Mouse and Mousette

E@L has had some visitors today.

Staying overnight are The Mouse and The Mousette, E@L's former amazingly competent, caring and trustworthy domestic helper plus her nine year old daughter. [Renew your memory of the story here.] They are only in town to say hello, and as The Mousette doesn't speak much English the conversation has been somewhat limited to variations of that. As the silence threatens, I put on a Three Stooges DVD and she is greatly amused for a while in the universal language of their slapstick antics. Then I fall asleep in my chair as they watch David Rabbitborough drone on through some Animal Planet documentary. They have never watched a 42" TV before. (It is fixed by the way!)

For dinner, we wander up to Novena Square and I shout them a Burger King meal. The Mousette seems very pleased with it, very grateful. It is ironic that E@L dined at Au Petit Salut last night, where the meal and wines came to $150 per head - (go the casoullet de canard!)

The Mouse asks how my current maid is. Professional jealousy? I tell her the part-time maid is OK. She does all the ironing, tidies up OK, waters the plants, then leaves. But part-timers don't do the long-term cyclical jobs (or this one doesn't) like alphabetize (by genre) my movies, CDs and books when I jumble them up, or clean all the wine glasses every few weeks as the dust collects on them in the antique cabinet, or wax the antique properly for that matter. I wouldn't trust her with the Waterford anyway.

"How are things with you?" I ask.

"Not so good," she replies with an ironic smile. I recognize that smile: it is the one she sometimes uses when she would rather be crying.

The Mouse and Mousette live up in a small village of less than 50 people, high in the cool hills about 7 hours out of Manila. (In my experience of Manila traffic, 7 hours in a car could have you still negotiating your way around central downtown.) Things are quiet up there. Nothing happens, and it happens slowly. It takes at least 2 hours for the Mousette to get to school each day. The Mouse accompanies her, getting up at 4 every morning so that they can have breakfast together before they go to catch the first jeepney ride. This merely takes them to the road which leads to the town where the school is. The 2nd jeepney comes 30 minutes later.

Once she left my sheltering sky, The Mouse (holder of a degree in electrical engineering) had originally set up a small stall to sell rice meals for workers in her village, but it soon became obvious she could not make a living doing this. Primarily because in a small village a) there are no workers, b) everyone is too dirt poor to buy food, and c) those who want to eat generally cook for themselves.

She now leases it out her stall and lets the next generation of aspiring entrepreneurs loose the money. She is mainly living on her savings from eight years working in Hong Kong and Singapore (4 with me), plus the small amount of money I gave her last year. Her father is aged and has become deaf and cannot be relied upon to look after Mousette by himself. Now that The Mouse is home, thanks to that heart-wrenching episode last year, of course The Mousette has latched on terrifically. She knows that an offer a job with me is forever open but the Mouse could not drag herself away, now that the emotional bond, once quite loose on The Mousette's side, is so strong after the desperation of their eventual reunion last year. The Mousette now knows what it is like to have a mother's love and undivided attention, and who would agree to let go of that once they have found it? Previously her mother was that stranger who came for Christmas every year, like Santa Claus, bearing meagre gifts. Now her mum is real, is here, is with her, holding her hand as she walks up the street, offering her some of her drink when hers runs out, oops is spilling the ice accidentally onto her lap, is laughing with her cleaning up the small mess...

So The Mouse is torn.

Poverty and family love, or income and a better education though with family estrangement. It is a terrible choice that so many S-E.Asian families have to make. A Sophie's Choice. A Catch 22. Not that a Philippine's Education means that much anyway, witness the Mouse's own BEE, unless you are a nurse.

As the news about the prospects for the Philippines gets worse and worse with USA threatening to take more of their skilled workers, like those nurses, I wonder what horrors of indentured labour the future holds for the magnificently cute doe-eyed Mousette, either as a seamstress in a dangerous sweatshop somewhere, a low-paid (high-paid compared to the Philippines) nurse treated like shit in some back-water profit-motivated health-centre in Alabama, as a foreign domestic worker, or potentially as a prostitute.

Education or not, such seem to be the options for young women born into a Philippine family in the 21st Century.

Look at her eating, dipping her chips into the non-spicy ketchup. Her eyes are the size of saucers. She will be stunning when she grows up...

While she self-consciously munches on her chicken nuggets, aware that I am surreptitiously glancing at her, I wonder what I can do to save her from her fated future... The spiraling insanity of the political and economic chaos that is the legacy of Ferdinand Marcos, the strangulating Catholic ideological hegemony and its brutal Muslim opposition....

"The Pilippines no good Mr Pillip," says The Mouse.


When we get back to my apartment, I offer to make a cup of tea, but The Mouse refuses and immediately gets to work cleaning all my wine, cocktail and shot glasses and dusting the shelves.

Truly, I did not intend my earlier comment as a hint.



Posted by: expat@large on May 28, 06 | 12:26 am | Profile


Seven hours from Manila? Let's play a guessing game........most of the Filipinos I know here in San Francisco are from either Pagsanhan or Pangasinah provinces, but moved to Manila before heading off to SF, so I'll guess your former maid is from San Fernando or somewhere near 100 Islands. Any prizes? She might also be from south of Manila, somewhere in Quezon.

Posted by: Frisko on May 28, 06 | 3:46 am

I think its not important where they are living.
But whats about the living conditions??
Waking up the child at 4 in the morning?
2 hours way to the school? 2 hours way back home? Disgusting conditions!

Posted by: drymonsoon on May 28, 06 | 5:42 am

The Mouse is from the baragay of Calombuyan, in the municipality of Sual, in the provence of Pangasinan.

In the hills on the west side of the Lingayen gulf, it is about 120 miles as the mouse Google Earths from Manila.

I tried to get her to fax me something once - it took two days. Heavy rain and floods had knocked out the village's only generator which drove the village's only fax machine.

Living conditions? I can't bear to think of it. The living conditions in Manila are detestable enough. I didn't ask her what her home is like, however I am certain it is spotless.

Posted by: expat@large on May 28, 06 | 10:11 am


Posted by: david martinez on May 29, 06 | 10:35 am

This is distressing. It's humbling to read. Not sure why you blame the church, though. Hasn't it spoken out against abuses and injustice there ? I've read of missionaries trying to combat child sex tourists and helping the homeless and destitute. It's a violent and lawless place. Journalists and trade union organisers get shot. The Catholic church is about the only hope for such a place. Good on you for doing what you can for The Mouse and her daughter.

Posted by: paul on May 29, 06 | 7:34 pm

The Mouse's position is difficult. She has an aging father she must look after as well, so just bringing her and Mousette to Singapore doesn't help him, plus what if my job changes and I get posted somewhere else or I get sacked or write a best-seller and quit??

The power of the Catholic Church is quite daunting and its propaganda all-pervasive in the Philippines. Talking to Mde Chiang, she was saying how it is something that you really only notice after living there a while, until then it just seems quaint. The place is overrun with children playing on the streets and slums and on the huge rubbish tips as there is no contraception, no abortion. AIDS also becoming an issue and there is a brain-drain of qualified medical workers, as I mentioned. There is no divorce from cheating or abusive husbands. And all live in the opiate-optimism that all the injustices and hardships of life will be resolved in the next world... so people suffer and pray, pray and suffer... (Ex-Cathbolic talking here...)

Sure the charities of the catholic church are among the best and more power to them - their hearts are in the right place of course, but there is a propaganda price to pay. The influence of the organised religions in 3rd world is akin to the power of the churches in the middle ages - hope of salvation and heaven or fear of hell enables the poor to be coerced or brain-washed into accepting the status quo. Amen to that...


Posted by: expat@large on May 30, 06 | 2:21 pm

The only solution is to send money, I think. My aunt's been doing that for a while.

Posted by: Smootie on May 30, 06 | 3:13 pm

If you can dismiss 2000 years of teaching and tradition as propaganda, well good luck to you. Let me think. That takes in Augustine and Aquinas, the Fathers, the various Synods and Councils in which conflicts and disagreements were debated openly Newman, Kierkegaard (yeah, I know not RC, but who cares I like him), Ignatius, Francis Xavier, not to mention a bag of yours and my favourite novelists. Propaganda ?
Not to mention the horrible weirdness of you looking through your taxi window at all those lively kids running around the Manila slums and thinking what this country needs is abortion. Contraception and abortion ? More of that and there'd be fewer Mousettes and nobody would want that, would they ?
And where do you get the pissweak notion that Catholicism fosters passive acceptance of injustice and suffering in the Philippines ? You and Madame Chiang know not of what you speak. Neither of you would have heard a Sunday sermon in a Filipino church, ever, I'm guessing. I have and I've heard some strong criticisms and denunciations of corruption and social injustice. Not that that's what the church is all about. .

Posted by: paul on May 31, 06 | 2:05 pm

Btw, a Singapore employer was in the news quite recently as "model employer of the year" because she let her maid bring the kid to live with her in Singapore. So it's possible.

Posted by: Smootie on May 31, 06 | 3:31 pm

Thanks Paul, I need all the good luck I can get.

Dismiss 2000 years? Make it 4000. Done. Rubbish, the whole lot of it.

As for your philosopher mates... I got them all at my catholic school - each of them have MAJOR flaws, too detailed and profound to discuss here ;-) (Augustine considered rape victims to have asked for it for example...) Suffice to say they all deny the need for reason and evidence to obtain something like Kirkegaard's "leap of faith"... None have answered the problem of suffering in the world if there is supposed to be an omnipotent God, none have explained how God could make the mistake of selecting the Jews and then changing his mind for the Chrisitans, etc, etc.

But I don't have to explain why I don't believe in God why I disrespect and distrust ALL theistic religions - although I could. As Christopher Hitchins has said "what can be asserted without evidence [e.g. the existence of God] can be dismissed without evidence."

But I doubt anything I say will make a difference to religious believers - as someone else said "you can't argue someone out of something if they weren't argued into it."

But I am sure you're absolutely right about the anti-corruption sermons. As I said, the charity workers and no doubt the priests and nuns, their hearts are in the right place and they are probably working hardest of all. However, the consolations of an afterlife will still be driven home to appease the suffering, and that will lead to a spirit of complacency and acceptance. Keep having those kids for Jesus! Even I got those type of sermons for 20 in sunny Australia! Ah the wonders of heaven awaiting the pure of heart and the avoiders of latex.

As the cases of AIDS will rise (unless you think Philippino men don't frequent prostitutes and then come home to wifey sans condom), the number of Mousette situations will rise and the total amount of suffering and misery in the world will rise with it.

Smoot - if they came over, the problem would not be solved if I had to leave Singapore... Anything could happen in my business.


Posted by: expat@large on Jun 01, 06 | 5:49 pm

My suggestion would be the same as david martinez. Finally, as you were saying , we can only help one at a time and also for the momemt. Further, if she can stay for more than a year, she should be able to assist as a full time housekeeping services once she completes her term as study mama.


Posted by: FWTOPCAT on Jun 02, 06 | 7:27 pm


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