It was exactly six in the morning. Tintin slowly opened the door of the room. She glanced at her two wards still in bed sleeping soundly. She felt her heart beating extremely fast. Seeing nobody in the hall, she signaled to her Pinay companion to get ready. Creating not a single noise, they climbed into the lift and prayed that nobody would notice them. As soon as the lift reached the lobby and the door pinged open, they swiftly sashayed down the lobby hall and off they went out to the streets of Paris. No turning back for them now. New city. New adventure. New life.
It has been three years since Tintin escaped from the hotel where their Arab boss’s family was staying on a holiday in Paris. Since then, she has embraced her new life in the City of Lights. Tintin was one of the Pinoys that I met in Paris when I went there two weeks ago.
The other two were Maricel and Jim. Maricel’s story is equally nail-biting and edge-of-the-seat experience. Relating her story, nothing beats a good first-hand narration from someone who landed on a foreign country (not her destination) from a direct flight from Manila holding a fake passport. Still jetlagged, she wondered how to get to Paris, her actual destination, without getting caught. When out of the blue, a “guardian angel” appeared and helped her and another Pinay leave Germany to finally reach Paris where an aunt was waiting for her arrival. It would take years for her to realize that that “angel” could be one of the dodgy characters working for the group that helped her acquire the fake documents in the Philippines where she paid P400,000 (6,700 euros). Like Tintin, Maricel´s first months in Paris were equally frustrating and challenging. Her French was bad and she had to wait for months to find a stable job. But no regrets. Her adventure was already water under the bridge six years ago. Looking back, Maricel is grateful that in spite of everything, destiny has been kind to her. Paying off all her debts and holding a permanent job plus juggling between two extra jobs, she is now a proud sister and daughter who has helped support five of her siblings to school and finish a degree.
And then there was Jim. Though , no nerve-racking journey to boast, his story is also worth the tell. Having a mom married to a French local, things have been easier for Jim. He was petitioned by her to live in Paris. Though he had the option to sit lazily and wait for financial assistance, Jim chose not to just sit down and be contented of having a set of parents who will always be there to support him. Yes, he is grateful that his mom and stepdad sent him to a university in Paris, yet, he still found it proper and wise to find a job and be independent financially.
When my fellow Ilonggo friend based in Paris, Louie Hechanova informed me that he met several Pinoys living in the city, I was instantly interested in meeting them. For one, the ignorant me thought that there were only a handful of Pinoys in France. This is so because every time I was in Paris I haven’t bumped into Pinoys in the metro or in the streets just like in Spain or Italy. I was wrong. So a dinner was set to finally meet and talk to my fellow Pinoys about their lives. There are about more than 30,000 Pinoys, legal and illegal in France. Pinoys can be found working as household or hotel staff. Our conversation also touched the subject on French migration laws, how to apply for legalization and citizenship. Spanish law, I should say is way friendlier than the French, which is a tad stricter. There have been several Filipinos without legal documents sent back home by the French authorities.
According to them, there is a high demand for Pinoys to work as house staff and as Au pairs in France. Even in Sarkozy’s household, Pinoys are employed. Mainly because, we speak English and of course, we have this Pinoy “way” that no other nationalities can perfect much less copy. Everytime Maricel and Tintin pronounced the word “Ang alaga ko…” (My ward…) describing the toddlers they babysit, there was always a tone of compassion and care; and especially when they told funny sketches and bloopers about the families whom they work for. From teaching French kids the “Bahay Kubo” song or the Philippine National Anthem to cooking for their French employers using Knorr magic mix, Pinoys never run out of endearing ways to treat their extended families as THEIR own. And did I say we never stop smiling? Well there, I said it.
Listening to their accounts living in the big city struggling to master their French, doing odd jobs left and right, battling prejudices, reminded me of the similarities that we Pinoys in Spain also experience, or practically around the world. We laugh at the same anecdotes and feel sorry over some unfortunate ones. Life in the City of Lights may not always be sugar-sprinkled-crepes easy or freshly-baked-croissant smooth, there are times that they have to battle homesickness and the feeling of uncertainty. Not to mention brain drain. But, as Maricel, Tin-tin and Jim put it, they have each other. Their friends. They always have time to have fun, hear themselves laugh and forget their problems for a while. And as always, the motivation to do everything for their families. There are 9 million Pinoys outside the Philippines living their luck to send money home, send siblings to school and in one way or the other fulfilling their dreams. Dreams that may not be totally theirs, but who cares? As long as they are happy working for their loved ones, it will always be heaven for them. Maricel’s or Tintin’s or Jim’s stories are not the only stories that we hear and continue to hear about Pinoys abroad, there will be more. After all, there are still about 8,999,997 stories worth telling.
P.S. Congratulations to Jim for finishing his Master in Hospitality Management at the Académie Internationale de Management in Paris! He graduated last month. Nathaniel Sisma Villaluna