This summer, I happen to have always been living in somebody else’s home. Sharing almost all the living space with others provides me with an opportunity to know more about their personal lives and hopefully in the end, understand them better, who come from different cultures, diverse walks of life, and social groups.
One week ago, I arrived in a small village on a small island of Philippines. Teacher told me that I would be hosted by a rich family living in a fancy house. The local girl Stella then led us to the family, pointing at the big red gate, “that’s the fancy house”. Then came a middle-aged woman and an adolescent boy, welcoming us with a gentle smile and a poker face respectively.
Settling down, we joined the family at the dinner table. There are four kids in total. A 14-year old boy (Aaron) who held a poker face previously, a 12-year old girl (Ashley) who gave shy smiles whenever we met her gaze, a 7-year old girl (Angel) who sat right opposite to me, smiling wide with her blinking eyes and white teeth, and a 5-year old boy (Khean) who was energetically running up and down. The middle-aged woman is their mom (Myrne) and Ashley told us their dad is working in Saudi Arabia as an engineer. Later I learnt it that in Philippines, if a family is well established in village, most likely they have family members working abroad sending money back.
Dinner started with a prayer led by Ashley. The village is predominantly Catholic and Myrne’s family is no exception. It was my first time experiencing the Catholic prayers and found it quite enjoyable especially when doing it with others’ company. Being grateful instead of taking everything for granted is a virtue that I need to learn, as the only child in family.
Tired from the all-day travel, I didn’t initiate a conversation. The family are also not the talkative type. So the dinner went on quietly except Khean’s noise once in a while. He soon finished eating and ran away to play. Myrne was eating quietly and took her plates away to the kitchen once finished. I followed her and tried to do the dish washing. She refused immediately, “visitors on the first day, are not allowed…” I backed down without further insistence, deciding to wash dishes starting from the second day.
For the following days, we spent quite a lot of time together. Going to the school performance and the band parade, I saw how the kids were participating in school activities and interacting with their peers, as well as how their mom was taking care of their needs. Taking the kids to the beach, I sat aside watching them have fun playing in the sea. Their laughter echoing with the waves under the blue sky, among the towering coconut trees, made such a nice and vivid picture that I would want to sit there forever being their babysitters.
Khean (at the far right) performing in school activities
Ashley building sand castles on the beach
Ashley (on the right) and her cousins
The kids started to be closer to me even including Aaron, who later I found out is the extremely shy type that I have to take initiatives talking and joking with. We also started to call Myrne mommy. The dinner table became more lively.
Ashley is the one who’s responsible for washing all the dishes. She started it from last year replacing Aaron. Looking at her quick movements handling the plates, which were always put in order, I cannot help but feel ashamed especially when I then did it on my own. Tessa (my roommate) and I decided to do the dishes together on the third day. Since there were in total seven people using plates and utensils, mountains of dishes needed washing. Stuck in the dim kitchen with mosquitoes flying around and ants climbing on the wall, we spent almost an hour to finish all. “How did you manage to do this all alone?” I asked Ashley in disbelief. She seemed pretty calm and let out a slight smile. I wonder what she thought of us when seeing us washing the dishes clumsily and slowly. I will ask her.
While the dishes being done in the kitchen, other family members (sometimes with kids from other families) gather in front of the TV. Sometimes it’s quite busy that all seats are taken, and the other times if there is still space, I would sit down and watch TV together with them. The other night, there was only Myrne and Khean was sleeping on the couch. I got the chance to chat with her about the family.
“Manila is too crowded and polluted. My husband wants the kids to grow up here.”
After the second child, Myrne’s family moved to Tubod Mar. Her husband is the one who supports the whole family. He has been working in different parts of Saudi Arabia for ten years and only comes home once a year. Because of his relatively high income, three younger kids can afford to go to the international schools in Jagna.
“You must really miss your husband.”
“Yes yes, but…I’ve already got used to it…I miss my husband for every second but then I have to focus on other stuff.”
Myrne is always busy with housework. Sending kids to school, preparing their lunch, washing clothes by hand (and then hanging them up one by one), cleaning up, watering the plants and cooking… Moreover, being a mother of four kids demands lots of patience. When you are exhausted and desperate for a quiet time to have a rest, suddenly the kids come back with their dirty clothes. After changing the clean clothes, they started to chase after each other in the living room and make noises. I’ve never seen Myrne frowning or sighing. She always possesses the calm face whenever what happens.
“I can see you are an independent woman. Tough and strong.”
“I have to be. It’s not that I don’t have any problems. I do have. But I need to handle them.” “I’m also training my children to be independent. I cannot stay with them forever.”
The society seems to have negative perceptions towards housewives. Some feminists are arguing against it, considering it as the poisonous remains of patriarchy. But in Myrne’s case, I only saw both parents, mom and dad, are working hard to support their children, although in different ways.
“I miss my husband so much because he’s such a kind loving man.” She said, looking at the photos hanging on the wall, of her and her husband when they were still young. She was really slim at that time and got fat after the birth of Angel.
“What do you want your kids to do in the future?” “I don’t know. It’s their choice.”
I wonder what her dream was.