Hello friends! It’s been ages! The last time, I talked about our kasambahay experiences. A lot has occurred on that front since, so will continue the story:
Manang Part I
After the Camille fiasco, the recruiter (Joy) called us a few days later and said she had someone for us. BUT according to Joy, “Matanda na ma’am. Siguro nasa may 50.”
I figured, you know what, Weng was in her late forties so that doesn’t make much of a difference.
After a brief interview, we made arrangements to pick up our new helper, Openg (Short for Cleofe. Old school right? I should have gotten a clue), in the Olongapo terminal. Imagine my surprise when I saw a frail old lady standing in the designated meeting place.
Dude, she was sooo not in her fifties.
She was such a grandma that I felt incredibly disrespectful calling her by just her first name. So I started referring to her as “Manang.”
Despite our initial reservations, we realised soon after that Manang was definitely a keeper:
Because of the Camille fiasco, we insisted to Joy that she needed to shoulder the pamasahe of our new helper. The sneaky unscrupulous person that she was, she secretly passed on the responsibility to Manang. The poor lady coughed up the money without a word– that showed us that she was really committed to getting a job (ofcourse we reimbursed her when we found out – we’re not heathens).
Apart from being committed, she’s meticulous and hardworking. Apparently, in her younger years, she even worked as a domestic helper in various countries, so she was used to working in different types of households. Even nitpicky Weng had to admit that among all the helpers she had trained for us, Manang was the only one who kept with her rigid cleanliness standards.
She had a lot of endearing qualities that we appreciated:
She was trustworthy and reliable. She made sure to return every coin and peso that she found around the house. Plus, every time she went on a vacation, she would return on the precise day that we agreed on.
She was always grateful for little gifts that we gave her. It didn’t matter if it was a brand new or hand-me-down, she received it with an exuberance of a kid on Christmas day. One time, I came home from Singapore with pasalubong for her. It was nothing huge, just chocolates and a souvenir bag. But she was so happy she started tearing up! She told us that although she actually had a daughter who worked in Singapore, she never ever got any pasalubong from her. (Wth daughter, I’m judging you!) I guess that brief kwento kinda explained to me why she was always so thankful: She was used to giving and not to receiving.
She can be quite compassionate and caring. I remember the time when I got pregnant- she would come home from the palengke with fruits that she bought with her own money. She refused to be reimbursed and insisted that it was her way of making sure our baby was healthy. When I had a miscarriage (read here and here), she was very supportive and even bought me more fruits to cheer me up (I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was not big on fruits and un-pregnant Moe basically benefited from her good will).
Of course, Manang, like everyone else had her quirks:
Because of her advanced years, she was incredibly, incredibly frail. Like we- don’t –want-you-to-help-carry-the-groceries – because-you-might-keel-over-and-die kind of frail. Every morning, we had to make sure that we had enough drinking water for the day, because there was no way she could lift the 5-gallon bottles for our dispenser. (I couldn’t either, so Moe received a lot of melodramatic texts in the middle of the workday: “So…parched… must…conserve…energy…”)
She would get addled and forgetful. We have to give instructions in increments otherwise she wouldn’t remember. Our clothes, no matter how much we orient her, would always get mixed up. Just very recently, she put my monokini in Moe’s athletic gear pile. (I guess she thought Moe moonlighted as a Single Lady.)
She would also get pretty cheeky and downright crabby. Thank the high heavens I have a robust self-esteem because whenever she would see me dressing up, she never passed up the opportunity to throw shade my way:
“Laki ng pata ni ma’am!” or “Yiheey, ma’am. Mukha kang payat sa pantalon mo. Hindi halata na malaki tyan mo”.
To top it off, she would get super cranky when she felt we were stressing her out. One time I was looking for jeans that I had washed:
“Hindi ko nga nilabhan, kung nilabhan ko eh did nasa labas yun!” she insisted.
So I went to the laundry area myself and found them hanging in the clothesline: “Eh, andyan pala eh! Sana kinuha mo kanina pa.”
As time passed, Manang got increasingly crabbier. I’m not known for my patience either so we always butted heads. Finally, tension reached its peak- because of all things: Steak.
I taught Manang how to cook steak the way we liked it so many times. For some reason, she always ended up frying it like tapa. (I’m no Martha Stewart, but dude, butter, salt, pepper, garlic cook in high heat -2 minutes per side, easy!) Anyway, after ruining her nth steak, I got exasperated and started berating her. ‘We’ve gone over the recipe several times’, I said in Filipino. ‘I even wrote it down and showed you how to do it.”
In a tearful voice (yeah-she’s also a drama queen), she said that maybe we should start looking for another helper because she couldn’t deliver the kind of steak that we wanted.
Oh. So that’s how it’s going to be.
I’ve never been one to force helpers to stay, so I took her sullen, teary pronouncement as her resignation. I asked her if she was willing to give us time to look for a replacement.
She agreed and that was that.
Manang Replacement 1: Bhel (with an h)
After Manang resigned, I immediately set out to look for another helper. I asked one of my favorite titas for help, and within a day, she had found someone for us through another recruiter.
The girl, Bhel, seemed very eager to work. But, she was based in Bicol and was asking for pamasahe.
I know, I know. Helper 101 right? You’re never supposed to advance money until they’re physically with you. But, I was super desperate! Against my better judgment, we sent her cash.
The morning of her scheduled arrival, she texted us that she was on the way to the terminal. So far so good.
But then I started to get suspicious because although she gave me the name of bus line, she just wouldn’t give me the bus no. no matter how many times I asked. Long story short, she supposedly left at 8am and was due to arrive at 6 pm. Come 4 pm, I couldn’t reach her anymore.
Crap, crap, crap.
I tried to remain optimistic. Maybe she ran out of battery- it was a 6-hour trip after all.
I called the bus line. I explained our situation to a nice operator, and although he was probably judging my lack of good sense, he very gamely volunteered to radio the buses in that route so they could look for passenger Bhel (I specifically told him it was spelled with an h).
He called me an hour later, and confirmed what I had suspected all along – there was no Bhel in any of the buses coming from Bicol (not even a Belle with no h).
I knew in my heart we’ve been duped, but I couldn’t help but feel responsible for her anyway. What if there was a slight chance she was waiting for us in the terminal? I couldn’t just leave her there.
So we sent a couple of people to fetch her. They waited for 4 whole hours.
It was official: Bhel was a no-show.
A part of me wanted to raise a fuss. But in the end, we just didn’t pursue her. I firmly believe in karma. Bhel with an h will get what’s coming to her, the universe will make sure of it.
Manang The Second Coming
After Bhel, I was pretty traumatized. I began to appreciate many of Manang’s good qualities. Wistfully, I realised how at ease and comfortable we were with her. I very humbly asked her if she would consider staying on. I offered to increase her salary. She agreed in a heartbeat.
For a time, things were fine: I was still reeling from being duped by an unscrupulous helper, and she was reeling from almost resigning from a job that she liked. So we were extra nice to each other.
But pretty soon, we were getting on each other’s nerves again. She returned to her addled, snappish ways, and I reverted back to my sungit impatient self.
One day, I woke up with a start and suddenly remembered that Manang did not include milk in the previous grocery list ( Yup, the things that make me anxious in the mornings).
Without even washing my face, I rushed to the refrigerator and started getting hyped out about the milk. In testy voice, Manang pointed out that we had more milk than we could possibly need for the rest of the month.
She was being snappish about it, but then again so was I (I mean, wth- am I 4? I’m a grown-ass woman having a panic attack over milk shortage). I decided to let it go.
That same morning, while I was fixing my work station, I noticed though that she had a cough. I asked her if she had taken medicine.
Because she’s Manang and she keeps a grudge, she answered my concerned inquiries with a curt “no.”
But I sincerely wanted to check if she was fine, so I insisted on looking for cough syrup. “Di ba nilagay natin sa ref?” I asked while rummaging through the refrigerator. “Eh di andyan, kung dyan natin nilagay!” she answered testily without even bothering to help me out.
My blood started boiling. Channeling Eckhart Tolle (breaaaathe. Releaaase all attachments to the eeego), I decided to exercise patience and just let her suffer through her cough.
A few hours later, I gave her instructions for dinner. We were supposed to have burgers, a recipe that we’ve done numerous times before. I showed her where the recipe was again in her little notebook and proceeded to go about my day.
That afternoon, my friend came for an unexpected visit. I decided to invite her for dinner, only to find out that Manang messed up the recipe again and we had the tiniest, driest burgers. (What is it with her and beef??) Very patiently, in front of my friend, I asked her to show me where the recipe was so I could teach her again. Dude, she freakin’ ignored me!
I forced myself to calm down, maybe she didn’t hear me. In a louder voice, I called her name again. She continued puttering about with a stubborn, sullen expression.
I lost it.
I shouted at her and told her off for being insolent. (I know, totally wrong in so many levels but I couldn’t Eckhart-Tolle my way out of this anymore.)
We ended the day with tension. I felt very disrespected. I was still stewing when Moe came home, so I just started venting.
Because he’d seen glimpses of Manang’s crabbiness, he got where I was coming from. He offered to talk to her the following day.
Moe’s temper is waaaay worse than mine. The minute he sensed Manang getting all sensitive, sulky and insolent, he freakin’ snapped too.
So much for diffusing the situation.
As expected, after the double whammy, Manang resigned. AGAIN.
BUT WAIT. There’s more. The Manang saga is far from over. I’m just running out of virtual space, but hope you guys stay tuned!