At a dinner with friends, someone brought up the release of the rapist/murderer/mayor. The mood changed. It spoiled dessert for me. There was major grumbling.
But while everyone agreed it was preposterous and made sounds of righteous indignation, I mentally noted that it did not seem angry enough. Even I sounded rather tame.
Did I detect a hint of apathetic indifference?
One gentleman shrugged and said, “What else is new? Nothing surprises me anymore.”
The conversation then switched from a light banter to a serious and solemn discussion about the pathetic condition of the world. It included a Sona (State of the Nation Address) of our own.
Again I heard that tone of resigned hopelessness in our voices.
At the end of the evening, I felt discouraged. Alarmed.
What is it that makes us either play blind or throw our hands up in meek surrender? Have we really given up? Have we forsaken all hope of ever changing our dismal state of affairs?
My friend remains optimistic. She pointed out the immediate reaction of our young people who took charge and immediately flooded social media with howls of protest. She sounded reassuring.
“The release may not even happen,” she said. “Our youth have spoken. They are not about to let it happen. I think seeing all those kids on the streets of Hong Kong has inspired our young people to raise their voices and resist any impending travesty.”
I felt better.
Dinner was delicious. Our hosts called in their cocinera to take a bow. Well past her middle age, Rosa grew up in their home. “It’s so hard to get good help these days,” bewailed the lady of the house. “They are all off to some foreign land!”
And I remembered Josie.
Josie was our cook years ago when we moved the family back to the Philippines after decades in the United States where I had raised our children, kept house, cooked meals and held down several jobs.
Truly, I loved it. But after more than 20 years of that lifestyle, I was tired and ready to retake my señora role.
Josie was a godsend. She was not a chef but was a quick learner and never complained. I would hear her humming happily while doing her chores.
We were sad when she left us to work as a housekeeper for a diplomat in the United States. She was thrilled. America beckoned and although she was sad to leave us, she believed it was the best and only way she knew to support her mother and siblings and their families in Ilocos.
From day one, Josie sent all she earned to her mother to pay for their food, medicines and school tuition for the children.
Josie eventually married a car mechanic from Florida. But she never stopped working and faithfully continued to send money home. When her husband died, Josie, who by then was a US citizen, decided to stay.
She came home only once. It was Christmas. She brought boxes full of gifts for everyone and felt like Santa Claus.
30 years later
Almost 30 years later, Josie still makes a living as a cleaning lady for her select clientele of affluent families in Boca Raton, Florida. She lives on her own and drives an old car a client gave her.
I saw her again last year. She looked well and now speaks fluent English, with an unmistakable and lovable Ilocano accent.
She is the same loyal, loving, caring person that I knew many years ago. But she has developed some spunk. We all had a good laugh when she told us about an argument she had with a Florida policeman.
I asked, “When will you go home?”
Josie’s reply: “My mother is now 93. On her birthday last year, I wanted to go home. But I figured that the cost of my trip could buy her the birthday party of her dreams.
“My mother never had her own party. So I called one of my nieces to organize a dinner to be catered by Cabalen and we ordered all her favorite dishes and a big cake. I hired the best modista to make her a long gown.
“On the big day, we did Facetime. All her family, her friends and neighbors were there. I have never seen her so happy.”
I watched Josie as she spoke. Tears streamed down her face, tears of pride and joy.
Over the years she sent six of her nieces and nephews to university. “I have an engineer, a nurse, a doctor and a teacher now back home.” Her voice was full of emotion. “They are married now and have children. They have good lives, good jobs and their own cars. They take care of my mom. They fixed her house. That’s enough for me.”
Josie continues to work. Every dollar she earns she still sends home. She has not saved a cent for herself.
When I admonished her to also think of herself, she smiled: “Someday I’ll come home. But for now, this is my mission. It is my life’s purpose. One of us had to do it, otherwise those kids would be useless vagrants today.”
My granddaughters and their friends listened. They were in tears. One of them said, “I have never known anyone like her.”
God bless Josie and the over two million Filipino men and women who work their hearts out, so far away from home.