Thursday, December 06, 2007

The 46-Dollar Story

I witnessed an episode at the HK International Airport that I just can't get over until now, roughly two hours after it happened.

My best friend Dan was checking in for his 9:50pm flight to Manila. The queue before him was quite long so I told him I was gonna sit for a while. Where I sat was a group of Filipina domestic helpers. I could see one of them acting antsy, from my peripheral, that her energy almost annoyed me. I looked at their group (there were probably 6 of them) and the first thing that caught my ear was this woman, a friend of the antsy woman's, asking, "E magkano daw ba ang [How much did she say was the] excess baggage penalty, Maita?"

"Twenty-three [Hong Kong] dollars per kilo.", Maita said worryingly. "2 kilos lang naman ang excess ko. Kaya lang $20. na lang pera ko eh. [I only have 2 kilos excess. But I only have $23. left]"

None of her friends replied to what she said. None of them offered to carry the 2-kilo excess or to loan her money so that she could pay for the penalty. She opened her luggage and took out the toys that she was bringing home for her kids and the bars of bath soap she was gonna give her sister. She couldn't come up with a plan to solve her predicament. Until eventually, she started to consider throwing away some of her clothes so she could still bring home the presents. I was crushed. The scene was just too heart-wrenching. It was too much for me that I had to leave.

Few minutes later, my phone rang. It was Dan, calling to tell me he had already checked in and that he would wait for me at the ATM. I followed him there then we headed to Popeye's for dinner. While eating, I was filling him in with gossips that I heard at work today, trying so hard to shut the memory of Maita and her baggage out of my mind. I couldn't. I opened it up to him by starting the story with, "Sana kagaya ako ni Jojo. Alam mo ba yung 'pay it forward' na kwento nya? [I wish I was like Jojo. Have you heard of her 'pay it forward story?]"

Jojo, a friend of ours, is a Filipina who has been working with Cathay Pacific as a cabin crew for 12 years now. In one of her departures from Manila, she met an old lady at the NAIA, who was going somewhere to visit her daughter. That trip being the old lady's first time to go out of the country, she didn't know she had to pay the terminal fee to be allowed to leave. She had no money. Jojo gave her 550pesos. The lady later asked how she would be able to pay Jojo back. Jojo replied, "Wag na po [Never mind]. Just pay it forward."

After hearing my story, Dan agreed the domestic helpers that we see in the airports have the saddest stories. Just the way they are degradingly dealt with sometimes by the ground staff kills him.

As we were smoking Dan's last cigarette before he goes through immigration, I called Remi. After asking about her day and how her check-ups went, I told her, "Rems, ang sama ng loob ko. [Rems, I feel bad.]", then went on with the story.

She said she understood why I felt bad. And that it was ok to feel that way. Then she reassured me that there will be other chances to help, and that she hopes that next time, before I turn my back from a fellow human being in need, I would remember this night. And that I would remember always why she and my dad were able to send me and my brother to school even as we were experiencing a major family crisis that spanned for 4 years --- because of the people who helped us. Because of the people who willingly shared even if they only had enough for themselves. I thanked my mom for sermon and we said our "I love you"'s then hung up.

After a few more puffs, it was time for Dan to go. He went on his way to the immigration while I headed for the bus stop. Halfway there, I decided to take a cab so I could get home quicker. While in transit, that Maita episode just kept playing in my mind. I could still hear her voice. And her face, as she was looking at the presents she was excited to bring home but couldn't find a way to, was still vivid in my imagination. My heart felt so heavy. I could help had I chosen to. But I did not. I wish I had the heart to be more giving. Like Remi. And Oca. And everyone that helped put us to school.

"Pin dow ar? [Where?]", the driver, asking where to pull over, broke me from thought. We were already at my village.

"Go dow, m goi. [Right there, please.]", I pointed to him where to stop. He quickly did. I looked at the meter and it registered $48.00 --- that's the fare I had to pay for the driver to bring me home from the airport. That's two dollars more than what Maita needed to bring her Christmas presents to her family in Manila.