Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The ride home

[Updated. Ms. Fernandez has resigned.]

The recent brouhaha over an article that appeared in a magazine nobody ever reads made me remember coming home from overseas with a plane full of returning OFWs. No I felt no desire to slash my wrists. What I felt was a mixture of amusement and admiration. On a trip home from London I noticed the long queue at the terminal from Pinoys going home. It was December, close to Christmas, and needless to say our kababayans' luggage were full of pasalubong, including their carry-ons, some of which tipped the scales at over 30 kilos. Unlike the experience of our portly jet-setter, the people at the check-in counter (Air Canada personnel for some reason, although we were flying PAL) never yelled at them. Instead they were amused and understandably exasperated since they had to find a way to get all these bags and boxes into the plane, and finding storage space in the overhead compartments for the overweight carry-ons. When it was my turn to check in, the girl at the counter asked, "You have any luggage?" I showed her my one suitcase. "Just one?," she said, wide-eyed. "Any hand-carried luggage?" I showed her my carry-on bag which I lifted with one hand. "That's it?" She was incredulous. I guess I was the only one in that flight that wasnt an OFW. Having been assigned to our London office for less than 50 days, I dont qualify.

Our OFWs on the other hand were all so hyper. They were a happy, boisterous lot, all filled with excitement, and talking to some of them you'd know why.

"How long since you went back home to the Philippines?," I asked. Ten years. Five years. Six years... They havent seen family and friends for ages! No wonder they were so high. And it was this high that our jet-setting commentator couldnt quite comprehend due to her undiagnosed social autism.

Seated comfortably, I could only be amazed at the sense of community they exhibited even though it was probably the first time they saw each other. Yes, some did say to each other, "Taga-saan ka? Domestic helper ka din ba?" But instead of thinking I had died and went to my very own private hell, as our intrepid social commentator imagined herself to be, I smiled and thought, Wow, if only they could bring this sense of community with them outside the plane and into their own barangays. We sure could use some of that. I sat next to a lady in the aisle seat and immediately she struck up a conversation and asked me where I came from. "Galing po ako sa London," I said.

"Ako rin," she said. "Saan doon?"

"Sa Chelsea po."

"Ay malapit lang pala tayo. Gaano ka na katagal dun?"

"Dalawang buwan lang ho. Pinadala ho ako ng opisina namin. Kayo po?"

"Ten years na ako hindi umuuwi. Cook ako dun kay [name of famous cricket player--forgot the name]." And she went on and on telling her story about how rich her amo is, and how he asked her to come back soon, and how she had very little time to shop for pasalubong. She said she bought lots of bath soap and the English gentleman behind her on the queue at the supermarket said, "You must be the cleanest woman in all of London" and we had a big laugh at that one. But she mostly told me about her family back home and how she's trying to bring her children over to the UK if they want that. All this time, another Pinoy behind me also started to strike up a conversation. He was actually standing and leaning on the lady's backrest. He said he's an engineer and he's from one of the northern cities in the UK and he's coming home for the first time in five years. He was a younger bloke and he told stories about his job and his smoking pot with his friends after work and I remember wondering whether he was on pot at that point because of his rambling narrative. All this time he was standing until we were ready to take off and as soon as the Fasten Seatbelts sign was off, he stood up again and started talking. I was tired and after a few minutes said, "Tulog muna ako ha?" And he said ok. It was a peaceful flight, believe it or not, as they settled down. They got hyper again as we neared Manila, and when we landed, they broke into spontaneous applause.

I remembered thinking if I could do what they did: stay away from loved ones for years at a time, expecting things to be the same back home despite the amount of time spent away. I wondered about wisdom of the very Pinoy trait of giving pasalubong to neighbors and relatives to share the 'bounty' knowing that it isnt really bounty but something you bled and sweated over. I came away from that plane with a lot of admiration for our OFWs. Scenes like that were repeated in other flights home, especially December flights, and it always amuses me. And it bemuses me that someone who's supposedly rich and educated fails to get it; to claim that "one group will never get the culture of the other" is simply the height of, not elitism, but autism.

Update 23 August 2007: Ive added a badge I found on Sparks's recent post on the Fernandez affair (which, as far as I can tell, still hasnt been picked up by mainstream media--theyre more interested in Ruffa getting back together with Yilmaz). Click on the badge to go to the site of the fella who created it and the message he wants to send Ms Fernandez in behalf of our OFWs.

However, let me make it clear that Im not adding my voice to the clamor to have her fired or for the boycott of the Manila Standard and People Asia for her stupid remarks. I dont want speech or articles like that silenced. I want them out in the open where they will be freely discussed, commented on, and if need be, condemned. How can we know what’s on someone’s mind if we dont give them the freedom to speak their mind? Now we know what’s on Ms Fernandez’s mind, and what kind of person she is.

What she wrote was reprehensible, but she has the right to write what she did. Her drivel is protected speech. The freedom that allows her to spew crap is the same freedom that allows those whom she had offended to call her Ms Piggy. By allowing her the space for her inanities, we are protecting our freedoms as well.

Update: 6:00 pm. From Slap Happy comes news that Ms Fernandez has resigned. He has posted a copy of a letter allegedly from her. If true, then the bloggers got their wish. They ran her out of Dodge. I suppose she has outlived her usefulness anyway. We certainly dont need more of her brand of travel journalism. I myself have mixed emotions about this. I fear that there will come a time when another mob of infuriated bloggers would run a journalist out of town because said journalist has offended them, only this time the journalist would be right.

Update 24 August: Via Sparks's blog. Reports of Fernandez's resignation confirmed. The blog entry features a link to a video of an ABS-CBN report.


grifter said...

reminds me of the senior Cebuana lady i met on the plane going back to Manila in 2005. our conversation touched on my ill father (which was the reason why i was on that plane), and before going our own ways at Chek Lap Kok (she was flying straight to Cebu), she handed me $20 out of the goodness of her heart. which i tried hard not to accept, but she would have none of it. i'm rather skeptical of such events, but there's one that i lived through. she has my eternal gratitude, and i hope she has retired from her domestic Manhattan housekeeping job.

so yeah, Miss Piggy, i guess we have-nots will just have to stick together. we await the identification of your body through dental records when your plane crashes somewhere, somehow.

Baldagyi Hatipoglu said...

i thought you'd say, "te recent brouhaha over this bruha..." hahahaha

Baldagyi Hatipoglu said...

wonderful, thoughtful things from a fresh perspective.

Baldagyi Hatipoglu said...

if the journalist is right, chances are a lot of bloggers would be behind him/her. the case of malu is plain pathetic. bad taste, even badder points. only the poor can bash the poor, or do i sounds like a, uhm, negro?

Jego said...

Ah, R.O., you have more faith in humanity than I do. :-) Look what happened to Jesus when he told the truth about the society he was living in at the time.

As for bashing, I believe anybody can bash anybody else, like Ms Fernandez did. She was just dumb enough to think those she bashed were wrong to bash her right back as shown by her first response to all the letters and blogs.

grifter said...

she could be hosting a gameshow in 5 years.

Baldagyi Hatipoglu said...

but that's jesus' time. he has a lot of followers now. :)

Jego said...

Haha. That's true. Let's hope his followers are above forming an angry mob themselves, now that they constitute the majority in our country.