Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The first time I saw her last summer - an old, frail-looking woman walking so slowly with a cane to brace her steps - my heart instantly went out to her. I thought to myself a woman this age should not be left alone. She had difficulty walking, each stride carefully taken else she would lose her balance. If it were not for her cane, she would definitely trip off.

I had to resist my initial reaction to help her. Something told me she was different. She was limping, and was literally dragging herself when she walked. But I also saw determination in every step she took. From the way she moved, she seemed to have gone through a heart stroke, which probably rendered half of her body paralyzed.

Every morning since then, she had become a familiar sight to all of us. We would see her garbed in her sweaters with matching toque and scarf, rounding off the corners of the walkway in our apartment complex, all by herself.

I tried to imagine myself in her shoes.

"Oh, it is utterly helpless to be trapped in a body that will not let me do what I want to do, or to be dependent on a piece of wood to keep me standing. It is so tiring to physically drag myself from the comfort of my bed just to brace the early morning creepy chill, just to fulfill this hateful walking regimen. Oh, this entire thing is so pathetic, and so hopeless. When will I see the end of it?"

I had to correct myslef - does she really think that way?

"Oh, now, I no longer have to drag myself from bed just to get up. Thank God I have this most reliable cane to bear me out. It is cold outside but the sunshine would feel good on my skin, and maybe I can complete 10 corner rounds instead of the usual 8 this time. Oh, how good it is to feel that I am improving everyday. How it gives me hope that I am making progress day by day".

Yesterday, my daughter and I saw her walking down the pathway again. She still had the cane in her right hand, but her steps are faster this time, more resolute, more assured, more determined. She has definitely gone a long way compared to the first time I saw her.

My daughter said she pitied the woman. I told her no, she did not need pity. She is to be admired and modeled for her courageous spirit. She's made a choice to overcome her circumstances, and I know she will.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One Year

One year and two days ago today, my family left the Philippines to settle in Winnipeg, Canada for good. Admittedly, I and husband never envisioned ourselves living abroad before. But although we had an enjoyable lifestyle in the Philippines, we also had to think about the future of our children. With the way the country was going, we saw very limited opportunities for them there. So off we joined the fray of young and adult professionals seeking for a better life abroad.

When we got to Winnipeg, we just loved the quiet ambiance and felt at home instantly. Winnipeg is such a small city that one can actually explore its nook and corner in a day’s time. There are no expressways or subways and complicated fly-overs and overpass that characterize the bigger metropolitan cities. In Winnipeg, one can get to the downtown area using the bus in 15 minutes, or go to the biggest mall in 7 minutes.

It is such a simple laid-back city with very friendly people. People here greet you as if you’ve known each other for a long time. Filipinos also abound in Winnipeg (we constitute 10% of total population and belong to the top 5 immigrants). I see their familiar faces popping up everywhere –whether in the church, school, library, grocery store, bank and buses.

It also helped that our apartment is strategically located near all the major conveniences – Filipino foodmart and bakery (where I can buy Mang Tomas lechon sauce, Mama Sita seasoning mix, ube halaya and pandesal) just behind us, Filipino evangelical church and library right across our building, playground and garden two blocks away, and a major department store right next to our apartment complex.

Days after our arrival in Winnipeg, we visited our relatives in Toronto. Everything seemed to be so massive and grand scale there. While the place was so modern and very sophisticated, it was also very intimidating. When we toured the downtown area, I felt like a helpless child being drowned in an endless sea of humanity that seemed to care only for themselves. People appeared snobbish and seldom laughed. I only saw a handful of Filipinos around. Instantly, we decided we did not belong there.

Like most Filipinos here, we also had our share of “coping stage” characterized by fears, apprehensions, insecurities and shock.

Taking the bus for the first time was such an intimidating task. They come on schedule and right on time, and they’re not about to wait for you when you’re late. People are “cashless” – they don’t carry them in their pockets as transactions are usually made through debit and credit cards. Appointments are a must for almost all major transactions with the government or service entities – you cannot just pop into somebody’s office, even your friend’s office, and expect to be attended to right away. In the Philippines, this is quite unimaginable. You always have time to spare to your friends, even on unannounced visits. Office transactions are almost paperless, maximizing the use of technology.

My children suddenly had to mature and become independent so soon. No more maids at their heck and beck, no driver to transport them to school. They had no choice but to learn to cook, do laundry, clean the house and commute to school by bus.

Winter can be harsh, what with the chill creeping all over your body. Before you can go out, you need to bundle yourself up in layers of clothing, or you’ll freeze to death. The snow blocking the driveway needed to be shoveled too, and driving under extreme weather can be dangerous, what with poor visibility and undesirable road conditions.

Life in Canada is quiet and even boring. People stick to their routines mostly. They go to work in the mornings on weekdays; buy their groceries on weekends; and do their holiday shopping when the season is around. This is so much unlike the Philippines where many go out on "gimiks" with their friends on Saturday nights. Metro Manila's malls -- such as Robinson's and SM -- are also bigger and offer more malling activities than Toronto's.

But taking these things aside, life in Winnipeg is good. Although everything did not come to us in a silver platter, we consider ourselves blessed in every imaginable way. We did not have to go through the financial and physical hardships that most immigrants do. One of our greatest blessings is having been connected to a community of fellow Christians who welcomed us into their homes, and treated us like family.

But as always, we cherish our good old days in the Philippines - Friday night movies with friends, the monthly spa, hanging out in the malls, long chats with friends, and the regular trips to fine restaurants! This early, we’re planning our homecoming trip to the Philippines very soon.

And yeah, despite the fact that life in Canada does have its benefits, the Philippines will always be our first home.