THERE ARE two remarkable things I associate with the concept of padala, or accepting something across the miles on behalf of another, usually a kabayan. The first is it costs little or nothing to do it, just clear some space in your maleta or luggage, make sure there’s nothing illegal or dodgy with the items subject of padala, and the favor is considered done or on its way. The second is that you earn a big swig or spoonful of goodwill from either the person requesting the padala, the person/s receiving it, or even better yet, both.
Common sense is enough to explain the first thing; the second, just a bit of explanation. Sending things overseas is considered a big deal between Pinoys and their kin, and this is why: working or living abroad is still imbued with an air of mystery, whether the OFW/migrant is a domestic helper in Hongkong or an oil rig worker in faraway Scandinavia. The treats and trinkets from strange lands never cease to amaze the family assembled in the bahay kubo, especially when Ate/Kuya has remembered a little item for each member of the family.
It doesn’t matter if they’re cheap giveaways or souvenir items that wouldn’t merit a second look from our more sophisticated countrymen, as long as they’re from the place where dollars, rial or pounds come from, those articles must be first-class, world class and worthy of being treasured.
Such that the person bringing them over, by stroke of luck or because a favor is being returned, is bestowed with as much gratitude as the receiver can afford. Meeting them at the airport just won’t do; even a cup of coffee and a donut might not be enough. The typical recipient will usually insist on treating the lucky courier to lunch/dinner and lavish on them a meal more than worth the item sent, often many times over.
The seasoned padala-bearer will know better than to allow this; he or she knows it is neither practical nor good form to take advantage of the goodwill or hospitality of the sendee; the latter usually just showing gratitude for a favor that is routinely exchanged between friends. The best compromise is usually to settle on a snack or refreshment that will neither be too onerous nor guilt-inducing on either party.
And this is what happened our first shift as padala bringers at SM North EDSA mall, when we met a relative of one of Mahal’s colleagues at work. We both needed a break from the sweltering summer heat outside, we were both punctual, and we were both ready to exchange genuine pleasantries. It helped that the relative looked exactly like Mahal’s colleague, and that he was as friendly as we were thirsty. More than the documents and bit of cash that we carried was the assurance that his sister, our friend was doing well and his nephews and niece were living the Kiwinoy dream. For his part, he sent word through us that he and the rest of his family were doing well, thanks to the prayers and assistance sent by his Ate. What better pabaon of news could we bring home to our co-migrants in NZ?
It was a bit more lighthearted in our second gig as padala couriers, as this time our legs brought us to SM Mall of Asia (see the pattern?) to bring a small bag of gadgets, perfume and children’s clothes to yet another relative of a different workmate of ours. They were equally as appreciative, and we exchanged all sorts of anecdotes and observations of how their cute niece looked like her aunt (our friend back in Wellington) and, to the mother, how well her daughter was doing as a young wife in a hospitable land.
If padala can go one way, it can also go another, as we brought something from the Philippines back to New Zealand. This time it was more sentimental in nature, a wedding invitation and a video CD of the said event. The transaction took place nearly midnight a few days before we were leaving, our drop-off point wasn’t easy to spot, but once we met, the conversation was warm and it was a pity we couldn’t talk further. I spoke to siblings of an in-law, surely not a very close relation, but the way we bonded, you wouldn’t have guessed it. It was as if we were old friends who needed much more than the 20 minutes we had to catch up.
But the point was, the padala was sent and on its way to its intended recipients, thousands of kilometers away and hopefully in good hands. All because of a well-loved Pinoy tradition that will persist as long as migrants and OFWs seek their fortune all over the world.