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Archive for August, 2009

Balikbayan Box

the boxes still being lovingly filled

the boxes still being lovingly filled

One morning last month, as I was walking home from work, I met this big, British guy with this equally big smile on his face. He is more on the senior side age-wise. I smiled back and then he stopped to converse with me.

big guy: “Hi! I think I know you, have we met before?”

modernmariaclara: “I don’t think so.”

big guy: “My wife is also a Filipina like you. You are very lovely.”

modernmariaclara: “Thank you.”

Then I mumbled something about how wise of him to have chosen a Filipina for a wife.

big guy: “do you still send money back home to your fmaily?

modernmariaclara: “Why, of course! We Filipinos love our families, you know.”

We made small talk for two to three minutes more and then we went on our separate ways.

I mentioned this because sending money and gifts to our families back home is really a trademark of Filipinos wherever they are. Our families are the reason why we want to go look for greener pasture and for most of us, once we find those greener pastures, we never forget to be a channel of blessing for our loved ones as well. For this, I am mighty proud to be a Filipino. Now, I can perfectly understand why even back in my elementary days, we were taught about having close-knit families as one of the things we should be proud of as a people – because it really is very noteworthy in our culture.

The big guy knows very well that Filipinos send money and everything else they can to their loved ones. He knows because he sees it in his wife, who, in spite of being here for many years, is still sending support to her loved ones. For someone coming from a society like Britain, that is something very significant. Here, they do not have the same fierce love and connection with their family. Oh well, they do love their families, no doubt. But they are so concerned about their independence and privacy that their connection is somewhat weaker when compared with ours.

They have the option to put their elderly in nursing homes and they have the government to help them look after their family (in various ways) when they are hard up in life. When they are sick, they have the National Health Service (NHS) to run to for free medical attention and hospitalization.

For us Pinoys, we can’t rely on government for any help, not even for creating jobs for us so that we need not leave for greener pastures in the first place. That is why we imbibe this strong concern and protectiveness for and over our families. It is this same familial concern that urges Pinoys around the world to not forget where they come from and who they have left behind.

Thus, the Balikbayan box. It is known worldwide as a Filipino invention. Wikipedia even includes an apt definition:

“A balikbayan box (literally returnee to one’s homeland box) is a ubiquitous cardboard box containing any number of small items and sent by an overseas Filipino known as a “balikbayan“. Though often shipped by freight forwarders specializing in balikbayan boxes by sea, such boxes can be brought by Filipinos returning to the Philippines by air.”

In every balikbbayan box sent home,  one can find the love, compassion and hope of  OFWs and Filipino migrants who care enough to fill these giant boxes for months and send them. Every pay day, they go shopping for cheap deals and bargains, car boot sales or charity shops and then lovingly pack and re-pack them all in the box. There is no hard and fast rule when filling the box. Anything that fits in is alright to be included – canned goods, goodies especially chocolates, nuts and biscuits, clothes (brand new or second hand), shoes, toiletries, cosmetic products, books, condiments and spices, electronic products – whatever! You name it, as long as it fits in the box, Pinoys send it home.

When these precious boxes reach home, the recipients gather to open it and it becomes almost ritualistic. The children are shooed away from the big box while the able-bodied male members of the family position it at the centre of the living room where everybody waits in silent awe. The whole family or clan form a circle around the most revered box. Then, one person is assigned to open the box and out comes the contents. What happens next after that depends upon the temperament of the family – it can be a mad scramble for whatever they can grab inside, or an orderly and systematic distribution of the goods.

I am writing about this because after more than three years here (more than two years for me and the kids as my hubby arrived here a year ahead), we are sending home a Balikbayan box next month, or when it gets filled. The boxes (one jumbo and one bulilit) are almost filled already. Slowly, we have been filling it with anything that we think our loved ones need. I hope and pray that it will reach them (as some get lost on the way) and that they will be blessed by the items we put in there.

a few more items to fill the jumbo box

a few more items to fill the jumbo box

Two more weeks, perhaps, then my packing and re-packing will soon be over and our Balikbayan box, which is filled with our love and concern, will soon be sealed and sent home. It is a wonderful feeling to be doing this.

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