Monday, June 23, 2003

trailing roads at the end of a jeepney

Looking left, I watch the road depreciate to a point behind the trail of diesel jeepney exhaust. I have seen this scene many times. We reverse the road that brought me here. I wonder too if the memories slip as quickly as the concrete under our wheels. It hurts to leave. I feel tears blur my eyes but choke them back unable to face the load of strangers watching me. To them this is just a road without sentimentality.

I don't see people off to the airport because of this. It's part greediness on my part, not wanting to let them go. Feeling as though there will be a gap left that in reality is soon filled.

I was told once that no matter where you live, make it home. And on my travels that is what I attempt to do, to exist where and when I am.

Before the road pulls my tears towards it, I turn to look inside the cab. The radio reassures me that everything's gonna be al' right, everything's gonna be al' right now. I try to focus on the road ahead and not what I am leaving behind.

I am to meet up with Jun Pilapil then on to Surigao where he lives. Many of the local Filipinos I met say they've never been but have always wanted to go. I had always thought that Filipinos don't like to travel around the Philippines. My dad never really wants to see other places, just his home town. But it's not really that. Preferably they would like to go with someone who is a local there. By being with someone from there, we feel less than a stranger. Seeing a person tends to override the need to see a place. This of course is a generalization. Most of the Filipinos I come across are travelers like myself who want to see every inch of the Philippines, but they do it by meeting friends of friends along the way.

We reach Benoni port, where I started my journey welcomed by Tanduay Rum and Fighter Wine. The ferry leaves at 9:30 from here. I stay on and head to Guinsiliban for the 9am ferry. A porter grabs my bags and we head to the ticketing counter, a small table sitting in a warehouse of wooden crates. 51 pesos for the ride back. It's the super ferry that takes cars. After getting on, I tip the porter 6 pesos and find a seat upstairs.

I wonder if we'll see dolphins. People tell me sometimes they like to ride the ship's wake. There are none this time around. I get off the ferry in Balingoan. Standing there in capri length khakis, tsinelas and cotton shirt is Jun Pilapil. We walk to the bus station in Balingoan while he tells me the updates on the latest plans. Sunnie is in Manila for a meeting. He will join us in Surigao in 3 days.

The last time I saw Jun was in San Francisco, fully layered for the San Francisco winter: wool hat, scarf, gloves. He is much more relaxed here. We wait at the bus stall for an air-con to Butuan. Air-con buses used to be rare, but now they travel fairly often. The platforms are packed with stands selling snacks and drinks for the ride. Cut mangos with salt, chips, orange drinks, sodas. There are men who sell newspapers. Women and young girls holding their tray of goods either on their hip or balanced on their heads scrambling to each new bus that arrives. There is a banner on the bus station building announcing an informational session about becoming a teacher in the United States.

Funny, I think. Many of my friends who became teachers in the last few years were shown pink slips. Another who teaches high school came close as well, yet her school district still posts hire notices in foreign countries after laying off 300 teachers. 3 years ago during the economic boom, no one wanted to become teachers, so the government sponsored funding to seek out teachers in foreign countries under a special working visa. It took several years to get many of these programs into affect. And the school districts must spend the money or lose it. Schools are so poor that even if they don't need something they'll buy it simply to hold it for later so they can keep the money, because they never know if or when they'll get funding again. Because these teachers come over under special provision, they often fall outside the realm of unions and certain wage requirements. This was common too with foreign workers in high tech who were being paid half as much as their counterparts for the same job.

I feel as though this is the trend in the U.S. We don't really need to educate our population to do anything. When we need educated people, we'll just put out visas and get cheap labor. When we're done with them, they go home.

In Rhacel Parrenas' book, "Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration and Domestic Work," she discuss how the receiving countries of the Overseas Filipino Workers gain the labor but don't have to deal with taking care of the labor force in old age, they simply go home. Essentially getting them during their prime working years, then sending them back. The countries avoid the costs of educating them when they are young and take care of them when they're old. They often allow for the employers to add an extra worker (the mom). The employing family is able to pay cheaper wages than what would have to be paid to a citizen.

If the teachers heading to this program are lucky, they might be able to switch their visa to permanent residency. Many will go to rural areas or the toughest urban neighborhoods where most people don't like to go. Some will be able to bring over spouses and children. But then have to deal with the pressures of raising a child without the normal support network, like Maria's daughter. I cannot say that one choice is worse or better than the other.

Jun is a high school teacher at Surigao High School for the past 15 years. His sister is one of the teachers who have gone abroad. She is in Texas. Most of her students are Spanish speaking. Her town sits on the U.S./Mexican border. It was always her dream to go to the U.S. so she took it. He had wanted to see the U.S. too, which he did, but says he would never go back using his own money. It's just too hard.

He comes from a family of teachers. He is the oldest. There are 4 sisters: 1 boy and 3 girls he says. Everyone is a teacher except one and she works as an administer at a school. His parents were teachers.

The AirCon to Butuan is here. We have to sit separately because there are no seats side by side. They pop in some bad scratchy American English movie that shows "do not copy: not for distribution" every few minutes across the bottom of the screen. It's an hour to Cagayan de Oro, then another 2-3 hrs to Butuan. I try to get some sleep.

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