someone who loves her and cherishes her as a person. She has come a long way from the barrio girl who was not even offered a glass of water after trekking for hours to ask for a few kilos of rice. Now, she drives her own car – a gift from her boyfriend. Having a supportive partner and a wonderful daughter, she is at the harbour of her life at last.

When we first met one cool evening in the summer of 2007, she told me as she was seeing us off after a BBQ in their residence, “You are my friend now, not your husband anymore.” When I heard that, I realized, this is one quality that makes Tinay so resilient – the ability to open her heart to someone or something new – be it an adventure, a friendship, a challenge. She opened herself to me as a friend the very first time we met and that made me remember her. It is a privilege being her friend and being the one to share her wonderful story.

The author with Tinay (seated) in her stunning kitchen

The End

For our next feature story, I will tell you all about a diminutive Filipina entertainer who can put to shame some of today’s famous singers. A true performer, she considers the world her stage, though she calls Hamburg, Germany her home these days. Watch out for Maritz Moore!

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This is a follow up to my earlier post about how I learned to adjust my cooking of Filipino dishes to whatever ingredients are available here in the UK. I am going to talk about my latest culinary adventures this time, with the end in view of giving you a picture of how it is to survive day by day on food that one, we are not familiar with, two, food that have been cooked with a few modifications depending on the availability of ingredients, and three, authentic Pinoy dishes we somehow manage to put together.

Laing galore!

My Laing Packaged Ready for Distribution Among Friends – For Free!

First in my account is my laing dish, which is fast gaining popularity among my friends here. Laing is a Bicolano dish, known for its hot, spicy and creamy flavour, thanks to loads of hot pepper and coconut cream thrown in.

My first attempt at cooking the dish here was last February this year, when I so wanted to taste something authentically home-cooked Pinoy food. I found dried taro leaves in an oriental store, grabbed two cans of coconut milk, a few pieces of pepper and a pack of smoked mackerel fillet.

I did not realize that cooking half of the pack of dried taro leaves would yield enough serving for more than 10 people! Of course, when the dried leaves were hydrated, they swelled beyond my imagination and my saucepan’s size for that matter. So, I transferred half of the batch into another saucepan and froze most of it to avoid spoilage.

Two days later, my husband and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary and we invited some friends over for lunch. The frozen, then re-heated laing made an appearance on the table and it was a hit! And the rest of the story followed after that.

One of my guests was having her daughter Christened two months later and she remembered tasting the dish. She asked me to be her daughter’s godmother and in the same breath, requested me to cook the same dish, plus another dish she also ate in our anniversary lunch, for the occasion. How could I turn her down?

Then, six weeks later, another friend yet again, remembered the dish and so I found myself smelling of laing again as I cooked for this friend’s daughter’s Christening party – not to mention being one of the kumares again (though it was my hubby she put in the list of godparents).

The ball keeps rolling and this coming July, two of my closest friends here are throwing big parties for their seven year-old girls and you guessed it right! – I’m gonna cook laing again for both occassions. Sometimes I wonder if they will ever warm up to any other alternative native dish like pinakbet or my special munggo. Oh, well, whatever, I am more than happy to oblige my dearest Pinoy friends. Like me, they also long for foods they all grew up eating and for that, it is an honour to play the cook for them

Shepherd’s Pie, Anyone?

The next vignette in my account is about my friend Odette’s Shepherd’s Pie (Odette is one of the two throwing a birthday bask for her daughter this July). She attempted to cook this dish for her son’s 11th birthday last May. Shepherd’s Pie is mainly minced beef with some vegetables cooked in an oven dish with mashed potato on top. It is a complete meal by itself, with potato (carbohydrates), meat and veggies. It was one of the dishes I learned to prepare in my son’s Make and Take session in school, where parents and kids do one-on-one activities for bonding. It is quite popular among the English but the same cannot be said among the Pinoys here.

Well, in that particular party, Odette was practically begging us, her guests, to try her Shepherd’s Pie to no avail. Only one guest was nice enough to actually try it and no one else. When I saw this, I realized that I am not the only one, desiring to satisfy my taste buds with Pinoy palate-pleasing dishes. I could only laugh at Odette’s desperate pleas for us to try her Shepherd’s Pie.

To be honest, I just threw away a whole batch of the same pie yesterday – as it also remained untouched by my hubby and two boys for almost a week. Well, Odette’s cooking is not actually the problem. It is the lost cause of seducing Pinoy appetites with the wrong type of food, that’s all.

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“Buying ingredients for my next culinary adventure”

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Read on and Be Proud

They say that there are three commodities that can be found anywhere in the world – Levi’s, Coke and Filipinos. I heard this joke/pun/whatever back home in the Philippines some years back. At that time, I have not yet fully understood the scope of this phenomenal migration and deployment of my countrymen throughout the globe. When I heard that comment, I laughed because of ignorance and naïvete.

Not anymore. Today, I can fully appreciate the effects, implications and side effects of this Pinoy mass migration. It is absolutely overwhelming the moment one fully grasps how widely-dispersed Filipinos are. This implies that we have such a tremendous impact on world economy, values of the coming generations – both in the Philippines and our host countries, culture and other aspects of life.

In the Philippines, we hear a lot of talk about the billions of dollars pouring in through OFW remittances – and also about broken families, misguided youths and long-distance family life. The latter are quite disturbing to say the least. I am genuinely concerned about the long-term effects OFW mass deployment has on Filipino family life.

But on a grander scale, can you imagine how OFW’s affect the order of things? Below is a news feature from the Arab News. In spite of my deepening worries about the bad effects of working abroad and living families behind, I look at this piece of news as a ray of sunshine through the dark uncertain future ahead. It is not the rainbow I am hoping for, but a ray of sunshine nevertheless. Read on and be proud.

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Imagine a world without Filipinos
Abdullah Al-Maghlooth | Al-Watan, almaghlooth@alwatan.com.sa
Muhammad Al-Maghrabi became handicapped and shut down his flower and gifts shop business in Jeddah after his Filipino workers insisted on leaving and returning home. He says: “When they left, I felt as if I had lost my arms. I was so sad that I lost my appetite.”

Al-Maghrabi then flew to Manila to look for two other Filipino workers to replace the ones who had left. Previously, he had tried workers of different nationalities but they did not impress him. “There is no comparison between Filipinos and others,” he says. Whenever I see Filipinos working in the Kingdom, I wonder what our life would be without them.

Saudi Arabia has the largest number of Filipino workers — 1,019,577 — outside the Philippines. In 2006 alone, the Kingdom recruited more than 223,000 workers from the Philippines and their numbers are still increasing. Filipinos not only play an important and effective role in the Kingdom, they also perform different jobs in countries across the world, including working as sailors. They are known for their professionalism and the quality of their work.

Nobody here can think of a life without Filipinos, who make up around 20 percent of the world’s seafarers. There are 1.2 million Filipino sailors.

So if Filipinos decided one day to stop working or go on strike for any reason, who would transport oil, food and heavy equipment across the world? We can only imagine the disaster that would happen.

What makes Filipinos unique is their ability to speak very good English and the technical training they receive in the early stages of their education. There are several specialized training institutes in the Philippines, including those specializing in engineering and road maintenance. This training background makes them highly competent in these vital areas.

When speaking about the Philippines, we should not forget Filipino nurses. They are some 23 percent of the world’s total number of nurses. The Philippines is home to over 190 accredited nursing colleges and institutes, from which some 9,000 nurses graduate each year. Many of them work abroad in countries such as the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Singapore.

Cathy Ann, a 35-year-old Filipino nurse who has been working in the Kingdom for the last five years and before that in Singapore, said she does not feel homesick abroad because “I am surrounded by my compatriots everywhere.” Ann thinks that early training allows Filipinos to excel in nursing and other vocations. She started learning this profession at the age of four as her aunt, a nurse, used to take her to hospital and ask her to watch the work. “She used to kiss me whenever I learned a new thing. At the age of 11, I could do a lot. I began doing things like measuring my grandfather’s blood pressure and giving my mother her insulin injections,” she said.

This type of early education system is lacking in the Kingdom. Many of our children reach the university stage without learning anything except boredom.

The Philippines, which you can barely see on the map, is a very effective country thanks to its people. It has the ability to influence the entire world economy.

We should pay respect to Filipino workers, not only by employing them but also by learning from their valuable experiences.

We should learn and educate our children on how to operate and maintain ships and oil tankers, as well as planning and nursing and how to achieve perfection in our work. This is a must so that we do not become like Muhammad Al-Maghrabi who lost his interest and appetite when Filipino workers left his flower shop.

We have to remember that we are very much dependent on the Filipinos around us. We could die a slow death if they chose to leave us.

You can read the original article here.

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Tinay Part III

Love, Failed Love

Upon arriving in England, she lived with a few friends initially, until she was able to get a job. Tinay is a hardworking person, and so she got lots of odd jobs in London. At that time, jobs were aplenty for foreigners like her who were willing to do just about anything – babysitting, being the most popular. She had a string of very kind American employers who were just so generous to her.

Aside from being a hardworker, Tinay is also very friendly, outgoing and spontaneous. Shy is not one word that can be applied to describe her. She is very genuine and a real go-getter. She made a lot of friends and she made them fast.

One of these friends introduced her to an Englishman who was “kinda” interested but was not showing enough of it to merit Tinay’s serious attention. They met once and had two failed dates. The first date they were supposed to have, the English guy had cold feet and requested for a postponement, a move which did not rest well with Tinay. So, when the alternative day came up, it was her turn to stand him up. Well, at that time, they both didn’t know what they were about to throw away.

She thought that perhaps, those were signs that they were not meant to be. She did not think there was any future for them. The wavering, ambivalent approach of the Englishman towards her was just not her style. For her, when she wants to have something, she has to get it for herself. So, believing that the Englishman was not the only fish in the ocean, she got into another relationship with a Filipino who practically grew up in the UK. This Filipino guy is younger than her, and did not show much promise as a husband material. But they got married nevertheless and sadly, it didn’t last.

Tinay suffered much during that two-year relationship. This phase of her life alone can again make for another sub-plot that is sure to gut even the most soulless of hearts. She was taken advantage of by her husband who was immature and really addicted to gambling. He gambled off his money and Tinay was left to fend for herself and her new-born daughter.

At one time, they lived in the living room of her mother-in-law’s tiny flat as they had no rent money or anywhere else to go. She went on babysitting for her employers and she would bring her baby along. Since her babysitting jobs took place from dinner time up to about midnight – when her employers are out for the night, she and the baby would go home in the middle of the night – regardless of the weather. And if you are not familiar with the English weather, you can fairly have an idea by thinking of a neurotic, impulsive woman who changes her mind instantly and can really be very mean at times.

One night at about 11:00 when her babysitting duties were done, she was walking along the street while the rain was pouring down. She was praying for an empty cab to pass by. Luckily, a cab driver noticed that she was pushing a buggy (stroller) in the middle of the night in the pouring rain. He took pity on her and picked her up. Those were little miracles Tinay can remember from that dark phase of her life. And where was her husband? Gambling.

There were times when she would call the police for protection from threats and physical abuse by her husband. One time, when her visa as a legal spouse of a British citizen was still to be released, therefore making her technically an illegal alien, she summoned police after a serious row with her husband, and fearlessly admitted to them that she was an overstaying alien. She simply banked on the compassion of the police to protect her because she needed it, never mind if her immigrant status (at that time) could backfire.

This is characteristic of our heroine. She is fiercely-independent and assertive, not looking at the problems but always finding a way to solve them. At least in two instances, when she needed the services of a lawyer and could not afford it, she represented herself – just on her own. It is difficult to put a person this feisty down.

On the brighter side, she had her beautiful daughter from that relationship, and she gained British citizenship courtesy of her being married to the Pinoy-Brit hubby of hers. That was all that could be said as positive in her life back then, plus the fact that love came knocking round the second time.

To be continued…

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Tinay Part II

Exit from Jordan

After 10 years in Jordan, Tinay felt it was time to move on. She only had one choice for her next destination at that time – London. She thought that she might have a chance to make it better in that famed city. She visited London once before, while working as a Nanny to Jordan’s royal relatives – this is one of the perks of her job, something that she talks about only in passing, as if traveling with royalty (even if she was just one of the staff) was the most natural thing to do. She accompanied her ward in one of their trips to England and from there, she got the idea that England might just hold more promise for her.

The bare-footed barrio girl who was refused a half sack of rice by her own uncle was about to start on the next great adventure of her life. From the tiny kingdom of Jordan steeped in a culture so alien from her own, Tinay is now going to one of the richest nations in the world – a country which once held power over a third of the whole world. What fate awaits her there? At this time she did not know. But one thing was certain – she was not bare-footed anymore and she had a host of exciting opportunities for her to better her life and her family’s.

Her exit from Jordan alone makes for another interesting story, which proves that the gods must really be watching over our heroine. Upon her resignation from her job in the hospital, she planned to exit. In Jordan, employers hold the passport of their foreign workers (at least that’s what Tinay knew the protocol was). To put her plan of exit in motion, she “borrowed” her passport from the hospital (which was her employer then), in the pretense that she needed it as proof of identity. In truth, she wanted to use it to apply for a visa to the UK.

To give you an idea about how Tinay behaves when she sets her mind on something, I must tell you that she does not look at the obstacles. Thus, the guts to apply for the UK visa, without knowing what will happen next. Well, her visa got approved within that day that she applied. According to her, she just tried and when she got it the same day, she was flabbergasted!

With that fantastic news came a “happy problem” – she could not return the passport to the hospital anymore as it had a UK visa stamped on it already – proof that she lied about the reason for borrowing it. She reached the point of no return – she had to exit or else. Remember, she resigned already and her time in Jordan was almost up.

Again, she applied her tried and tested formula: TRY. She initially tried to exit via Israel (I don’t know why she could not exit legally from Jordan. I think it is because her visa requires her to return to the Philippines – something that she didn’t consider doing at all). She traveled by taxi to Israel. Unfortunately, she was not allowed to exit from there. She went back to Jordan and decided to wait for a few days. Shortly after her failed exit, she attended a party where she met a friend of hers. This is how Tinay is. Faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem of not knowing how to get out of Jordan to her next destination, she still had the energy and enthusiasm to party – which worked to her advantage in this instance, actually.

This friend of hers whom she met in the party, is also a Filipina and is married to a Jordanian military man. She told the couple about her failed attempt to go to England via Israel. To make a long and winded story short, the military man offered to have her cleared to leave Jordan – just like that! So she made it to the land of kings and knights in 1996.

More to follow… Read about how she found love and lost.

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Since I blogged about Madonna Decena a few weeks ago, I think it is only proper to give an update, or some sort of a closure to her stint in Britain’s Got Talent, a talent search competition here in the UK.

Unfortunately, Madonna did not make it to the finals as she was not chosen by the voting public on the night she performed as one of those who would compete in the big finals night. Nevertheless, she gave a very good performance – a rendition of the song “The Greatest Love of All”.

Also, Charlie Green, the 10-year old half Filipino hopeful who wowed the audience and the judges during the audition, also did not make it to the next round of the competition.

We hope that Madonna and Michael will be able to carry on pursuing their respective dreams in spite of this temporary setback.

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Meet our First Featured OFW

This is the first true-to-life story I am sharing here. I will be featuring some more of this kind as I gather more materials from around the world. People I will write about are not famous – only brave Filipinos who dared to make a life outside their country and emerge victorious and successful. This is the first one of them….

This is the story of a feisty Filipina, who has made something out of her life here in the UK. It is not something grand but at least, she is getting by and doing better than how she would have had if she stayed put in the Philippines. Not that I encourage leaving one’s own family and country for the sake of doing it. This is all about admiring this lady for her guts to dream big and follow that dream wherever it led her – against all odds, by the way.

Our story starts in a very poor province in the Philippines. Let us call her Tinay – a forty something Filipina living in the UK today with her lovely daughter and a loving, doting British partner. I met her through my husband, who met her in one of the hospitals he used to service as a Mobile Radiographer. Tinay would bring home-cooked Filipino food to work and share them with her colleagues, my husband included. That is how they became friends. Eventually, she would invite my husband whenever she hosts little BBQ parties in her garden.

She is naturally open, friendly and welcoming of her kababayan. In fact, I consider her my first friend here in England. I was just so taken by her enigmatic and feisty personality that I blogged about her right after that June night meeting in one of her BBQs.

Tinay’s life is so colored, exciting and full of twists that it is proving difficult for me to start doing it justice in writing. I will try anyway and beg for your forgiveness where I will fail.

It was in the 70’s, when she was just a Grade V elementary school pupil, that she was sent by her mother to borrow a sack of rice from one of her uncles (her mother’s brother), two villages away from their house. They had nothing more to cook for supper that day.

She walked on dirt roads with no slippers under the blazing sun for hours. When she got to her uncle’s house, she was not even offered a glass of water to drink. Worse, she went home empty-handed as the uncle refused to lend them even just half a sack of rice.

It was one of the saddest days of her life – she felt so sorry for herself and her family. To her young mind, that rejection was difficult to accept. When she arrived and told her mother of her unsuccessful errand, she saw her mother turn away to cry in silence. It must be painful to be turned down by one’s own brother at such a time of dire need. Tinay felt her mother’s pain and her heart bled just seeing her cry in silence.

Young as she was, she decided to do something about their life – to get out of poverty and give her family a better future. From where she was then, it was a tall order – still to graduate from Elementary School, with no hope of ever getting to university. But she believed.

Fast forward to the early 80’s, Tinay was studying Midwifery in Manila. Just to support her schooling, she stayed with her uncle (another brother of her mother’s), and helped in the house in exchange for her board and lodging. She recalls how her hands would bleed from washing clothes by hand, and how she balanced school work and being a maid in her uncle’s house. Her cousins treated her more like a maid than a relative. Tinay still remembers how one of her own cousins would not even look at her – like, she was not at all worthy of a glance.

One sunshiny part of her life was that, her Auntie – her mother’s sister, was kind enough to help Tinay’s older sister to join her in Jordan. At that time, her Auntie was working as a domestic helper in one of the royal households in Jordan. Her employer was the cousin of the ruling monarch at that time. The elder sister joined their Auntie as a domestic helper as well. The Auntie supported her schooling, while she stayed at her uncle’s house for board and lodging in exchange for her service.

Then, her kind Auntie discovered that she was treated more like a maid than a niece. She also learned that the uncle did not give the money she sent to Tinay the first semester of her first year (which he gave eventually when Tinay was about to leave his house). The Auntie decided to take her from that house and put her up in a boarding house.

She finished Midwifery with the support of her fairy godmother (her Auntie) and her sister. Right after graduation, not even able to practice her profession for lack of job openings in the Philippines, she left for Jordan to be a nanny in the same household where her Auntie worked.

After a few years of being a Nanny, this feisty, tiny waif got a job as a hospital assistant in that country – even assisting in open heart bypass surgeries! Not bad for a Midwifery graduate, I must say. All in all, she stayed in Jordan for 10 years.

To be continued…

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