Sunday, February 1, 2015

Story: Arriving in Manila. Part 1.

by Monica Graz

When I stepped out of the plane I was taken aback by the humid heat and a strong, nearly intoxicating smell, a mixture of tropical flowers and kerosene fuel. For a moment I thought I was back in my Julia days, remembering my visit to Central America a couple of years ago when I was researching for my PhD on the slave trade at that part of the world in  the 18th and 19th centuries. It was the same feeling of heat, humidity and smells as it was then.
But I was brought back to reality when I heard the person next to me addressing me in Tagalog and asking me to start descending the ladder. I instantly was back to my Mollie Apuya role.

The fear and uncertainty of the unknown came back to me and I felt a cold shiver in my spine even in that hot weather.

I went through passport control without any incident, they practically waved me in, after all I was a Filipina coming back. Soon after I picked from the luggage belt my over-sized suitcase and headed for the exit. 

They stopped me briefly at the customs but when I said that I had no electronic equipment, not even a mobile phone, they let me go.

It was chaos and noise as soon as I stepped out of the controlled area. Welcome to your new third world home I said to myself as I started looking for Juanita’s placard. As I was looking I suddenly realized that Conchita never mentioned if her sister was aware of my Julia background or simply knows my made-up Filipino/Romanian background. I decided not to say anything relevant until she mentions something.

Suddenly I saw my name in a small placard among tens of others. The holder was a Filipino lady, who instantly reminded me of a younger version of Conchita, medium height, on the plump side, wearing a fairly elegant summer dress in sharp contrast with the majority of women present dressed very simply either in shorts or cropped trousers and T-shirts.

I waved at her as I started approaching pulling with difficulty my over-sized suitcase. I already was feeling the humidity and I started getting sweaty with the effort. God I badly needed a shower after such a long trip. 

Juanita started walking towards me and as we came face to face she said in Tagalog, “You must be Molly, welcome to Manila!”

I smiled warmly and answered in my slow carefully modulated Tagalog, “And you must be Juanita, thank you for coming to pick me up.”

“Yes I am,” she said with a faint smile looking at me with interest. I instantly noticed her immaculate makeup even in that hot climate and her beautiful light brown complexion. I could tell she was an expert in that, after all she was a beautician. But I also noticed as she was looking at me that although she was smiling, her eyes were remaining cold and calculating, she simply was assessing me.

“I can tell that your Tagalog needs a lot of improvement,” she continued, “Conchita explained to me your half Filipino origins and that you started to learn our language with her in Italy. How is your English by the way?”

Now I knew, she had no idea about my Julia background; for her I was a poor half Filipino orphan growing up in an obscure country in Europe. Now I knew how to approach her.

I answered in my pigeon accented English, “Not that good, but enough to understand the basics.”

“You have to improve your English as well,” she said with that faint smile still in her face, “English is necessary for you when you are back working as a maid in another country. You have to know all the vocabulary needed during your domestic duties, from cleaning, to taking care of babies or even elderly people.”

Here we go again I thought; the option of going to work in another country resurfaced even before I had the chance to meet Juanita properly. The familiar fear for my unknown future came back to me.

“Come on, girl! We better head for the house, you must be tired and I can see you need to wash yourself,” she said as if she was able to smell me. She also called me ‘girl’ as if she was my new employer.

And then I thought as I started following her, struggling with my bags: but of course she is my new employer. I am here to learn how to be a proper FDW and she is the one who is going to teach me that. Once more I am going to be the last in the pecking order and this time inside a Filipino family. How scary and fascinating at the same time this whole new adventure was for me!

We walked fast towards a peculiar vehicle, something between an over-sized jeep and a bus. She approached the driver and said something fast in Tagalog then she opened the front door and sat next to him and motioned to me to move with my bags in the back.
There were a couple of steps and two long wooden bench seats along the sides.
I struggled once more with my luggage and carried everything at the end of the bench near the front of the vehicle where I could be in contact with Juanita through a small window. She saw me as I settled down and said half jokingly in English, “This is part of our public transport system in Manila Molly; it is called jeepney and is like a bus. The fare is very cheap and this is what you are going to use in the future when you move around.”
I nodded in agreement and said in my careful English, “I never saw something so unusual Juanita.”

She answered with a laugh, “Of course girl, you never have been out of Italy and the country in which you grew up, I forgot its name now.”

“It is called Romania, I guess it is not very known in your parts, it is not a rich country but it is cold there and the buses are closed.”

The jeepney was nearly full now with Filipinos of various ages and styles carrying all sorts of goods, from normal shopping to live animals. 

All of a sudden the driver started the engine and its deafening noise made us stop talking.

Half an hour later and after cruising Manila’s suburbs, a mixture of tropical vegetation, small houses and anarchic traffic Juanita motioned to me that we were getting off at the next stop.

Murmuring ‘patawarin’  theTagalog word for ‘excuse me’ I managed to drag my suitcase through the people sitting in the benches and I followed Juanita who started walking fast towards a small hill with lush vegetation and houses hidden behind.

In a few minutes we were inside a wooden house with a large covered verandah surrounded by a medium size garden with fruit trees.


  1. Please do your research first before posting any racist stereotypes here on your blog. Not all Filipinos work as a maid or an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker), or in your case, an FDW. The names of Molegunda, Conchita, and Juanita are not Filipino in origin. They are more likely Spanish or Portuguese or something. Yes, we were once colonized by the Spaniards, that's why some of our names are like that, but no one uses those names anymore!! except for our grandparents, i guess...but even so, those names are highly modernized now and not as odd as "Molegunda"... i've never met or heard anyone with that name's just so... idk, fucking weird?

    Also, "Patawarin" is not the Tagalog word for excuse me. "Patawarin" means to forgive. If you're passing by someone, you should say "Makikiraan po," "excuse me po," or "dadaan lang po." We use po and opo to show our respect to our elders or to whoever we're talking to.

    Manila is the capital city of the Philippines, so I doubt you'll see any live animals inside our jeepneys. By the way you described it, maybe you're thinking of the province side...

  2. Thank you fir correcting Moliie's Tagalog dear reader, she is still learning it and mistakes can happen at this stage.
    You are right also about the names Juanita and Conchita, they are Spanish but if you keep reading the story you will see that Juanita's family has a strong Spanish background.
    As for the name Molegunda, I must admit it is a figment of my imagination because it could be shortened afterwards to Mollie.
    Finally the whole story is completely fictional and very much in line with the style of this blog and of course has no intention to offend anyone.
    Monica G.