ALL OVER THE WORLD, Filipinos, whether as OFWs or migrants, distinguish themselves by their resourcefulness (maparaan), resilience (matiyaga) and improvisational ability (maabilidad). We thrive under the most trying circumstances, we conjure practical solutions for challenging problems, and what we lack in material wherewithal we make up for in out-of-the-box thinking.
I’d like to say I’m typically competent and capable in this regard, but since joining me in New Zealand, Mahal my wife has made me about as useful as a Sony Betamax video player. She learns how to operate gadgets intuitively, has embraced the DIY culture of our Kiwi hosts like a native, and has the energy and enthusiasm of any male twice her size.
Which leaves me, her prince consort, in the awkward position of being her decoration, outdated appendage if you want, holding her tools and implements and wiping her brow in her difficult moments, and knowing even less than she does when she can’t make head or tail of the User’s Manual for the newest whatchmacallit (does anybody still use that word?) bought on sale from that giant department store chain.
Rarely though I find a chore or two that I’m good at, and surprisingly, Mahal lets me do it because there’s not much more I can do around the house. Literally. I try to focus on the things I can do and stick to them, leaving the heavy lifting and major tasks to Mahal. I know this is a role reversal of sorts and it certainly sounds like I’m emasculating myself, but I’m a realist:
Folding laundry. This is by far the task Mahal pretty much leaves for me, because, after all, she does the washing, does the drying (via sampayan or clothesline drying, no less) so I should at least be able to ready the shirts, pants and underwear before they return to the closet, fresh, crisp, fragrant and clean. It would be the height of selfishness for me to do my clothes only, so I do hers right after I do mine. Her clothes are actually easier to sort, just get out the hangers and hang her dresses, office wear and blouses. I can actually do these while watching my favorite sports and quiz shows on TV, but it slows me down, as if I weren’t slow enough. (Actually I don’t care, as long as I don’t look totally useless around the house.)
Killing flies and slapping mosquitoes. It being summer, our temperate Wellington is filled with the buzzing sound of unwanted visitors who hover around sweet-smelling nilagang saba, ginataan and other tasty treats. At night, there are mosquitoes, gnats and sand flies that suck the hard-earned blood off our sweaty skin. Yes, this part of New Zealand is chilly-windy the rest of the year, but for a few weeks it’s just like the Philippines with its humid afternoons and rainy-yet-sticky weekends.
Because no one else is up to it, and I have lots of idle time while Mahal cooks, cleans and does the laundry, I pick up the battle-scarred fly swatter and swat, swat swat away at the winged demons that frequent our kitchen and bedroom during the hot days and nights. I even count said microbe-carriers and bloodsuckers, all the better to justify to Mahal my existence.
Thawing frozen food. Yes, there is no limit to the depths I will descend in pretending to actually do something. Mahal always has a razor-sharp sensor for any frozen food on sale, and likes to defrost these at the very last minute. Because our work schedules frequently complement each other, meaning I am at home when she’s at work, I am very conveniently able to bring out the chicken nibbles with plenty of time to naturally melt the ice, so that it’s just right for cooking by the time she comes home. All because of me.
Return dried dishes to cupboard. It’s simple enough, the post-meal ritual. Wash dishes, dry the same, and return them to the drawer. Since it’s my only participation in the whole process of preparing dinner and cleaning up after, I do my best to do all these properly. The washing must be thorough, no stain spots and greasy spoons. No smudge marks on glasses. and wash everything, including pots and pans. And after the washing and drying comes the icing on the cake: putting, and arranging said dishes and utensils in their proper place.
If it all seems trivial and mundane, it’s because drying and storing dishes is comparatively less crucial than cooking, though according to Mahal, no less important. She inspects my handiwork, and would do the dishwashing and drying herself (one of her favorite chores) if I wasn’t going to be completely left out of doing anything except eat.
I’m glad I do these little things and get better at them, day by day. Still not that useful, but getting there.
Thanks for reading!