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MANILA, Philippines - It is Women's Month, and I take this occasion to write this essay as an expression of gratitude to one of the unsung mothers in our family. I retell her story now as a grown-up, as a young adult woman who has seen the place and value of women in my world, women whose lives are often left unrecognized and unheard of.
Her name is Amalia, known to us as Ate Maly. She first stepped into our household at age 13, as an unassuming probinsyana (provincial girl) who assisted our main laundrywoman. She was an orphan from Samar who grew up under the charge of a grandmother, being the unwanted love child of two teenage elopers.
Despite her sad and lowly beginnings, she was gifted with a cheerful disposition and a lovely profile, so that young men, including our own houseboy, used to court her.
She was not one of our stay-in helpers, and we would find out a year later that Ate Maly was pregnant with child by a man in the village who was 5 years her senior. She said it was rape, which left angry scars in her. Forced to carry a child at such a tender age, she attempted to live with the man nevertheless.
But out of rage, after the child was born, she left her man and child so that she could find back the dignity she felt she had lost. She then went off to Manila to take on other jobs — as factory worker, domestic helper, and later to Japan as a singer/entertainer.
I did not personally know Ate Maly back then, young as I was when she first came to our house. But I would hear of these stories of her from my mother and sister, of how a certain "Maly" used to be with us when she was much younger.
Today, Ate Maly has come back to work in our house — an older, much more mature woman. This time, she vibrantly juggles her adult education classes with her housewifely duties, plus her all-around work in our house.
She is even the vice chairperson of her sitio, a position she has continuously held for two terms, out of her community's trust in her kind of wisdom and leadership. Proudly, she also just graduated as the second honor in her adult ed high school class, and is dreaming of vying for a college degree.
To my siblings and I, especially after our parents have decided to retire to another country (and seemingly for good), Ate Maly has become like a second parent, a dedicated pillar in the home whom we can entrust our own lives and well-being to.
I cannot define how her curriculum vitae in our house would look like. She is an all-in-one figure: gardener, laundrywoman, cleaner, singer. Yes, she sings with a lovely voice some favorite pop ditties that could rival any trained singer, and while she performs her tasks at that. She credits it to her previous training as an amateur singer in Japan.
But to me, I simply ascribe it to her contented, ever-cheerful state of mind – no matter the storms she had to hurdle through in life.
And who would have known that Ate Maly would turn out to be an accidental mother to us 3 siblings? Giving free advice to my Ate Jejel on the best way to raise her 5-year-old boy; doing unexpected errands for me and brother even if it meant giving up her family time on a Sunday; coming over to weed out and sweep in the garden; helping plant and organize new vegetable beds in our yard; and coming from her school to double check that all doors are securely locked after all of us have left the house.
And at the end of each day, before she leaves the house, she would personally approach each one of us to give her personal “thank you” when, in fact, it is us who should be grateful for the time that she has chosen to spend with us, on top of her other duties.
For at 46, she now has 5 children and two grandchildren to also look after. She has been happily living with a man we call Kuya Nonoy, who is one of the more known carpenters in our village.
Let me end with one quote I have had the fortune of hearing from Ate Maly when she dutifully looked after me during a trying confinement in the hospital: “Dapat nga hindi ako masaya sa buhay dahil sa mga pinagdaanan ko, pero masaya pa rin ako!” (I shouldn't really be happy in life because of what I have gone through. But look, I am happy!)
She said this after practically telling me her life story to keep me entertained while recovering on the hospital bed. Finally hearing a good part of her "colorful" life and how she managed to win over situations, I felt assured that what I was going through was just a thorn compared to her erstwhile crucifix.
The lightness of her presence left me smiling from ear to ear, and eased the discomfort of having to go through a volatile health condition back then.
So I write this not just to thank Ate Maly from my heart, for I know that it would not be enough to return the beams of light-heartedness and care that she decorates the home with. And it is not just that she has helped in physically keeping the house together.
She also keeps our hearts humming with joyous songs. - Rappler.com
March is Women's Month. Read more about inspiring Filipinas here:
(Rina Angela Corpus is an assistant professor of Art Studies at the College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines. She survived Sandy while on special detail in New York in October 2012. She practices the healing arts of shibashi-chigong and Raja Yoga meditation. Her poems have been featured in Mad Swirl, Philippine Collegian, Philippines Free Press, and Tayo Literary Magazine.)
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