Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hospices for the poor, piglets for women

How exciting and challenging it is to work among the young, the promising, the poor who are strong and who could claim a future. How wonderful it is to count the successes.

But how noble it is to work among the forgotten and the least, among those who do not matter even to their own next of kin. They have no wealth to give back, except a smile and a thank you, and a lesson or two on how to love.

I have just read about an Asia-Pacific Conference on hospice care that is starting today here in Manila. The Philippines must now be on the map of hospice care.

The Philippines is now known as a training ground for caregiving and a source of health workers for the world—in both the domestic setting and institutions such as hospitals, hospices and nursing homes.

Professional caregiving in the domestic setting is commonly associated with overseas work or with the rich who could afford to hire caregivers. This chore used to be part of the household chore of yayas and houseboys, but now, one could hire trained ones who want to earn while waiting for overseas employment.

In the past, the word hospice conjured up images of old, sick, poor, unwanted and abandoned people with nowhere to go and left in homes such as the ones founded by Mother Teresa. Or of rich elderly folk entrusted by their next of kin in the hands of church-run institutions where they could be cared for and live comfortably until they die.

Until recently, the word hospice was not commonly mentioned in the Philippines and the one most people knew was the Hospicio de San Jose run by nuns near the Malacanang area and which, if I am not mistaken, dates back to the Spanish era.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

SOS call from a seaman

If I were to put together the feature stories I had written about overseas Filipino workers (OFW) they could probably fill one small volume. Come to think of it, I probably should put them between covers. They’re part of our history as a people in search of the land of milk and honey.

One story was about a domestic helper who stabbed dead the Saudi princess she worked for and who maltreated her for so long. The stabbing happened while the DH and her mistress were on a holiday in Cairo. The maid’s tearful letters to home (the last from the Cairo Hilton were they were staying) intimated that something was bound to happen. I was able to get hold of a photocopy of the bloodstained letter to her family which a Filipino consul found on the crime scene.

Another story was about someone who worked for Saudi royalty and who regaled me with her version of a “Thousand and One Nights” and photos of her wards, the desert picnics, the opulence that surrounded her.

And more. Stories told by OFWs (with photos to show, too) of their 1990 exodus across the desert when the Gulf War began. “Tomboy love” among lonely maids in Hong Kong. Husbands left behind to care for the children while their wives toiled abroad, kids left in the care of relatives and how they coped. Non-government organizations helping families of OFWs through savings and livelihood.

And how could one forget the Filipinos working in a Mediterranean luxury cruise ship as chefs, cooks, top-notch engineers, musicians, food and drink servers, spa attendants. They were proudly Pinoy and the best of the lot on the ocean blue, and so obliging to serve up sinigang and adobo even on formal dinner nights. Ah, but ever pining for the day they would be home.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sing, ‘fiat justitia ruat coelum’

Indeed, one can say, “nessun dorma”. No one sleeps as this benighted country awaits the rising of the sun and the day of judgment of former president Joseph Estrada.

In Puccini’s last opera “Turandot”, no one sleeps as Calaf, the “Unknown Prince”, waits for Princess Turandot’s life-and-death answer to a riddle. Calaf’s fate hangs in the balance.

I am starting to write this piece on the eve of the Sandiganbayan’s judgment on Estrada, accused of plunder and several other crimes. I continue writing tomorrow (yesterday, that is) after either his conviction or acquittal.(Now, as I continue writing, he is being judged guilty of plunder, but not of perjury, and is being sentenced to reclusion perpetua or 40 years. It takes less than 30 minutes to read it all to him.)

Out of the window goes the piece I had intended to write. That is, my two cents on the great tenor of our time Luciano Pavarotti whose death last week was mourned by music lovers worldwide. I soaked the world’s grief and mine in his music in the past days, deriving comfort from the sacred arias, to the flirtatious and “brindisi” ones, to even the Hollywoodish “Yes, Giorgio”; from his vintage 1965 recording to his recent crossovers from opera to pop.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

In the dying light in a pauper’s eyes

MANILA, Philippines -- The absent one. This was how Mother Teresa referred to that absence that she felt in her life during her 50-year dark night of the soul.

Where was the beloved, the one for whom she poured out the substance of her life, the one supposed to give meaning and purpose to her selfless daring to love the world’s most abandoned?

Mother Teresa’s own revelations, kept and hidden even after her death 10 years ago, and made public just recently in a book (“Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light” edited by Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk), are now the subject of scrutiny and speculation, even of awe. It is Time magazine’s cover story this week.

But this happens to those who tread that mystical twilight zone reserved for the highly spiritually evolved among us. It is a price they have to pay. They have been privileged to experience the divine so intensely and intimately. And when the peak experiences that have led these chosen ones to do daring acts of love, when the ecstasy and consolation are withdrawn, when from lush orchards they are led to deserts, barren and desolate, there is no balm for the pain. Worse, there can be neither feeling nor non-feeling. Just a yawning absence.