The Year Was 2001
The TV was blaring sounds of terror and panic. The Twin Towers had collapsed. I saw people jumping from the top floors, falling to their death. I heard screams and watched people run.
For a young girl in Australia, I couldn’t fathom this happening somewhere in the world. It seemed unreal at the time.
Following on from September 11 however, I became fearful of our plane being hijacked. I was afraid to die in such a way. I didn’t want to jump from a building. I already knew I’d be too scared to jump.
A few years later, my parents announced that we were going overseas. Our first flight abroad as a family. The fear creeped back into my thoughts of the plane crashing.
Despite my inner fears, we packed for our trip as planned.
A Different Way of Life
When we arrived in the Philippines, the buildings and roads looked quite different to that in my city in South Australia.
Traffic was insane. There were multiple cars, zipping in and out of lanes. Beeping every few seconds. Jeepneys (buses without doors), mopeds and cars were jammed together on the roads. It was at best, organised chaos.
Food stalls were stacked beside each other, scattered alongside the road. My favourite stalls served Filipino BBQ and deep fried squid with sukà — a chilli, onion and garlic vinegar.
In the streets, men often pushed their stalls on a 2-wheel cart, serving taho (Filipino silken tofu snack) or homemade ice cream. They’d go down each winding road to serve to the community and children who played outside.
I experienced what is called a culture shock.
I realised that many people here were content. Regardless of what they did or did not have. Most people we met or spoke to had a smile on their face. Most people were welcoming.
Something that did not sit well with me however, was the maid/nanny culture.
Growing up in Australia, I was used to being cared for by my parents or spent after-school-hours at a family-friends house. But here in the Philippines, our parents would leave us at our grandma’s while people we’d just met would care for us.
I remember a girl who lived with my grandma (my dad’s mum) for a short while. She didn’t speak much but smiled a lot.
My dad told me she lived with my grandma for her studies. She was paid to clean the house and maintain it. That money went to her school tuition. It was a blasé explanation that lasted all of 40 seconds.
I started feeling uncomfortable.
There are kids our age or older who do this? They have no choice but to clean up after other people in order to gain an education? They’re away from their families and often working another job for an education?
A sobering thought entered my mind: I was lucky to live in Australia.
Although all families have their struggles, it occurred to me how different my life could have been depending where I was born and how I was raised.
A New Generation
My mum moved to Australia after her mum married an Australian, British man. My dad moved after he finished college in the Philippines. At 21, he set off to build a life for himself and make his family proud.
By chance, my parents met at a party and the rest was history.
My grandma seemed like a quiet woman, who kept herself busy around the house. My grandpa was a firecracker of a personality! He was hilarious, stern and loving.
2 minute noodles were a staple breakfast dish in the mornings when my grandparent’s drove from the country to see us in their caravan. I’d often watch my grandma clean, obsessively. I always listened to my grandpa’s jokes and laughed constantly.
At age 6, when my grandma died, it was something I could not understand. I remember crying non-stop at the funeral. I knew that she wouldn’t be around anymore, ever. Life felt unfair.
As the years passed by, I still couldn’t shake the pain in my heart that some children and people in general have to sacrifice spending time with family for a better life. I couldn’t imagine moving to a new city, alone, working and studying.
Appreciate What You Have
My parents often reminded my siblings and I to be grateful for what we had. They would use personal experiences to explain to us that not everyone has food in their belly. Not everyone has shelter and a place to call home.
We were privileged because of that.
As I got older and started working, the money I made was my own to use. I felt a sense of pride. I began shopping with friends and bought gifts for special occasions.
I never had to think, “this money will go straight to my education”.
I suppose that’s why it pains me when people choose to abuse the opportunity we have here in Australia.
While I definitely agree that there is a long way to go in terms of racism and injustice, the opportunities to ‘have a go’ are there.
And yes, there are people in this country who do live below the poverty line. There are people who baby-sit for extra money on the side. There are people (including myself) who work to pay bills and study for a better life. There are people who still live with their parents into their 20s, 30s and 40s.
Regardless, going back to the Philippines since my initial family trip, I still believe that we are privileged to live in this country.
We Are All Human
I’ll never know what it’s like to move to a different city and be a maid or nanny just to pay for my school fees. I’ll never know what it’s like to live with an employer and have little time to myself.
I’ll never know what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes and live the same experiences they have.
Despite that, we all have something in common: our humanity.
In the end, we’re all trying to survive. We’re all trying to ‘figure it out’. We’re all doing our best with the current information we have. And that’s great.
When push comes to shove, and mishaps turn into pandemics, we have others around us for support, encouragement and guidance.
Continue to learn more about the world and how others live. It can help give you perspective when you’re feeling lost or confused. It might spark some panic too. Use that energy for good.
All we have is right now.
Go embrace your opportunities where you are.
If you don’t see any, create your own.