A case of an OFW in the reverse
Whenever I travel out of town, mostly on official time, a work which presupposes danger and stress, I oftentimes wind up treating myself for a break. In pension houses where I stay (it is cheaper than hotels), I would engage any stranger milling around in little banter and from there inquire and at times at the lobby, prod front desk to send me a masseur or a massage attendant. I would do it as politely as I can as a matter of courtesy so that the teller would not pick any shady character to indulge his newly found client. Much more so, I prefer normal ones although the blind are good but they are noisy and would talk so much, well, talk of compensation from their physical challenge. Anyway, the normal ones, those without any deficiency are a bit on the serious side. You do not converse with them the better; they are concentrated on their task.
I was at that time in Puerto Princesa City, a chartered local government run by a former (self-confessed gambling lord) street smart bully who turned around against living in vice and became one of the most effective local government executive. The place is virtually a tourist haven, tourism is the source of revenue, and there is nothing in between because there are no industries except for a few commercial establishments owned by the local chief executive himself. The Mayor is literally the king of the city and he dispenses his role in a stately manner. His face is everywhere, on billboards admonishing the citizens to love environment and not to spoil it. Quite a crusade, a successful one at that and one which made him one of the finest political leaders in the country. For the subjects however poverty lingers from their very existence. Yet the people are contented blaming themselves for staying in the locality, surviving nonchalantly under a spell of scarcity; well, precisely because they have nowhere else to go in the first place.
While in the pension house where I chose to reside in my brief stay, as I earlier commenced at the front desk, I contracted an attendant. It was a dreary early evening that I need a relaxing massage before dousing off, a little luxury from almost a whole day of rugged travel and conference at the Hall of Justice. I lazed around the room, pacing and flexing myself before landing on my bed. Then, I heard a well-mannered knock at the door. As I opened it, a big chubby lady, quite young however based on the projection of her face and the baby fat, came into view. She was the one who will attend to me. I pleaded her that while she looks stunning, I prefer someone slim and smaller because I would rather be walked upon while lying on my stomach. She might trample me if I would pick on her. My expression was in good spirit so as not to offend the lady. The lass retreated and promise to refer another. A few minutes later, a slim, with sun-drenched complexion and a smaller version came. She is it and so I ushered her into my room and asked her the cost of the service. She said Php 350. Quite a bargain compared to where I came from. After paying, I sat on the chair and instructed her on my preferred routine. First, a scalp massage, then facial while sitting down. Then, she would wash herself and would walk on my body, slowly from the base of my neck down to the base of my vertebrae. She would do it five times. The last stage would be from the base of my neck down to my legs. I paid her earlier so that if I cannot control my senses and I would fall asleep already, she could wrap it up. From there on my instructions she can already leave. That would be the entire process.
She introduced herself as Flor Florencia (not her real name!), around 25 years old and plain looking. (She even childishly claims that she is maintaining a Facebook account despite her condition. Well I checked her account and there were around 138 of similar names. That, according to her, she finds exasperating to seek NBI clearance because she would oftentimes be hit with a similar name having a pending case. Her clearance would be released at a time she would never have use for it already.) She stands a little less than 5 ft tall, of medium built and with a good posture. On closer look, her shoulders and limb reveal a woman of strength. The way she talks also yields a person of substance. She talks in a few phrases but as always with sense. She is the oldest in a brood of 7, four of them half siblings from a later marriage of the mother. Her father died while she was 3 years old and it was her foster father whom she has known as her real father until her mother disclosed to her the real situation during her adolescent period. Her mother married her foster father a few weeks after being widowed. The mother confessed to her daughter the situation because of the seeming proximity of her sibling’s age with that of the youngest. Her mother must have been a real beauty. It never took normally year of being widowed whence she immediately got another as partner. Beautiful women indeed are a curse to their partner! Either the spouse dies young, dies as a result of vigilance or simply would die working to the bones to sustain an ideal situation. One does not live in simplicity if one is married to a beauty. It is a source of strength it has often been said, it is also a basis for danger. Anyway, notwithstanding the beauty the daughter Florence may have inherited from her mother, she was a chip of the block in terms of industry perhaps from her real father. She was, based on her simple narration, a dutiful daughter, a responsible member of the family.
While massaging my scalp however, I would notice that the way she twirls my hair is not the same as the professional masseurs would have done over in my place in Davao. I voiced my observation because she might think that I am a novice in the field. She knew whence I spoke. She pleaded for patience since she was newly ordained in such profession and she was still on her second month. And since it would be awkward to dismiss her, thinking that she may not return the payment I made, a case of no-return-no-exchange arrangement, I merely and well, sadly conformed to her miniscule skill.
I thought of just whiling the time and instead would pick a little conversation along the way. I would rather take the occasion as if I bought someone to talk with, although I had so much for the day already. I just wanted to be civil instead of pouring more tension in my mind which would contribute to insomnia later. And so, I ask her how city life under their majestic Mayor to start with.
She asked for patience since she just arrived from abroad. She was a tutor in Hongkong after she graduated from college but things turn out different from her expectations. She hungered for knowledge and worked herself until she completed tertiary education. There was nothing excitable to apply her education in the city since manual labor rather than mental are preferred and so she bid her family goodbye with a promise to send her brood to school and sustain family needs once she gets a full time job abroad. And true enough, one who is prepared gets the proverbial opportunity.
One long summer, an officer of a Hongkong educational foundation came to the city for a brief tour. They wanted Thailand at that time but the country was still nursing itself from a calamitous tsunami that visited its shores. Puerto Princesa was for them the best replacement, since the city is an almost perfect place—no storm of unimaginable proportion, no volcano, no massive earthquake and its tectonic plates evenly stack hence no tsunamis. The climate in Palawan is even predictable. A semester of rain, and thereafter another semester for sun, that would be the period all year round. It was a perfect get away for a family seeking relaxation. The Hongkong tourist and family enjoyed the drab and sleepy corners of the sleepy city. It was for them Hongkong, a hundred years ago. The same Hongkong their ancestors may have lived through. It was in one of their exploration in the barrio outlying the commercial area that they asked for some directions. They asked for the usual routes back to downtown and it was Florence whom they met. They were properly assisted and the Hongkongers were impressed. The rest was history.
Florence was recruited as tutor at Hongkong and she was a picture of accomplishment. Her audacity in the completion of her college education has finally bore fruit. She was one of the Foundation’s pioneers and she was beaming with pride. She would send every penny to her brood back home and it was a great time for her family. After a year however, things would change. The Foundation which gave her the break in the British colony suffered one damaging suit after another. Accordingly, it was more of tax evasion. It was a swift situation and at a glance the Foundation was abolished and it goes without saying, her job also. She could not find a good spin in the area unless she would explore possibilities. She went home instead with a thought of pursuing greater accomplishment since she received a better training, an add on to her collegiate years. A post graduate study in her estimation.
Coming home, she realized that her family had not jumpstarted any livelihood yet, relying mainly on her dole, when she came back. There was nothing in the coffers and worst, she had not made any savings at all. She was again back in the embers of poverty and forced to find ways to support her fledging family, composed mainly of toddlers and adolescents. Her mother had no other means except keep her brood. Her foster father was merely a reliever in the business of driving public transport—the three-wheeled motorcycle transport. She was the eldest and work she must find. In Puerto Princesa City, where tourism is the principal dish, a woman of Florence posture would either be an escort or a sexual partner for a brief period. She opted to seek employment in resorts—there are hundreds in the area—and she would find herself a doting escort even from such errant foreigners milling in the area. Peeved by the way she would be treated; she left her job and sought other possibilities. One month, then two and onwards to an almost a year of unemployment. She would merely seek solace from friends in college who were by then already recruited in the flesh trade. Florence would not humble herself to the level even if hell breaks loose.
Then an offer was made. Her neighbor was recruiting for some massage attendants, the real ones to be deployed in hotels, inns and pension houses. Massage without the hanky panky. Just the traditional and old school massage. She applied and was given a basic training. For two days, a couple of masseur would rub her down, knead and teach her the basics of reflexology. It was a training conducted in that area. She would be the subject and she must take note of the routine. Once, she feels she could also do the same to her batch mate then she could be deployed accordingly. After a few exposures, she became a certified masseur. As such, she would be paid Php 200 per every session, that is per hour. If she would be required to be called, say, four times in a day that would mean Php 800. Not bad. But if on days there would be no calls, which is more often than the rest, she gets nothing. She must have to set aside anything that comes her way and manage it before it would be expended by her family.
That was the situation when I had Florence as my masseur. She had the potential to succeed and she was as a matter of fact on track towards fulfilling it. She was already abroad sometime in the past. Until something unthinkable happened. She went back with nothing and must start from the beginning. It was a situation where she would find herself employed along with those whose qualifications were unfortunately drop outs in their primary education years. A case of a round peg in a square hole. Or as it were a case of an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) in the reverse.
And how was it a reverse when what Florence had undergone after school was a continuation of her academic pursuit with a Foundation. She was abroad as a matter of fulfilling a profession until an order of termination was issued, as if in a positive sense, she was accorded another diploma. She thought that she has already equipped herself to face greater challenge. She returned to her place determined to make a better life. She has spent quite a considerable time learning and applying enough discipline to create some advantages. She is ripe to make a name back home. Coming home with thoughts of doing well, with thoughts of achievement, with thoughts of pursuing a difference. Coming home to face real work was exciting, but what happened unfortunately was that she never had a fulfilling work at all. She was nowhere near her dreams; she had bouts of nightmares instead.
As an academician, I was deeply forlorn hearing her case. I could not appease my mind from asking questions. Her situation of course begs for answers. I could not contain myself in abusing my thought concerns. How can this happen? Or, rephrasing it can this really happen? There are cases where those who got through college education became luckless for abusing their advantage. There were simply those who would even use their credentials to abuse others if not to pursue fraudulent means. It is understandable if not expected. But in a situation where one descends and depreciates for no foul means at all is something I cannot fathom. I am perplexed and puzzled if not petrified. If this is one situation which has began and is already happening, then there is something wrong, something erroneous in our body politic. This could be a sign, an indication of social demise and probably a symptom that something explosive will happen. If revolution will not happen, then God forbids, the country may be swallowed by a deadly catastrophe! Here is a situation with biblical admonition reminding its followers to take note. The case of Florence for me is a sign of the times!
By: Ven J. Tesoro
August 8, 2010